Preparing the Produce

The fruits and vegetables you can should be prize winners, at the very peak of perfection, and certainly not too ripe. They shouldn’t be blemished or bruised. Whether they are from your garden, a grocery store, or produce market, they should be fresh. Ideally, you will both pick or buy and can on the same day. If that’s impossible, the produce should be refrigerated.

It must be clean. Washed carefully and completely, the produce must then be pared or cut up with clean knives.

Here are some suggestions on a few of the vegetables and fruits you may be canning:

 

BeetsUsually best when no more than two to three inches in diameter. Some varieties stay tender and flavorful when larger and can easily be canned.
Lima BeansBest when pods are well-filled and the seed is firm but not hard.
Snap BeansHarvest when so crisp that they snap readily.
CornTry to complete canning within four hours of picking, before sugar is converted to starch. Kernels should be plump, milky, and bright. If immature, corn will be watery and tasteless. If too mature, corn will be starchy and tasteless.
GreensUse young, tender leaves of mustard, spinach, kale, and collard greens. Kale is better if harvested after a frost.
OkraPick pods when two to three inches long.
PeasPick as soon as they are mature enough to be shelled.
TomatoesSelect tomatoes that are firm and ripe but not overripe. They should be free of bruises, spots, decay, molds, cracks, and growths. Otherwise, tomatoes may be low in acid—too low for safe canning.
ApplesIf canning slices, remember that green apples, with seeds not yet brown, will produce hard, sour slices, while overripe fruit will be mushy, looking much like applesauce. The best applesauce is made by blending two or more relatively tart cooking-type apple varieties. Green apples make sour sauce; overripe apples make a watery, bland sauce.
Bramble BerriesHarvest blackberries, raspberries, dewberries, and similar fruits in shallow trays or pans, to avoid crushing the berries. Can the day of picking. If that’s impossible, quickly cool the berries to 33°-35° and hold overnight at that temperature.
CherriesPick when red-ripe, sound, and not oversoft. Hold at 33°-35° temperature if canning is delayed more than four hours after picking.
GooseberriesPick when most of the berries are full-sized but still green or showing only the first blush of color. If necessary to hold them overnight, keep them at about 40°.
PearsUnlike most fruits, pears shouldn’t be ripened on the tree. If they are, they begin to rot inside, and will quickly spoil. Pick when full-sized, mature green, and when they can be picked easily from the tree. Pick and handle carefully, to avoid bruises, since damaged fruit will spoil quickly. Store until ripe in a cool place that’s free of odors. This may take a few days or weeks, depending on the variety.
PlumsThey should be tree-ripened for best flavor, with deep color and a powdery bloom. Can quickly, if possible, since they become mushy very rapidly.