The Natural Canning Resource Book - Introduction

Who is this book for?

This book is a comprehensive resource for anyone interested in learning how to can with natural foods. I wrote this book with a certain demographic profile in mind. If you are part of this demographic profile, then some of the following characteristics may apply to you:

  • You may be a Gen-Xer or Millennial baby whose parents did not preserve food.
    • You might live an urban or suburban lifestyle as opposed to a rural one.

  • You may be earning less than your parents did at your age.

  • You try to purchase organic, whole foods, when your budget permits. You belong to a Community Supported Agriculture project or food coop if there is one nearby, and shop at your local farmer’s market. Organic processed foods like jam and salsa might seem unaffordable.

  • You are concerned about climate change, oil depletion and water scarcity.

  • You are involved in community gardening, permaculture design, urban foraging or guerilla gardening.

  • You’re no stranger to thrift shops, dumpster diving and the "freegan" lifestyle.

Why did I write this book?

This book is not a recipe book. It is designed to be used in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving (available free as a Web download or purchased in book form) and other USDA and Cooperative Extension publications.

There are plenty of canning recipe books already out there. However, they all have major gaps. For instance, most published canning recipes require the use of distilled white or “cider” vinegar (possibly not made from real apples), white sugar, corn syrup, commercial pectin or other products of our industrial agricultural system. If you are into natural foods and want to make jams and pickles and salsas with natural sweeteners, organic vinegar or homemade pectin, few resources are available on how to use them safely. You’ve probably also heard of the health problems associated with bisphenol A, the clear plastic coating used to line canning jar lids and nearly 100 percent of commercial canned foods. You might have wondered if there are healthy, sustainable alternatives. Maybe you have a solar cooker and are wondering if solar canning is safe.

The USDA and Cooperative Extension System have done a lot of good research. However, the USDA has a bias toward promoting commodity agricultural products like white sugar and corn syrup and spends almost no time or money promoting small, organic producers or niche products like maple syrup. For this reason, the USDA and Cooperative Extension publications, as well as big-name canning book publishers like Ball® (whose parent company now has a monopoly on American and Canadian canning jars) tend to pay little attention to the interests of the local, organic food movement, holistic health community or to issues like peak oil and climate change.

Moreover, the USDA publishes over-simplified “rules of thumb” for home canners with built-in margins of safety. The scientists who create home canning publications assume that their audience members might not have graduated from college or high school. Often, the reasoning behind specific canning rules is not explained in enough detail for the general public to understand. “Just trust us -- don’t you dare experiment” is the implicit, and sometimes explicit, message. Indeed, one government food scientist told me that the USDA “has never tried to be an instructional guide on how to do your own in-home testing of ingredients.”

This book was written to help fill the void. I explore the possibilities for ecologically sustainable canning of locally grown foods. I don’t provide all the recipe details you’ll find in the Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving -- I want you to read it yourself. But, I do spend a fair amount of the book explaining the science behind USDA guidelines so you can critique them knowledgeably.

This book answers questions like, Is it possible to:

  • can fruit and pickled foods with honey, maple syrup, agave nectar and other natural sweeteners or without any added sugar?

  • can wild fruits like Oregon grape (barberries), juneberries, highbush cranberries, bird cherries, elderberries, and paw paw?

  • make jams and jellies with homemade pectin made from locally grown fruit?

  • pickle vegetables with organic, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar or with homemade vinegar?

  •   can tomato or tomatillo products without bottled lemon juice or vinegar?

  •   can homemade baby food?

  •   can safely on a cheap electric stove?

  •  reuse glass jars from commercially-processed foods for home canning?

  • can with European-style canning jars that have glass lids and rubber gaskets?

  • can with solar cookers?

  • safely experiment with canning recipes?

  • Sell your canned goods at the local farmers' market or CSA?

To track down answers to these questions I conducted extensive research. I contacted numerous government, university and industrial food scientists, microbiologists and chemists. I also did some of my own kitchen experiments.

Chapter 1 discusses how and why canning is an ecologically and economically sustainable choice for food preservation: the role of canning in a post-petroleum future, how to save money by canning at home, and a comparison of canning with other ecologically sustainable methods of food preservation. Chapters 2 and 3 explain the history and science of canning in a way even non-scientists can understand. Learning the basics on food microorganisms and heat processing of canned foods will help you to better understand why the USDA has created certain rules -- and equally important -- discern when those rules might be altered safely.

Chapter 4 explains what basic equipment you will need to begin your canning adventures. This includes a thorough discussion of stoves and burners, water bath and pressure canners and other useful canning equipment and utensils. Chapter 5 provides an in-depth look at canning jars and lids, including an exposé of bisphenol A liners on canning lids and reusable canning jar and lid alternatives. Chapter 6 covers the processes of water bath and pressure canning, including energy-saving canning tips, and how to store canned goods. Chapter 7 is about high altitude canning and water bath processing foods below the boiling point to better preserve the texture of canned foods. Chapter 8 explains how to safely use solar cookers for both water bath and pressure canning. The most popular solar cooking Web sites contain unsafe canning information. Learn what not to do and how to do it right. Chapter 9 is about getting together with your neighbors to create commercially-certified community kitchens. Chapter 10 opens up the world of creating your own canning recipes. Much of the information in that chapter will help you make the most of the rest of the book. It also describes the Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines for small-scale commercial canning and provides government and industry resources for would-be entrepreneurs.

Chapter 11 is all about how and where to grow, forage or buy local, organic and fair trade fruits, vegetables and herbs at the peak of freshness and prepare them for canning. It also discusses where to buy other canning ingredients like bulk spices, sweeteners, salt, vinegar and oil. Learn about the world of Community Supported Agriculture Projects, local farmer’s markets, urban fruit foraging, guerilla gardening, community gardens and more. Chapter 12 explains how to safely can with natural sweeteners -- a subject the USDA and most other canning books ignore. Chapters 13 through 16 provide tips on water bath canning fruit, preserves, tomatoes, vinegar pickles, salsas, chutneys and lactofermented fruits and vegetables.

The appendix has a canning safety checklist and a resource section filled with Web sites, books, DVDs and more on a multitude of home canning-related subjects. Use the index to look up specific topics within the book.

Table of Contents

About the Author

Learn More or Buy