Preserving with a Passion


I didn’t grow up around home canning. My mother didn’t can. Both of my parents grew up on farms (my mother in Oklahoma, my father here in West Virginia), and they both escaped the hard labor of life on a farm as soon as they could. Like many of their generation who left rural areas for the cities and suburbs of a new America after World War II, they were only too eager to embrace the miracle of Green Giant vegetables, among other things.

Life on a farm still includes hard work today, but it’s tempered by modern conveniences that allow you to pick and choose at least some of those labors. (They still haven’t invented an automatic chicken house cleaner. What’s up with that?) You don’t have to milk the cow, scrub your clothes on a washboard, churn some butter, clean every last dish by hand, sew all your dresses, and then can all in the same day. (No wonder people ran away from farms.)

Caramel Apple Jam slathered all over a slice of Grandmother Bread. See Caramel Apple Jam and Spiced Applesauce and Grandmother Bread.

Whether you live in the country and have a big garden or you just grow some tomatoes and peppers mixed in with your flowers beds in the backyard, you can choose to can, taking it up as a serious endeavor or simply an occasional hobby. You can spend all kinds of time canning, or just can one or two weekends in the summer. It’s not an all or nothing proposition.

Since I didn’t grow up around home canning, I viewed the entire process as somewhat mysterious up until a few years ago when I moved to the country. I never even thought about canning when I lived in the suburbs–even though I kept a vegetable garden. I didn’t know how and I was slightly afraid of it, to be honest. But I like to try new things and I was eager to learn when Yoda presented herself. Georgia taught me to can during the two and a half years I lived in the old farmhouse. She had a cellarful of tomatoes, relishes, jams, jellies, butters, green beans, and more. She kept all her canning in the old cellar in the farmhouse and I enjoyed “shopping” there the first (excruciatingly cold, have I mentioned that?) winter I lived there. By spring, I was helping her plant her garden and by summer she was teaching me how to make jams and butters and put up green beans and tomatoes. She also made me hoe, but let’s not go there. The hours I spent learning to can with Georgia will always be some of my best memories of living in the old farmhouse.

Coffee cake made with apple butter. See Rum Raisin Apple Butter and Apple Butter Coffee Cake and Apple Butter Time for more apple butter and pear butter recipes.

In the beginning, I canned with Georgia always by my side. I wanted to be sure I did things right. The first time I canned something by myself, I walked over to her house to bring her a jar and nearly jumped up and down with pride for having done it all by myself.

The last time I canned with Georgia. See Making Pear Butter at the Old Farmhouse.

Since I’ve had my own farm, I’ve canned from my own garden, Georgia’s garden, and from the farmers market. I can things I’ve canned before–jams and butters, tomatoes and green beans, all my regulars, and always every year I try new things. There’s always something new to try in canning.

One of my standby favorites: Hot Pepper Butter. See Picking Hot Peppers at the Old Farmhouse.
Home canning is practical and self-sufficient. It’s also interesting and artistic. You can put up basic necessities like tomatoes and peppers or gourmet treats like Madeira Pear Mincemeat and Blackberries in Framboise. It’s not mysterious and you don’t have to have your own Yoda. There are books and videos not to mention endless internet resources available. Don’t let the lack of a personal guide hold you back if you want to learn! It also costs very little money to get started. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve gotten many of my canning supplies for free or nearly free. Sometimes you can find someone with jars to give away–either they’ve stopped canning or they’ve inherited the jars and don’t want to can. You can also find jars in the classifieds and “penny” papers. Buy a couple dozen jars to get started then keep your eye out for a deal. You can actually use any large pot for a hot water bath as long as you can find something to fit into it to work as a rack.

Fruity Jam Cake Glaze on Old-Fashioned Pound Cake. See Strawberry Jam and Fruity Jam Cake Glaze and Old-Fashioned Pound Cake.
If you’re just starting out in home canning, a wonderfully basic yet extensive “bible” I recommend is the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

You can get an incredible sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and creative fulfillment from putting up your own food. Try it! Start out with something simple, a jam or a butter (it’s apple butter time now!), and next thing you know, you’ll be making Curried Fruit Compote and having more fun than you ever imagined. Beware, because canning is like anything else once you fall in love–it’s a passion and soon your pantry will be filled with jars of your homemade goodness instead of labels from the store.

And trust me, there’s nothing like the fresh taste of popping open a jar of summer in the middle of winter.

Especially when I was living at Stringtown Rising, canning was a necessity for self-sustainable living when I was stranded sometimes for weeks at a time or more in the winter. Canning, pickling, dehydrating, not to mention eggs from my chickens and milk and butter and cheese from my cow got me through those winters. But you don’t have to live on a remote farm to can! Everyone can do it, whether you live in an apartment or live on a farm. So, if you don’t can, are you thinking about it? Are you scared of it? If you do can, what have you been canning lately? And who taught you to can? Tell me your stories!


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  1. Southern Grace says:

    That is awesome your mother is from Oklahoma!! A fellow Okie!!!
    I am going to have try some of these recipes. We LOVE the grandmother’s Bread. It is the best!!

  2. daria says:

    My mom and her mom have always canned, so I grew up around it. My other grandmother would make jam once in a while, but put paraffin on top instead of boiling water bathing the jars. It was the 70s!

    This summer I’ve put up peach butter and peach jam from our own trees, raspberry jam from our own bushes, key lime marmalade from a good deal on key limes at the grocery store, bing cherry jam from another good deal at the grocery store, 13 quarts of dill pickles from my garden (cukes, dill, garlic), and 13 pints of salsa also from my garden (tomatoes, peppers, garlic, cilantro – unfortunately not the onions – mine were too little to deal this way – I’ll roast them on Thanksgiving with some other veggies). I live on 1/3 acre in the suburbs in Maine, so I don’t have a farm, but I’m good at getting what I can out of my yard.

  3. catslady says:

    My mom grew up on a farm and she moved to the suburbs and never canned a thing lol. I was always afraid and didn’t have a big enough garden. But my 26 yr. old daughter and her boyfriend had a nice garden this year and taught themselves how to can. They gave my mom a huge basket of canned and fresh vegetables for her 91st birthday and she was thrilled. I was given fresh vegetables but I’m pretty sure they are going to gift people at Christmas with some of their hard work – can’t wait!!

  4. pdelainey says:

    This year I’ve canned 90quarts of Dill Pickles, 24quarts of sweet mix pickles, 30 quarts apple juice, 40pints apple sauce, and 18pints apple butter. I will be canning pickled beets and pickled carrots, pasta sauce, and tomato paste yet. My grandma taught me to can when I was in my teens.

  5. kelly jo kirby says:

    I have been canning for a little over 10 years now, since moving into my own home with a backyard to grow my own veggies. I used to watch my mom can and then she gave me her waterbath canner and canning books because she did not want to do it anymore. She has since passed away and I feel mom each time I can something. I can tomatoes, greenbeans, corn, apples, applesauce, apple butter, salsa, relishes and jams. I finally made pickles this year that turned out perfect. I will look at my pantry every chance I get. I don’t know if anyone else is in love with their pantry but I think it is one of most beautiful things in my home. I love to show it off to people that come to my house and giving away something that you made is very satisfying. Thanks Suzanne for your inspiration and ideas.

  6. The Bee Queen says:

    Suzanne, I loved your post. Reminded me so much of my childhood. I grew up around canning and did not appreciate its value as a young girl in the South. For me it was hot, tedious work. Now that I have my own farm and gardens to tend, I’ve been canning and putting away the food I love so much in the summer to get us through the cold winters here in Kansas. I’ve taken up beekeeping and started my own blog about my adventures. I hope you might take a look some time. or catch me on FB. Thanks again for a walk down memory lane!

  7. milesawayfarm says:

    My Dad and step mother canned, both my grandmother’s canned. I wanted nothing to do with any of it when I was young. And then, at the age of 22, I grew my first tomatoes. And took grocery bags of tomatoes to work because I had NO idea what to do with the excess. The garden lead to chickens. The chickens lead to homemade soap. And somewhere in all of that I got interested in all things preserving, be it smoking or salting or drying or fermenting or freezing or canning. I bought a copy of the ball blue book (which the most recent edition is really more about “buy ball products” than I care for – look for older editions or try “Homemade Living: Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More”. It’s the book I would have written if I had been writing a book on canning. I learned from the Ball book, I learned from online resources like the National Center for Home Food Preservation, I learned from extension office “fact sheets”. I’ve also learned that while the recipe may sound fun and use up what you have, if you don’t normally eat chutney, you probably won’t start just because you have 10 jars of it in your pantry. Ha. For my first 10 years of canning, I never bought a canning jar that wasn’t used at an estate or garage sale. I once scored 16 wide mouth quart jars at a farmers market for FREE. My favorite canning haul. I also collect some of the older jars, which I still use if they are free of chips, or use for storage or decoration if they are chipped. And I think of the hands that once filled them, and the families that were fed, from that very same jar. I LOVE canning.

  8. bonita says:

    My mom sort of cooked, but definitely did not can. No grandmothers available. I tried once or twice in my 20s, but I had a short attention span and ‘bought’ food was not so adulterated as it is now. In answer to your questions: I’m still a bit fearful of it–mostly because I have diminished mobility. Recently I’ve canned rum raisin apple butter, ice box pickles, tomatillo lime marmalade, oven roasted tomatoes, peach jalapeno jam, preserved lemons, mixed fruit jam with basil, and veggie stock. I owe my renewed interest—and success—to you, Suzanne. The step-by-step direx, interesting receipts, and forum have encouraged me to give canning another try. I also do a lot of dehydrating thnx to CITR!

  9. Louise says:

    I love to can. I was given apples this past weekend so I have been knee deep in apples for days now. Apple butter and caramel apple jam. Yummy.

  10. justdeborah2002 says:

    I’ve been canning now for three years. Neither my mother nor my grandmothers canned. But I learned here, on your website, and through the forum, from all of you.
    The first thing I canned was chicken noodle-less soup. I ran back and forth from my stove with the pressure canner to my home office with the computer, to send a message out there into the great beyond, hoping for support. And there was sooooo much support. Pete, Cindy and Dede walked me through that first time for me. And then walked me through fixing the screw up I did. LOL
    And now I have a pantry full of beautiful jars, tomatoes, peaches, jams and jellies, sausages and meats, soups and stocks, pickles, relishes, condiments, spreads, carrots and green beans, beets and baked beans, spaghetti sauce and salsa.
    A big thank you to Suzanne and her friends and cohorts and all the knowledge surrounding them, for sharing it all with us!

  11. emmachisett says:

    I got fascinated by the exotic recipes I found in various canning books and I did make some of them. They sealed properly etc. but it was a big production taking the whole day and sometimes two, staining myriad teatowels in the process and making my kitchen so humid. Then I found that I didn’t use the canned product up and was left with “Kiwi Daquiri Jam” and/or Blueberry Fig Compot to as far back as 1996!! Today I just do a small batch jam and freeze it. Works way better. If I had a big family it would be different but its just me and most recipes make WAY TOO MUCH!

  12. Canner Joann says:

    Ahhh, canning is truly my passion. My calling. My entertainment. If I could figure out a way to make a living by teaching canning and preserving skills, I would do it. I love nothing more than the challenge of figuring out different ways to preserve the harvest. I can fruits, veggies, meats, soups, jams, jellies, relishes and anything else I can think of.

    I started growing my own gardens because it can be very expensive to buy the produce I need at the farmer’s markets. This year was my third garden on my own, and I canned 133 quarts of green beans from the first harvest. My second harvest will start this weekend.

    I’m a little obsessed.

    I follow canning blogs and canning channels of You Tube.

    I have it bad.

    I grew up helping my mother can the green beans and tomatoes in the summer. One year, our shelving unit broke while we were away, and we came home to find 3 inches of canned goods in our basement floor. After that, my mom lost her desire to can, and we went the store-bought route up until about 5 years ago. I don’t know why, but one day I just couldn’t stop thinking about canning, so I plunged in head-first, and I haven’t looked back.

  13. holstein woman says:

    I started canning when I was younger than 9 when my grandmother canned the entire garden, chickens and anything else that came across the pike in the hills of Virginia. I have been canning ever since and am 63 years young. Now I teach anyone wanting to learn. I also am still learning as I have friends 20 years my senior who teach me new things every once in a while.

  14. brendyblue says:

    My mom always canned and I always helped her but never paid much attention to how she dd it.
    Years later I decided to can some applesauce but then was afraid to eat it so I threw it all out.

  15. cin13 says:

    This year was going to be the year I learned how to can; I bought the books and the tools and I chicken out. I don’t know exactly what I’m afraid of…exploding jars, poison myself, I don’t know.
    Next year…. :chicken:

  16. STH says:

    My mother never canned and was always a little afraid of it (I gather there was a pressure canner incident when she was a child). I canned tomatoes and some jam last year for the first time, and it went great and was easier than I expected. But this summer, pressed for time and rushing to get things done before the start of school, I realized that it actually makes more sense for us to freeze things rather than canning them. Unlike most people, we have little storage space but a huge freezer that we pay to keep cold whether it’s full or empty. And I just prefer making quick, small batches of low-sugar freezer jam to canning jam with pectin. We don’t eat many pickles and prefer frozen vegetables to canned ones. So that’s what I’m doing this year and we’ll see how it works out. I’m chopping and freezing tomatoes, garlic, jalapenos, green bell peppers, and roasted red peppers and that ought to do us for a while.

  17. dgkritch says:

    I’ve been “helping” can for more than 40 years (I’m 50). I remember sitting on my grandmother’s porch snapping beans and squishing applesauce through (what I now know) a chinois strainer with an old, stained wooden pestle. I canned with my mom growing up.
    I’ve canned off and on the whole time. Last year, I finally completed my Master Food Preserver certification and helped man the Oregon State Food Preservation hotline. What fun!
    There’s nothing prettier than shelves full of canned food.
    Now my mom, at 71, comes to “help” me can!
    My daughter finally is showing an interest and did her first canning on her own last summer. Mom and I will be traveling 2000 miles to see her next week and one of our first projects when we get there is making applesauce! It’s a little more difficult for my daughter this year with a 2 1/2 month old baby, so mom and I are helping out!
    It’s a thread that winds through the generations connecting our family to the food that nourishes us.


  18. Faith says:

    My mother canned a little over the years, and I have yet to taste a dill pickle as good as those she canned! My canning experience came by total accident, I didn’t mean to grow so many tomatoes. We moved into a house that had a large, fenced in dog pen, and I thought perfect for a garden! I had so many tomatoes, I couldn’t give enough away. My then mother n law said, “you are going to HAVE to can those tomatoes.” She brought the stuff over and we canned for days. I loved it and canned other things but then got away from it. I have never had a crop of tomatoes that tasted so sweet or was as abundant as that year! My tomatoes were a flop this year but I did buy some apples to make applesauce this week. Just looked up a canning recipe, and fear has crept in just reading it. Thinking freezing it works just as well, but freezer space is tight, so I am going to do it…All by myself :snoopy:

  19. joykenn says:

    My grandmothers canned for necessity–they needed to preserve the food to feed their families. My mother LOVED the freezer when she got it. Frozen vegetables were modern and tasted better than canned. She made her own TV dinners and became a freezer fan–half a cow anyone 🙂 BUT the jams and jellies we got from grandma tasted so much better than store bought and I never forgot.

    The late 60s & early 70s were back to nature. Homemade bread, homemade yogurt, and I learned canning on my own. Then kids and jobs and life happened and canning got dropped. Now I’m retired and ready to take back the threads of life I dropped before. Canning here I come!

  20. fatcatx says:

    I suppose my mother inspired me to try canning though she never taught me how. I remember her canning pears, beans, pickles, asparagus and the like, but I think all that boiling water and hot glass made her too nervous to have a kid underfoot. I think my mom canned out of habit and to help keep the food bill down, not out of pleasure. I can because 1) I feel like I should know how as part of feeding my family. 2) I imagine my grandmother scowling down from heaven otherwise. and 3) Homemade jam squashes that corn syrup-laden store bought stuff!

    I don’t can veggies because I can’t stand them anyway but fresh. I can mainly jam from our fruit trees. Plum is my favorite! I occasionally can tomatoes from my garden. More work than I am willing to put in for spaghetti sauce. Every 3-4 years I imagine my grandmother giving me the stink eye from above for being so lazy, can the tomatoes again, and then swear I won’t do it again!

    Grandma? Enough already! I know I can do it – ain’t that enough?

  21. eringale says:

    I have canned all my life. It was, and still is a family affair. We have had 4 generations in the kitchen at times. Many hands make light work. Everyone had a job, and the jobs rotated over the years, depending on your age. As a youngster you started with making sure everyone had their ice tea refilled. I finally felt “grown up” when as a young girl I was allowed to put the jars in and take the jars out of the hot canner. I learned so much about life, in the kitchen with those amazing women. Everything from how a good paring knife fits in your hand, what true team work is even marriage and sex.

    There have been a few years that we didn’t can, or I didn’t participate. The years I was in college it was impossible to find the time. Also, the two years that my mom and I cared for my dad before he passed away. What and how much I canned seem to follow the seasons of my life, and much as the seasons in the garden.

    Now I find myself, 45 years old, canning with my Mom and there is a constant push and pull over if we use “her” way, or an approved canning method. She is perfectly comfortable open kettle canning. Twice I have found myself up late after she leaves, processing her open kettle jars in a water bath. My poor husband ended up in the middle of our “discussion” over putting lemon juice in the tomato juice/sauce this past weekend. We put the juice in, my husband decided he was more afraid of death by tomato than his mother-in-law.

    I recently had a coworker question if canning was “worth” the effort. She told me if I used coupons and watched sales, I could save plenty on groceries, and wouldn’t have to do all that work. I had to explain to her that canning wasn’t just another chore; it was an act of love, and how do you put a price on that. I don’t think I changed her mind, and she didn’t change mine.

  22. doxie says:

    I LOVE to can…grew up helping my Mom but hated it. Then I grew up, and finally decided I needed to do it, so bought a pressure canner, but not one like my Mom had, as it turns out it’s so much better and less scary (all American canner)…so I learned to can on my own, with my new canner….and fell in LOVE with it! Wouldn’t love it without this wonderful canner though, that old one Mom has IS scary! 😆

  23. Ramona Slocum says:

    I grew up helping my mother can and freeze foods. I also took items to the county fair for judging. I specially enjoyed baking bread. I did it all as I raised my 4 children. Now I am retired and live alone in an apartment. I still would rather can tomatoes rather than buy the store canned type. The taste of home canned tomatoes is much better to me. I have a problem with a place to keep them cool in the winter. I put them in a closet, but the last 2 times I have made macaroni and tomatoes, I have gotten sick. Now I am afraid to use them. Any ideas to handle this problem? I open kettle can them. Then put them in boiling water again after they are hot and in the jar with the lids on.

    • Suzanne McMinn says:

      Ramona, please do not open kettle can!

      FYI: Open kettle canning is a method of filling boiling hot jars with boiling hot food then adding the lid and cap. Let the jars sit and cool–and the lid seals. (This is sometimes combined with turning the jar upside down.)

      A seal does usually form in this method, so what’s wrong with it? In open kettle canning, the food doesn’t reach a high enough temperature to destroy the molds, yeasts, and other bacterial toxins that can cause illness.

      Be safe. Take the extra step of placing your jars in the canner and process them either by a boiling water bath or the pressure method, depending on the type of food, for the time recommended by modern, tested guidelines.

  24. BuckeyeGirl says:

    Well, I’m just opened my second to last jar of Rum Raisin Apple Butter, just in time for this year’s apple time!!! Gotta get more apples to make this year’s batch.

    It’s so good to be able to come here and learn all the best recipes and all the best and safest methods of canning. I grew up canning but am never too old to learn more.

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