Homeschool Homestead: Canning and Preserving

Peeling Tomatoes

Every year we plan a couple of big ‘canning days’ and every year about half way through I say I’m never doing it again. Then we finish up and have all the yummy food ready for us all winter and I realize yet again that it was worth the time and energy.

If you are new to canning you should know that you don’t have to go crazy like we do and try to can ‘all the things’. Pick one or two things that you have an abundance of or are readily available at your local farmers market and try a small batch. You can work your way up from there!

We enjoy using canning as a part of the homesteading and homeschooling process. The children learn about food preservation, fill our pantry for the winter, learn about nutrition, and practice math skills (measuring, weighing, multiplying and dividing recipes). It’s also a great way to give responsibility to older learners. While there are parts of canning that need to be handled by a responsible adult or an older child, there are many parts of the process that are suitable for young children. My little ones tend to especially enjoy peeling tomatoes or peaches and shucking corn! I will answer some of the most common questions I hear about canning below to help you get started!

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What do you can?

We can a wide variety of things from tomatoes to peaches, salsa to turkey broth. We also enjoy pie fillings and jams for sweet treats in the winter months. We even can strawberry lemonade concentrate which is like a little burst of sunshine during cold winter. Just about any produce can be safely canned, some might need a little sugar or acid, but there’s loads of recipes here.

Is it better to use a water bath canner or a pressure canner?

That depends on what you want to can. I recommend starting with a water bath canner BUT some things are not safe to can in a water bath canner. In general, most fruits and pickles are water bathed and meats and vegetables are pressure canned but you can find out for each specific item on the websites in the resources below.

How do I learn how to can?

I recommend doing some research before you get started canning. If you like books the Ball Canning Guide is an authoritative resource as is the National Center for Food Preservation (USDA).  Many people learn better by watching or participating in a hands on class. Check with your local cooperative extension as they often offer free or inexpensive classes on canning. Also, many people that enjoy canning are happy to teach their friends and neighbors. If you have a friend or neighbor teach you, please make sure that you choose someone who is following the recommended safety procedures; there’s lots of ‘old timey’ techniques that aren’t necessarily safe

What resources do you need?

Canner: Water Bath or Pressure (depending on what you want to can)

Canning tools (jar lifter, magnet, canning funnel) These sometimes come with water bath canners like the set above and are also sold separately.

Jars and lids: Jars are reusable and typically cheaper locally than online due to shipping. Always make sure you use canning jars as other jars may not be rated for the heat. Metal lids are one time use, but the rings can be used multiple times. There is a little more of a learning curve but once you are comfortable with the canning process you can use Tattler Lids which are reusable, but cost a bit more.

Recipes: Unlike much of cooking you it is not safe to freelance on your canning recipes. Canning recipes are specifically designed and tested for safety. There are many resources out there with recipes but not all of them have been tested for safety. Two of the most used and recommended resources that are tested and trusted are the USDA and Ball. If you intend to enter canned goods into a fair, many require recipes to be from one of these two sources.

What are your favorite things to can?

As my friend Crystal would say, “Can all the things.”  Really though we enjoy canning a variety of different items. Pickles are one of my favorite even though they are little time consuming the rewards are great. We also really like corn salsa (we canned over 50 jars of corn salsa this week). For starting out I recommend jams or fruits as they tend to be simple but delicious and easy to do in small batches.

Why do you can?

We can for several reasons. We love to know where our food came from and support local farmers, we like controlling the ingredients, and enjoy the team building aspects of family canning.  We also love to see the children engaged and contributing to the household.

Do you have to grow a huge garden in order to can?

Absolutely not! While growing a large garden is a great way to get produce to can, we often purchase produce in bulk from local farmers in order to can enough for our family’s needs.  You can find local farm stands, u-pick farms, or even barter with a neighbor that might have an abundance.

Is it safe?

A quick Google search can lead you to horror stories of canning gone wrong. There is a very real danger to inappropriate canning. Botulism is nothing to play around with, however, as long as you are following safety-tested recipes and procedures canning is very safe. Follow the correct recipes, canning times, and canning procedures and your food is just as a safe (or maybe safer) than what you are buying in the store.

Key Safety Points:

  • Follow a tested recipe
  • Use the appropriate canner (never water bath a low acid food that should be pressure canned)
  • Make sure you have a good seal

What homeschool skills are taught/reinforced?

In addition to it being a valuable life skill in and of itself, there is a lot of math that we use in canning. Measuring and weighing ingredients, multiplying or dividing when we need to halve or double a recipe, elapsed time when determining what time the canners will be done, we’re even considering getting into pH calculations and specific gravity as their chemistry advances to those skills. It is also a good lesson in nutrition as you talk about needing fruits and vegetables all year and preserving them for the winter when they are not able to be grown locally.


We just finished up over 50 jars of corn salsa and 11 jars of plain tomatoes this week. I’m hoping to get a chance to can more tomatoes this summer and my daughter wants to make some blueberry jam to enter into our state fair.  Canning is a lot of work but it is very rewarding work and we enjoy spending the time working together as a family. Leave me a comment with your favorite thing to can or any canning questions that you might have.

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