Reader’s Question: Are Ball & Kerr the Only Source of Safe Canning Recipes?

Dear Frugal Upstate,

I am trying to learn about canning. I called our local home economist and she told me not to try any recipes except for what is in the current Ball or Kerr canning books. Does that mean I can’t use recipes from any other source? Do you have any sources where I can research this some? I don’t want to make anyone sick, but there has to some other options. I saw a book called Food In Jars I would like to try recipes from. Also, I noticed you use the reusable lids. Let me know what you think. And thanks so much for the organizing and skills posts!



Thanks so much for your question!  Ok, so canning safety is important and a touchy subject.  You don’t want to mess around with your family’s health–botulism poisoning is pretty rare but it can be deadly.  As in all things that have to do with your and your family’s health, I urge you to research, read and make your own best informed decision.  I am not a health care, food safety or canning professional!

All that being said, I can still give you some information :)

You are absolutely right that Kerr and Ball are both very reliable sources–but they are not the only sources.  For example the National Center for Home Food Preservation is run by the University of Georgia and it is, well, the national source.  They have a book as well-So Easy To Preserve New & Revised Editionthat MY cooperative extension–the Cornell Cooperative Extension–uses as a resource in their official canning classes.  The USDA has a book on canning, the Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving.  There are other sources as well–like Mrs Wages-a national brand of canning and pickling supplies.   I’m personally comfortable that they have done adequate research for their canning book which I own (Mrs.Wages Home Canning Guide and Recipes)

Most of the hubub about canning and “untested” recipes is for hot water bath canning. I did a tutorial on Hot Water Bath Canning showing you how to do it correctly and some of the points to be careful of.

The long and short of it is that when you use that method (hot water bath canning) the temperature only gets up as high as boiling water can go-212 degrees Farenheit.  The boiling will help vent air out of the jars, which prevents spoilage, and kills vegetative bacteria.  However that temperature is not high enough to kill the C Botulinum bacterium:

Only high-acid food with a pH of 4.6 or less can be processed using the boiling water bath method. This is because high-acid foods prevent the growth of spores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can’t be killed by boiling. Foods with a pH more than 4.6 allow the spores to grow. If spores of C. botulinum are allowed to grow, toxin will form, and consumption of C. botulinum toxin is deadly. Symptoms from the consumption of this toxin develop within six hours to 10 days and include double and blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, and muscle weakness. Paralysis of breathing muscles can cause a person to stop breathing and die unless mechanical ventilation is provided. Individuals with any of these symptoms should seek immediate medical assistance. (from Virginia Cooperative Extension Office)

Foods with a 4.6 pH or less are considered high-acid, and foods with more than a 4.6 pH are considered low-acid.  A food doesn’t have to taste “acidic” or sour to be high acid–apples, peaches and pears are all high acid foods.  Don’t just guess-check if you are at all uncertain if a food is high or low acid.  Any basic canning book will tell you!

So the reason to use tested recipes are made to ensure that the acidity is high enough to keep things safe in a home canning environment.  That’s why you can’t reduce the amount of vinegar in pickles and still be sure that they are safe.  The sugar in jams, jellies and fruit is the deciding factor in safety–so follow those recipes as well.  For the most part fruits you use in those situations have enough natural acidity & sugar etc.

I have noticed recently that certain recipes will err more on the side of safety by asking you to include a tsp of lemon juice or citric acid to the jar before canning–spaghetti sauce is like that.  I figure it’s cheap enough insurance, doesn’t really change the taste and therefore happily comply.

Now pressure canning is a completely different beast.  I’m going to give you my personal opinion here and you are going to have to do you own research and make your own choices.  I have found many other individuals advocating this procedure but I have NOT found any official source such as a cooperative extension office, USDA or anything else ok’ing this.

I’m personally comfortable canning my own recipe following this procedure:

#1 Do not can anything containing flour or starch of any kind. No rice, noodles, flour for thickening etc.  You’ll have to do that after  you open up the can.  Not only will you get a lousy mushy or totally dissolved product, but my understanding is it can cause your food to possibly harbor unsafe bacteria etc.

#2 Do not can anything containing added fat, cream, etc (see above– and note, yes, I know when you can things like sausage there is fat and they say that’s ok, but suddenly for other stuff it’s not.  I figure they know something I don’t and err on the side of caution)

#3 Do not can anything that is very dense like pumpkin puree–I like the items to be able to move freely in the liquid as it boils to ensure the heat penetrates.  (yes–I know when you raw pack chicken it is dense and it doesn’t move around and that is fine–but I don’t want to fudge it on my own)

Now that  you’ve gotten past those “Do Not”‘s lets look at how I would do it.  Let’s say you wanted to make a soup with broth, chicken, beans, carrots and corn in quart sized jar.   Your basic canning sources such as Ball will list the pressure canning times & pressures for individual vegetables and meats.  You would simply look up each ingredient and then pressure can it all for the amount of time and pressure that the ingredient that takes the longest requires.

So for my example of chicken vegetable soup you would find that a quart of  corn is processed for 85 min at 10 lbs of pressure at under 2000 ft above sea level, a quart of green beans for 25 min at 10 lbs of pressure, a quart of carrots for 30 min at 10 lbs of pressure and a quart of cooked chicken in broth for 90 min at 10 lbs of pressure.

For the vegetable soup you’d want to can the quarts for 90 minutes at 10 lbs of pressure.  Of course you green beans would be total mush, your carrots probably as well, and your corn and meat would be fine 😉

Not to say you can’t or shouldn’t do it, just understand that the quality will be a bit different.  In that particular case I’d double check the times for the ingredients being “raw packed” on the vegetable side (which I’m going to hazard a guess is well below 90 min as well) and then I’d put together each jar of soup by layering in raw carrot slices, raw green beans, raw corn and then the chicken and broth–then wipe, lid, and process–it would just give them the best shot at not being complete mush.

There are a few other concerns with pressure canning.  Some herbs or foods get unpleasantly strong when canned and stored.  Apparently sage is one of them that folks frequently use in cooking but that should be left out of canned recipe.  Broccoli is another thing that I have read in multiple sources should not be canned because of taste issues.  Thick gooey things like “chicken ala king” shouldn’t be canned because of the fat, starch and density issues.

That’s my full opinion :)

As for the Tattler lids–although again those are NOT officially approved I am comfortable with their research and safety.  They do work a bit differently and you sort of have to get the “knack”–I’d start with the regular 2 piece lids.   The jars that I sealed for my Tattler Reusable Canning Lid review are still sealed and fine in the basement-I check them every once in a while and will use the food eventually :) .  Eventually I’d like to buy more.

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  1. says

    As in most things canning is a better safe than sorry kind of activity. However, many people are soooo scared that they won’t even look at canning. I wouldn’t be overly worried as our grandmother’s canned many things with much less scientific testing and somehow we are all still here. Follow the directions in books that are written by those who also follow the rules and you’ll be fine! And Food In Jars was written by a woman who has a blog by that name as well. She is a big time rule follower so all her recipes are safe. And her blog is good too!

    I use Tattler lids and regular lids, I pressure can and water bath can, I follow Ball recipes, ones I find in the many new canning cookbooks, ones from my pressure canner’s recipe book and even some I find on-line. Jump in and give it a go…you won’t regret it! Good luck!

  2. says

    Just for some information, you can also get recipes and information from people at the Bernardin website. I have asked many questions and always have gotten an answer. They also have really good recipes that you can follow.

  3. Kathi says

    Thanks ladies for all the information and encouragement! I am going to try it! My parents canned exclusively during the early 1970s but I was young and had no interest in learning. Now I wish I had taken the time, but its never too late to try something new so wish me luck:). Thanks so much, Kathi

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