Our gardens are in full swing, and our plants are overloaded. Each morning we harvest everything that is ripe. We have full sinks, strainers dripping, and counters overloaded. And we still have to put it all up. It sounds like it is time to have a party – a canning party that is!
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Preserving our harvest is full days of hot, repetitious work. We wash, peel, seed, chop, slice, and repeat. Jars are boiling in one pot. Salt, sugar and spices are lined up and ready to go. Canning and preserving can be lonely work, and a lot of it.
Why not make canning a bit more fun? Have a canning party! Don’t worry. You don’t have to have balloons and streamers or create a fancy meal. Just invite some friends over to help. And to say, ‘thank you’, send them home with a few jars of home canned deliciousness!
Canning Party Basics
To have a canning party, invite a few friends who understand the process. If you have one or two who have never canned, but want to learn, now is the time to teach them. Your canning party can double as a Canning 101 class.
In exchange for assisting with the process, offer your guests a ‘party favor’ of several jars or bags of goodies that have been dehydrated. A canning party makes the work go quicker, and adds a bit of fun.
Canning Party Prep
The Night Before:
1. Do any food prep for snacks and lunch possible. Place the trays and bowls in the refrigerator as necessary.
2. Make sure to clean your kitchen and work area. Sanitize counters, line the table with newspaper, sweep, vacuum, and mop the floor. Clean the stove top.
Check all the jars for any cracks or chips. If your dishwasher has a sterilizing cycle, go ahead and load it, but wait to turn it on until right before the canning party begins.
Don’t forget to gather the recipes, cookbooks and other ingredients. Line them up on a counter close to the mixing area.
4. Designate areas (at least in your mind) for washing, prep, and final cooling. If necessary, set up a card table lined with cooling racks or a double layer of towels to place jars that are coming out of the canner. Prepare each area with the necessary tools the night before.
The Morning Of:
1. The morning of the canning party, clean up any breakfast residue and wipe down counters and the stove again. Turn on the dishwasher or fill your large pots with water in preparation for boiling the jars.
2. Run a broom or dust mop over the floor again, just in case.
3. Once you have cleaned the area the morning of the party, keep pets out of the kitchen area until the canning party is completed.
4. Gather your harvest and set it beside the sink or go ahead and start the washing process. Once the produce is clean and ready to go, place it in a bowl or bowls and put it in the prep area.
5. Open the back door and welcome your guests!
The Rules of a Canning Party
1. Consider how much you feel you will net with the produce on hand. Offer at least one jar or more of each item you can. For instance, if you have three friends and can 10 jars of pickles, give each of them one or two jars. That leaves you with 4 to 7 jars for your pantry.
2. Another option is to ask your guests to ‘BYOJ’ – or bring your own jars. In exchange, they will get the same amount of canned goods to take home with them. Before you do it this way, consider how much produce needs to be canned, with a rough estimate of how many jars you will fill. If necessary, limit the number of jars they can take home.
Use this as a basis for ‘take homes’. If you have a guest who is willing to bring more jars, then by all means, accept them. Canning jars can get expensive! Just let them know ahead of time how many jars they will get at the end of the day.
3. Assign duties according to skill set. If you have a ‘green’ canner, take them through each of the steps – either by explanation or participation. Start them at the very beginning, with the washing and culling. Show them when to cut bad spots out, what to look for, and when to discard.
Be sure to include the beginners in each step of the process. Talk them through it and answer their questions. Be sure to emphasis safety measures that need to be taken when canning. You don’t want your guests taking home Canning Party ‘favors’ that are spoiled before they walk out the door!
4. Offer aprons to everyone, or ask them to bring their own, if you don’t have enough. Or, better yet, make an apron for each of your guests as an additional party favor!
What to Serve at a Canning Party
Canning can easily be an all-day affair. But we still get hungry and need to eat to keep our strength up. The last thing you want to do in the heat of the canning battle is to stop and serve a fancy meal to your guests. Instead, try a few of these simple foods:
- Fresh fruit. You can either offer a platter of washed, prepared fruit, or make a fruit salad
- Fresh veggies and dip
- Sandwiches, chips and pickles. If possible, make them up in advance, and put them in the refrigerator on a covered platter.
- Chicken or tuna salad, crackers, and a bowl of black and/or green olives
- Tossed salad or Strawberry Spinach Roll-Ups
- Always have a sweet – cookies, fudge, candy, etc.
- You can also offer a Salad Luncheon with an assortment of delicious salads
You may also want to keep a few other snacks on hand, such as a bowl of Trail Mix. One of the easiest Trail Mixes to make consists of three items: Honey-roasted peanuts, Banana Chips and Raisins. Or choose your favorites and mix them up. Here are a few things that can easily be added to your own homemade Trail Mix:
- Chocolate Chips
- Dried Fruit – apricot, pineapple, banana, raisins, Crasins, blueberries, etc.
- Shelled Nuts – cashews, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, etc.
- Shelled Sunflower seeds
- Candies – M&M’s, Chocolate-covered raisins, chopped Orange Slices, etc.
Just keep a bowl on the table for them to snack on throughout the day.
You will also need to have plenty of refreshments. Keep a pitcher of water, lemonade or iced tea in the fridge and let each guest help themselves. You can also have bottles of soft drinks or sports drinks, as well.
The last thing you want to do is to run out of supplies. Although the basic tools, such as jar lifters, spoons and pots can be shared, you still need to have enough jars, flats and rings. If you are dehydrating as well, be sure to have enough plastic zip-top bags on hand.
I also store some of my dehydrated foods in jars that are not canning safe. Once I was given a big box of jelly jars with the cute red and white checked lids. These couldn’t be used for canning, but they are perfect to store dehydrated goodies.
Also be sure you have plenty of labels. These can be ones that are peel and stick, or some specially ordered. When we run out of labels, we just use a strip of freezer tape.
Be sure to add not only the contents of the jar, but also the date on every label. And if you plan on selling your final product, add the ingredients.
The Joys of a Canning Party
As the saying goes, ‘many hands make light work’. Having several hand to help you can your produce isn’t just a blessing, it is also a joy. The work will get done faster and you will have more fun visiting with your friends.
An Added Bonus
Suggest to your friends who have gardens that you continue the party at their house. Offer to help them put up their own produce. By doing so, your pantry will be brimming with a wider assortment of delicious home grown, hand processed foods for your winter meals!