Here are a few things to take into consideration when canning and preserving this summer:
Do you have the necessary equipment and supplementary ingredients and supplies?
First step: get your equipment and supplies! Stock up on all the necessities right at the beginning of the season. Purchase more jars than you think you’ll need, just in case (they aren’t going to go bad, so if you don’t end up using them all, you’ll have extras for next year!). Also keep in mind you might want a variety of different jars. 500-ml jars are an excellent size for most items, but it’s also a good idea to have some 1-litre jars and some 250-ml jars as well.
I highly recommend getting as much as you can possibly think of at the beginning of the season. It’s extremely frustrating to realize that you’ve run out of jars within three weeks of the canning and preserving season, or to start making pickles and then realize you don’t have enough pickling salt. Don’t forget to get labels, either! Label everything with the title of the jar’s contents and also the approximate date it was canned. You’ll appreciate having taken this step when giving preserved goods away as gifts and when you’re trying to choose a canned item to enjoy in the middle of winter.
Make this step easier for yourself by going through the recipes you think you’ll use and check what’s in season (and what you can expect to get in your CSA box or to pick up at the farmers’ market) so that you know what to prepare for. Don’t forget to get a water bath canner – that’s crucial! I’m also a big fan of my pressure canner, and it is necessary for canning low-acid foods.
Have you set aside the requisite time for canning and preserving?
Once you get on a roll, canning and preserving can be a very smooth process. But it still takes time! You need to prepare the ingredients to be canned (which sometimes involves a lot of chopping, slicing, and dicing), prepare the jars, fill the jars, and then boil the filled jars for a specific amount of time. And then you might need to also do several batches, depending on how many jars you are filling. Canning and preserving might take up a full afternoon or longer, so make sure that you have the time set aside to complete all of your canning and preserving.
If you plan to preserve food all summer long, I recommend planning one or two days each week as your “canning and preserving days.” If you know that every Thursday evening and Saturday morning you’ll be preserving food, you’ll be able to plan out when to pick up your ingredients and also ensure that the time is set aside so you can really focus on getting your preserving done.
Is your kitchen set up for canning and preserving?
Get as much as you can prepared before you start the canning process. Some recipes will require things to be moved around very quickly and you’ll have to be prepping ingredients as you’re boiling other things – it can get a little hectic until you get used to it! But if you always start the preserving process with a clean kitchen (counters wiped down, appliances moved away and out of sight, and dishes washed, dried, and put away), you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience.
This goes without saying, but as with any recipe, read the entire thing before getting started. You’ll want to place the cooked and filled jars on clean tea towels, so why not lay them out before you even start preserving? It will be one less thing to worry about once you have your jars all set to go.
Do you have a plan in place for the end results of your canning experience?
Think ahead about what foods your family will actually use, or what kinds of things you can give away as gifts, and preserve food accordingly. There’s no point in making big batches of dill pickles if no one in your house ever eats or even enjoys dill pickles (although I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying dill pickles!).
I would also recommend that if you’re trying out a new recipe, don’t make a huge batch of it to start with. Try it with just a few jars and then do a taste-test. If it’s a good recipe, that’s great! Go nuts and make a larger batch next time. But if it’s not something you love, you’ll be grateful that you didn’t spend an additional hour or two filling more jars that you won’t know what to do with.