When it comes to canning, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from putting in a hard day's work. You hear the lovely little ping ping ping of the lids popping as they seal. You look at a counter full of jars and know that you did that, with your own two hands.
However, there can be a certain danger when you don't can properly. Food borne illness is very serious thing that at best can keep you in the bathroom but at worst end in a trip to the emergency room or even death. Because of this, it is always good to err on the side of caution when it comes to canning.
I have had plenty of success over the years, but of course with any venture that you teach yourself there are the inevitable fails that are bound to happen. I hope that you can learn from my mistakes and not have to endure these pitfalls yourself.
1- Not following the recipe
The recipe is there for a reason and this is typically not the time to play around with it. Especially when you're just starting out. If you decide not to put the exact amount of sugar in a jam recipe, it's going to fail. If you decide to leave out an ingredient it might taste horrible. You might not be a fan of sugar and want to substitute honey instead. If that's the case then actively seek out a recipe using the ingredient you would prefer.
2- Not filling to the specified height
Most recipes say to fill to 1/4th from the top from the brim of the canning jar. When you're filling your jar, you might be tempted to guestimate how much that would be. But if you fill your jars too short of that mark, you risk the chance that your jars aren't going to seal properly. (There's some scientific reasoning about too much head space and too much air still remaining in the jar that will not vacuum seal the lid, etc etc.) I've had too many jars not seal because what I guessed at a fourth of an inch was actually bigger than that. Looking at a fourth, it's actually a very small amount. On the other hand, if you fill it too full then you run the risk of your jar exploding. Imagine that yuck in your canner or counter to clean up. If you're new to canning, I suggest you break out an actual ruler just to help you along. The recipe will always tell you how full you need to fill your jars.
3-Not storing unsealed jars properly
If your jar doesn't reward you with a ping to indicate the seal, have no fear. All is not lost. You can still use those jars. You can't store them on the shelf with the rest of your goodies, but you can move these jars to the fridge and eat from them first, finishing them up as soon as possible. (there's no need to gorge yourself to rush to eat all that jam in a day, it will keep as long as a regular opened jar of jelly would).
4- Trying to double some recipes
I've been there, I've done it. You have way more strawberries than your recipe calls for. Might as well just double that jam and make it all at once instead of having to go batch after batch after batch. Don't! Don't you be tempted. I know the daydream of getting done faster is alluring, but it won't work! The recipes are in place for a reason and you think I can go ahead and do sixteen jars instead of eight but it doesn't work. There is something about the way that bigger batches react to your pectin that doesn't work. Even if you follow the recipe and double it exactly, you will probably end up with an overly sweet jar of strawberry syrup. And no I don't mean that awesome stuff you pour over ice cream. I mean so sweet you really can't hardly use it because jams and jellies usually require a ton of sugar! Save yourself the failure and just go batch by batch by batch. In the long run your canner can only handle so many jars at once anyway. Which brings me to my fifth point.
5- Not finishing the process
Jars always need to be finished off with either a rolling bath canner or a pressure canner. Your recipe will specify which you will need. Never assume that the hot jars will seal just because they are hot and you are pouring hot items into them. They might seal but they might not be safely sealed. With the risk of botulism this is not a chance that I am willing to take. The final step takes only a few extra minutes and the peace of mind it will give you is well worth it. You might come across old timers who swear that they never had to seal this recipe or that. But again, is that a chance you want to take? Especially if your family will be eating your canned goods?
I would definitely invest in the water bath canner first if you're serious about canning. It's like a large stock pot type item that usually has a cage to lift and lower your jars. It has to be big enough to totally submerge your jars by a few inches. Most recipes for canning can be finished off with a water bath canner. Jams, jellies, pickles, etc. usually fall into this category. Check out this canner if you're looking to invest in one:
Items like green beans, tomatoes, soups, or meat usually need a pressure canner (yes meat. Did you know you can home can meat? Canned pork is one of my favorite. Yum! You can also can things like sausage if you get a good deal on hogs meat. However, I think freezing this one is just as good). Pressure canning can seem intimidating at first, but if you're careful and follow instructions it's a breeze. If I can do it, you can do it. If you're wanting a good pressure canner, check out this one here:
Just follow these simple rules and you should have a much better turn out for your canning efforts. Happy canning and enjoy those ping ping pings!
Can you think of anything else that would cause your canning to fail? Let me know in the comments. I love to hear from you!
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