Canning at home lets home canners preserve the harvest from their own gardens or orchards and enjoy home-grown fruits and vegetables year-round. Even for those who don't garden,canning at home allows them to purchase produce when it is in season, then enjoy the foods in the off-season. Home canning requires some basic supplies and tools, and success is largely based on processing food in the proper amounts at the correct temperatures. Anyone can fill a pantry by canning at home, provided the proper techniques are used.
Using the right tools for the job is one of the best ways to ensure success. The pot used for canning at home needs to be broad enough and deep enough to hold multiple glass jars; using a pot designed for canning ensures there will be plenty of space for the jars. Specialty items like jar lifters may seem like an optional expense, until the first time full, glass jars need to be lifted out of a bath of boiling water. Purchasing and sterilizing new glass jars for each batch of canned goods helps ensure the quality of the finished product.
Correctly preparing food for canning at home is essential; food should be clean, free of blemishes, and cut to the correct sizes for processing. Unless the person doing the processing is an experienced canning expert, a good-quality canning guide should be used to determine the correct size and shape for each type of food. Once the food is prepared, it should be measured precisely into the jars, and the proper amount of headspace should be left for processing. Headspace is the empty space left above the food in the jar; leaving this space allows for a strong vacuum seal once the jars are processed.
Like any recipe, proper measuring of ingredients is useful for canning at home. Even simple recipes like strawberry jam or peach preserves require the addition of precise amounts of pectin to be sure that they set up properly. Using good-quality, accurate measuring equipment will help with accuracy, as will a small scale.
Once the canning is complete, finished foods should be stored in a cool area away from light and heat. A closet or basement shelf is ideal, provided the canned goods are not tucked so far out of sight they are forgotten. Most home canned goods should be consumed within a year of processing. A good canning recipe will provide an idea of shelf life along with the other information needed to complete the process.