How To Host a Home Canning Party

Do you love fresh food and growing your own produce? Then learning to can is a great way to extend the enjoyment of the peak season into the winter months. If you grew up with a Mom or Granny that canned you probably know a great deal already. If this is all new to you, don’t worry it’s easy enough to learn. Once you have a few inexpensive items and learn the basics you’ll be ready to tackle almost anything you can dream up.

One idea for getting started and learning the basics is to host a home canning party with a few like-minded friends. One person getting all the supplies might be the best strategy to ensure you have everything assembled the day of, reducing concerns of a last minute no-shows. The cost can be divided among those attending, with the output of that days canning shared among those present.

I will outline the list of basic items needed and then give an example of a party we hosted recently on pickle making.

The basics:

Glass Jars (mason jars are most commonly available under the brand names Ball and Kerr)
Jars are commonly available at hardware and grocery stores, and are purchased in cases of 12. They can be found in pint, half-pint and quart sizes. They will either be regular or wide mouthed, a reference to the size of the jar opening. If you have jars from previous use they are completely reusable as long as they are in fine condition. I would avoid using recycled “mayonnaise” jars and opt for a sturdier mason jar.

Tip: Save the box the jars come in, it will come in handy for storing your product and then for your empty jars till you need them again next season.

Rings and Lids
Be sure to select the size of ring and lid that matches your jar mouth size. Rings can also be reused as long as they are not rusted. Lids will only be used once.

Canner
This is a large enameled pot that the jars will be set into for hot water bath processing. These come in multiple sizes so you might consider the size of jars you plan to work with and also the size of your stove. I have a medium one that costs $20, which I purchased at my neighborhood hardware store–along with all the other supplies. (Amazon sells them too.)

Tip: If you wanted to experiment prior to investing in additional pieces of kitchen equipment, here’s a suggestion. I have used a pasta/stockpot when working with 1/2 pints with good results. The jars can actually be placed in the colander strainer basket for processing. It is important that water covers the top of the jars for processing so opt for a smaller jar.

Canning gadgets
The primary item is a jar lifter. You will use it to lower and raise the jars in and out of the boiling water. They can be had for under $5–so splurge and buy one of these if you get nothing else.
You may also want a canning funnel, it will assist in directing ingredients into the jar quickly and cleanly.

Special ingredients
Pickling Salt is called for in many recipes and is special in that it has no additives of any kind. If you opt for another salt ensure it is free from anti-caking agents and iodine, which could cause darkening of the produce or cloudy liquid.

The hot water bath equipment outlined above is for high-acid food processing, you will find it is called for in most recipes for pickles, jams, chutneys, etc. Certain other low-acid foods (many vegetables, meats and poultry) will require processing in a pressure cooker–which is a different piece of equipment and process.

And now to the recipe and ingredients. There are excellent sources for home canning recipes if you don’t have a family recipe to use. Recipes may be found on-line or Ball produces a comprehensive book under the title, Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Once you have selected your recipe, use only the freshest produce available – ideally processing within 24 hours of harvest. This is not always possible and I have had good results with produce more than a week old.

When the jars are taken out of the hot water bath, you will want to allow them time to rest till they are cool. I often allow them to rest for 24 hours before labeling and storing. My favorite moment in home canning occurs during the resting stage, when the jars begin to cool the vacuum action seals the lid and you will hear a “ping”. This sound is telling you the jar has sealed and is an audible “congratulations, job well done!”

It is a good habit to label your products, although you are likely able to identify the type of food visually – you may find the date and year comes in handy when eating the product, especially if you begin making the item year after year.

As for storing the product, many city dwellers are short on “root cellars” and in a pinch the back of a kitchen cabinet works quite well. Ideally, somewhere dark and cool will be the best location for your home canning products.

group_5An Example of a Home Canning Party: An Afternoon of Pickles
Slow Food Dallas came together recently for an afternoon of a pickle making. The goal was to share our collective knowledge with a small group of friends. The supplies were assembled by the host/instructor and the cost was split among the 12 people in attendance (in our case it was $7/per person). The goal was to demonstrate two types of pickles; a quick dill variety and a bread and butter variety. Each recipe used a different method of preparation and would give the group experience in multiple techniques. Eighteen 1/2 pints of each recipe would be processed and then all the output would be divided among those present.

We had two people demonstrating and between us had all the specific equipment needed. Additional jars, rings and lids were purchased, as well as the recipe specific spices, vinegars, and of course, the cucumbers.

Everyone shared in the process so they were able to try their hand at slicing, packing and filling the jars, securing the lids and using the hot water bath. Many recipes and ideas were exchanged that day for future canning adventures.

CAA Contributor Kelly Ingram is a sales executive, writer, and a passionate champion for good food, gardening and canning. She comes from a long line of home gardeners with many early memories assisting her family’s canning projects. She has taken that expertise into her own kitchen and over the past several years has been perfecting her signature product – Dill Pickles. She is the Program Director for Slow Food Dallas in Dallas, TX.