Canning Math

Deciding what to put up each summer is the easy part. Deciding how much is another matter entirely. Half the battle is in just knowing what your family is likely to eat for oh, say – the next year, until the next season for that item rolls around. But it’s not as difficult as you might think. Start with the list of things your family eats, that you have the ability to preserve yourself. For us, it’s the following –

–          Tomatoes

–          Applesauce

–          Apple pie filling

–          Apricot jam

–          Frozen blueberries

–          Frozen hot peppers

–          Frozen sweet peppers

Then think about an average month. At our house, we eat something with tomatoes almost once every other week. My son loves applesauce, so we definitely use a quart a month. We might eat an apple pie every six weeks. Frozen blueberries get sprinkled into pancakes or muffins every month or so. Apricot jam – I make a pork roast with it a few times a year, and use a little bit of it to glaze the tops of my apple pies sometimes. The peppers get used about once a week too. So the month looks like this –

–          Tomatoes – 2 quarts

–          Applesauce – 1 quart

–          Apple pie filling – 1 quart

–          Apricot jam – 1 pint

–          Frozen blueberries – 1 pint bag

–          Frozen hot peppers – 1 pint bag

–          Frozen sweet peppers – 1 pint bag

Then, simple math here – multiply your month by 12 to get your number for the year –

–          Tomatoes – 24 quarts

–          Applesauce – 12 quarts

–          Apple pie filling – 12 quarts

–          Apricot jam – 12 pints

–          Frozen blueberries – 12 pint bags

–          Frozen hot peppers – 12 pint bags

–          Frozen sweet peppers – 12 pint bags

But remember how I said I only do a pork roast with apricot glaze a few times a year? 12 jars is going to be way more than I need. So now we’re going to take that basic math list and adjust it slightly, depending on if we want a surplus of certain items, or even a little less of others (for things that we’re trying the first time and want to make sure we like, for example). We’re also going to adjust for canner batches. It doesn’t make sense to run a huge canner with only a few jars in it – I only like to run full canner loads. So since a standard canner holds 7 quarts, you want your total number divisible by 7. If you have a mini canner (that holds 2 quarts or 4 pints) that’s a great option for test recipes or small batches. So to adjust our list by need and canner load, it will look like this –

–          Tomatoes – 28 quarts, to account for 4 full canner loads and I’d rather have a surplus than deficit.

–          Applesauce – 14 quarts, to account for 2 full canner loads and I’d rather have a surplus.

–          Apple pie filling – 7 quarts for a single canner load. We eat closer to 7 pies a year than 12.

–          Apricot jam – 4 pints for a single mini canner load.

–          Frozen blueberries – 8 pint bags, because we eat a bit less than a pint a month.

–          Frozen hot peppers – 6 pint bags, because I won’t use an entire bag per use; typically only a quarter or half.

–          Frozen sweet peppers – 12 pint bags because that’s spot on what we use.

So there’s your canning tally. Now how much produce do you need? If you grow it yourself, this is where you’re starting to plan for next year’s (that’s right, next year’s) garden. If you buy it from a farmers market or farmer, you want to know how much cash you have to invest. Most basic canning recipes you’re going to calculate as weight by quart. So for example, most of the time apples will be 3 pounds per quart. Multiply the weight by the number of quarts you want, and you have the total amount of produce you need. To put up the amount of jars I want, I will need the following quantities of produce –

–      Tomatoes – 70 pounds (2.5 pounds per quart)

–      Applesauce – 42 pounds (3 pounds per quart)

–      Apple pie filling – 21 pounds (3 pounds per quart)

–      Apricot jam – 5 pounds (2.5 pounds per quart)

–      Frozen blueberries – 8 pounds (2 pounds per quart)

–      Frozen hot peppers – 6 pounds (1 pound per pint)

–      Frozen sweet peppers – 12 pounds (1 pound per pint)

Ball has a really handy produce purchase guide and seed-to-harvest guide on their website (which you can print to PDF if you’re so inclined), and the same information can also be found in the Blue Book and the Complete Book of Home Preserving.

If you’re a little OCD like I am, you can keep track of what you produce and use year over year in a spreadsheet. This is really helpful when you’re first starting out and learning what your family will not only use in a year’s time, but also what you’re willing to put up. You might not like to do everything. I personally tend to shy away from pickles, and I don’t do a whole lot of jams and jellies. Don’t get in over your head if you’re new to canning – there are a ton of great recipes to try, and it going to look very attractive on paper. But canning does take a little work, so it’s best to start small and have a great experience that you can build on next time, instead of having a monstrous canning project on your first time out that’s more work and more mess than you anticipated, making you never want to see another canning pot as long as you live. It’s okay to pick and choose what you decide to put up and what you don’t, and that’s half the fun of it anyway.

So, make your list – canning season is kicking into prime gear here so there’s still plenty of time this summer to get some goodies in the pantry.

The Can Plan

With spring officially here, the garden started and the outdoor farmers markets just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about the upcoming year’s preserving. What do we want to put up over the course of the spring and summer so we can be eating really good food during the next winter? Do we have enough jars? How many boxes of new jar lids do we need to buy this season? What canning supplies do we need to get more of – vinegar, pickling salt, pectin, etc.? How are we going to label our jars this year? Do we need to make any equipment upgrades? Naturally, I’ve been mulling over all of these questions all winter, and I’ve got a rough idea of what we want to do, so it’s time to really hash it out and take a good inventory.

Product Raw Quantity Total Jars Book Page Number Method Canning Sessions
Apples for Baking 1 bushel 14 quarts Blue Book 17 Water Bath 1
Tomatoes Packed in Own Juices 147 pounds 49 quarts Blue Book 22 Water Bath 4
Apricot Jam 2 quarts 5 pints Blue Book 32 Water Bath 1
Cherry Jam 1 quart 8 half pints Blue Book 33 Water Bath 1
Hamburger Dill Pickles 4 pounds 7 pints Blue Book 48 Water Bath 1
Chicken Stock

Pressure Can Rolling
Beef Stock

Pressure Can Rolling
Whole Kernel Corn 42 pounds (56 ears) 7 quarts Blue Book 65 Pressure Can 1
Green Peas 21 pounds 7 pints Blue Book 66 Pressure Can 1
Red Wine Jelly 3 ½ cups 6 half pints Complete Guide 122 Water Bath Rolling
Pickled Roasted Red Peppers 20 peppers 4 pints Complete Guide 317 Water Bath 1
Green Beans 18 pounds 7 quarts Complete Guide 386 Pressure Can 1
Cubed Pumpkin 1 5-pound pumpkin 2 quarts Complete Guide 393 Pressure Can 1
Barbecue Sauce TBD 4 pints Blue Book 52 Water Bath 1
Boston Baked Beans TBD 6 quarts Blue Book 64 Pressure Can 1
Brandied Fruit Mincemeat TBD 8 pints Complete Guide 176 Water Bath 1
Beer Mustard TBD 5 ¼ pints (4 oz.) Complete Guide 274 Water Bath Rolling

How’s that for a list? Pretty ambitious, I know. But, this is over an entire summer. As some of the stuff on it I’ll be doing on a rolling basis, as a have time, like the red wine jelly and mustard. They aren’t dependent on fresh produce per se, so I can really do them whenever. On the other hand, I’ll be canning every single weekend in August to put up the year’s measure of tomatoes. But it will be worth it to have enough to last the entire calendar year. The chicken and beef stock I didn’t list quantities for since I will do those through out the year as I have chicken carcasses or beef bones and vegetable trim. So for purposes of calculating how many jars I’ll need, let’s say a dozen for the stocks.

What’s our magic numbers for jars? And more importantly, how many more do I need to acquire? Looks like I’m going to need this many –

97 quarts (8 cases)
35 pints (3 cases)
14 half pints (8 ounces) (3 cases)
5 ¼ pints (4 ounces) (1 case)

I overestimated on the case sizes because you can’t buy a smaller amount than that retail, and it never hurts to have extra jars around anyway. But I’m hoping I’ll score again this year and find some second hand.

I have not yet had a chance to inventory my jars. I have at least six cases of quart jars, if not the total eight. It’s possible I have a few more than that as well – they are just everywhere in the house. I have at least two cases of pints and the one case of the four ounce jars  that I’ll need. I don’t believe I have any of the half pint jars though. If I do, it’s literally only one or two jars. So I’ll likely need to buy three cases of the half pints and a case of the pints. If I have to buy them retail, that’ll likely run me about $45.00, which isn’t too awful in the greater scheme of things. But I have high hopes I can get them second hand, or at least on sale or with a coupon, so hopefully I can come in much less than that. I’ll also need a dozen boxes of new jar lids this year. I’m pretty sure I’ve got half a dozen new boxes from the end of last season when I stocked up at the sales, so depending upon how many I actually need, that’ll run anywhere from $15.00-$30.00.

And you’ll notice that I’ve got some pressure canner goods in my list above. That’s right – husband and I talked it over and decided we’d like to buy a pressure canner so we can become more self sufficient with the food we put on the table. Being able to can my stocks is what tipped the balance. We’ll never have enough freezer space to store the amount of stock we use, but you can put a jar just about anywhere. We’re looking at getting a pretty basic model to start with (probably thie Presto 23 quart).

In addition to the canned goods, we’re still going to freeze some things this summer. Ears of corn, and a lot of fruit. I like to freeze fruit instead of can it, because you can leave out the sugar syrup pretty easily. So we’ll put up blueberries, raspberries, and peaches at least. Hopefully this year we’ll also be able to get some persimmons in the fall that we can freeze too.

I really considered going the full distance and canning huge quantities of everything on my list above (if you doing it, you might as well do it) but I decided against it since it’ll be my first time with the pressure canner and I want to make sure I start slowly so I can really get comfortable with the process and do it right. And make sure we like the taste and texture of what it produces. It’s my goal eventually to put up 90% of the produce my family consumes (since I’m not ever going to be growing bananas and whatnot, it’ll never be 100%). That will be a much easier proposition when we have a little acreage and can garden for preserving, but until then we can start adding more each year with what we can get from our local farmers. And that’s still not a bad way to go. So, I still need to find a little time to go digging through the kitchen cupboards and take a proper jar inventory, and shop around for the best deal on a pressure canner, but otherwise we’re getting closer to canning season here at Apartment Farm – one of my favorite times of the year!

Preparing For Canning Season

Canning season is more or less upon us. I’m skipping a lot this summer, like fruit jams and pickles, and putting all of my canning energy (what little there is at seven months pregnant) into the big-ticket item at my house – tomatoes. We use an alarming quantity of canned tomatoes – in soups, stews, pastas, casseroles, home made sauces – you name it, we likely put tomatoes in it. So that’s pretty much what I’m going to be putting up this summer.

I keep it simple with canning. I’d love to do fancy things, but I’m pretty utilitarian at heart, and let’s face it – canning can be pretty hard work. And for tomatoes, I like the raw ingredient to be as versatile as possible. I can always season or alter it later, so I like to do whole peeled tomatoes in water. For the most part, I use the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. The Ball website also has a wealth of information that I consult. They post a lot of their recipes right on their website, including Tomatoes Packed in Water. If you’ve never canned before, I think tomatoes in water is one of the easiest recipes to start with. For a primer, the Ball site has a PDF of Step-by-Step FreshPreserving of High-Acid Foods. Even though I’ve been canning for a few years now, I always consult the basics as a refresher course before I start each season.

And you can’t embark on a canning season without plenty of jars, so I took an inventory of the jars and bottles I have in my canning cupboard (well, a shelf in the corner cabinet under the counter in the kitchen, but it’s threatening to take over the whole thing).

18 quart

9 pint

12 jelly

2 small jelly (I think 4 ounces)

7 Ball Platinum Elite pint

I also have a collection of bottles that I use for vinegars, schnapps and the like –

6 glass mini wine bottles (4 green, 2 clear – all with gold screw-top lids)

1 small corked bottle

2 clear wire bail-top bottles (just over a liter each I think)

I need to fill in my canning jars. I think I have another pint jar in the house that I can bring back into the canning fold – it’s currently holding thread bobbins and doesn’t need to be. But I’d like to have two dozen pint jars total, so I still need to acquire another 14. And my ultimate goal for quart jars is four dozen, so I’m still 30 short there. I’ve got my sister on the lookout since she’s in better yard sale territory than me and I’ve got a wanted ad up on Craigslist for them too. I suppose I could always buy them retail… but I do love a good bargain and so often people are just itching to get rid of these things (though I personally can’t imagine why). And of course, I’ll need to buy some more jar rings and lids since I’m pretty much out of those. I’m on the lookout for Ball coupons that are sometimes available in the summer – the Smartsource coupon book was supposed to run one this past Sunday, but it didn’t run in our area for some reason. Hopefully I can snag one in the next few weeks, or catch a sale somewhere. Other than that, I’ve got all the equipment I need – I now own three stockpots of varying sizes (go me!) so prep and keeping the stove going will be no problem. I’ve got the wide-mouthed funnel, jar lifter and magnetic lid wand from previous years. Since I’m only planning on doing tomatoes in water, I don’t need to buy any pectin or pickling salt, although I do still have three boxes of powdered pectiin in the pantry that are good through 2012 (I think – I need to check the dates) as well as a giant box of pickling salt should the mood strike me. And this year, I have a luxury that I haven’t ever had before – kitchen space! I’ve got room to turn around and yards of counter space at my disposal this time, as well as a hefty gas stove, so I think I’m in good shape. I just have to wait for the tomatoes to ripen and start showing up in quantity at the farmer’s market. 🙂