Put A Summer Garden In Your Winter Pantry
Canning Fresh Vegetables and Greens
There’s nothing like a ripe summer tomato, tender, rich and summer sweet. Sliced fresh over the sink, sandwiched between bacon, lettuce, and bread, or simmered down into marinara sauce, it’s as if you’ve condensed the summer sun into a ripe, red, ball of joy. But, come January, the fresh taste of tomatoes feels as far off as those warm summer days. That is, unless you were smart enough to remove and save some of those fresh tomatoes you grew in your garden when the days were warm. With a little preparation and the right equipment, you can save and enjoy the flavors of summer vegetables all year long.
Why Can Vegetables?
Anyone who’s ever gardened knows the pressure of having more ripe and ready-to-eat vegetables than you have mouths to feed. You don’t want to let your hard work go to waste, but you can only eat so many carrots in a day. We usually give the extras to friends and neighbors, but after the third basket, even they’ve had enough summer squash. It’s a common problem, and home gardens can generate a significant amount of waste if you’re not selling or preserving what you don’t eat right away. Canning offers a great solution.
Home canning fresh vegetables maintains both the quality and freshness of newly picked veggies and greens. And these aren’t like the store-bought canned vegetables, packed with preservatives and chemicals. Open a jar of home canned carrots and the smell alone will convince you this is something that belongs in your kitchen. You’ll also have convenient, ready to cook vegetables on hand for whenever you need them. And while frozen vegetables are delicious, you don’t have to give up valuable freezer space to preserve vegetables you’ve canned. Once you’ve preserved fresh vegetables via canning, they’re shelf stable at room temperature all winter long.
Can Do and Can Don’ts: All the vegetables fit to can
The time to get creative with fresh vegetables and greens is after they’ve been safely preserved via canning; The preservation process is not the place to play around. Time and temperature recommendations should come from a reputable source like the USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP). Based on our experience, we’ve included a list of do’s and don’ts here.
- Give yourself plenty of time to complete the process, it always takes longer than you think.
- Always use a pressure canner for low acid foods.
- Read the user manual of your pressure canner before your start. Follow all safety precautions every time.
- Use the right size jar for what you are canning.
- For even cooking, cut food into uniformly sized pieces.
- Remove rings from jars that have gotten a proper seal. While many pictures show the finished jars with rings still on, this can cause a false seal, rust, and mold.
- Label and date each jar.
- Rotate your canned goods. First in, first out.
- Don’t use jars that are chipped or cracked.
- Don’t reuse canning lids. The compound that seals to the glass is designed to be used once. Purchase new ones for each canning session. Lids are cheap and used ones can ruin all your hard work, trust us, buy new.
- Don’t stack jars on one another. The weight can break the seal on the bottom jar.
- Don’t use over-ripe, bruised, frozen or low quality produce. Quality in means quality out.
- Don’t skip the step of releasing air bubbles.
- Don’t eat questionable canned foods. If in doubt, throw it out.
Most Commonly Canned Vegetables
The following list of vegetables are commonly canned, and you’ll be able to find safe and tested recommendations for processing times on each of them. For the high-acid items like tomatoes, it’s possible to can them safely in a water bath canner, but most of the vegetables on this list should be canned in a pressure canner. The higher temperatures possible in a pressure canner kill the bacterial spores that can grow into botulism, which is a must for safely preserving vegetables.
- Tomatoes (technically a fruit, yes we know.)
- Winter squash
Vegetables you Should Not Can
What follows is a list of vegetables that while delicious fresh, should not be canned, for different issues. With some, it’s a density issue, the pressure required would basically turn them to mush. With others, there wasn’t enough demand to create a safe standard for canning that particular vegetable. Lettuce? Who wants canned lettuce? And others develop too much flavor, as the canning process can concentrate the flavors already present in a vegetable. If you’d like to learn more about how these time and temperature recommendations came to be, read this blog on Healthy Canning. Or, if you’re stuck wondering what to do with all this leftover cabbage, eggplant, and broccoli, check out our blogs on making Sauerkraut and Fermenting Vegetables.
- Brussels Sprouts
- Zucchini and Summer Squashes (although can be canned as part of relishes or other recipes)
Equipment you’ll need
If you’re starting from scratch, our ultimate canning kit comes with 10 essential canning tools including a pressure canner. But, if you already own some of the essentials, you can simply add what you don’t have from the list below.
- Rack - The rack sits in the bottom of your canner to elevate the jars off the bottom of the pot, helps to keep the jars upright and from touching each other. Can also come in handy during the sterilization process.
- Glass Jars - Use jars specifically designed for canning, you’ll find they come in many sizes.
- Ladle, spoon, and spatula - These tools help measure and portion the food into the jars and pack them in correctly.
- Canning Bands and Lids - Always use new lids to ensure a good seal.
- Canning Funnel - A funnel helps you pour food into the jar and keeps those rims clean. You’ll thank us for that later.
- Lid Lifter or Sterilizing Rack - Lift flat lids out of heated water without dropping them or burning your fingers.
- Jar Lifter - Helps you safely lift heated jars out of your canner.
- Towels or Cooling Rack - Gives you a place to set hot jars for cooling.
- Water Bath Canner - You can use a large pot-type canner, large enough to hold several jars at once or a purpose-built multi-use canner that includes a heating element.
- Pressure Canner - A pot, lid, and valve combo specifically designed for pressure canning. Can also be used as a pressure cooker or bath canner, like this Pressure Canner.
How the Process Works
Begin by checking the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning for a specific pressure and processing time recommendation. In this case, we’ll use spinach as an example, but for each of the vegetables where a tested and safe canning recommendations exists, you’ll find it in the USDA guide. Obviously, you should start with freshly harvested spinach, the fresher the better. Quality in means quality out, so make sure to pick the best, freshest greens to can. Throw out any wilted, yellowed, damaged, or discolored leaves.
- Start by cleaning and preheating your lids and jars. You’ll want to wash them both in warm soapy water, rinse, then warm the jars in a pot full of hot water, while the lids are warming in a separate pot of hot water. Keep the water below boiling, as the canning process will sterilize both lids and jars, and boiling water can actually prematurely melt the compound on the inside of the lid that provides the canning seal.
- Wash only a few greens at a time. Drain water and continue rinsing until water runs clear without grit.
- Cut out tough stems and midribs.
- Steam the greens, 1 lb. at a time, in a blancher basket or cheesecloth until wilted. (3-5 minutes.)
- If desired, add ½ tsp of salt to jar, then fill hot jars loosely with greens. Add fresh boiling water, leaving 1 inch of headspace.
- Use a spatula to release the air bubbles that may be trapped in your greens or at the sides of the jars, and adjust the headspace as necessary.
- Wipe down the rim of the jar to ensure a good seal, place the lid over the jar, and screw on a metal ring. Be careful not to over or under-tighten the lid, as both can ruin your can. You want to tighten to the point of resistance and then ⅛ of a turn more.
- Process jars, according to guidelines. In this case, the recommendation will depend on two factors, the style of canner, (dial-gauge pressure canner or weighted-gauge pressure canner,) and your altitude. For example, if you have a dial-gauge pressure canner at 5,000 ft., you’ll process your spinach at 13 lb. of pressure for 70 minutes if you’re using pint jars, or 90 minutes if you’re using quart jars.
- Remove your jars from the canner and cool them for 24 hours on the counter with two towels between the counter and the jar. The towels prevent thermal shock from a hot jar on a cold counter, which can crack the jar.
- Check the lids for proper seal by pressing the button on the lid. If it presses and pops back up, the jar didn’t seal. These greens should be refrigerated and eaten immediately.
- If there is a proper seal, remove ring before storing.
- Store your canned greens in a dark, cool, dry place, enjoying them within a year. A jarbox makes a nice way to store the jars, keeping them safe and clean while making moving them easier.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article on canning vegetables and fresh greens, and don’t forget to always check the USDA guidelines for Home Canning to ensure safe food preservation. Now, go out there and put some summer in your pantry.