9 Good Reasons to Can Your Own Food

If you’re not already up to your elbows in tomatoes or apples this month, then chances are you need a little nudge in the right direction, a little convincing that it just might be worth it to let the housework slide for a few days and jump onto the canning bandwagon that seems to be leaving you behind, enveloped by a cloud of steam.

Perhaps you see the pallets of canning jars at the hardware stores and supermarkets, but tell yourself canning isn’t for you or you think, “it’s just not worth the effort.”  If that’s the case, are you aware of all the benefits of home preservation?

Why do we can? There is no pat answer; everyone has their own motivations. The question is: What are yours?

Here are just a few reasons one might find us picking over late-harvest strawberries, peeling pears or sweating over the stove on any September afternoon:

Health

Concern for BPA in many commercial canned foods such as tomatoes is on the rise, and a huge incentive for home cooks and concerned parents to can their own. BPA-free foods as well as healthy, preservative-free foods that contain no harmful additives or pesticides? That’s my first choice when cooking for my children.

Read more: Food News: The Latest on BPA

Eco-Friendly

“Preserving is an extension of the values that made you shop in the farmers’ market in the first place.” Eugenia Bone

The environmental impact is minimal when you can your own food. For starters, it reduces the waste associated with pre-packed foods; remember, those mason jars are reusable. Your tomato sauce is only traveling from the counter to the pantry instead of thousands of miles across the country on a truck belching out emissions. Those are just a few examples; Ms. Bone sums it all up very well.

Read more: How home canning can help the environment

Financial

Buying produce in season when it is cheap and plentiful for preserving can be an economical way to stock the pantry. And you may be surprised to know that those decadent jams that you drool over in the local upscale kitchen store can be reproduced for pocket change.

Sentimentality & Connection

I’ll admit it, making my own jam is a huge boost to the ‘Holly Homemaker’ in me. I just love how much like a domestic goddess I feel when I hear those jars go POP as they seal. Some feel canning is a powerful connection to the past – to culture, family and heritage, and they are absolutely right.

Read more: Kevin West talks about Canning, Blogging and Saving the Season (Laist)

Preserve Personal Harvest

Are you overrun with cucumbers and tomatoes? Do your neighbors pretend they aren’t home when you ring the doorbell with a arm full of zucchini? Pack the excess of the season into jars and avoid waste. If you’ve got a garden that is producing like mad, the most sensible step is to embrace home canning. You can start with the pear tree in the back yard.

Passion & Personal Satisfaction

You think knitters are passionate about their craft? People who are serious about putting food in jars are a more than worthy rival. We’re fortunate to have a handful of ardent home canners who share their love of home canning on their blogs. They help us remember that the experience of opening a jar of cherry preserves in January is more than just practical – it’s transporting.

Read more: The work I love (Cafe Mama)

Necessity

It is becoming a less and less common, but in remote areas some folks still can and preserve all summer long to provide for their family’s basic needs year round. As a child, my family ‘lived off the land’ for some years, and stocking the cold room with peaches, sauerkraut and green beans was essential to make it through the winter.

Gifts

Nothing says ‘I love you’ quite like a jar of homemade plum preserves. Come Christmas time, home canners have the upper hand in the gift giving department, as a well-stocked pantry of jams, jellies & pickles ensures you have a solid back-up plan to cover everyone on the list.

Quality & Taste

It is not personal preference, it is not self-delusion: no commercially canned product tastes as good as locally grown, harvested in season, homemade preserves! It is deeply rewarding to select your own produce – ensuring top quality – and to can it at its peak of ripeness. You can bet your bottom dollar that the flavor of your home-canned product will mirror the quality and care that went into making it.

Looking ahead

Our Canning 101 series in July mainly featured peak summer fruit such as cherries, peaches, and nectarines. I am happy to report we will be bringing back the Canning 101 series this month with a focus on autumn produce. There is much bounty to be scooped up and packed into jars including apples, tomatoes, and pumpkin, so stay tuned for all the fun!

Care to share? How many of these reasons play into your desire to can?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites.

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Comments

  1. Lovely subject for an article Aimée. I must admit I’m not really an ardent home canner myself, but I’m willing to learn. As probably for a lot of people, the jars always remind me of my grandmother and her fruit trees. Definitely a powerful connection to the past, like you said. Every year I used to spend an entire month with her in summer and those are some of my fondest memories.
    Alison @ Femita’s last post: First-hand Review Of The LELO Elise Personal Massager

  2. I’ve recently learned that the Ball lids have a coating that contains BPA. Is anyone successfully using a BPA-free alternative in your canning?

    • Good point, Katie, yes, I have also heard that the white part on the underside of the lids contains Bisphenol A. This is why it is important to leave a generous amount of headspace between the food and the lid. That is a smart step you can take to avoid contamination.

    • Katie, There are reusable lids by a company called Tattler that are BPA free. I have not tried them yet myself because I have so many Ball lids but friends who have tried them love them. I do plan on getting some soon. The added bonus is they do not end up in the land fill.

      However I have to admit I am not worried at all about the BPA in Ball lids. The product you canned should never come in contact with the lid. With commercial canned items the whole can is lined with BPA.

      -Robin
      Robin (Hippo Flambe)’s last post: Watermelon Creamsicle

    • i use cellophane for my tomato sauce and marmalade and they never spoiled. my mother used the same thing and never had problems with it.

  3. Can’t say I have started canning yet, but your list of reasons is great. It’s so true that home-made gifts are the best. I still make dozens of cookies at Christmas and package them for my friends – they are always a big hit! And now my daughter helps me make them so they are extra-special.
    This was our first year with a few pots of herbs, peppers and tomatoes. I so enjoyed having fresh produce for the table. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be asking DH for a full-on vegetable garden next year.

    • Who wouldn’t love homemade cookies, Catherine!?

      A vegetable garden is a great step forward, and your daughter would probably love working with you there almost as much as the baking together.

  4. That was a fantastic article! I’ve gotten very big into canning the past several years, and I think more people should. I relate to most of your reasons. I can’t wait for your fall Canning 101 series. I think it’s my favorite produce to can! Nothing beats homemade applesauce.
    Kaytee’s last post: Barbecue Sauce

  5. Love all this wonderful information about canning. Your site is wonderful!
    alison’s last post: Strawberry-Blueberry and Peach Crisp

  6. I’m pretty new to canning, but I’d say all of these reasons play into why I started. However, my main reason is for the connection to the past. I like knowing that I can do something that my grandmother’s did.

  7. Such good reasons! I try canning something new each season. This summer it was pickles! We’re picking apples soon to get started on apple sauce. Canning in September is even more fun than July since it’s cooler. Looking forward to more on canning!
    Sandra’s last post: Half-Time Week!

  8. I would like to hear more about sugar and canning – we tend to put up a lot of our fruit (berries, applesauce, fruit purees, cut fruit, etc. by freezing because I am often detered by the amount of sugar in the recipes I see for canning. But then you fight the freezer burn situation and leaving little space in the big freezer. I know that there are recipes out there that don’t require the cups and cups of sugar – and you don’t have to end up with over-sweet fruit that is already sweet enough. Your images above look so fresh with the big pieces that I thought that I would ask what you think and what you do.

    Please excuse if you have already covered this in the series. I am not a diabetic but it runs heavily in my family so I watch our sugar and really, I like my fruit on the tart sweet side and was looking for some healthier canning options. As a person who has only canned with friends a couple of times, I am just not in the know~!

    Thank you so much for the series!
    Courtney’s last post: the season for such things

  9. Today I’m canning watermelon rind pickles. Because they are hard to find, because my mom and grandmother canned, and because they make awesome unique gifts at the holidays.

    One of the best things I’ve learned to can is meat. The canned chicken I made was fantastic and so much better than the grocery store canned chicken. I was two minutes away from chicken salad sandwiches, or chicken quesadillas. You do need a pressure canner, but it really isn’t hard or scary.

  10. I so agree about homemade just tasting better. In South Africa we have a pickle commercially available called Branston Pickle. I made something very similar using a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe (of River Cottage fame in the UK) and let me tell you, not a single person who has tasted it says they’d rather have the shop one (which is way too salty and vinegary).

  11. I have 23 jars of jam cooling on the counter right now. Reading your blog this summer really got to me. Can’t wait for the fall version!!

  12. Every one of the reasons you gave is a reason that I do. There is nothing quite like the satisfaction of pulling something that you grew and preserved right off the shelf. Fun and definitely worth the effort.

  13. Such a great article. I started canning for the first time last year (using just a regular, large pot) and had a lot of fun with it so my husband bought me a canner for Christmas. I’ve already used it three times this summer! Sorry to hear that the Ball lids have BPAs though. Even if you leave headspace at the top of the jar, if you tip it, the food does come into contact with it briefly. And I use my jars for storing foods in the fridge at other times too.

    Courtenay, if you are concerned about sugar, there is a pectin for making jams called Pomona’s Universal pectin. You can use little to no sugar, or you can use some alternative sweetners. I am pre-diabetic (how fun for me!) and I made peach-cardamom jam with Pomona’s, as well as some rhubarb sauce (sweetened with Stevia).
    fooddreamer’s last post: Sesame Roasted Salmon with Wasabi Mayonnaise

  14. Really nice list of reasons to can! I’ve been canning for years; I didn’t realize quite how many until a couple summers ago when I pulled a Mason jar out of the box to sterilize for making jam and saw it sporting a label (in my handwriting) that said July 1985. I would have been 14 at the time! I really enjoy the fact that I’m still using the same jars 25 years later :) My dh & I canned about 12 litres of salsa and a batch of mustard beans last week. We’ll be off to pick apples at a local farm any time now – I sense a batch of apple relish and some applesauce will be up next!
    Karen @ Abundance on a Dime’s last post: Yard Sale Report for September 11- 2010

  15. I am embarrassed to admit that I haven’t canned anything before…But it is never too late to learn :-) The reasons you listed above are all biggies for why I need to get off my lazy tush and make it happen. I’ll try the tattler lids, too – if I want to avoid BPA, I might as well go BPA free, all the way. Thanks for your tips, everyone.
    Michelle (What’s Cooking)’s last post: New Salad Bars for Elementary Schools – Feedback From Kids

  16. I completely agree with the reasons you’ve listed. when i was small i used to help my mom and dad do the canning and now that I’m on my own I’ve realized just how great it is for my budget and time-wise. I’ve recently started freezing vegetables so that i can have them over the winter (like green beans and cauliflower and bell peppers) they taste amazing in soups but i don’t really know whether they keep most of their vitamins or not.(I hope they do:P)

  17. What have we heard about BPA in the lids of home canning jars? Is it a concern? I’ve been canning my little fingers to the bone. One of my biggest motivators is how much I love my family and want to show them that I care and that I only want the best for them. And that’s what keeps me moving through my 40lbs of tomatoes :)
    Stephanie’s last post: End Of Summer Chowder

  18. Aimee,

    I have been thinking about canning for some time, but I am scared that I will mess it up. I freeze things instead. I agree with you that canning has lot of benefits, biggest one being not needing to refrigerated food. I wish I can do first time with someone to give me a bit of confidence as otherwise I love cooking.
    Pam @ Cookingworld’s last post: Asparagus Subzi – Vegetarian Recipe Video

  19. Canned pumpkin? I don’t buy it, but it never would have occurred to me to do it myself. Doh!

    Getting ready to do peaches and maybe some tomato sauce this weekend. Searching out a spicy tomato sauce recipe. Must make up for a pickle disaster last weekend.

    I’ve grown up so long with home canned goods that I don’t know how to actually buy certain things like pickles, jams, and salsa.
    Cheryl Arkison’s last post: Peel Me a Grape

  20. I can see that canning produce saves money, but I can’t make myself do that, because I think that preserved food is not as healthy as fresh one. In order to preserve food, you either add it salt or sugar or acid in high quantities. I think it is much better to just eat fresh food in season – even in winter. I do not eat tomatoes in winter, I just adapt my cooking to more meat and cheese, root veggies, apples and oranges.

    I love summer veggies and fruits, but maybe if i would eat them all year, they would not seem so delicious anymore. I make my own yogurt and cheese and kefir – and that is fine on the short term. Broth is also ok – even frozen, but canning – I am still waiting for a healthy recipe.

    • There are plenty of canning recipes that do not need sugar or salt. There is no sugar needed pectin. If you have ripe enough fruit, then sugar isn’t neccessary. In the Ball Blue Book, there are recipes for no salt and no sugar varieties.
      Adrienne’s last post: Roasted Turkey Breast

  21. Nice article. I love canning! I’m a master gardener and have a small home garden where I squeeze as much as I can into it. It’s just now September and so far I’ve canned jalapeno pepper jam, relish, pickles, pickled okra, peach jam, strawberry jam and will be making salsa soon. There’s something really special about opening up a jar of something you canned in the middle of winter….it brings me right back to summer!

  22. I can for nearly all of the reasons above. And I absolutely agree with “You think knitters are passionate about their craft? People who are seriously about putting food in jars are a more than worthy rival.”

    Canning is a hobby for me that I take very seriously. I love it, and I’ve learned a lot while learning how to do it well.
    Adrienne’s last post: Roasted Turkey Breast

  23. Frankly speaking, I was just aware of the health and eco-friendly benefits.. Time to teach something to my kids. Thanx for the article.
    Jessica’s last post: Advanced African Mango Detox

  24. My Mom canned all the time when I was younger and I’ve done it a few times since I’ve been married. I just have a huge fear that I’m not doing things right and that somehow I’ll end up giving my family food poisoning. I know it’s irrational because I always follow the directions to the letter but for some reason I just cringe everytime I open one of my jars that I’ve canned. It really stinks because I really like the idea of cannning but I just don’t do it.

  25. I am very careful in terms of food i really like fresh vegetable but when i read your posts that canned foods earn more benefits and good to our health also i am now convincing that i have to canned my food also…thanks for the idea:)
    Alexa’s last post: real estate agent

  26. I love to can with my Mom whenever we get the chance. I think it’s a great way to spend time with your family as well if you get together as a group to do it. Not only can you get it done faster, you can have the satisfaction of spending the afternoon with those you love.

  27. I just did 9 jars of strawberry vanilla jam last night and did some freezer jam up this morning.
    Check out our couple posts on canning:
    http://sistersplayinghouse.blogspot.com/2011/11/apple-pie-filling.html
    Sisters Playing House’s last post: Delicious Breakfast Sandwich

  28. Hello everyone,

    I am new to Canning; currently researching the proper utensils, methods and the food options, etc. All of the advice for you all has been a wealth of information. One thing for certain, I’d like to have the Tattler lids and a separate pressure canner for meat. Are there any particular steps I should take or consider with meat? Or am I being too adventurous for a newbie?!

    All of the advice from everyone has been a wealth of information. Thanks to you all.

    MsLinie

  29. My fiancé and I just started canning this past week – so far we love it! I’m curious about the nutritional value of canned foods – there are so many contradicting opinions on the matter, but this is how I see it: enzymes and some of the more volatile nutrients will be reduced, some will remain about the same, while other nutrients, such as minerals and certain antioxidants, will be increased. Also, the fact that canning makes use of nearly-ripe or ripe, local, in-season produce would suggest to me that these preserves would be far superior even to raw produce that is out of season and shipped in from thousands of miles away. The environmental factor obviously plays a big part here too, which directly impacts our health – so it seems like following our ancestors’ footsteps when it comes to food is a healthy and responsible way to go.

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