First Time Canning

You know what the internet is full of?

Blogs about how easy canning is, and how anyone – even me! – can do it.  No problem!  They seal the deal by teasing you with beautiful photos of lovely jars neatly lined up on the counter.

You know what the internet is sorely lacking?

Stories of eager, enthusiastic first-time canners and their comedy of errors.  Let’s rectify that here in my little corner of the Web, shall we?

My story begins last fall.  We got about 25 pounds of tomatoes, and I had a great time processing them into tomato sauce and spaghetti sauce, but I froze everything because I didn’t know how to can.  When we planned this year’s garden, I asked for LOTS of tomatoes.  And my hubby has delivered!

Last weekend we had enough for my first attempt at canning.  I was excited!  My mother-in-law let me use her canner and I read through all the specs.  I knew the size and quantity of jars it could accommodate, and I found reputable instructions online on how to can diced tomatoes.  I was ready!

Then I happened to run across a magical recipe online for canning tomatoes via an inverted method that didn’t require a canner.  Apparently most of our grandmothers used to do it this way and it looked awesomely simple.  The downside, however, is that it’s not really recommended as a safe method – despite its popularity – so I decided against it.  Giving my family botulism as a result of my first canning attempt would not only be tragic, it would be downright embarrassing.

Back to the water bath method.

No tomato-peeling novice, I knew this step would take some time so I started Friday night.  I figured I would peel half of them Friday, the rest Saturday morning, and I’d be finished with my canning project by noon.  Ha!

Saturday morning I did get up and finish peeling my tomatoes.  But I then realized that using my 25-year-old canner on my glass-top stove would risk cracking it.  No worries.  I could just buy a single electric burner and use that instead.  Plus it would come in handy in the camper.  Needing to do my grocery shopping anyway, off to the store we went.

We returned around lunchtime with our groceries for the week and a brand-new single burner.  I was a little behind schedule, but I could probably finish up by 2:00 or so.  Ha!

I put my tomatoes on the stove to simmer and my jars in the dishwasher to sanitize.  I pressed the “sani-rinse” cycle button to discover…that feature can only be used if you run a full, normal, dishwasher cycle.  Yes, the three hour cycle.

No worries.  I had to go to the meat shop anyway, so off we went to run our errand while our dishwasher washed, rinsed, high-temp washed, and sani-rinsed my beloved jars.

Back home once more with the dishwasher still going, I had the inkling to double-check the capacity of my canner.  Yes, it could hold 5 quart sized jars.  I placed a jar in it to test and realized, much to my dismay, that it wasn’t actually deep enough to water-bath can the quart sized jars.  You had to use the pressure canning feature.  Oh dear.

I wasn’t ready for this.  Pressure canning intimidated me, and did I mention that my canner was over 25 years old?  I knew from my advance research that you should have your pressure canner’s seals checked out before using it to prevent it from, you know, exploding and killing you/your child/your pet.  No pressure canning for me!  That meant I needed pint-sized jars.

“Conlan, let’s get in the car.  We’re going to the grocery store.”

“But we already got lots of food at the grocery store today.”

“Mommy’s in no mood to argue.  Please get into your carseat.”

Home again from the grocery store, pint jars in hand.  It’s somewhere around 4 pm.  I will need to run the 3-hour sanitize cycle on the dishwasher again.  There has got to be another way!  No problem, says Google.  Just boil them for 10 minutes in your canner instead.  Great!

So I set up the canner on the new electric burner and, after about half an hour, realize that the burner does not have enough heat to boil the water in my canner.  Awesome.

Google then assures me that sanitizing isn’t necessarily critical since I will be boiling/processing the jars for 45 minutes in a water bath.  I decide to trust them, wash the jars, cook the tomatoes, and gently heat the jars in a quick rinse cycle in the dishwasher.  I fill my jars.  Progress!

I get out my biggest pot which I have decided to use in lieu of a water bath canner.  My stove has enough power to heat it up, it won’t crack my glass top, and it’s just barely deep enough to cover my jars.  It’s my last hope of the day.

I can’t put the jars directly on the bottom, I should put a rack down to keep the jars elevated off the heat.  Eureka!  We have a microwave rack that should work perfectly!

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that didn’t go as planned.  It was a hair too big.  No big deal.  I can also put a towel or something on the bottom of pot and that should be fine.  I find a dishtowel my grandma crocheted and put it in the bottom.  She used to can stuff from her garden.  This is not only a stroke of genius, it’s also gotta be good luck.  Right?

I put my jars in the pot and get it boiling.  Oh my gosh, it is finally happening!  I am canning!

Forty-five minutes later, the timer goes off.  I go to check on my beautiful canned tomatoes.  I find the water in the pot has turned a lovely, serene blue color.

From the dishtowel.

However, my tomatoes haven’t turned purple so I’m pretty confident the seal worked and they are fine.  I start boiling batch 2.  I finish my canning adventure around 7:30.

And then I decide after all that, I’m not cooking anything that remotely resembles dinner so I just decide I’m going to enjoy some milk & oreos. 

Still, I’m planning on doing it again this weekend with the 40 pounds of tomatoes hanging out in my garage.  I think now that I have all the quirks worked out, it will go much more smoothly.  I know the first time you do anything – a new recipe, a new hobby, whatever – it always takes longer while you’re getting the hang of it.  And I have to admit that seeing my beautiful, full, sealed jars at the end was pretty rewarding!

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