8 Time-Saving Canning Tips to Help You ‘Put Up the Harvest’
Puttin’ up the harvest (aka. canning and preserving food) is by far one of the most rewarding aspects of this homesteading lifestyle, in my humble opinion. I can honestly say there’s nothing better than the feeling I get come fall and winter when our pantry is overflowing with jars of home-canned food that I put up with my own two hands.
At that time of year, I’m always SUPER thankful that I did the hard work of preserving all that food over the summer months, but when I’m in the thick of it with baskets and bowls full of fresh food waiting to be preserved (and dying a slow death with every second that I’m NOT busy preserving them), I sometimes find myself asking myself why, oh WHY do I do this to myself every year, and wondering how on Earth I’m gonna get it all done with everything else I’ve got going on.
Because while homesteading (which consists of a lot of canning and preserving over the summer) is our lifestyle of choice, it’s not our entire life.
We’re busy just like everyone else.
Both my husband and I run our own businesses, we’ve got a 4-year-old daughter at home who also has preschool and dance classes and likes to be involved in everything we’re doing, and of course we have a never-ending to-do list of homestead projects, side jobs, social commitments (whether in person or online) and all the other things that keep us all busy day in and day out.
Even I sometimes wonder how we do it all.
I know I’m not alone in this. In fact, I published a poll on Instagram a couple weeks ago and asked people what their biggest barrier was to canning and preserving food at home, and every single person who responded said that time (or a lack thereof) was the number one roadblock to canning and preserving more food at home.
I found myself mulling over this the other day while I was on batch 4 or 5 ( or was it 6?) of pickling and canning up 50 lbs. worth of cucumbers I’d picked up from one of my local farmers. It took me 4 or 5 days in total to get them all canned as I multi-tasked and worked in batches between getting ready to launch a course, publish a magazine, tend to the garden and the animals and keep our daughter alive and healthy and happy and on time for school and extracurricular activities.
I started thinking about all of the ways we manage to fit homesteading in general (and canning and preserving in particular) into our lives even when it seems we haven’t got a minute to spare.
As I pondered all of this (while I waited for the water in my canner to come to a boil, because ya know, multitasking!) I came up with the following list of tips and hacks that help me fit canning and preserving food into our busy summer so that I can be sure that come winter I’ll have a pantry full off food to be thankful for.
I hope that at least one or more of the following tips help you too!
Time-saving canning tips to help you preserve the harvest when you’re short on time
1. Can what you actually EAT!
My number one tip is to can what you and your family actually like to eat! Because honestly, if you don’t want to eat what you can, then you’re probably wasting your time canning it in the first place.
Sometimes it can be hard to know exactly what everyone in your family likes to eat if you’ve never tried it before (like that time I made 40 pounds of sauerkraut before having my family actually try it and subsequently tossed most of it to the compost bin), so if you’re unsure, try canning a small batch of something first.
If you know your family REALLY likes or uses certain things like, say, pickles or salsa or tomato sauce or strawberry jam, then focus the limited amount of time you have on canning those items. You may miss some things, but you’ll be stocked up on the things you eat most!
2. Work in stages
Often times it’s not the canning itself that’s most time-consuming, it’s the prep work. It’s the washing and peeling and chopping and slicing that tends to take up the lion’s share of “hands-on” time when it comes to canning and preserving.
One way to fit it all in is to break it up and work in stages to prep and preserve your food. This is what I do most of the time, because very rarely do I have a long enough block of time free from other obligations when I can focus on prepping and processing a batch of anything from start to finish.
Try washing and prepping your food in the evening before bed on a night when you’ve got a little time in the morning to do the canning portion. Then store your prepped food overnight (in the fridge if possible) and can it up in the morning.
If preserving apples or pears, place them in a solution of water and lemon juice, adding one tablespoon of lemon juice for every cup of water. This will help prevent them from browning.
Preserve your food as quickly as possible after prepping it. But if you have to let it sit for a few hours or overnight, it’s not the end of the world! I almost always have to work in stages and have (almost) never had to toss any food out!
3. Ask for help!
Your family eats the food you make and can too, right? Well then they can pitch in and help preserve it too!
Back in the day, preserving food was a family affair. You’d sit with grandma and snap green beans with her as she prepped them for canning. There’s no reason why this should be any different today.
In fact, canning can even be more fun and enjoyable when it’s a group effort and you can get things done exponentially quicker than when you’re prepping and preserving an entire batch of something alone.
Plus, if you’ve got kids helping, it also doubles as a useful lesson in canning and home food preservation that they will (hopefully) take with them and use throughout their lives!
4. Can small batches
You might not have time to can up a 50 lb. batch of pickles. But surely you can find time for a five or 10-pound batch!
Sometimes when we think of canning and preserving food, we think of making up large batches of food that could fill a bomb shelter and sustain us through the winter and beyond. But there’s nothing wrong with just doing a small batch here and there of something you really enjoy eating or want to try!
So often, us human beings are all or nothing creatures. We figure if we can’t do it all (and do it to the Nth degree) then there’s no point in doing it at all.
If a few jars of jam are all you can find time for then so be it. Doing a little bit is better than doing nothing at all!
5. Double (or triple) your batch
Okay, I know this seems to completely contradict the last tip, but hear me out…
If you do happen to have the time and wherewithal to double or triple your batch of something that you eat a lot of, do it. By making more at once, at worst you’ll have a larger supply and at best you’ll maybe even have enough for the following year.
This was the case for me and my pickles this year: I got 50 lbs. of cucumbers (thinking I would share with my mom but apparently she’s not feeling pickles this year), so I ended up making enough pickles to last us a good two years.
It was a lot of work up front, but now I don’t have to make pickles again until 2022. And I just freed up a lot of time next year to devote to preserving other things!
6. Keep canning supplies and ingredients on hand
You’ll save yourself a lot of time and headache if you make sure you’re prepared ahead of time. Keep jars, bands, new lids and special ingredients on hand so you don’t have to waste time running to the store to buy what you need.
Consider keeping a supply of the following ingredients on hand for impromptu (or “promptu”) canning sessions. (And yes, I know that “promptu” isn’t a real word. No angry emails please).
- White vinegar
- Apple cider vinegar
- Pickling salt
- Pickling spice
- Clear Jel (for thickening and canning pie filling)
7. Use the wait time to multi-task
A lot of the time involved in canning is spent waiting around for a pot to boil or for your processing time to run out. Use this wait time to knock off other things on your to-do list.
Tidy your kitchen. Throw on a load of laundry. Get some work done on the computer. Just don’t do anything where you need to completely walk away from your canning project as you never want to leave things completely unattended for too long. (In other words, maybe don’t go weed the garden or run errands at this time).
Stick close but use the wait time to multi-task and you’ll have a pantry full of home-canned food and a crossed-off to-do list in no time!
8. Accept that some other things might fall by the wayside
This last tip is more of a mental shift than anything, but it’s helped me more than once: you have to be prepared to let some things fall by the wayside.
What I mean by this is that, during canning season, when fruits and veggies are in season and need to be preserved ASAP, canning and preserving them needs to be a top priority because they won’t last otherwise.
This often means that something else gets bumped down the list of priorities, maybe even all the way to the bottom.
Case in point: my house is often an absolute disaster during canning season. Or it’s at least not as clean as I wish it were. There are laundry baskets full of unfolded clothes sitting on the living room floor. There are toys strewn littering every corner and nook and cranny of our house. Dirty dishes stacked beside the sink. Stacks of paperwork and a floor that desperately needs a good vacuuming…
Likewise, we don’t cook from scratch as much. I know this seems strange during the summer months when our garden is in full swing and we’ve got beautiful fresh produce at our disposal, but when the kitchen is in full preservation mode we’ve got canners taking up stove space, jars in the drying rack, ingredients and jars on our countertop, the dehydrator’s going… There’s no room to cook!
Typically we either use our BBQ or sometimes we just opt to order a pizza. (Every year I promise myself I’ll spend the spring making freezer meals that can go in the Instant Pot during canning season but the busy-ness of spring planting takes priority!)
In either case, we all only have so many hours in the day (and so much kitchen space!), so be prepared that something will probably need to give in order for you to get everything canned and preserved. But at the end of the day, canning season is just that: a season.
When you’re up to your elbows in pickling cucumbers or tomatoes or apples or *insert fruit or vegetable here*, just remember that this is only for a season. Soon enough this season will be over and the next season will arrive, and then the next. And when it does, you’ll open your pantry up and stare at your gleaming jars of home-canned food as you plan your winter meals.
And I’ll bet you’ll be thankful that you made canning a priority during the summer.
Wanna learn how to can your own food?
Whether you’ve never canned anything before or you’ve done a little canning and you’re ready to take the next step, my Yes, You CAN! complete home canning course will walk you through everything you need to know to get started canning food SAFELY at home.
Over the course of 12 easy-to-follow lessons, we cover both water bath canning and pressure canning, and I show you step-by-step how to can your own jams, jellies, pickles, pie fillings, fruits, vegetables, tomato sauce and chicken stock at home. And of course we’ll go over canning safety, equipment and over all best practices in more depth so that you always feel confident both during the canning process and while enjoying your home-canned food afterwards.
You’ll also get a collection of bonuses including:
- Printable checklists and cheatsheets to help you stay safe and never miss a step while canning food at home
- My bonus Jam and Jelly Making Mini-Course to help you make and can your own jams and jellies with store-bought pectin, no pectin and even low-sugar
- A copy of my Home Canning Handbook, complete with 30 of my favourite home canning recipes for canning everything from fruits and vegetables to jams and jellies to sauces and salsa to stocks, soups, meats, combination meals and more!
If you’re ready to get started canning (or canning more food than ever before this year!) enroll now and get started stocking your pantry!
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I hope to see you in class:)
Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness:)
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