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?

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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June 29, 2016 11:06 am

I hope this question hasn’t been asked. No looked and didn’t see it, but may have overlooked it.

I canned salsa about a month ago and I’m almost positive I didn’t add citric acid. Can this be saved or do I need to just throw them out? Thanks. Enjoyed the article.

crystal lake
May 23, 2015 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?

Reply to  crystal lake
May 23, 2015 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.

August 16, 2014 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?

Reply to  Mel
August 16, 2014 5:10 pm

You did exactly is you should have Mel.

November 19, 2012 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!

October 22, 2012 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!)