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How to Streamline Your Canning

How to Streamline Your Canning - LivingHomegrown.com

Have you ever bought a ton of produce on impulse at the farmer’s market with the full intension of canning it up, only to find it days later rotting in your refrigerator?

Or have you ever been gifted a huge bag of fruit from a neighbor’s tree?

But there it sits…slowly turning brown as you scramble to find time to do something with it.

It’s a common problem given our super busy lives.

And the guilt that comes from that waste only adds to the burden.

The truth is that sometimes it’s really hard to carve out enough time for preserving the harvest.

But there is one thing we can do NOW that will help us LATER in the season.

And that is to streamline certain aspects of the canning process so that it doesn’t become such a time suck when we honestly have no time to spare.

It’s NOT About Time Management:

It’s about managing our tasks.

There are several factors at play when we find ourselves strapped for time.

But one of the biggest wastes of time when it comes to any project we tackle (canning, making a recipe, building or crafting something) is context switching.

What is Context Switching?

Context switching is a term most commonly associated with work productivity. But it directly relates to how we get anything done…or don’t get done.

In fact, the problem of context switching vs. productivity is a problem in all aspects of our home lives and work lives.

It is about how our brains need time when shifting gears between one focused task and the next.

And studies have shown that it is one of the biggest time sucks we encounter.

You’ve heard of multi-tasking?

Well multi-tasking actually slows us down because of the time it takes our brain to switch gears – or switch context.

It turns out that the more sequences a person has to go through to get something done, the more they lose time (20% and more per shift).

Streamline Your Canning - LivingHomegrown.com

Here’s An Example:

If you are trying to prep for a recipe but have to stop and go search for a measuring cup, you are not only wasting the physical time in searching for the cup.

It turns out that when you come back to the recipe, it takes your brain 20% longer in time to reacquaint yourself with where you left off.

Imagine when you have to do this multiple times!

Each time you stop and go search for something, it slows you down more than you realize.

You lose 20% of your time with EACH interruption.

So it doesn’t matter if the recipe you are making is simple or fast.

If you keep stopping to gather what you need, you are wasting the search time PLUS your context switching time.

It adds up fast.

The Solution:

Instead, we need to have everything at our fingertips when we are ready.

It not only saves us the actual time of searching. It also saves us brainpower time, which can add up much faster.

This translates to us needing less time to follow a canning recipe. And that means we are more likely to get it done.

I know this may sound like it is too simple of a solution.

But trust me, for the last year I have applied this idea of limiting my context switching in my work life and have come to realize it really applies to all life.

So I have been spending a lot of time lately organizing my kitchen, garage and everything else I can so that it will save me time later.

I have become more productive in the process which gives me more time to do the things I love.

Streamline Your Canning - LivingHomegrown.com

Organize Now for Preserving Later:

So how do we limit the time suck of context switching?

All we have to do is streamline the canning process.

And we can do that with these four simple tips.

The Four Steps to Streamlining:

1. Gather:

Ideally, everything related to canning should have a home and be stored together.

But this may not be practical for everyone.

So the next best thing is to keep your supplies together in groups (some in the kitchen, garage, attic, etc.).

The point is to know where everything is. It all should have a home.

Start by gathering together all of your tools, equipment, jars, lids, pectin, funnel, etc.

By having all your equipment together, you eliminate the search time later.

Streamline Your Canning - LivingHomegrown.com

2. Sort & Organize

Once you have pulled all your tools and equipment together, organize it by putting like items together.

Sort your jars so you can see what sizes you have or don’t have. (This prevents over-buying the next time you see jars on sale.)

You don’t have to go over the top and label the heck out of everything with a label maker. {OK, don’t judge me, but I do that. Eeek!}

But just know that it is all together in one place (or several specific places) in your home.

Streamline Your Canning - LivingHomegrown.com

3. Choose Your Storage:

I have to touch on storage containers. This is something I struggled with for many years.

Storing Canning Jars - LivingHomegrown.comIn the past, I would just use the cardboard boxes the jars came in to store all my empty canning jars.

This worked. But after a few years, the cardboard started to attract silver fish.

Before long, I had a serious silver fish problem in my garage and they started to migrate into my house.

Rather than spray my house with pesticide, I got rid of the cardboard and switched to plastic.

I know there are pros and cons to plastic, but it is what worked best for me because it allowed me to easily stack all my different sized jars in the garage.

They stay clean, are easily labeled and I can see what is in each box.

There are canning jar stackers available out there, but they are expensive and not cost effective for me given the amount of jars I have.

The jars in these photos are only a fraction of my total number my jars. And I have twice as many at our farmstead where we are put up produce on a larger scale from the heirloom orchard.

The plastic bins just worked best for me.

Storing Canning Lids - LivingHomegrown.com

Note on Lids:

I have several ways of storing my lids. Some are in boxes; others are in cute storage jars in my kitchen.

But when my lids are wet from washing or canning, I do not put them away immediately or they will rust.

Instead, I use either a piece of wire, an open coat hanger or a large power cord twist tie to hang them up to dry. Once dry, they can be put away.

4) Buy Yourself Time – Freeze it

Freezing Food - LivingHomegrown.com

Even if you are organized as heck, there will be times this summer when you find yourself with an abundance of produce and no time to can it.

When that happens, buy yourself time.

Freeze it.

I freeze most of my berries in 2 cups measurements and just pull them out later when I have the time to make jam. Here are some tips (and video) for how to freeze produce for later.

So Tell Me…

I know it is not very sexy to sort and organize canning jars and equipment.

But if you can do some organizing now, it will save you time with any recipe you make in the future.

Does the idea of sorting jars make you crazy?

Or do you have any other storage or time saving tips to share?

Tell me in the comments!

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.

61 Comments:

  • Karen Rink says:

    Thank you, Theresa, you are the BEST!!

    • theresa says:

      Thank you Karen!

      • Maria Burke says:

        I actually love this idea and have been moving away from cardboard too. I have a streamlined process and love, love, love my canning days!

        • theresa says:

          It makes it all more enjoyable, doesn’t it Maria? It takes less brain power, we don’t fret about where everything is and can just focus on the fun part.

    • KaLia says:

      Hi Theresa,

      I really like the straight forward approach you have and I’m an organizational nerd so this appeals to me – a newbie who is preparing to tackle canning for the first time (due to a vast amount of food allergies).

      My question pertains to canning fruit that will ultimately become jams. Would there be any harm in adding the sugar/Splenda when putting the frozen berries into the jars, then putting it into the freezer? It seems like it would fill the space within the jar…and would eliminate another step – plus the berries mixed with the sweetener would start making juice… yes, no, maybe??

      • theresa says:

        There would be no harm in freezing the fruit with sugar/splenda EXCEPT that you must keep track of how much you add and be sure to follow the appropriate recipe when you thaw it out. You see, in many recipes (but not all) there needs to be a specific ratio of sugar, pectin and acid in order for the recipe to gel or firm up. If however, you are going to do a low sugar recipe using a low sugar pectin, then you have more flexibility and it would be no problem using varied amounts of sugar or even splenda. And since you have commented on my post about low sugar pectin, I know you know you have read about that and what I mean. 🙂

  • JACKIE KRONSTED says:

    I have a “big” basket to store my wide mouth lids and rings, and a smaller basket for the regular size. Both baskets have funnels, etc.
    and I still store the jars in the cardboard boxes they came in but it’s in a basement and have had (so far, thank goodness) no problem with bugs. Also,
    I buy sugar on sale all year, and store that in plastic boxes.

  • Debbie says:

    This is very good advice! I use the same principle when teaching meal planning classes. Being very organized and prepping for a number of meals at once makes the whole week easier. I’d like to use your article in canning classes I teach, too.

    • theresa says:

      Sure thing Debbie. I hope it helps your students.

      I need to apply your tip of doing several meals at once. That would help a lot.

  • Diana says:

    Love these tips!

    I find that having all tools needed for canning (and freezing) together and used only for food prep and storage – I duplicate some items used in the kitchen on a daily basis such as measuring instruments, cups, mixing bowls, etc. – but at the same time it saves so much time and effort when everything is together and at my finger tips when I am ready to put up food.

  • Colleen says:

    Excellent article !!! I just have to share this with my canning group !!!

  • Rose L says:

    I thought I had a good storage solution by putting things in my basement cellar. Having to go outside to get down to the cellar has really made that impractical however. I end up with many jars in various sizes sitting on a counter as they get opened and used and then struggle with how to corral them all and get them back into the cellar without them getting dirty or dusty. Same goes for jars full of food. No matter how many I bring up to the kitchen to use in time I always need to make another trip for something for just about each meal I cook. Is there a solution to a house too small?? Ha! The plastic boxes look so nice all stacked up in your photos. They might be too heavy for me to carry so far as well as going up and down stairs with them. Other than that, I do have ‘like things’ stored together. I think I’m in need of a kitchen remodel at the very least. 😉

    • theresa says:

      Hi Rose,

      I wish I could magically send you a bigger house. Ha!

      The boxes are not heavy. The ones with the smaller jars are small boxes – only holding a dozen or so of jars. The larger boxes mostly only have one layer of larger jars. So they are still lightweight.

      I had the same issue with mismatched jars all over my kitchen. It was when I found myself spending WAY too much time searching that I had to make a change. I have to say that eliminating the clutter was sort of liberating!

      But I still have to watch myself so that I don’t start filling the open space with other clutter. Ha!

  • Bea O'Hearn says:

    Great idea! I like the idea of storing the clean jars in the plastic containers. Currently mine are in those cardboard cases they came in. The covered containers would definitely keep them cleaner.

    • theresa says:

      Yes, my jars that were in the attic were a mess when I would bring them down. Plus, I like seeing what I have inside the boxes.

  • andrea says:

    I use a system similar to yours (i.e. clear plastic bins), but I have limited space so I nest my jars: small spice/herb jars inside 1/2 pint jars, inside wide-mouth pint jars… I sandwich a square of cotton t-shirt material between each layer to protect the glass. Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge and wisdom!

  • K Bundy says:

    My mom tells me that once a canning jar is used for canning, it should not be used again for heated canning — has some stories of the jars breaking and spreading hot contents around kitchen and even burning the cook. I’m taking her word for it and think it may be worth spreading the word.

    • theresa says:

      Hi K,

      It is actually okay to use canning jars over and over for many years. They are made of tempered glass that is specifically for that purpose. Where there is a problem is when people use jars that are not actual “canning jars” (like old spaghetti or mayo jars). Those jars are NOT tempered or built for the drastic heat fluctuations of canning (especially pressure canning).

      Also, it is a good practice to always check the jars before use for any chips or cracks.

  • Chris says:

    Good article. Can I reuse the rings? I was told I had to pitch them along with the lid? Thanks

    • theresa says:

      Hi Chris,

      Glad you liked the article. Yes, you can reuse the rings (the part with the threads) over and over. After using the ring and lid once, you only have to throw out the lid because the gasket gets indented when used and it will not create a good seal going forward. But the ring is good to go for many years.

  • priscilla says:

    This post is a must-read for anyone with organizational problems. It is perfect for canning (of course), I use this method already for crock-pot yogurt, applesauce, bean soaking, etc. The post itself is outstanding for people with autism or ADD/ADHD to read as it is a perfect step-by-step, along with rationale, of how to stay focused or on-task. First task of today’s homeschool is to read this article and compare/contrast to other tasks in life. Thank you so much.

    • theresa says:

      Great Priscilla – It’s exciting to know I’m part of a homeschool curriculum! Thank you for letting me know.

  • Nancy says:

    Great tips for storage,I have my preserves in 3 shelving units as well as the hall pantry closet and sort them according to food types,veggie and meals,fruit and juices,jams and pickles. It helps when making meals. When the jars are empty they go back to each cupboard for storage,I turn the lid upside down in the ring and it keeps the inside free of crawleys. but I well be looking for plastic totes which also cuts down on carrying dramas.

  • Carol says:

    I totally agree with your advice. We have little storage room in the garage, so I store my canning jars in covered baskets (same shape as your storage boxes) under my bed. (No dust ruffle, so the baskets look nice.) I wash jars, lids and rings; let them dry thoroughly and then put a used lid and a ring on each jar, before putting them in the baskets. (This protects the glass rims from chipping.) As I use up my home-canned goods, I also put the clean empties back on the shelves in the cupboards where the canned goods are stored. This method keeps them clean and ready for use when needed.

    • theresa says:

      Excellent system Carol. Really excellent. How cool that you can fit the baskets under the bed AND they look good. Win-win!

  • Lisa R says:

    I absolutely love this post! it made me smile – not out of amusement, but because I thought I was the only crazy one. 🙂 This is the type of thing I would mull over and talk to myself about while driving…it’s that important…and like you pointed out – applicable to so many facets of life. Your tips here so valuable and often overlooked despite their practicality!
    I’m hoping that many busy folks – especially mom’s who are trying to do it all – take them to heart! It really does make a difference!

    • theresa says:

      LOL – Well, it’s good for me to know I’m not the only crazy one too Lisa!!

      You are so right. We know this stuff, but I think the turning point for me was when I realized just how much time was wasted. We intuitively know SOME is wasted. But when that is given a solid number, it is an eye-opener.

      Once I had everything organized, it made me want to can more! Ha!

  • Rebecca says:

    I’ve started buying jarboxes. Yes, they’re a thing – plastic trays that snap together to be sectioned storage for jars. They’re designed for canning jars, they help keep them separated, clean and safe in case of droppage etc. AFAIK, they only have them in quart and pint sizes so far, so some of my jars are still in cardboard, but I am in the process of converting them. I keep one of those finish cardboard tubes with all my canning tools in there – bubbling spatula, jar lifters, magnetic wand etc, including the weights for my pressure canner, and keep the rings on ribbons tied to my canning shelf. Lids I was just keeping stacked in their little boxes, but since my 2 year old got into my canning supplies and started shelling them like peas, I’ll have to find a container to keep them in. My kitchen is TINY, bane of my existence, so everything is kept together down in the basement. When I plan to can, I get everyone to the basement, and grab everything I need and drag it all upstairs. Even the toddler – she can carry the rings and lids. I keep all my occasional processing equipment downstairs too, things like my apple peeler/slicer/corer, pineapple wedger, the foodmill attachment for my kitchen aid, and the corn stripper and cherry pitter – love them when I need them, but the periods I need them are so short, they don’t need to take up valuable kitchen real estate. I keep them all in the same space, so I can see everything I need when I go down there to grab my stuff. After everything is cleaned, it all goes back, even the finished product to the basement to live until needed again.

    • theresa says:

      Well Rebecca, you are a woman after my own heart. You have a great system here. I too have a small kitchen. And I used to keep bits and pieces of what I needed all over the place. I really like that you keep your other processing equipment together too. Streamlines everything for sure! Very efficient. Kudos to you!

    • Rivka says:

      Where can I buy these jar boxes you mention?

  • Cheryl Abdelnour says:

    What a great article. I am going to pin it for future use.Thanks!

  • Sara says:

    As I am new to this I haven’t had a long term storage problem. But right this minute I have 20 jars sitting on one end of the kitchen bench, washed and waiting for a home until used. The rest of my equipment is together – but no place for jars. You have just solved it – so simple. I will look for containers slightly higher than my 350ml jars, and that way they will easily stack somewhere – and it doesn’t have to be the kitchen.
    I think my other storage problem is for the finished preserves. With a small kitchen, I don’t have a pantry or many kitchen cupboards. I still have to think about this one.

    • theresa says:

      Glad the article helped Sara.

      I should have taken photos of the week I made the shift, but I didn’t think of it being a post at the time. I have so many jars, it was a bit of process!

      1) I first sorted all my jars (most still in the dusty, dirty cardboard) into piles.
      2) Then I went through my current plastic bins to see what I already had that would fit certain jars. And loaded them up and put them on the shelves. I had been collecting the bins for awhile and that took care of about half of my box needs.
      3) Then I made a list of jars that did not have a container yet and I measured the height of each jar (noted it on the list).
      4) I kept the list and a small tape measure with me for 2 weeks as I did my other shopping. Every place I checked, I would measure the boxes to see if they would work. Tip: Measure the INSIDE of the box to see if your jar will fit. It might be tall enough outside, but you lose 1/4 inch or more with the thickness of the box when you place the jars inside.
      5) For some of my odd ball sizes, I had to buy bins at the container store. Their bins are more expensive than places like Target or Walmart, but they have a huge selection and could fill the gap for the weird sizes I needed for things like my Weck jars or my vintage jars.

      Hope that helps!

  • Rivka says:

    I store all my jars with lids and rings because there is such a problem with dust in this area. Extra lids, tools,racks etc. get stored in my canning kettle which rests on a ledge underneath my dining room table. I even keep my pectin in the kettle. Since my place is so small when I do a canning project I clear the entire counter off and do nothing but can in the kitchen.

    • theresa says:

      Nice Rivka! And good tip about keeping the rings and lids on to keep them clean. A few others have commented on that too and I should have listed that in the post.

      Sounds like you have a great system.

  • Cynthia says:

    The point where my system is really breaking down is the “put away” process. A trickle of jars being emptied & cleaned all year, and the reintegrated to the collection in storage — I just never seem to be able to find a good system to manage it. Is it a question of discipline? An interim holding spot in the pantry? Any suggestions? This was a great post. Vey inspiring. Thanks!

    • theresa says:

      Hi Cynthia,

      Good question!

      The issue is that you only get one clean jar at a time as you finish it up. It can be a pain to go track down the box you need to put it away. I don’t think it is a matter of discipline. I think you just need a system. I feel there are two ways to go on this depending upon which way you are currently storing your jars. And I have used both of these methods:

      1) Remote location storage (like a basement or attic):
      This is how I used to store most of my jars – in the attic of the garage. It was easy to get to, but I had to climb the stairs to get to them. So if you can not easily access your jars, then you need to have a “holding station” where you can place one or two jars at a time and then every once in awhile carry all those jars out and put them away.

      In my case, I had a “holding station” in two locations. I kept a cute basket in my kitchen on a shelf and would wash and place the jars and rings in there. With the lid on you couldn’t tell what was inside, so it kept the area tiddy looking. But sometimes I could not fit the larger jars into the basket. So, I also had large file box right at the top of the stairs of my attic. I could quickly and easily set the larger jars into that box and forget about them until the box filled to the point that I had to really put the jars away. You could have a holding station in a cupboard (as some have mentioned in the comments) or other hidden location. Baskets with lids work great for this.

      2) Easily Accessible Storage Location:
      Now, my jars are on ground level right outside my kitchen in the garage. And with the jars organized, I can take finished jars out one at a time and drop them into the proper box. But I have to admit that I sometimes run out and set them on the shelf IN FRONT of the boxes to be put away later. I have to watch it though or that can get our to hand! It really only takes me about 20 seconds to open the darn box and set them in, so I try to force myself to do that now each time.

      Hope that helps!

  • Karen says:

    Love the idea of plastic bins. I purchased cupboards from a building recycle shop and put them up in the garage. The cost was less money than building shelving and these have doors. I organize everything together for canning so all I have to do is grab the pot for water bath or pressure canner. Everything goes into those pots. I also purchase supplies at the end of the season when they go on sale or clearance (labels, lids, rims) and stock up for the coming season. Canning is so rewarding for me !! Love your advise and tips !

    • theresa says:

      EXCELLENT tip about buying at the end of the previous season. I do that too and it helps so much. How nice that your cupboards have doors. That helps a lot.

  • Great post. All cooking is faster if we have everything ready. Mise en place.
    One of the really great things about our new to us homestead is the “canning kitchen” in the garage. It is something I am still getting used to. Even though it has a stove I still do all the prep work in my house then I can in the garage. I do however keep all my canning, and soap making supplies in that room. At some point my hubby will put cabinets in the garage and then I think I will buy some totes for all my jars. They get dirty in the boxes and then I have to add the step and time of washing them.
    When jars are emptied I usually don’t want to go out to the garage so they sit on the counter until I can get one of my kids to do it or I have enough that it bugs me and I go out.
    I love this post and I love to be organized. When all the boxes are unpacked I might feel organized again 🙂

    • theresa says:

      Your canning kitchen sounds lovely. 🙂 The cabinets will be the perfect addition.

    • Susan W says:

      We were house shopping and found a house with two kitchens. It was a much older house, needed more repairs than we had time for but oh! I really wanted it for the”canning kitchen” in the finished basement. It had large doors to the backyard, so when the kitchen got hot, the doors & windows created cross ventilation breezes. Cupboards, double sinks, large countertops that went on for miles, older stove and room for a table. It fits my needs and with 5 of us, the two kitchens would have been perfect. Husband was in a year of intensive training for his job so we passed. I still dream of that separate canning kitchen!

  • Toni Coon says:

    Theresa, happy I discovered your podcasts and web page.
    Just a tiny correction. In the Time Switching article, paragraph on Time Management, you used the word time stitching. I think that might be a typo error.

  • Sheli says:

    I love your plastic bin idea for storing empty canning jars. What size bins do you use for your canning jars? Each bin in the photo appears to fit each sized jar you use perfectly…not a lot of space for the jars to bang around and break in the bin. Is there a certain brand bin you use for this? Sizes? I would like to recreate what you have done in my pantry. Thanks so much for your great website and wonderful ideas!

    • theresa says:

      Hi Sheli,

      I’m glad you found the post helpful. What I did was sort my jars and then measure their hieght. So, I measured all the pints, half-pints etc. And then I took those measurements down to our local Container Store. Do you have one near you? I took a measure tape with me and I just checked every plastic bin they had in the store and found different containers for each size jar. Most of the the bins in the photo are the brand carried by Container Store and few are rubbermaid. I have to admit, it took me two trips to the container store because I wasn’t sure how many of each size to buy. Although I knew how TALL the bins needed to be, I was unsure how many jars would fit in the bin. So once I started filling up the bins, I could tell which ones I need more of.

      Hope that helps!
      t

      • Sheli says:

        Yes, that information helps! Thank you so much! Guess I’m headed to the Container Store (that place is dangerous for me! 🙂 ) Such a great and informative website too! Thank you for all you do!

  • Sue says:

    Thanks for giving me permission to buy plastic bins “just for jars”. I moved and have less space in my kitchen. Then my mother-in-law gave me boxes and boxes of jars from the 1990s. I’m not ready to part with them, even though I really don’t “can” anymore. I’m into fermentation so the quart wide mouths are definitely keepers.

    • theresa says:

      I wouldn’t want to part with them either Sue!

    • Sheli says:

      Hi Sue! Just a thought to get some use out of some of your jars…we use ours to store all sorts of pantry staples…rice, beans, dry goods in the pantry and leftover liquids from dinner (soups, preserves/sauces from desserts, drinks – think crockpot drinks that can be reheated) in the fridge. Also there are recipes we make and put in the jars – refrigerator oatmeal, salad in a jar, etc. The jars are nice because they are see through and it seems like the plastic lids are a little easier to use for this purpose. They are great for transporting liquids to get-togethers, etc. They also work great for smaller spaces.

      • Sue says:

        Ha, ha…doing storing plenty of things in jars. That includes souvenirs from trips, vintage kitchen utensils and reusing for remelting old candles. I also like to keep really “interesting” jars, Italian canning jars, French latch lid ones. I have a “problem”…not enough pantry and “display” space hee,hee. I just found out via Rachel Ray show and guest Gweneth Paltrow you can pack stuff like fixings for ramen, then add hot water to the “jarred” food (we don’t use a microwave). Thanks for answering!

  • Heidi says:

    Have you thought of using the plastic drawer dividers?
    They are thin pieces of plastic that snap together in different locations. They would keep your jars from sliding into each other in the boxes… It would probably be most helpful in a box that wasn’t completely full. I keep mine together in “kits” so if I need 8 half-pints The box has jars, lids, & rings together clean & ready for canning. My lids are in zip lock bags not on the jars, I use a thin round of plastic on the jars in place of the real lid – and I don’t have to keep old used lids on my jars…

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