Canning is an excellent way to store excess garden produce, whether it’s from a large yield, or when the season is over and you want to preserve your fruits and vegetables before frost sets in. Canning was popular decades ago when households would grow their own food in either a backyard or a small farm.
These days, many people have lost the art of canning, as it's no longer an essential need to stave off starvation when the cold weather arrives, or to deal with surplus. It’s still an excellent skill to have, especially as more families look for ways to save money and keep food waste down.
If you have a small garden, or even just one fruit tree, learning how to can is a great way to keep your harvests from going bad, while filling your pantry up for the winter. Here’s the best produce to use for canning to help you get started.
Types of Canning
First off, there are two methods of canning that are used for different kinds of garden produce. Low-acid foods need a pressure canner because of the risk of botulism, whereas high-acid foods can be processed using a water bath.
Most vegetables and beans are low-acid and have a pH of 4.6 or higher. Fruits or anything that you add vinegar to like pickles and other fermented products will be high-acid with a pH lower than 4.6.
The natural acidity prevents bacteria from growing, meaning you don’t need the high temperatures achieved from a pressure canner to keep your food safe. Following trusted recipes specifically will also ensure that your food is safe to eat, and also tastes good.
Of the two, learning how to water bath can is the easiest for beginners, so trying pickles, sauerkraut, or canned peaches may be a good place to start. Remember, any kind of pickling can be done using a water bath canning process, but vegetables that aren’t being pickled need a pressure canner.
Raw vs Hot Packed
This is another consideration when deciding what and how to can. Raw packing is exactly as it sounds: you pack uncooked fruits or vegetables into a jar, whereas hot packing involves cooking the food for a while, usually for 2-10 minutes once it’s reached boiling point.
Hot packing reduces the amount of air in the produce, which allows you to pack more in. It will also give your preserved food an extended shelf life, especially when used with water bath canning. The removal of air before jars are sealed is what allows items to stay fresh longer.
Raw packing is better for anything that will be pressure-canned. It’s also the choice of packing for making pickles since you wouldn’t need to cook the cucumbers before putting them in the jar. Tomatoes and green beans are also candidates for raw-packing depending on your desired result.
Tomatoes are one of the best items to can because you often get a lot of them in one small growing season. For those of us who live in a four-season climate, the window for growing tomatoes is small, but the opportunity to produce different kinds in a small amount of time means you can have lots of different varieties for various kinds of canning recipes.
Any tomato can be used for canning, but some are better than others for specific things. For instance, Roma tomatoes like San Marzano are great for making paste because they are flavorful, have less water, and will cook down fast. They also make excellent canned diced tomatoes.
Sweetie is an excellent heirloom cherry tomato that produces right up until a frost, filling up many jars. Brandywines are the best juicing tomatoes, and can also be used to make delicious canned salsa. Any canning recipe using tomatoes should be pressure canned unless extra acidity is added.
Growing green beans is just as easy as growing tomatoes, and produces a good harvest with little care needed. This makes them a top choice for canning since you will have a surplus at different points of the growing season, depending on the variety you plant.
With a multitude of bean varieties available, choosing the best bean type is easier determined by your climate and growing region. There are generally two kinds of beans: pole or bush varieties.
Either one needs some support when growing, but pole beans will grow best with a trellis or something to climb, while bush beans are a little sturdier on their own. Bush beans will grow faster and produce their yield all at once, while pole beans produce throughout a longer harvest period, though a smaller amount – which will affect canning times.
Heirloom bean varieties that do well in your region will perform the best, and you can save the seeds to keep their lineage going. Otherwise, Contender and Provider are notable bush bean varieties for canning, and Kentucky Wonder and the Blue Lake Stringless beans are excellent pole varieties.
Unless you are pickling beans, they should be pressure-canned.
The canning of cucumbers is so popular that their canned form is known by its own name: the pickle. Not many vegetables can make this same claim.
Cucumbers are another hot season vegetable that can produce a high yield in a short amount of time, especially if you grow a few different varieties. Not any cucumber will do, however, as you may get undesirable results like mushy centers and tough outer skins.
Many “pickling” cucumbers will say so on their tag, and are labelled as such because of their thin skin and firm, dry centers or fleshy parts. This allows the pickle to keep its crunch and hold good flavor. They also tend to be a little shorter with stumpy ends that are easier to pack into cans.
Look for true and tested varieties like Boston Pickling or National Pickling which are heirloom vining cucumbers. Plant some Parisian Pickling seeds if you want gherkins, or try Bush pickles which are great for containers since they don’t grow on extensive vines.
Cucumbers that are being turned into pickles can be raw-packed and water bath canned since you will be adding lots of vinegar or brine to the jar, and no blanching is necessary.
Peppers are yet another hot season veggie that won’t tolerate any frost, so if you live in a cold region, you know the window is short. This makes them another ideal candidate for canning, especially since you can grow red, green, yellow, and orange bell peppers, as well as various hot peppers to make hot sauce, to pickle, or to can as-is.
Similarly to the first three on this list, peppers need full sun, hot temps, and regular watering. You can grow them in containers if they are deep enough to establish healthy root systems.
Try fire-roasting (hot packing) sweet or hot peppers before canning to bring out the flavors. This also softens the thicker skins of hot peppers for better canning results and texture. Otherwise, raw packed peppers will need to be pressure canned, but any pickling of peppers can be done using the water bath method.
You can use any peppers for canning recipes as there aren’t any that are specifically meant for canning like tomatoes or cucumbers. This takes some of the pressure off of growing a specific plant type and providing perfect conditions.
Canned peaches are a simple delight that can be experienced any time of the season, making them a wonderful item to can. Even if you don’t have a peach tree, buying them in bulk when they’re in season means you can preserve whatever you don’t think you can eat fresh.
Just remember that overly ripe peaches have less acid content and will be more likely to float, so don't wait too long to process them.
Hot-packing is the most recommended way to can peaches, as it will reduce discoloration and prevent the fruit from floating. It also brings out the flavor when compared to raw packing. You can use the water bath method for peaches since they have enough natural acidity.
Freestone peaches will be easier to cut in half when you go to pit them. Clingstone varieties are next to impossible to cleanly remove from the pit, hence the name. Make sure to get freestone peaches when canning.
You’ll need to blanch peaches to remove the skin, but once they are ready for the jar there are a few options for canning. They can be filled with water, syrup, or juice to give you lots of options for sweet or simply delicious canned peaches.
Cabbage is easy enough to grow as long as you have the space in your garden for it. You don’t need a lot when it comes to canning, however, as just one head can fill up three mason jars.
Cabbages are also easy to store in your pantry and will keep for a long time compared to other vegetables, but whether you have a surplus or not, canned cabbage is great to have on hand to add to dinners, or as an easy snack.
Cabbage can be canned on its own, or you can add things like brine or spices to make deliciously nutritious food sources like sauerkraut and kimchi. The preserving of cabbage leads it to ferment which makes it an excellent source of probiotics, as well as an invigorating addition to many kinds of meals.
Sauerkraut is so simple to make, you only need to add sugar, vinegar, and salt to the jar. Kimchi isn’t made using the traditional methods of canning mentioned already, but it does require you to can spicy, salted cabbage and seal it for five days (at least) while it ferments. You can try canning cabbage to make coleslaw, as well.
Cabbage itself has low acidity, so if you are canning plain cabbage it will have to be pressure canned. You can water bath sauerkraut, however, because of the added vinegar.
Sweet or sour, the tiny cherry can enhance many different dishes, most notably used in desserts like cherry cheesecake, Black Forest cake, cherries jubilee, or the classic cherry pie. They’re also commonly used to adorn popular cocktails like the Manhattan, the Old-fashioned, and Shirley Temples.
While many people overindulge when cherries are in season, an excellent way to deal with surplus yields is to can them. Whether you have a cherry tree in your yard, or find a deal at the farmer’s market, canning cherries is simple, and provides some nice sweetness when the colder months arrive.
Cherries can be raw packed if you are adding juice or syrup, but most people recommend hot packing if you are using water without any sweetener. If you pit them before canning, you can eat them right out of the jar once they’re ready.
These stone fruits have enough natural acidity that they can be water bathed, which makes them an easy item to try for first-time canners – especially if you’re a baker. Canned cherry varieties like Montmorency, Meteor, and Morello are best used for baking because of their tart flavor. Choose a sweeter kind for snacking like black or Bing cherries.
Canning fruits and vegetables can be a very rewarding venture, especially if you find yourself with a good harvest and don’t want your yield to go to waste. If you want to grow things in order to fill your pantry, think about this ahead of time, and consider what your goals are.
You can grow and can pretty much anything, but that doesn’t mean you should. Some fruits and vegetables just do better when canned, and the practices and recipes have been tried and tested.
Of course, your climate will determine what you can grow, and what’s available in your local markets, but the majority of the items in this list are fairly common fruits and vegetables that you can source out or grow yourself.
Always follow recipes and specific canning procedures to ensure safe and delicious results. If unsure, Check out the USDA's complete guide to home canning. Grabbing a fresh jar of canned goods from your pantry will taste so good, especially if you use the best produce for canning.