Ginger Johnson
(Ginger Johnson)

(Ginger Johnson)

Food preservation is as old as humans, right? Maybe. Let's start with the modern revolutionary who got us cranking on preserving food: Nicholas Appert. When Napoleon was searching for a method to preserve food for his troops in the 1700's, Nicolas Appert started experimenting. By the early 1800s, he'd devised a method of canning in glass bottles.

Following that success, Peter Durrand of England realized substituting tin for glass made the results sturdier; thus, canning was born.

Before canning, food was smoked, dried, salted and submerged in fats to preserve it. The herstory of canning is fun stuff for canning fans. So how about the newcomers? Canning is an activity that anyone can deliciously and safely execute, with attention to relatively straightforward details.

I'd suggest you take a class to learn the basics as you begin your canning adventures. Many University Extension offices offer a variety of preservation courses. You can visit Ball (the jar company) online at to find classes near you.

Another way to dip your jar in the canning waters is to ask a friend who cans to let you observe and help them. Every canner I know welcomes help, especially if there's a big batch of something to process! I've had friends pull up a stool in my kitchen and ask lots of good questions. This helps them wrap their heads around if they want to pursue canning or not. My husband pitches in, too, since he knows how much work goes into our enjoyment of these jars of goodness!

The best way to make your canning batches is to have all your supplies in order before you start. Assemble all your ingredients and supplies ahead of time. Run your errands to the garden, farmers markets and stores for supplies in advance. While this sounds obvious, your brain will thank you for having it all together when you start. Otherwise, the "Whoops, I forgot..." moment will inevitably rear its head.

I go into the year by pulling all my cookbooks out and settling in with them on my couch. I select recipes that look appealing and sound delicious, knowing what foodstuffs I can grow and buy. My husband and I choose as many as we want and then mark them with tabs so they're easy to find.

There are dozens of canning and preserving cookbooks available, including ones on smoking, salting, fermenting and drying. I like to check some out from my local library to preview and ask other canning friends which ones they use. Once I find a good one, I go ahead and buy it.

For newcomers, I recommend the classic Ball Blue Book. I've got two copies of that book alone!

I tend to leave a stack of cookbooks out in a very visible place once I get started. That way I rifle through them often, making sure I'm on top of what the latest available harvest can create. Finally, every time I make a batch I record it in a simple blank hardbound book: recipe, quantity and source. I also label the final jar.

It's so easy and gratifying to can and preserve. With a bit of education, a friend or teacher to guide you and prepping your supplies before you start, you're good to go. Have fun and let Be know what you decide to can on Facebook or Twitter. Cheers!

Canning tips & tricks

1. Set up cooling racks and have plenty of washable towels and hot pads on hand. You'll use these in a variety of ways and having them close at hand will facilitate your enjoyment.

2. Make sure the foods you can are at their freshest. The best fruits, vegetables and meats will make the best preserved foods. If you've got foods just past their peak, choose recipes accordingly. For instance, you can make jam with overripe strawberries.

3. Review your jars before you begin. Make sure the lips are free of any chips that could allow air exchange (which ruins your efforts!). Have plenty of lids and rings before you start too.

4. All canning cookbooks have a list of supplies to have at the ready. Follow the timing and processing times carefully. Everything will be safe to eat when you follow these directions.

5. Throw out ANY FOOD that, when opened, as a funky aroma, any sort of growth/mold, or has a bulging lid: it's gone bad. When in doubt, throw it out.

Ginger Johnson can often be found pairing food & drink, speaking, developing recipes and teaching all sorts of classes to flavor lovers all over. Read more at and She can also be found on Twitter (@gingerjohnson) and Facebook (Ginger Johnson LLC).