Canning season is right around the corner and this post will explain exactly how to get ready for my favorite time of year. These steps will help you be ready for canning season and all the bounty it brings. There’s nothing worse than coming into a bargain quantity of produce and not having what you need to preserve it. Let’s get ready!
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Why in the world do you need to worry about getting ready right now? As you learn more about canning you will see that lots of canning happens in an unplanned fashion. Once you have the equipment and a general idea of how it works, you will likely happen upon a quantity of produce that you want to can up right away. Produce should be canned when it is at its peak, and you don’t typically have time to waste. Furthermore, I have found that once friends and acquaintances find out that you are a budding canner, they will surely offer up free or cheap quantities of berries or peppers and because you will have read this post, you will be ready to preserve them. This post will detail exactly how you can get ready now and you’ll be ready to go whenever preserving opportunity knocks.
Want the quick version of this post? Download your 1 page canning season prep checklist here!
- Look in your pantry. Check out your shelves and think about what you cooked all year long. What did you run out of (home canned or not) that you wished you hadn’t? What staples do you go to on busy nights or for fun meals with friends? In my home, I doubt I will ever be able to can enough tomato sauce. Pasta is a kid and husband pleaser, the tomato sauce I make counts as a vegetable when I’m too rushed to fix a green one, and it is supremely versatile. I can over a hundred pounds of tomatoes every year and run out by early summer (100 pounds isn’t THAT much- it is several flats. Don’t be too impressed. Tomatoes are heavy).
- Make a wish list. Think about the recipes you would like to try, the fruit or veggies you wished you had canned but never got your hands on, or the thing your loved one would truly appreciate to be given. Flip through a canning book or the Start Canning section of this site for inspiration.
- Think about seasons. You may have to use a canning cookbook or the google machine for this part but consider what time of year you are reading this and what fruit and vegetable will be ripening in your area. Many canning cookbooks are arranged by season for this very reason. I might be excited to can apple juice this year, but I need to know that there is a while to wait since apples aren’t ripe in my area until October. Very generally speaking you can expect these few example items to be ripe in the following seasons:
Spring: Strawberries – Asparagus
Summer: Berries – cucumbers- peppers- tomatoes
Fall: Apples- pears
- Take stock of your equipment. I wrote a super thorough post about the equipment you need to start canning here, and you should absolutely read that one next if you haven’t already. You might need to get some teeny jam jars if you plan on making special jam to give at a bridal shower, or some quarts if you want to make a glut of apples into juice, for example.
- Buy your non-perishable grocery items.
Because I’m pretty much perpetually canning or making shrubs, I go through a lot of these items and purchase them in large quantities. You need to have on hand the following items:
Store bought lemon juice. Store bought lemon juice is actually very important because when you buy your lemon juice from the store, it is sold at a standard acidity- probably 5% or more. I explain the importance of acid & canning in this post here but the main thing you need to know is if a recipe calls for lemon juice it is probably to bring the acid of a recipe up (and the pH down below 4.6) and a plain old lemon that you squeeze yourself might not be acidic enough to do so. If the recipe you want to try calls for a “squeeze of lemon” or “zest of a lemon” then they mean you can use a whole lemon as the source. If it calls for a specific measurement of juice, use bottled.
Vinegar. Buy vinegar that is of better quality than the cheap white you might use to wash windows or descale a faucet. If the recipe calls for a specific acid level, get it. If you are not sure what recipes you will by trying exactly or you are just getting started, buy a gallon of white vinegar that is advertised as “delicious” or some other food-specific descriptor and a bottle of apple cider vinegar (useful in shrubs and lots of other applications). I find the stringent tasting, good for cleaning vinegar on the bottom shelf of the supermarket and it usually has a plain label. It isn’t like the bottom shelf variety will harm you or your pickles, it is just the better the quality, the better the end product will likely taste. You want your cucumbers to taste pickled, not like vinegar.
Sugar. Buy a quantity that you can comfortably store and bear in mind making jam, syrup, jelly, etc takes a large quantity and most times, cutting back on the sugar in the recipe is a no-no. Sugar is a powerful preservative and as such, it is pretty darn important that you follow the recipe. Once I get my large sack home, I usually dispense it into half gallon mason jars and screw the lids on tightly because I have ants. You also can store it in the freezer to avoid pests. I buy white, plain old granulated sugar. Some recipes call for brown but if you are short on space, get just white. You don’t want powdered, confectioner’s sugar.
Salt. Pickling salt is labeled as such because it lacks the additive that will make your pickle juice cloudy. I wrote a blog post about the differences between pickling salt and regular salt here! That post will help you decide if you need to pickling salt or not. If you are the kind of person that frets about cloudy pickle juice you might be comforted by purchasing pickling salt. I just use the regular Morton (or whatever is on sale) iodized salt because I don’t care about cloudiness and my jars usually have a mineral-y, hazy film on the exterior because I often forget to pour a glug of white vinegar into the canning pot which would prevent the lime in my hard water from clinging to the jars. I don’t actually make many batches of pickles per year, so I haven’t found that more than a couple of the cylindrical containers of salt to be more than I need. Also, note that a recipe might refer to the salt + ingredients as “brine.” That just means salt+water+whatever else liquid and it will likely be combined, boiled, and then poured over the vegetables.
Citric acid. Here’s another store bought item that you readers might be surprised to see me list. I’m all about homemade but this is another purchase made for safety sake. I discuss acid & canning at length here but citric acid is a way to bring the acid level of tomatoes in particular (and some other veggie recipes) to a safer level. It is preferable to lemon juice because it is flavorless. It is a white powder and you usually need about a teaspoon per pint jar. I have never gone through more than one container in a season.
Canning lids. You need NEW lids to can with. Use those used lids for cute projects like this one here and for storing dry goods. Buy the size (regular or wide mouth are the ONLY sizes there are; hallelujah!) that matches the jars you have. I usually buy a lot- 5 or more boxes of each size- when I see them at a good price, but I can pretty steadily from about June to October. I’d say start with 2 boxes of each size if you haven’t acquired jars yet. That will be enough to get going. Get the complete canning equipment list here. You’ll be surprised to find that you already own most of this stuff already!
If you are a person who prefers video, I recorded a video showing you all the best tools you’d need as a beginner on my YouTube channel. Watch it here!
That is it, Wildflowers! By following the list, you will gather what you need and will be ready whenever you happen to have the time + produce to can.
Click to print your canning season prep checklist and planner here!
Ready to take the next step? Want to learn how to can delicious, healthy foods you can give to friends & family? The canning course for busy beginners, Start Canning is accepting students! Learn STEP BY STEP in premium video lessons here!