It's pretty common for me to hear people say that they might like to make their own jelly or applesauce, but don't know how to do it. I will ask them, 'why?' and the answer is usually something like-- nobody ever taught me, or I thought it would be too hard. Most stare at me in disbelief when I rattle off the steps in making jelly to prove that it really is easy. Many will respond by saying that they will have to come over and help, or watch me in order to learn. Not true, it's a lot easier than you think.
Canning is easy, time consuming, yes, but not difficult. Trial and error are part of any learning process, and trust me, I've had jam that doesn't set and salsa that's too thin. But is it hard to learn? Not really. Obviously you do have to try it to find out if it's your thing, but by following simple instructions and safety precautions, anybody can be a home canner. There are lots of produce items that can be preserved by jarring or freezing, even without the use of a pressure cooker. Almost any household could find both savings and quality by taking advantage of local produce in season to put away food for winter.
Personally, my household uses many different canned fruits, jams, and pickled products as well as frozen fruits and vegetables, so the advantage to canning and freezing is clear. We jar whatever is in season so we can get cheaper products, i.e. picking our own raspberries at Labor Day or buying bushels of Michigan peaches in August. We cold pack peaches, pears and tomatoes, make applesauce, pickled beets, salsa, spaghetti sauce, and relish. All of these jarred items have a long shelf life-- up to two years, but not all items last this long and it is recommended that you don't keep anything for more than a year. (We've tested this and found jellies and tomatoes can last much longer, but we're not suggesting such lengthy storage.) Most will keep for up to several weeks under refrigeration after being opened. We also freeze berries and vegetables including strawberries, blueberries, broccoli, beans and corn. The shelf life is similar to jarred items as most will be fine for 1 to 2 years. Flavor begins to deteriorate after the first year, so try to put away just what you need to get through one year.
So as I said before, canning is easy. If you have the right tools, a Blue Book (the Ball Brand guide to preserving) and plenty of time, you can be an expert preserver before you know it. It does help to have someone show you the ropes, so to speak, just to familiarize yourself with the process and a few of the big time 'dos and don'ts', but its not required so feel free to experiment. If you have trouble, the Blue Book will have many tips, and you can always try your county cooperative extension service. Or check out this very informative article about home canning.
There are two different methods of putting away fruits and vegetables in jars. The first is by using a pressure cooker, which is recommended for use when canning anything that is not high in acid. Beans and corn, veggie soups and squash should always be pressure canned. The second method is the boiling water bath. This method can be used for any high acid product including peaches and applesauce, salsa and pickled beets. (Pickling refers to canning something in vinegar.)
Pressure cooking is risky in the sense that you have to make sure the jars reach a specific temperature and pressure to ensure a seal and no breakage later on. I do not pressure can anything, mostly because we do not need to. We've found that many things that would traditionally need pressure canning, work well as a frozen product-- see opposite side.
Water bath canning is much safer and can be done in larger volumes with a regular canning kettle, although over-sized pressure canners are available. My personal experience with acid fruit canning has been very good. I've successfully done lots of items and been happy with the results.
The following is a list of items you can water bath can with relative ease using Michigan grown produce:
Hot Peppers, Pickled
Apricot Jam or Jelly
Grape Jam or Jelly
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
Raspberry Jam or Jelly
Black Raspberry Jam or Jelly
Blackberry Jam or Jelly
and much more...
The end result of freezing your fruits and vegetables is a product that can be used in many ways, but will never be the same as it was fresh. Vegetables should be blanched (quick boiled to kill bacteria and soften product) and will not be quite the same as when they were fresh. Fruits, like berries, will lose their original texture when frozen so are going to be best when used in cooking or eaten while still frozen.
Here is a list of produce that you can freeze with relative ease and a suggested application for each:
Blueberries-- Mix into pancake batter
Strawberries-- Blend to make fruit smoothies
Raspberries-- Eat with ice cream
Peaches-- Cook in a cobbler
Broccoli-- Boil and cover with cheese sauce
Cauliflower-- Boil and cover with cheese sauce
Carrots-- Add to a stew or roast
Beans-- Boil or use in a casserole
Sweet Corn-- Boil or use in a casserole
Greens-- Boil and serve with butter