Nine Unofficial Canning Tips

Janelle Maiocco is an urban farmer, trained chef, and mastermind behind Talk of Tomatoes. She is known to wield knives, pitchforks, and martinis. She is frequently seen teaching cooking classes and chasing chickens, playing in the dirt and writing like a madwoman on the computer – often with a cocktail in hand.  You may also be able to catch her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Canning Tips

A little too frequently, I find myself standing mindlessly in front of my open cupboards and I am staring – perhaps even glaring – at my shelves. I glance suspiciously at the cans and condiments, boxes of dried beans and rice, jarred salsa and tomato paste, hot sauce and vinegar. Which one of you will go next? Who can I replace? What else can I officially add to my DIY list???

Canned goods beware: this year I earned my certificate in preservation, which means I can wield a pressure cooker and hot water bath almost as well as my pitchfork. After spending countless hours this summer/early fall processing pounds and pounds of peaches and tomatoes, plums and jam, pickles and chutneys… I learned a few things:

1. Old jars sometimes break in the pot. All the floaties look bad and yes you lost a jar AND fruit but the other jars? Perfectly fine. Store as usual.

2. Think hot hot hot. You want hot product going into hot [clean] jars topped with hot [new] lids going into hot water: It’s as simple as that!

3. Clear off your counters! Trust me: You WILL need the space.

4. Have an extra pot of hot water boiling – one you won’t think you need. You will need it to: pour over lids, heat your jars and/or add to your boiling water (to ensure the jars are always covered by at least 1 inch of hot boiling water while processing).

Canned Tomatoes

5. YES you need to add citric acid or bottled lemon juice to process tomatoes. This is because of the countless varieties of tomatoes – and we don’t know the exact acidity of each kind (unless you send it off for testing!). I use citric acid because I only need 1/4 teaspoon per pint versus 1 Tablespoon of bottled lemon juice per pint.

6. Forget all the fancy tools. Do you have a home canning kit? It would come complete with two tongs, a lid lifter, and a jar funnel. You can skip it: I just use waterproof industrial rubber gloves from Home Depot. They cost me $4. With the gloves: I hold hot jars, twist lids, place and remove jars from hot water.

7. “Finger tight.” What does that mean? You twist the rings on the jars and once they ‘stop’ you twist just a finger-tip more. Don’t over-tighten or the air won’t be able to escape from the jar during processing and either 1. it won’t seal or 2. the jar will explode during processing. Almost funny, but not quite.

8. One pound of tomatoes translates to approximately one pint of processed tomatoes.

9. You don’t need an official canning pot. Any large, deep pot will do. I use my pasta pot quite often – the insert is perfect for holding the jars. Two notes: 1. It must be deep enough for an inch of water above the tops of the jars and 2. Jars cannot rest on the bottom of your pot. Put in old jar rings tied with zip ties and/or whatever will suspend the jars just off the bottom of the pot.

Pickled Cherries
This year I can happily say I replaced canned tomatoes with jars and jars of home-canned tomatoes. I replaced my salsa and make all my own jams and chutneys, I froze hoards of summer berries and pie filling, made DIY vanilla extract and brandied cherries. Already I am rubbing my hands together, scheming about which store-bought shelf items I will replace next year with homemade, farm-sourced DIY food.

And then I will pour a cocktail and toast myself. So grab some jars, and a large pot, boil some water and join me for a DIY canning toast. Are you in?

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22 Responses to Nine Unofficial Canning Tips

  1. crystal lake May 23, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    Can you tell me the importance of vinegar when pickling? A friend of mine finds the vinegar overpowering and I’m thinking it is needed to kill the bacteria. Is it safe to reduce the amount of vinegar?

    • Colleen May 23, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

      Vinegar is THE MOST IMPORTANT ingredient when making pickle to can for shelf stability. The level of acidity in a pickled product is as important to its safety as it is to taste and texture. Do not alter vinegar, food, or water proportions in a recipe or use a vinegar with unknown acidity. Use only recipes with tested proportions of ingredients. There MUST be a minimum, uniform level of acid throughout the mixed product to prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria.

      If you do not care for the taste of the recipe you are using, you may add a bit of sugar to offset the taste of the vinegar or find another safely-tested recipe to use, but under no circumstance would I recommend lower the vinegar content. The amount of vinegar needs to be there to keep you from danger of toxins.

  2. Mel August 16, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    I did four jars and forgot to add the citric acid. I remembered after the 40 minutes processing time. I took them out popped the lids. Added citric acid. put new, sterilized lids on and reprocessed them for 15 minutes. Do you think this is safe?

    • Colleen August 16, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

      You did exactly is you should have Mel.

  3. Kathy Ley November 19, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    I’m a food safety geek. I teach food preservation and didn’t see a single mention here of the major problem in home canning – you can kill those who eat your food if you don’t do it right. Botulism toxin in your jar is just not a good idea. How do you avoid it? Use safe practices and be very careful about where you get your recipes. Try the National Center for Home Food Preservation at,, or These are tested recipes and easy to follow. Be smart and safe!

  4. the Bag Lady October 22, 2012 at 6:45 am #

    Great tips on canning!
    I have been canning for years and years, and always try something new every year. This year it was Thai Hot & Spicy Dipping Sauce. Fantastic!

    The only tip I can think of that you forgot was to always run a (wet) finger around the rim of the jar to make sure it is not chipped. Jars won’t seal properly if there is a chip in the rim.

    (I got a chuckle out of your life description – can just see you chasing chickens with a martini in one hand. I have chased the odd cow with a beer in one hand, but methinks I would spill the martini!)

  5. Andy Tanner October 18, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    Thanks so much for this great information. I need another pot to water bath in and hadn’t even thought of my pasta pot! And I would have forgotten to put something on the bottom so my jars wouldn’t touch. Invaluable stuff here!

  6. Brighid October 17, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    10. Label your jars. What was perfectly clear on a hot August afternoon will be unclear in November. Tomato jam or chili sauce? Blackberry jam or mint blueberry jam?

  7. janelle October 17, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Terra: I was going to suggest the same thing as Sarah! Check out Pomonas Pectin! Hmmmm, well if I canned tomatoes with no acidity (lemons or citric acid) I would probably buy new lids, pop them all open, add the acid and re-can. OR open, make the tomato sauce the way I love it, then freeze it (freezing is safer when it comes to ph/acidity etc.).

    • Sarah Jane October 18, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

      Totally agree Janelle; reprocess with the lemon juice or make into sauce and freeze. The person whose Grandmother added tomato juice was adding acid to the batch so that would cover for the absence of the lemon juice. The Ball Canning Book says to use Bottled Lemon Juice, not fresh lemon, as that has a standardized acid level which is considered safe. When I first started canning I had a few do-overs; no big deal!

  8. Colleen October 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    Wonderful article! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I love canning and can hardly wait for the next item to come into season. Working on Apples galore right now. My family has forgotten what the Del Monte label looks like (grin).

  9. Arthur in the Garden! October 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    Homemade is always better!

  10. Tori October 17, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    Okay… I canned my only batch of tomatoes this morning. Did not add any lemon juice or anything… what will happen?

    • Kristin October 17, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

      I was going to ask a similar question actually. My grandma taught me how to can tomatoes a few summers ago, and she adds a teaspoon of sugar, an teaspoon of salt & tops it off with canned tomato juice. The first time I did them on my own I had read that lemon juice was something that should be added, but she swore the added the sugar to reduce the acidity (not increase it, as lemon juice would). She always canned tomatoes grown in her own yard and I’ve eaten them my whole life without incident. I’ve been canning tomatoes from the farmers market the same way (with sugar, no lemon juice) for three summers now and have yet to have any go bad.

  11. Charles B October 17, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    Nice post. I’m amusing myself thinking about how to replace the canning funnel with a pair of rubber gloves, though. :-)

    No-sweetener-added applesauce is super easy and apples are in season right now. That’s been my project of choice for the last week or two.

  12. Hanna McCown October 17, 2012 at 8:43 am #

    so what if I forgot to add the citric acid to my tomatoes? are they ruined? It is a whole season of tomatoes.

  13. Terra October 17, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    I didn’t know the thing about jars not touching the bottom of the pot. I’ve never had an issue. Canning is such great fun. I’ve taken to making lots of condiments with the goal of never buying them again. We’ve already tackled hot sauce, salsa (red and green), chutney, fruit butters, jams, jellies, pickles (cucumber and pepper rings), ketchup and syrup. It’s a great way to get processed food out of your house.

    My question to anyone – is there a good book of low/no sugar canning recipes? I don’t want to kill my family but some of the recipes use so much of it it’s horrifying.

  14. Cheryl October 17, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    Thanks, Janelle! Learning to can my own food is on my bucket list, for sure!


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