Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The CSA Coach: Canning for Beginners

Welcome to The CSA Coach, where Jenn, our digital food editor, doles out advice to first-time CSA subscriber and digital features editor, Ashley. In this weeks episode, we decide its time to get canning!

canned tomatoes

Home-canned tomatoes -- worth standing over a hot stove in August? We say yes!


Summer isnt over, but I already feel like a little squirrel gathering my nuts for winter. The CSA bounty is going to end in about a month and a half, and I want to continue cooking with farm produce throughout the winter.

What can I do now to start freezing and preserving? What veggies should I focus on to make warm winter meals in January?


Okay, first question: How committed are you? Mind you, canning isnt difficult, it just requires dedication. Dedication to following all of the procedures to the letter for sterilizing and processing, dedication to buying a whole canning setup (great big pot, rack, jar tongs, jars, and lids) and perhaps most significant, dedication to spending an entire sweltering August day over a pot of boiling water.

Does it sound like Im trying to talk you out of canning? Not exactly. Six months from now, popping open a jar of tomatoes that you put up at their peak is going to make you very, very happy. Home-canned food just tastes better, particularly because youre starting out with really good ingredients.

A lower-commitment but still perfectly viable option is to freeze some of your produce


My grandparents had a garden, so I know my way around canning tomatoes pretty well. (My favorite part was listening for the jar lids to pop.) Im dedicated. Bring it.


Well then, lets go for it!

Whole Living has a nice beginners guide to canning. It covers the basic guidelines for tomatoes, pickles, and jam. (The website for the National Center for Home Food Preservation is great resource too.)

And if you want to just get all your equipment in one blow, Id go for Balls waterbath canning kit.

So, a few recommendations:

  • Stick to high-acid items. This includes most fruit (tomatoes included), and pickled vegetables. These are the safest things to can because the acid content keeps dangerous bacteria at bay. Canning low-acid foods like meat, potatoes, and other non-pickled vegetables is an activity best left to ninja-level homesteaders in possession of a pressure canner.
  • Go big. It hardly seems worth it to steam up the kitchen for just a few jars of tomatoes. It might seem counterintuitive to buy more produce, but peak tomato season only comes once a year! At the farmers market you can usually find at least one stand selling less-than perfect tomatoes, peaches, etc., for a discount. (The produce still tastes great but it might be on the verge of overripe, or be a little dinged up perfect for canning!)
  • Make it a party. Invite friends to share in the fun, the work, and the expense. Go in together on 20 pounds of tomatoes and youll all have a nice supply squirreled away in your pantry for the winter.
  • Use recipes specifically intended for canning.This is not the place to improvise. Here are some to get you started:

Canned Tomatoes

Phat Beets

Pickled Okra

Sweet-and-Spicy Bread-and-Butter Pickles

Raspberry Jam

Peach-Rosemary Jam

In the meantime, you can also make quick pickles with some of your vegetables. They wont keep as long as if you can them, but theres no boiling water bath involved, and you can enjoy near-instant gratification.

Pickled Vegetables

Let us know how it goes!

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