Once as common as backyard gardens, home canning declined as a mainstream kitchen activity after World War II. Today, however, it's making a comeback, and for good reason: It's an ideal way to preserve a garden's yield and support local farms by buying in bulk.
Beyond eco-benefits, there are health ones, too. For starters, you control what's in the jar. So that's sugar in your jam, not high-fructose corn syrup, and dill in your relish, not MSG. Home-canned foods can even have an edge over fresh; for instance, our bodies more readily absorb the antioxidant lycopene from canned tomatoes than from those straight off the vine. Plus, once canned, food is stable and high-quality for at least a year.
Expect your foray into canning (preferably with help from friends or family) to be hot, sticky work that consumes all your counter space and clean kitchen towels. But the rewards -- particularly when homemade chutney gives September's golden spark to a winter meal -- are glorious.
Supplies are sold at hardware stores, supermarkets, Amazon.com or Freshpreserving.com (the official website of Ball, the consummate canning resource). Expect to pay $40 to $80 for a complete boiling-water canner set. Here's what you'll need to get started.
1. Gather all the necessary equipment, and prep it in advance.
2. Wash jars and lids with soapy water, dry bands, and set aside.
3. Place jars in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a simmer. Put lids in a separate pot of hot water. Leave jars and lids in water until ready to fill.
Safety note: Make sure to use a safety-tested recipe printed after 1989, when the USDA added new guidelines for home canners.
Check your supplies. Bands should screw evenly over lids; jars should be free of scratches or chips, which could cause seal failure during processing or sealing.
Don't reuse lids. Jars and bands can be recycled, but the flat lids are one-time use only.
Cool carefully. Never place hot jars directly on kitchen counters; the glass might crack. Use a dish towel or a cooling rack instead.