Canning Basics

Note: this is the first in a series of posts about preserving food. In subsequent posts, we’ll cover specific types of preserving, equipment, book suggestions and ideas for how to use some of your preserved food over the winter. Today, we want to cover just the basics. For more information, we recommend the Ball Blue Book, which you can find at most stores that carry canning supplies. 

just one step beyond cooking

That’s the opening header of the Ball Blue Book, and I think it’s meant as a friendly introduction to a process that can seem quite overwhelming! The possibility of spoilage, hidden dangers you’ve heard horror stories about, the lack of a pressure cooker, there might be all kinds of things keeping you from starting. But this post is designed to help get you over that hump with some tips for first-time canners.

Whatever you do, start with and follow a canning recipe. You can find them online on blogs, or in canning books or magazines. The Ball Blue Book is usually sold near the canning supplies, but you’ll also find other small booklets or magazines dedicated to canning near the checkouts — especially as the summer gets going.

The reason for using canning recipes is that they’ve been tested to be sure that the end result is safe. Altering ingredients, temperatures, times, cleaning procedures or even equipment can “affect the quality and safety” of your canning, as Ball puts it. For instance, don’t substitute the type of vinegar in a canning recipe; the % of acid is very important for germ-nongrowth!

There are courses you can take that teach you how to develop a canning recipe — I’ve always wanted to take one! I think it involves measuring the pH of the mix at various points, and checking for growth of bacteria after processing, by culturing the food. But absent that training — follow a recipe!!

Jam is one of the easiest things to start with; not a ton of ingredients to worry about, and no pressure canner needed (since fruit is acidic). The Ball page has a great intro to jam canning, with step-by-step guides to making and canning jam. Blackberries, peaches and blueberries are in season now, with apples coming soon (recipes linked on each fruit). Websites/blogs are useful, but you’ll find lots of recipes in canning magazines and books. I like the Ball Blue Book for all the standard jams and relishes, but also these books:

Our next post has links to recipes for tomato jam! Yes, tomato jam! The tomatoes you’ll find at local markets now are perfect for making jam. Stay tuned for that post!!



Leek and Potato Soup

I have to admit, I don’t think I had ever a) tasted, or b) cooked leek and potato soup until just a few years ago. I’m not actually sure I’d ever had a leek before then! But my friends whom I gardened with raved about leek season, and about the soup in particular, and finally I got up the interest/nerve/time to try it. Or to look at recipes, at least!

Some recipes I like:

Alton Brown’s Leek Potato Soup Recipe

New York Times Golden Leek and Potato Soup

Serious Eats’ Food Lab: Potato and Leek Soup


I don’t know what I’d been waiting for, honestly! It was really fast and delicious. You can make it quite creamy or less so, but it doesn’t require any sort of fussing-over or precise measurement. Just cook and blend, and you can toss it in the freezer for later.

A basic ratio to use for this soup is 1 # leeks, 1 # potatoes (yukon gold or russets, or a combination of both), a knob of butter, 1 c. heavy cream (or half and half, or not), 1 qt chicken or veg stock, and some herbs (bay, or parsley/celery, or chives, though a touch of nutmeg can also be delicious!).

On our Facebook Live video, we used:

  • 822g of yukon gold potatoes,
  • 700g of leeks, and
  • about 3T of butter,
  • a quart of chicken stock,
  • salt and pepper to finish

No cream! We’ll freeze this, as it made about 6 qts? of soup – which is more than we can eat in the next few days!

When we thaw and re-heat it, I’ll probably add about 1c of milk or 1/2 c of half & half and 1/2 c. of water to thin it a bit.