They say if you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else, and this certainly rings true when it comes to home preservation. If you don’t have a game plan, the summer can easily pass you by with little or no canning accomplished, making for a fall scramble to put food up.
A plan of action for canning is also important for avoiding a physical -or mental- collapse during those short and hot summer months. Those softening strawberries and quick-ripening tomatoes really know how to put on the pressure. It is easy to take on too much, and canning really isn’t a project that can be rushed or accomplished under stress.
The alternate title for this post was How to Avoid Burnout During Canning Season, because I want to help you streamline your home canning efforts to be as efficient as possible, while yielding the personal satisfaction of a job well done – without burnout!
7 Ways to Avoid Burnout During Canning Season
1. Be Realistic.
Start the season with a practical assessment of what you will eat. Try and think realistically.
In chatting with Marisa of Food in Jars on this topic, she wisely advises:
“If you aren’t chutney people, don’t force yourself to put up a dozen jars thinking your tastes will magically change. Only can what you know you and your family will eat.“
At the beginning of the year, make a list of what you want to preserve. List only what you (and your family) love to eat and ask these questions:
- What was popular last winter?
- What is still sitting on shelves now?
- What was the family’s least favorite canned item last year?
- What was a pain in the neck to put up?
- What was best received as gifts?
A list will quickly form for this season’s canning projects. I could have made triple the amount of blueberry syrup. During the winter, a spoonful was a such refreshing reminder of summer – and friends loved receiving it as gifts.
What will I be dropping from my repertoire? Applesauce. I’ve got jars and jars of it that never got used. My former applesauce-loving two year old is now a ‘big boy’ who would far rather chomp down on a fresh apple. A changing, growing (or shrinking!) household are some good reasons to update your canning repertoire each season.
Also think realistically about what you can accomplish.
Take a good look at your list. These should be your ‘Must Have’ items. If you feel like you will be able to fit them in, add one or two new recipes or techniques that you’ve been wanting to try.
Here’s what’s on my ‘Must Have’ list this season:
Some of you can and preserve food all summer long to provide for your family’s basic needs year round, but most of us don’t can out of sheer necessity. We all have different reasons to preserve the harvest and I think making a list of our favorite items helps prioritize what needs to happen.
Photo by Elizabeth Nyland
2. Book the Dates
Are you hosting a family reunion like I did last June? Traveling for most of August? Start by taking a good look at the calendar and set aside one weekend morning or afternoon a month now for canning before it gets booked with birthday parties and barbecues. Then, stick to your guns.
Pencil in a few evenings, too, and think about asking a friend to come and work with you. But that is our next point.
3. Recruit Help
Many hands make light work, especially when canning at home. Enlist the help of your spouse, friend, or family member for the big projects. Often there are mundane tasks such as pitting cherries or peeling tomatoes that anyone can do, so previous kitchen experience is not required of a helper.
Perhaps a grandmother or uncle could play Uno with the little ones one afternoon a week while you make preserves. Thank them with a few jars of canned cherries and everyone will be happy.
Better yet, host a canning party, although this sounds like more of a social event than a hot and sticky canning marathon.
Photo by Mama’s Minutia
4. Pace Yourself
Can only the essentials, what is in season NOW. Even if tomatoes are plentiful in July, focus on berries and stone fruit. The tomatoes are not going anywhere just yet.
Only once the early summer fruit has passed its peak, then move on. Talk to growers to find out how much longer specific produce will be around the market and if prices are expected to lower anytime. I generally can my tomatoes in the last week that they are available at the market because they are incredibly cheap if I wait that long.
TIP: Don’t buy produce just because it’s a deal. Have a game plan before you go to the market — with a little wiggle room, of course.
5. Hire Help for the ‘Extras’
Gardening, dinner prep, household chore – these tasks don’t magically get done when we’re canning. They pile up and can become a stress if left for too long. We’ve talked about recruiting some help from family, but if you can afford it, get even more back-up.
On days that you’ve slotted a major canning undertaking, hire a babysitter or the neighbor’s pre-teen daughter to play with the kids outside or at the park. If you’re really serious about canning, book a sitter for the same time every week and make that your designated canning time.
No kids, and still no time? Hire someone to come in a help with other household tasks that are a major time suck so you can hit the kitchen.
6. Organize a preserve swap.
Two seasons in a row I have coordinated to have between 15 and 20 people come together and swap home canned goods in the fall. It’s an extremely practical way of garnering a wide assortment of jam, jelly and preserves if you don’t have a whole lot of canning experience (or time) yourself.
You can read about my first event and take a peek at my extremely well stocked pantry if you are curious about how it went. Both events were such fun and another swap is in the works for this coming fall.
7. Be Prepared.
It’s almost too obvious to be mentioned, but organize yourself well before beginning a canning project. Brush up on canning basics and double check your equipment.
Here’s a list of everything you’ll need. Don’t be the knumbskull who is all set to jam – only to discover the pectin is past its due date. Yep, that was me.
Get ready, get set, go! Happy Canning!
What are your tips for staying sane during the busy canning months?