If you’ve ever canned your own food, you’ll know there is a very special feeling that comes with reaching for one of those jars in the pantry. It comes with a memory of the particular produce that provided the canvas; of the careful work you put into crafting the edible art. When you open it, it comes with a taste that just can’t be found on the grocery store shelf.
This makes me smile. And crave jam. Last year was my first year of home canning, and I’m totally addicted to it.
How Year One Went
The first product was a small batch of rather pathetic — but luckily still edible — jam. Raspberry, because I showed up to the U-pick the day after they had closed the strawberry patch.
Then, one late-summer day, I came home from work with a some tomatoes and peppers, declaring I would make salsa. Luckily, the Mandult stepped in to help mix it up, so I was able to get those jars filled and processed by midnight.
That salsa was just out of this world, which gave me the inspiration to dive into more preservation projects.
My dill pickles were a massive hit in spite of being a little soft; the cukes had sat for a while before I could get to them.
All in all, I had a pantry full of deliciousness to show for my labor. However, it’s clear that there is definite room for improvement in the planning and preparation department.
Seeing Into My Future (The kitchen looks steamy and there are jars everywhere!)
As I was driving along today and admiring fields and gardens, I realized that it would be wise to lay out some canning plans now so I can be a little more organized this year.
Oh, for sure I’m still going to come home at least once with a random half bushel of something and say, “Look what I found at the market. I’m going to make jam/sauce/salsa/relish!” That’s a big part of why we can – preserving the most bountiful of the in season produce. But I also don’t want to simply miss the peak season for some preserves I’m dying to have in my pantry.
I expect a little research and forethought into how much of everything I will need — and when to start watching for it to overflow off the fruit and veggie stands — will save me some scrambling later in the year.
So I made myself a little worksheet, and, drumroll…. I’m sharing the printable here! Just become an Aaah!dulthood subscriber for access to the “Plan to Can” (and other great resources, coming soon).
What’s in My Plan?
First comes figuring out what to make. If you’ve done some canning the previous year, a look at your pantry should tell you what went like hotcakes versus what is still languishing in the back corners gathering dust. You’ll definitely want to replenish the former!
Then, think about products that you purchase most often, and would rather have a homemade version of.
Finally, think about your inspiration. Would you like to recreate something you used to eat as a kid, or that you received as a gift from someone lately? Did you try something amazing from a Farmer’s Market? Do you have a whole board on Pinterest just for food in jars? This planner is the first step towards turning those food fantasies into reality.
For me, this year, I definitely need to make plenty more salsa and dill pickles, based on how quickly we gobbled those up. I also want to make sure I get some strawberry jam done, because, well, it’s strawberry jam.
The next step is to figure out how much you aim to make. Think about how fast you tend to eat a particular product once it is opened, which will tell you what size jars best suit your needs. Then consider how often you tend reach for a new jar of that thing, and you will have a pretty good idea of how many jars you’re targeting.
Don’t forget to account for any gift giving you want to do with your preserves. Sure, Christmas is a long way off, but you won’t be making jam in December. You’ll need to add extra on to your total goals, and possibly some different sized jars than your own family eats.
Once you know how much end product you’re aiming for, you can figure out how much raw produce that will take. This will likely take a little research into some recipes to get a rough idea. I know last year I was shocked at how much some produce squashed and cooked down to next to nothing, while others seemed to lose little, if any, volume (anyone want some relish?). This year I plan on shopping with an idea of what I need, rather than just scooping up what seems like “a lot.”
Of course, you need to know what produce you are after in the first place. Sometimes this is rather obvious. But remember, some preserves require a significant amount of a secondary produce (eg. hot peppers for salsa). Also, if you are after a particular variety of fruit or vegetable, it’s certainly worth noting in the planning stage.
‘Tis All About the Season
Once you know what you are after, you can figure out when it will be most readily available (and hopefully least expensive!). If you don’t know offhand, you should be able to find some guidelines online for your local area. You can also ask producers directly if you see them at markets of CSA pickups.
Take Stock and Get Ready
My worksheet also takes a quick inventory of where your canning supplies are at.
This means checking out whether you have the staples used in many recipes on hand (eg. pectin, pickling salt). You don’t want to be making pickles and realize you used all your vinegar up washing your hair or windows!
I also recommend doing a count of your jars, rings, and lids (remember you need to use new sealing lids every time!). There’s nothing worse than getting elbow deep into your produce only to find you have no jars to put your preserve in!
If you compare the jars you already have to what you want to make, then you can be sure to purchase any sizes you’re short on, well in advance (as opposed to in the middle of a big canning day). For example, I’ll be looking out for a good deal on quarts so I can make bigger jars of dill pickles this year.
Set To Go
Now that I’ve got my little plan sketched out, I feel way more organized and prepared than last year. And since I already know all about the yumminess I can create, I’m pumped! Bring on the bounty — I’ve got some jars waiting…..
All photos and edits by Gina at Aaah!dulthood. All rights reserved.
Do you do any home canning? What are you itching to make this year?