Canning for Beginners - Modern Alternative Mama

Canning for Beginners

admin August 9, 2010



It’s addictive.  At least for me!  And it’s not nearly as hard as it appears to be.  I was so excited to try but so intimidated to start.  It seems like you need a LOT of supplies, and it will take a LOT of time, and be easy to screw up.

But guess what?  It’s not bad at all!  You do need a fair amount of supplies, but most are jars.  You will need a LOT of jars!  The rest you may or may not need, really.  It also doesn’t take as much time as I thought it would.  At least not active time.  And it doesn’t need to be done ALL AT ONCE, like I thought.  I was imagining several hard, long days in the kitchen where I did nothing but canning and couldn’t even watch my children well while doing it (I had planned to ask Ben to stay home a couple days, or do it on the weekends).  But it’s not like that.  In fact, most of it is quite easy!

I’m going to go into a quick FAQ for you, here.  Tomorrow I’ll walk you through a project I did in my own kitchen last weekend.  I bought 75 lbs. of tomatoes so I had to do something with them!  Yes, I might be insane, and no, I’m not done.  I still want more tomatoes.

Why would anyone want to can when there’s such an abundance of food at grocery stores now?  It’s not like we HAVE to.

Well, it saves a LOT of money if you do it right.  It also brings high quality, organic, local food to your kitchen in the middle of the winter.  You know exactly what’s in it.  I was able to buy local peaches for around $1/lb. and tomatoes for $0.70/lb.  Even though I used 2 – 3 lbs. per quart jar, that STILL works out to only $2 per quart of food!  To get something as high quality in a grocery store, you’d expect to pay $5 or more.  That’s a huge savings.  And we’re talking LOCAL, ORGANIC food!!  My “bottom” price for 24 oz. of strained tomatoes in glass jars is $2.79 (this is assuming purchasing from Tropical Traditions during a “free shipping” day — I could easily pay a $1 or so more than that if I don’t get the sale).  My 32 oz. jars of sauce cost only $2.  How awesome is that?  Plus, the food just tastes so much better!

Okay, but don’t you need tons of fancy equipment?  Isn’t getting started expensive?

Sort of.  If you decide you MUST have all the “proper” equipment and that it needs to be new and of the best quality, yes, it will be expensive.  I know people who rushed out and bought $60 water bath canners…then realized that wouldn’t work, and ran out and bought $80 pressure canners.  You could buy brand-new, top-quality funnels, brand-new wide-mouth jars, etc. etc. and spend quite a bit of money.  But what I did was use my 16-qt. stock pot (it just has to be big enough to cover your largest jar by 1 – 2″ with water) and put a folded dish towel at the bottom of it (to protect the jars from breaking; this replaces a “jar rack”).  Cost to me: $0.  You may be able to find jars at garage sales or thrift stores.  But be aware that local big box stores (Walmart, Meijer, etc.) will have them too for about $0.60/jar so if they cost more than that used, don’t buy them.  Even if you need a lot of jars, when $8/doz. is the MAX price you pay (smaller jars are cheaper, that’s the quart price), you really won’t spend TOO much.  And of course you can reuse them.

If you happen to be gifted some old jars like I was (and make sure they’re “real” canning jars, not old mayonnaise jars, which could break) but they don’t have any lids OR rings, you can buy a package of lids + rings for $3.  And you can buy just lids for $1 a doz. or so.  You do have to buy new lids every year, but at that price, who cares?

I’ve got all my stuff, but I’m nervous!  How much time will this really take?

It depends on what you’re making.  Some foods are more labor-intensive than others.  And it also depends on what procedures you follow.  When making tomato sauce, are you going to blanch, peel, and seed your tomatoes?  Expect to spend a lot more than than if you just roughly chopped them and blended them up!  (I recommend seeding but not the rest.)  If you’re doing sliced foods that must be peeled and cored (peaches or pears, for example), that will take longer than something like applesauce, where you can strain it later.

I’ll discuss the specifics of how to make some of these things in future posts, but it the longest it took me was about 4 hours to can 12 qts. of peaches.  And that wasn’t even 100% active work time.  I took breaks to check my email, eat dinner, etc.   Everything else, so far, has been a lot less time.  You can make just a few jars at once and process them.  You don’t have to do ALL the stuff you have.  I have even finished a jar and stuck it in the fridge overnight and processed it the next day.  It’s pretty flexible.

What about safety?  I don’t want to get burned, break jars, etc.

Yes, you do need to be careful.  But as long as you are, it’s unlikely you will get hurt or break anything.  Always make sure you are using the proper tools (like the magnetic lid lifter, or the jar gripper tongs) when you are handling hot items.  If you choose to use a pressure canner, always follow the directions in the recipe.  But it’s not as difficult as it seems.  When I processed my first jars, I was sure I would need my husband to lift them out of that boiling pot of water, especially because it’s so big and I’m short and couldn’t get a great angle.  But, with the jar gripper tool, I was able to do it easily and have never had any problems.  Make sure you prepare your jars — warming them before adding hot food, and you allow things to cool undisturbed.  Keep everything away from children, of course!  But I’ve found that my safety worries are a lot less than when I started.  I am still careful, but I am not intimidated anymore.

What about buying all that food at once?  Isn’t that expensive?

It can be.  But if you talk to others, look around, find deals — it’s not too bad.  I anticipate spending $250 – $300 on my food this fall, but I will be canning enough to last most of a year!  Since that’s how much I spend on groceries in 2 – 3 weeks, well, you can see that this will really pay off (and yes, I will still have to buy meat and cheese and such, but my grocery bill will go way down once I can pull from the pantry).  The first year is hard because you don’t have anything saved up (unless you were smarter than I am!).  After the first year you can set aside the extra money you’re not spending on groceries for your next year’s purchases.  But I have found many places give you great deals if you buy in large quantity.  I found 25 lbs. of tomatoes for $17.50 (about $0.70/lb), a bushel of apples for $40 or so (that’s about $1/lb), and so on.  You could garden, or join a CSA (we did) or beg, borrow, and steal (just kidding about the stealing) from friends whose gardens are overflowing.  There are LOTS of ways to get what you need.

Also, I’ve found things are coming in stages.  Strawberries are in June, blueberries in July, tomatoes in August, peaches in July-August, pears in September-October, apples in Semptember-October too.  So I don’t have to pay all the money OR do all the work at once.  I had imagined most of the bounty coming in around the same time and having to spend a few intense weeks canning and of course pay all that money at once, but it hasn’t worked out that way.

How do you do canning with small children around?

It’s actually pretty easy.  Many things are not that labor-intensive and you can do a bit while they’re playing nearby, or having a snack, or napping.  I can easily slice, seed, and puree a few lbs. of tomatoes while my kids eat breakfast, then I can ignore it on the stove for an hour or so while I play with them or attend to other chores.  I can chop veggies for relish and set that to soak while my kids play, then drain it and toss it in a pot awhile later, then quickly fill jars and put them in the canner.  It’s only a few minutes of work here and there, so I can easily attend to kids.  For things that are more labor intensive (blanching, peeling, and slicing peaches, for example) — I do most of it after daddy’s home for the night.  Although, I can do some while they are playing, because if I need to stop for 5 or 10 minutes I can.  It’ll wait.

And remember, distraction is your friend. 🙂  Sometimes we have friends over and the kids play and the adults talk while I work.  Or, I fill the sink and let the kids “play water” nearby (I have a cool thing called a Learning Tower that is really safe and awesome for them to play in).  Or, sometimes I turn on a video and just let them watch TV for a bit.  It keeps them safe, and it lets me get my work done.  In a perfect world, we’d NEVER watch TV (and on most days, we don’t), but in the real world when mommy has a lot of work sometimes, well…it happens.

So what DO I need for canning?  Practical advice, here.

I’m going to give you a couple lists that I searched high and low for when I was starting.  I found it hard to plan because I couldn’t figure out what I REALLY needed, or how much food I needed, or anything.  Nothing made sense!  But here is what I finally learned:

You need:

*A big pot with a lid (to cover jars by 1 – 2″ with water)

*Jar grippers (it will make your life so much easier)

*Something to protect the bottom of your pot — a kitchen towel or a jar rack

*Lots and lots of jars (whatever size/shape you want, but make sure they’re canning jars. Ball, Mason, etc.)

*Lids and rings (lids must be NEW, rings can be reused)

*Wide mouth funnel (not an absolute necessity but will make your life easier)



3 lbs. = 1 qt. of sauce (about)



2 lbs. = 1 qt. of slices



3 lbs. = 1 qt. of sauce


That’s as far as I’ve gotten now.  As I do more and more canning I’ll tell you all the things I’ve learned!

What questions do you have about canning?  What are you most eager to make or learn about?

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  1. I would love to know where you are finding the canning lids for $1. I have yet to find them for less than $2.50 a dozen locally (and yes, that is just the lids, no rings)…do you buy yours online? Thanks.


  2. Cathy,

    We have a Walmart and a Meijer that have the lids this cheap. I am not sure of an online source, but I’m sure there is one! I’ve found that "real" grocery stores, like Kroger, are typically more expensive on canning supplies than the "big box" stores though.


  3. Have you tried the reusable BPA-free canning lids made by Tattler? I am considering them for summer 2011 canning but am a little turned off by the larger upfront cost. But having BPA-free lids is appealing to me.


  4. Robin,

    I haven't, because of the cost. Maybe someday! But I figure the tiny amount of BPA in the lids really doesn't touch the food, so I'll have to call it good. Lots better than a whole can lined with BPA!


  5. Thank you SO MUCH for this post! I am just starting on a "real food journey" for my family and I'm always looking for very easy to follow, PRACTICAL advice for starting out. Thanks for sharing!


  6. Thanks so much for this post! I think canning has become such a lost art and I hope to do a lot of it for the first time this summer along with our first garden! Lots of firsts for us this year! Thanks again!


  7. ever canned blackberries?we are thinking of canning them but do not know where to start.recipe, how much,etc.any help would be greatly appreciated.thanks!!:)


  8. Have you written a post about canning peaches?
    I would love to know how you do it!


  9. I just canned some applesauce for the first time last year & am excited to do it again this year. I didn’t realize you are not supposed to reuse lids? Why is this?


    • The reused lids may not seal properly (the metal ones). They have a type of sticky stuff on them that helps them seal the first time and may not work so well after that. Some people reuse them anyway…just check carefully to make sure they are sealed.


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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