How to Preserve Fruits, Vegetables and More to Fill Your Pantry

A bucket full of yellow plums to be canned.

Learn how to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables by canning, freezing, dehydrating and more. You'll find the best way to preserve many vegetables and fruits in this post, plus tips, resources and safety precautions you'll need to can vegetables and fruit and fill your pantry shelves.

How to Preserve Fruits, Vegetables and More

If you have a garden - even if you only grow tomatoes or have a single apple tree - you can preserve your harvest and fill your pantry shelves.

And if you don't have a garden or an apple tree, you can "harvest" fruit and vegetables at you-pick orchards and your local farmers market.

Are you interested in learning how to preserve food at home?

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Whether you want to freeze garden vegetables, fruits and herbs, or you want to learn how to can your summer produce, check out the guidelines below. Further down in this post, you'll find instructions to preserve some popular fruits and vegetables.

Can you preserve food without an actual canner?

That depends on what it is, and how you want to preserve it. If you simply want to store dry foods such as flour, sugar and oatmeal in glass canning jars, then no, you don't need a canner. 

These foods will store much longer if you vacuum seal the jars. You might be interested in how to vacuum seal almost any jar in your kitchen

You can also vacuum seal dehydrated foods including fruits and vegetables in canning jars, for longer shelf life.

If it's your first experience at putting fresh food in jars, canning might seem overwhelming - but it really isn't difficult. 

If you're not confident about pressure canning your vegetables for the first time, you can still preserve your harvest by freezing, dehydrating, or fermenting it.

Is it possible (and safe) to can fresh produce without using a canner?

If you want to preserve fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, you'll need a canner.

First and foremost, food safety is our biggest priority. Canning food is a scientific practice and the USDA guidelines are there for a purpose: to keep us safe. 

Botulism and other bacteria that might be present in improperly-canned foods are dangerous, even deadly.

So I beg you to follow the rules when you can food. I know, our mothers and grandmothers used old-fashioned methods - my mother "canned" jelly by adding a layer of paraffin wax to the top of the jars - but these methods are no longer considered safe. 

For the sake of your family and friends, please use approved methods.

Know your elevation

What does that have to do with canning food, you might ask?

Processing times in canning recipes assume that you live at less than 1,000 feet above sea level. If your home's elevation is higher than that, you'll need to adjust the processing times - and if you're pressure canning, you'll need to adjust the pressure too.

To find out your home's elevation, go to What is My Elevation with your cell phone and type in your home's address.

Presto pressure canner on a stove.

To can vegetables safely

Vegetables MUST be canned in a pressure-canner. Yes, pressure canners are expensive, but if you do not have a pressure canner, you should not can vegetables. You can freeze or dehydrate your vegetables instead.

Meat and seafood must also be canned in a pressure-canner, but you can freeze these foods instead. Wrap the item securely in plastic wrap or freezer paper and place in a zippered freezer bag, expelling as much air as possible.

Even better than using a zipper freezer bag is to vacuum seal the food with a FoodSaver or similar appliance.

Jars of fruit being preserved in a water bath canner.

To can fruit safely

Most fruits can be preserved in a boiling water bath canner, and you can water-bath can without buying a commercial canning kettle. A large stock pot can be used instead, but it must meet these requirements:

  • Use a rack under the jars to keep them up off the bottom of the pot so boiling water can circulate under the jars. (I use one like this.)
  • The pot must be deep enough to allow two inches of water above the top of your jars, and enough space above that to keep water from splashing or boiling over.
  • The stockpot must have a well-fitting lid. Don't "make it work" - a layer of foil over the top of the pot is not sufficient; a lid from a larger stockpot set on top is not "good enough." If your intended pot doesn't have a lid that fits, don't use it.

However, using a commercial water bath canner will allow you to can more jars at a time, and has a rack to lift all the jars out of the hot water at one time.

You'll find more ways to save money while canning in my frugal canning post, but please be sure to follow the rules and be safe!

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Making vinegar is a great way to preserve apples!

How to preserve fruit

Because they are higher in acid than vegetables, fruit can be canned in a water bath canner.

Tomatoes are technically a fruit rather than a vegetable, so they can be water-bath canned - but with certain restrictions, such as...

  • If you're canning tomatoes alone (without other ingredients such as onions and peppers) they can be preserved by water-bath canning. In other words, if you're canning chopped or diced tomatoes, a water bath canner may be used; but if you're making spaghetti sauce and adding additional ingredients, you must use a pressure canner.

  • The USDA cautions that modern-day tomato varieties often have a lower acid content. To combat this and still use the water bath method of canning, you can add lemon juice (from the green bottle at the grocery store, not fresh from a lemon) or citric acid.

    The recommended amount of lemon juice or citric acid to add to each quart jar of tomatoes is 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid. For pint jars, add 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon citric acid to each jar.

How to preserve vegetables

Vegetables are lower in acid than fruits, so - I'll say it again - vegetables must be preserved using a pressure canner. 

Pressure-canning is one place that you cannot cut corners. Although I use a large stockpot to water bath can fruits, which you can read about in my frugal canning hacks post, you must use a pressure canner for vegetables, meat, seafood and poultry.

Do not use a pressure cooker to preserve vegetables; you must use a pressure canner.

I use a Presto 23-quart pressure canner, available at both Amazon and Lehman's Hardware online.

Three homegrown apples

Are you looking for gift ideas for your favorite canner? Or a list of basic canning equipment for your own kitchen? Check out the list here in Best Gift Ideas for Home Canners and Food Preservation

From apples to tomatoes, here's how to preserve fruits

Apples - This guide to preserving apples covers more than eight ways to preserve apples, including canning and freezing. You'll find a few more unusual ways to use apples here.

Jelly and Jam - How to make and can jelly and jam, including blackberry jamtriple berry jam and harvest apple jelly (without pectin). If you prefer, you can make the juice for jelly and freeze it - I do this often so I can make the jelly in the winter when my kitchen isn't as hot.

Pears - Learn how to ripen pears and how to can them in this beginner's guide to canning pears.

Rose petal jelly - one of the more interesting and unusual things to preserve is rose petal jelly. This isn't the only flower jelly you can make, you'll find recipes for dandelion jelly, lilac jelly, wild violet jelly and more online.

Small quantities of fruit - if you have just a few berries or a piece or two of fruit - or small quantities left after making a batch of jelly or jam - freeze them until you have enough to make mixed fruit jelly. I also use these little bits of fruit in smoothies.

Tomatoes - Here's how to can your homegrown tomatoes. Whether you're growing paste tomatoes, cherry tomatoes or a variety of tomato types and sizes, you can can them. Non-paste tomatoes will yield a product with more liquid than paste-type tomatoes, but you can cook them down to a thicker consistency before or after canning.

Ears of ripe sweet corn to be frozen

From beans to squash, how to preserve vegetables

Beans - Dried beans are an excellent food to keep in your pantry; they'll keep for a very long time, even longer if you store them in jars or buckets with oxygen absorbing packets

However it takes hours to cook them from their dry state, so to make dinner preparation easier and much faster, can a batch of dried beans for your pantry shelves.

After about two years, dried beans tend to get very hard, and even cooking them for hours won't soften them up. If you store dried beans, make it a practice to pressure can them after about two years, so you'll get another two years or so of shelf life.

Beets - Beets are easy to grow in the garden, they're good for you, and the Chief and I like them both plain and in sweet and sour Harvard beets. They are easy to pressure can too. Here's how to can beets.

Cabbage - Some vegetables such as cabbage should be frozen or dehydrated instead of canned. Broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables are in the same category.

Carrots - Here's how to preserve carrots by freezing, canning and more. Even if you don't grow carrots in your garden, they are inexpensive to buy at the grocery store. Can some and keep them on your pantry shelves for quick and easy side dishes and to add to soups and stews.

Corn - Fresh, sweet corn can be canned or frozen. Here's how to freeze fresh corn plus an easy way to cut it off the cob.

Pumpkin and squash - Pumpkin puree can't be canned either, the puree is too thick to can safely. Pumpkin and other squash can be canned in chunks though. I prefer to make and freeze pumpkin puree instead.

Sweet chili jam - For a delicious twist, make this easy sweet chili jam. You can store jars of sweet chili jam in your refrigerator for up to six months, but if you want to store it on your pantry shelves instead, it should be canned.

How to preserve meat

Meat and broth - Imagine making a pot of rich delicious soup quickly because you have jars of stock or broth in your pantry. Simply open a jar or two, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the vegetables are cooked.

Here's how to make chicken stock, turkey stock (Hint: use your holiday turkey carcass) and homemade beef stock, plus how to can stock or broth.

A pint jar of chicken broth, held up with a jar lifter.

Ground beef and other meats - Wrap meat in freezer paper or plastic wrap, then either place in a zippered freezer bag or vacuum seal your meat and freeze.

The most efficient way to freeze ground meat such as beef, venison, bison, etc. is to fry or boil it and freeze the cooked crumbles in freezer or vacuum-sealed bags. 

This allows you to pull a bag out of the freezer, empty it into a pot and make chili or another dish without even thawing the meat first.

Try boiling ground meat instead of frying it for less mess and less fat in your meal. Find out how to boil ground beef and why you should here.

How to preserve meals

If you make a pot of chili and want to preserve the leftovers - or even the entire batch - you can freeze it or can it.

Chili contains meat, so it must be pressure-canned. To figure out how long you'll need to process the jars of chili, look up the processing time for each ingredient and use the longest time.

For instance, if your chili recipe called for ground beef, beans and corn, here's how you'd figure out the processing time, using quart jars: quarts of ground beef must be pressure-canned for 90  minutes, quarts of beans for 90 minutes, and quarts of corn for 85 minutes. 

The longest time is 90 minutes, so you should process quart jars of chili for 90 minutes.

Homegrown basil

How to preserve herbs

There are several ways you can preserve homegrown herbs. Some can be frozen in water in ice cube trays, and in this post you'll find six ways to dry herbs, even if you don't have a dehydrator.

More resources

Over the years I've learned some simple canning tips and tricks that might make the process easier and less intimidating for you.

Yes, canning can be expensive, especially when you first begin. Buying all those jars as well as the canners and lids and other equipment are a significant outlay of cash. 

But I've also found some ways to keep costs down when you first get started, including buying used canning jars. Sometimes you can even find them for free.

Don't put your canning equipment away when summer ends. There are plenty of foods to preserve in the winter too.

Always follow approved recipes and methods when preserving food. You'll find great advice in the Ball Blue Book and in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning which is free online.

Have a food preservation plan

Sometimes I get so tired of making and canning the same thing over and over - like spaghetti sauce or applesauce - that I want to make something else or even quit completely and let the rest of the produce go to the chickens or the compost pile.

And that would be a shame!

The best way to combat that feeling of being overwhelmed is to have a food preserving plan. Before your harvest is even ripe, decide how many jars of something you need to can for your pantry shelves.

If you serve spaghetti or another dish that uses spaghetti sauce once a week year round, you'll need 52 jars of spaghetti sauce to last till the next harvest.

Whether you use pint jars or quarts, or more than one jar per meal will depend on the size of your family and your recipe. Figure out what you'll need and write it down. 

This plan keeps me focused on my goal. I'll be reminded that I want to freeze all of the apple slices I can for pies and smoothies (we never seem to have enough!) and that the scraps will be turned into vinegar. 

Changing my mind halfway through processing my harvest and canning some brandied apples for variety wouldn't be very logical. We may or may not eat all of the brandied apples, but I know we will eat all the frozen apple slices and wish we had more.

So make a plan for the fruits and vegetables you are growing or buying, and stick to that plan. You'll fill your pantry shelves effectively and efficiently.

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How to preserve fruits and vegetables


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