Canning Confessions: lessons from my kitchen

If you’ve dabbled in a bit of canning, chances are that it isn’t a canning session without something going wrong. After a canning mishap with a friend last weekend I thought it was high time to share some wisdom, hoping someone (including me!) will take this advice:

  1. Start small (and early): After my first canning session with the Ecology Action Centre in 2012 my friends and I thought it would be totally doable to go in together on a order of 60lbs tomatoes and preserve a large batch of salsa. This was after a three hour workshop with ten or so people chopping away. Surely four of us starting at 1:00pm with double the ingredients would be a piece of cake, right? Wrong. So wrong. We were all a little loopy and beginning to regret our decision at 1:00am after the first batch of salsa went in the water bath canner to be processed. There isn’t a canning enthusiast I know who hasn’t been there. In fact my co-worker admitted that this is one of her favourite parts of canning – when uncontrollable laughter kicks in as a result of some poor decisions along the way. It didn’t help that we were using my tiny kitchen and small stove, which brings me to the next lesson:

When we realized we were a bit over our heads..
Late night compost explosion. Sometime late in the eve..

  1. Invest in the right equipment: What do you get when you can with a few small pots, a tiny stove, and a large batch of ingredients? A whole lot of problem solving and delays. Especially when you haven’t learned your lesson to start small (not pointing any fingers). There are some things that are easier to improvise than others. These are the things that aren’t:

i. The right canning tools: Invest in a magnetic wand, jar grabber, and a water bath canning pot that is large enough for jars to sit submerged under approx. 2″ water. A small water bath canner will result in processing jars into the wee hours of the morning. A larger one can literally save you hours of canning. Check out this resource for a list of canning tools.

ii. The right pot: I admit that I still haven’t invested in a large enough pot that simmers a large batch of salsa in one go. Each year I can’t seem to justify spending the money on a pot that might only be used once. I always deal with juggling ingredients between two, sometimes three pots. Each year I promise myself (and my partner who is on the side lines politely reminding me that life would be a whole lot easier with one pot), that this will be the year I purchase a large pot. Let me tell ya – this will be the year I invest in a large solid pot. After canning with community groups and using their larger pots, I’m positive a one-time investment would have paid itself off by now. A double bottom pot is also important to prevent burning and ruining an entire batch of salsa, and gives you a piece of mind when you’re letting things simmer.


Juggling spaghetti sauce ingredients between two pots. Also note that it’s dark. Another late evening! Photo Cred: Jen Organ

3.       Keep a canning journal: Each year I forget one or two details about the previous canning season. For a few years I’d always forget if some recipes required more jars than they called for, if I used apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar, replaced sugar with honey, or how much the total cost was for a certain size batch of ingredients. Just last year I began to track each year’s canning adventure. One major breakthrough for me was to actually weigh the bulk order of tomatoes and ingredients. Ordering 25lbs of tomatoes can sometimes mean you get 27-28lbs. This can make a surprising difference in salsa consistency. Since then my salsa has been top notch. I just hop on a scale with the box of tomatoes and subtract my weight to calculate the weight of tomatoes.

Canning or any other kind of food adventure will never be perfect. These imperfections provide  humor and memories that are worth more than the salsa (ok, not all the time). Sometimes though, mishaps can just be plain exhausting and can make for a frustrating canning experience. Hopefully this offers some of you some tips for future canning adventures.

What are some of your worst or best canning moments? We’d love to hear from you! Email jenorgan[at]

Check out our canning resource: How to can your harvest: a step-by-step guide including sample recipes

Yours in canning,


~Jen Organ is the Community Food Programmer with the Our Food Project of the Ecology Action Centre.

Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre. Learn more about our program at Follow us on Twitter @ourfoodproject.

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