Canning 101: storage

So, you caught the canning bug… now what do you do with all that jelly?

The great thing about homemade preserves is you got a lot for a minimal amount of cost.  The bad part, is now you have 8 jars of jelly to store instead of one.  Then multiply that buy the three kinds of jelly, two kinds of jam, one type of marmalade, chili, pasta sauce, and all those tomatoes you canned from your garden, and you have a big storage problem…  I’m lucky enough to have a fairly decent sized pantry – but even it couldn’t contend with the massive amounts of food I put up each season so I had to find a new storage solution for my canning supplies and my preserved bounty.

A few notes on storing canned goods:

they want to be kept cool and dry and out of direct sunlight.  As pretty as those jars of yummy look reflecting the light through the window, you don’t want to keep them there.  The light and heat will lead to spoilage even if your jars are sealed properly.   Also, no mater how good your storage and seals are, it’s never a good idea to keep jarred food for more than a year (and the same goes for freezers, but some things have an even shorter shelf life in the deep freeze).  Canned more than you can use – give ’em as gifts, party favors, or hand them out to the kids on halloween. 😉

Either way, you need to find a place to store your empty jars, extra screw bands and lids, supplies & obviously the jars filled with deliciousness.  Over time I’ve tried a few different things.  For us, the garage wasn’t an option, as perfect as it may seem, because it gets too hot in the summer.  In a milder climate that may be an option – but it shouldn’t get cooler than about 50* over the winter or warmer than about 80* in the summer.  I tried storing jars on the upper levels of the shelves in our pantry, and above the cupboards in our kitchen – while those places were great for storage, the old adage “out of sight out of mind” was too true and I ended up not using the items because I forgot about them, or they were too difficult to get down.  A while ago, we bought a TON of the wire closet organization shelving from a friend at a garage sale for a great price.  Included with all the shelving and brackets, there were two tall basket style shelves that were about six inches deep.  One was almost as tall as our walls (maybe 6 and a half feet) while the other was about 4 feet.  I was always at a loss what to use them for, then it dawned on me about a month ago the taller one would be PERFECT in the hall between our pantry and kitchen to store our canned goods!

In the top rack I keep my pectin, canning utensils (funnel, jar lifter, magnetic wand & air bubble remover), and my extra lids and screw bands.  From there you can see all my canned yummies, then down towards the bottom I have jars that I’ve used the contents, emptied, washed and haven’t yet put away in the cupboard with my other extra jars.  Also, when I open a new box of jars but don’t use them all on my project, I add the jars to this shelf as well.  When I run out of room, or think about it, I put all the empty jars away in the cupboard.  I only have lids on jars that are new, remember they are a single use item.  So when I empty a jar I just toss the lid and was the screw band and jar.  I put the screw band back on the jar (assuming it’s not rusted and is usable still) and store them that way.

I keep my canner on top of the cupboards in my kitchen because it’s the only place I have that’s large enough to hold it (sorry I don’t have a picture) and my extra jars are on the top shelf in my pantry sorted by size, with unopened cases down at the very end.

The second part of storage is proper labeling.  Most jars will come with a set of stickers that look something like this:

which are small and simple and classic.  The only problem is that you can only use them once, but you can use the jar over and over again.  Because they are also difficult to wash off, I tend to put my labels on the lids, that way I just toss them with the lid when the jar is empty.

There are some important thing to keep in mind when you label your jars – 1) obviously you want to mark what is in the jars so you know if you’re getting grape jelly or cherry jelly, pasta sauce or chili etc. 2) You also want to put on a date (at least a month and year) of when the items were canned so that you know when/if they are expired (remember, no more than a year on the shelf).  Here’s an example:

These jars are clearly labeled as Grape Jelly that was canned April 2011.

The jars below on the other hand are not so precise:

I marked the jars as being BC or Black Cherry Jelly, just so I could tell them apart before I labeled them.

Labeling can be simple like the grape jelly above, you you can get creative with stickers or hang tags that you can download and customize.  Below I’ve included a few links to both some of my favorite downloadable labels (I prefer circles that I can stick to the lids as I mentioned vs. rectangles that stick to the glass jar and you have to scrub off later) as well as a couple pages that have large link lists to downloadable labels as well.

Labels from How About Orange

Cute Vintage Labels from Bitter Betty Blogs

Canning labels, tags, and stationary for a canning party from Paper Crave

I love these simple red circle labels from On a Limb Paper

Wendolnia has these sweet citrus labels perfect for marmalades.

These charming vegetable labels are from A Sonoma Garden.

Fabric Jam Jar Toppers from Domestifluff

Fabric inspired canning label template from MerrimentDesign

You can get more label links here and here and here.

I also, just wanted to take a quick minute and elaborate on the canning journal I mentioned yesterday.  It doesn’t have to be anything real complicated, mine is a moleskin notebook that I keep in the top rack of my canning shelf in the hallway.  Whenever I can I simply write what I made, the date, the ingredients (and price or possible a note as to where I got them) how many of what size jars I got, and any notes for the next time, here’s what a sample listing may look like:

Grape Jelly 4/27/11

1 jar organic concord grape juice $3.99

1 box no sugar needed pectin $3.97

3 cups sugar

made 6.5 half pint jars

*note* decreese sugar to 1 or 2 cups next time, this batch too sweet.

It’s as simple as that.  If the jam or jelly was made from berries we went and picked I may make a note of where we picked them, when, and how much we paid per pound.  Similarly if they are store bought berries I might say Costco – 4.99 for 4 pounds or something like that.  If it’s made from homegrown produce I may make a note of that instead of listing a price.  Instead of listing a longer recipe I may just reference the source, or simply list it as “Gram’s chili” and note any variations from my standard recipe.

Alternately, I’ve seen people say they actually write down the recipe they used on a recipe card, then make the notes regarding batch size, cost, and changes for next time and keep them indexed in a recipe binder instead.  Really, it’s just a place for you to keep track of what you’ve made, when, and if there are any changes or other special notes to keep in mind for next time (or if you really end up hating a recipe or LOVING it, notes of that too).

I’d love to hear or see what anyone else has done as far as storage solutions, so be sure to share in the comments section!

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