Canning vegetables is almost a rite of passage for most gardeners. It is sort of the final hurrah in honor of all of the work you put in getting that garden to produce.
It also provides you with garden-fresh produce all year! Just be aware, though, that vegetables are low in acid content, so they need to be pressure canned to make sure botulism doesn’t grow in the jar.
Tomatoes, a favorite vegetable for canners, aren’t really a vegetable. It is a high acid fruit. But, for the purposes of this article, we’re going to treat it like a vegetable.
Another favorite with canners is the green bean crop. Here, you’ll find some of the best practices when canning vegetables, and you also find out how to can tomatoes and green beans.
10 Tips for Successfully Canning Vegetables
When you preserve vegetables from your garden or the farmer’s market, you anticipate the fresh flavor all year long. To accomplish this, you need to know the best techniques for canning. Vegetables and fruits have different acid contents, making it necessary to use a little more caution with the vegetables.
Tip #1: Use a Pressure Canner.
Now, your pressure cooker probably bills itself as a canner, as well, but be sure before you use it. It may qualify only as a hot water bath, technically.
A pressure canner can maintain a certain pressure for 30 minutes to an hour, while a pressure cooker has greater fluctuations in its cooking pressure. These fluctuations can spell disaster for your produce, as sustained pressure is necessary to keep microorganisms from growing in low-acid foods.
Tip #2: Make Adjustments for Your Altitude.
Canning at higher altitudes will also require a higher pressure setting. For example, canning at sea level can be done at 11 pounds in a dial gauge, but at 8000 feet it would require 15 pounds of pressure. Knowing the correct altitude adjustment to make is important to keep bacteria from spoiling your food.
Also, not all pressure canners or pressure cookers will maintain the right pressure at high altitudes. Do your homework so that you have the right equipment.
Tip #3: Check Your Jars.
If you are reusing jars, make sure the rims are not chipped or cracked. If they are, the seal won’t take, and you risk losing that jar of food. Only jars marked safe for canning should be used.
Tip #4: Always Use New Seals.
You can reuse rings if they are not rusted, but the seals should be new. Any defect in the seal may let in air and cause the food to spoil
Tip #5: Prepare Your Vegetables.
Wash all vegetables thoroughly. Any dirt or bacteria on the vegetables will be sealed inside the can causing potential contamination. Young fresh vegetables work best.
Tip #6: Use a Canning Rack.
A canning rack allows water to circulate freely around the jars, heating evenly. It also keeps the jars from rattling on the bottom of the pan, which could cause them to break.
Tip #7. Get Jar Tongs.
You may want to do your canning on a budget, but this is one tool you really need for handling hot jars.
Tip #8. Make Sure You Have Time.
You can’t really just set the pressure canner and go shopping. You will need to monitor the canner to make sure the pressure hasn’t dropped. You can hear it, so that helps, but if the pressure drops, you have to restore pressure and start the timing all over again. This can result in overcooked food.
Tip #9. Start the Timer When the Water Starts Boiling.
Not when you first set the jars in the water. After the process is complete, let the canner de-pressurize naturally. Don’t use cold water to speed up the process.
Tip # 10: Store Jars in a Cool, Dry and Dark Place.
A cupboard, pantry, or cellar works well as long as it isn’t too humid. Don’t set your pressurized jar in the window to cool. A cool breeze will cause the hot glass to shatter. And be sure to label all the jars with the contents and date!
For more safety tips when canning vegetables, the Colorate State University has good reference material.
How to Can Tomatoes
Since tomatoes are a high acid food, you can actually get by canning them in a hot water bath. However, keep in mind that the USDA recommends using a pressure canner for ALL canning, not just low acid foods and meats. Today’s brands of tomatoes often have less acid in them, so you might want to add lemon juice to increase acidity.
Tomatoes need to be peeled and seeded before canning. Use a food mill or ice water bath to make this easier.
Another great trick that saves you labor is to let the cooked tomatoes set for a while and cool off. The tomato paste and pulp will settle to the bottom of your pitcher, and the watery tomato juice will float to the top.
You can siphon off the juice with a turkey baster, and use it for tomato soup later. Some people even can it separately! By siphoning off the juice, you avoid having to boil the tomato paste down.
Can according to directions for a hot water bath.
Canned Tomato Recipes
Taste of home has a collection of great tomato canning recipes. Here are a few of our favorites to give you a few ideas.
- Spicy Chunky Salsa
- Tomatillo Relish
- Tomato Lemon Marmalade
To make your own spaghetti sauce, add onions, garlic, celery, salt, and Italian seasoning to the tomatoes. Here is a standard recipe for a sauce that was created for canning.
Tomato Sauce for Canning
- 15 pounds tomatoes
- 2 t olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onions
- 3 T minced garlic clovers
- 1 T salt
- 1/2 cup green peppers or celery
- 1 t black pepper
- 1 T oregano dried
- 2 T parsley dried
- 2 T brown sugar
- Wash tomatoes thoroughly
- Bring a large pot to boil. Dunk the tomatoes in the boiling water to soften the skins – about 30-60 seconds
- Remove the tomato skins. Dip the tomatoes in cold water can make this easier
- Remove the cores and slice into quarters.
- Boil the tomatoes for 20 minutes
- Run the tomatoes through a food mill or strainer
- Sautee garlic, onions, and green peppers
- Combine cooked tomatoes and sauteed vegetables, spices and sugar in a large pot.
- Simmer uncovered until the desired consistency is reached. Stir often.
- Remove from heat and fill jars for canning. The sauce can also be frozen.
How to Can Green Beans
You will need about 14 pounds of green beans to get 7-quart jars. Green beans are a low acid food, so they MUST be canned with a pressure canner.
If you pick the beans first thing in the morning, they will be crisper. Wash them in cold water, then snap them to the length you want for your jars. You can blanch the beans, then hot pack them and get more in each jar. Or, you can cold pack the raw beans, they will cook under pressure.
Each quart jar can use a teaspoon of salt, but that is just for taste. You can leave it out if you want.
Once you have your salt in the jars, and the jars packed, you’ll cover the beans with boiling water, leaving 1 inch of headspace.
Can according to directions for pressure canning at your altitude.
Canned Green Bean Recipe
Some people like to add a few cloves of garlic, onions, jalapeno or other peppers for some spice. Adding additional ingredients to the canning process can save you time and take the flavor profile to a whole new level.
Here’s a great recipe with onion & bacon added to each jar.
Canning vegetables is a great way to preserve a big garden harvest and save money on fresh veggies. But even better, you can create pre-portioned side dishes and meals to enjoy throughout the year!