When I first started canning, I stuck 100% to “approved” canning recipes, always afraid that I would poison my family if I added even an ounce of creativity to the pot. Admittedly, this was probably a good move as a newbie.
Now that I have a little more experience under my belt, and I understand the basic concepts of what is safe and what isn’t, I’ve found a new freedom in experimenting with different recipes and even straying from the book a little.
Learning to can your favorite soups, stews, and chili in big batches is one of the most rewarding skills to master. Not only are you preserving your leftovers for future meals, but you are saving your family money and feeding them more nutritiously in the process. On nights when it’s 5pm and you have no idea what to make for dinner, there’s nothing as satisfying as reaching into the pantry and pulling out a quart or two of your favorite homemade stew. Sure beats take-out!
When canning your favorite meals for which there isn’t an “approved” recipe, there are a few precautions you need to keep in mind for best quality and outcome.
6 Tips For Canning Homemade Soups, Stews, and Chili
A Pressure Canner is a MUST! When canning anything other than fruits, pickles, or plain tomatoes, you absolutely need to use a pressure canner (not the same thing as a pressure cooker, by the way). Our great-grandmothers might have water-bath canned everything, but they were risking botulism with every jar. Some of you might be scoffing at this advice, having water bath canned low acid foods for years without any trouble. I’m telling you right now- you’ve been lucky. You’re taking a risk of poisoning yourself and anyone else you feed your home canned goods to. It isn’t worth death- which is a real risk with botulism. Save your pennies, invest in a good quality pressure canner (such as the All American brand), and preserve your food safely.
At Least Follow Approved Recipes Loosely. With a few adjustments, it can be perfectly safe to can your favorite recipes at home. But you really do need to at least find an approved recipe that’s pretty close to what you’re making, to know how long it needs to process and at how many pounds of pressure.
Look at the ingredients in your recipe, and find the one that needs to process for the highest amount of pressure and for the longest time- this will determine how you process your jars. For instance, let’s say you’re canning beef stew with vegetables. If you just had veggies in your stew, you would process quart jars for 1 hour and 25 minutes at 10 lbs pressure, but since you’ve added meat you’ll need to increase your time to 1 hour and 30 minutes at the same pounds of pressure. (You can find this info in the Ball Blue Book). Your recipe might not be exactly like that in the Ball Blue Book, but the ingredients will probably be very similar, so go by that.
Skip The Pasta and Rice. Or at least put in very little when making stuff like chicken noodle soup. Also, you don’t want to cook noodles or rice before processing them in the canner, or they’ll turn to mush. Instead, make your soup base, fill your jars, then add a tiny bit of raw noodles or rice, then proceed with canning. Better yet, just leave them out and add them to the soup as you re-heat it. The problem with adding too many noodles is that the soup can get very thick in the center of the jar, which won’t get heated adequately during the canning process. You risk food poisoning, even botulism, if you haven’t heated the contents of the jar well enough. If you absolutely have to add the pasta, go easy on it.
Don’t Can Fully Cooked Beans. It’s the same deal as with the noodles and rice. For one, they’ll get mushy when canned. But most importantly, you might end up with a product that is too thick to get heated adequately in the center of the jar. When preparing chili or another meal-in-a-jar which requires beans, only cook the beans for 30 minutes before filling your jars. This will ensure the best texture and thickness.
Go Easy On The Seasonings. Herbs and spices will strengthen over time, so go easy on them when canning. Especially spicy stuff. It is recommended that you avoid Sage altogether, as it turns bitter during canning. You might want to just add the seasonings to the dish as you’re re-heating it before serving.
Expect The Flavor To Change. It’s important to know right off the bat that your famous spaghetti sauce will taste different after it has been canned. Not to say that it won’t still be delicious, but just expect at least a subtle change in flavor.
Follow these guidelines along with general canning safety rules, and you’ll have a pantry stocked with delicious, personalized meals in no time.
Do you have any suggestions to add to this list, or personal experiences to share? What’s your favorite meal-in-a-jar to can?