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The summer kitchen was just steps away from the house. My Mom spent countless hours in there canning. It was a way of life, a necessity I suppose. Generations before her passed down this skill. As more grocery stores offered the convenience of canned goods at reasonable prices, home canning was thought to be a dying art, but it has been making a strong comeback. Not so much out of necessity anymore, but because people want to know where their food is coming from and what ingredients are in it—a new necessity, you might say.

I am one of those people. Years ago I decided to start canning. Not only did I do it, I got my family involved. I believe it is important for my children to know where their food comes from, how to have fun creating meals, and how to preserve fresh food through canning. Ever since they were little girls, they have helped in the garden and the kitchen. Their jobs have evolved over the years, as they have gotten older. These are skills that they will use their entire lives.

Canning Assembly Line

Tomatoes are a favorite for all of us. Fresh off the vine, sliced on a piece of buttered toast, combined with basil for a simple salad, or used as an ingredient in marinara sauce or salsa are a few ways we enjoy tomatoes. But what about when the harvest is over? During the cold winter months when we crave the delicious taste of a tomato, what do we do? We open a jar of canned produce that we created together. We have (and still do) experiment with different canned products, but we always put up tomatoes. They are so easy to can—a little bit of bottled lemon juice, hot water, and peeled tomatoes—that’s it!

We have an assembly line; everyone has a specific job to do. The jobs can vary or even alternate between people, but once we begin working on a batch, it is important to know what task each of us is doing and how to do it. We work together to achieve that final glorious product. Once the canning process is over and the jars are arranged on the kitchen counter, we rest from our rewarding work. When the jars have cooled (usually overnight), we put on the screw bands and store the jars in our pantry.

Together Time

I must admit that when I look at the canned goods that my family and I have preserved I get a heart ping. Not only from the satisfaction of having food “put up,” but also from the memories that we created as a family in doing so. Then, when we prepare a meal using this food, we can honestly say it was made with love.

Tomatoes are used in our home all year long. Having canned ones on hand opens up almost endless possibilities. Smashing them with a potato masher gives them the perfect texture for casseroles. Diced, they are delicious in soups, stews and chowders. When puréed they add a wonderful taste to sauces. Using our canned goods adds an extra pinch of love to every dish.

How We Do It

First we get everything ready. We wash the canning jars in the dishwasher to ensure that they are sanitized with hot water. Then we keep the jars in a pot of simmering hot water until ready to use. The lid inserts are also kept simmering (not boiling) in water, waiting their turn in the process. We heat the water almost to boiling in the big water bath canner.

We start with clean, plump, ripe tomatoes. Making an X on the bottom of the tomato, I score them with a knife. This makes peeling them easier. I put them in boiling water for about one minute or until the skin starts to “break.” I remove them from the boiling water and gently place them in ice water, to stop the cooking.

My husband quickly starts peeling off the skin off. Our oldest daughter quarters them.

Family Affair

Our youngest daughter puts 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice in each pint jar. Both girls start packing the tomatoes in the jar. I ladle hot water over the tomatoes. The girls check for air bubbles and I wipe off the rim of the jar. The girls remove the insert lid with the lid wand (a job and tool that has been fought over) and place it on the jar. I adjust the band. Then we wait for the pings to tell us how many jars are sealed.

Almost in unity, we all get a huge satisfying smile on our faces when we hear that first pop, which means the jar has sealed. We make a little game out of trying to keep a running count of how many jars have sealed. This is hard to do if you’re not in hearing distance. We have learned that if you want to win, you can’t go too far and you must listen carefully. It’s a happy family tradition, indeed!

Canning Essentials

Canning has changed a lot through the generations. Can you imagine canning over a large kettle over an open fire? It is very important to follow safety precautions for your health and the health of those who will be eating your canning glory. The Ball Blue Book guide to preserving is a trusted source that I use, but there are many good canning books and websites available. The USDA guides can be downloaded and are reliable.

Think of buying canning equipment as an investment—you will use these tools year after year. For the hot water bath method, you will need the following:

  • Jars specified for home canning
  • Bands (You can use the same ones over and over again.)
  • Lids (Only use new lids to ensure that they seal properly, do not re-use lids.)
  • Boiling water canner
  • Jar lifter (Tongs that are made specifically for handling hot canning jars.)
  • Ladle for easy pouring
  • Jar funnel to make filling jars easier
  • Bubble remover/head space tool (One end helps remove trapped air from inside filled jars and the other end is used to measure head space.)

This article is from the summer 2017 issue of The New Pioneer Magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.

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