August 31, 2015 | Christine Hradek

carrots canned in glass jars

Have you been bitten by the canning bug? Buying fresh local produce at the farmers market or growing it yourself in your own back yard garden has been inspiring lots of people to give canning a try. If you would like to try canning before making a huge investment in equipment, we have some suggestions.

There are two different types of canners that the home food preserver can use. Pressure canners can be expensive, so if you want to try canning, start with food that could be processed in a boiling water bath canner.

canning chart blog
Before you go out and spend a lot of money buying supplies, consider trying canning with equipment you already have in your home.

  • Stock pot – Large enough for canning jars to be totally submerged by 2 inches
  • Rack— this allows water to flow all around the jars and provides even heating inside the jar. You can use a round rack from a roaster or one that you cool cookies on.  If you don’t have a rack, make one by tying canning jar rings together with wire twist ties.
  • Lid for the canner—if your pot does not have a lid, use a cookie sheet or pizza pan for the lid.

You may have a family member or co-worker that canned in the past and has jars that they would like to pass on. You will want to check for cracks and nicks in the jars before using them. Be sure to wash them well or send them through the dishwasher before using them.  You can find jar rings and flats in most grocery stores. Resist the temptation to buy more than you will use in your first canning adventure. The jar lids—or flats as they are called—do expire.

Now that you have the equipment that you need and some idea of the sort of food you could preserve, it is time to find a recipe. At AnswerLine, we advise only using safe, tested recipes for your home preserved foods. By tested recipe, we mean a recipe that has been scientifically tested in a laboratory to ensure there is enough acid in the food and that it is heated long enough in the jars to remain safe over the storage life of the food. Generally speaking, recipes that have been passed down in your family don’t tend to be tested recipes. You can find tested recipes from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, The National Center for Home Food Preservation, the USDA Canning Guide, and the Ball Blue Books.  The links for these recipe resources are at the bottom of this blog. We like to use current recipes, so we advise not using any recipes older than 2009. Follow these links, or call us at AnswerLine and we will help you find recipes for the food you would like to preserve.

Recipe Reminders

  • Follow the recipe as it is written. This means no additions of other foods that might be tasty—the recipe wasn’t tested for variations. If you want to change things a bit, do it after you open the jar to serve the food.
  • Use the amount of headspace inside the jar that is prescribed in the recipe; this will give you the best quality end product.
  • Remember to adjust your recipe for altitude. All canning recipes were written as if everyone lives at sea level.  Those of us (most of the state of Iowa) that live above 1000 feet will need to add 5 minutes to any boiling water bath canning time for safe processing. If you use a weighted gauge pressure canner, add 5 pounds to the weight. If you are unsure of the altitude at your house, give us a call. We love to help.

We hope you enjoy your first attempt at canning and find a satisfying new hobby. Remember you can contact us with questions. You can reach us at 1-800-262-3804 in Iowa, 1-800-854-1678 in Minnesota, and 1-888-6336 in South Dakota. You can also call us at our local number 515-296-5883 if your area code is not from one of the above three states. Email us at or contact us on Facebook.

The AnswerLine staffAnswerLine
Liz, Beth, and Jill



Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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