Question from a reader:
I’ve heard a lot of other people saying that they like to whip up a huge batch of their favorite chili or soup and can the leftovers for a stash of easy convenience foods in a jar. Jackie Clay from Back Woods Home has said that it’s safe to can soup or your own recipe of chili (beans and all) as long as you process it in a pressure canner at 10 lbs pressure for 90 minutes for quart sized jars.
I guess I’m wondering though, how do you know what is okay to can? I know there are some things that aren’t too tasty to put in a jar, like broccoli for instance. Sometimes the flavor changes after being canned. Sometimes things just turn to mush. Would I just have to learn through trial and error?
Does anybody know any “rules” about canning your own recipes for quick convenience meals? Would I just base my processing times on the ingredient that needs to be canned the longest (like, if there’s chicken in the soup then I would process the jars for as long as chicken by itself needs to be processed, since meat needs more time than veggies)?
How do you experienced canners do it?
Table of Contents:
Yes, it is safe to can soup, stew, and chili you’ve made at home from scratch as long as you are processing them in a pressure canner (no exceptions!). There are, however, a few things to take into consideration.
Generally, you can can anything at home that you see canned at the grocery store except for “cream of…” soups and anything really thick, like refried beans.
Use a tested recipe
Yes, your Grandma Millie’s homemade chicken noodle soup may absolutely delicious, but you don’t want to get sick because the canning times are unclear.
Use a recipe that has been tried and true, preferably one from a food preservation book, like the Ball Blue Book of Canning. Don’t have one of these books? You can also find some good recipes online on the Ball website or through other sources.
For best results, use the recommendations from the USDA website. They have published guidelines on how to perfectly pressure can soups and stews, and allow for some variation for extra thickening or added ingredients.
You can substitute certain meats or vegetables, but make sure you don’t add any pasta, rice, or dairy because this will affect your canning safety.
Don’t add dry beans or peas to soups.
Make sure you rehydrate (or boil) them first. Beans become mushy when processed, and don’t cook evenly. This will prevent your jars from being heated evenly and can allow bacteria or mold to flourish.
If you want to add beans, rehydrate them first by boiling each cup with three cups of water for at least two minutes. After removing them from the heat, soak them for an hour, heat them to boiling again, and then drain.
If you are canning soups or chili that contain fully cooked beans they may get over-processed when canned, resulting in very mushy beans. If possible, it’s best to can beans that have only been cooked for 30 minutes or so.
Try to time your boiling times so that they reach a boil, but don’t remain boiling for too long. Because of the accuracy of time needed, beans can be tricky when you want to can already cooked leftovers – but not impossible! Just keep the resulting texture in mind.
Be very careful when adding rice or pasta to soups.
Like beans, these foods get very thick once they’ve been processed, and can prevent the soup from being heated adequately in the center of the jar, leading to an increased risk of botulism.
I’ll talk more about botulism later, but basically, it’s much safer to add rice or pasta to the soup when reheating it from the jar.
Wash and Peel
Wash, peel, and cook your vegetables just like you would if you were hot-packing the ingredient by itself.
5. Your meats should be cooked before including them in a soup. Usually, this involves covering them with water and cooking them until tender. A good way to do this is in the Crock Pot or slow cooker, so that you can let the meat sit overnight. It will literally fall off the bones! Make sure you remove each and every bone so that you don’t end up with any unpleasant additions to your soup.
6. While you should cook all of the meat in your soup or chili and at least blanch the vegetables, you should avoid fully cooking the soup. This doesn’t necessarily cause any harm to you or your health, but it can make your soup mushier and blander than you might like.
7. This may seem counter-intuitive, but only fill the jars about halfway with solids. The rest of the jar needs to be filled with hot liquid (like broth or water) but make sure you leave at least an inch of headspace.
8. Go easy on herbs and spices, as these tend to get stronger after the canning process. Especially hot spices. You can always add more spices to home-canned chili, soups, and stews when you’re ready to eat them.
9. There are some ingredients that can be problematic when adding them to homemade canned soups or stews. Thickening agents, like flour or cornstarch, settle unevenly in a soup and can cause unbalanced heat distribution. Wait to add any thickening agent until you are ready to eat the soup. The exception is if you are using a recipe that includes a thickening agent approved for home canning, like Clear Jel.
10. Don’t pack jars too tightly. Unlike some other foods you might can, there needs to be plenty of space in the jars for hot liquid to circulate. Some foods, like broccoli, cauliflower, and squash, aren’t good ingredients for this reason, because they pack too closely together and can interfere with safe processing.
The Most Important Factor
While all of the tips that I’ve mentioned are incredibly important for creating delicious home-canned soups, chili, and stews, this is the most crucial part of the canning process: you have to use a pressure canner.
It’s completely safe to can meats and vegetables together. Just be sure you are using a pressure canner!
A water bath canner, which you may have used for pickles, fruits, or jams, simply is not a safe tool to use when canning anything with low acidity. Soups, chili, and stews definitely fall into this category (with the possible exception of plain tomato soup, as tomatoes are high in acid).
The only safe way to can anything with low acidity (which includes all vegetables and all meats) is to use a pressure canner. If you don’t have a pressure canner, stick to freezing your homemade concoctions.
Process pints for 75 minutes, quarts for 90 minutes, at 10 pounds pressure. (If you live above 1,000 ft. in elevation, increase to 15 pounds.) Any kind of meat can be canned: wild game, pork, chicken, beef, fish, you name it!
You can use fresh, frozen (thawed), or even dehydrated foods to make your soups, etc. for canning.
If you’re afraid that your stew is too thick, you can always add some broth to loosen it up.
Always make sure your chili, soup, or stew is heated just to a light boil before ladling it into warm, clean canning jars.
How do I Know It’s Safe to Eat?
Here are some guidelines to make sure you don’t get yourself or your family sick.
1. First, be aware of the risks of botulism (which I mentioned earlier). Botulism is a very dangerous form of food poisoning, which can be deadly. It’s nothing to mess around with.
The spores of this bacteria, known as Clostridium botulinum, can survive normal cooking temperatures, so even if you reheat your canned soup before eating it, botulism could still be alive.
This is why you need to use a pressure canner when preserving soups – the extra heat (which is created via pressure, instead of boiling water), destroys the spores so that they cannot develop into bacteria cells and become toxic.
Otherwise, your jars, when sitting at room temperature and without enough acid to kill the spores, will become breeding grounds for bacteria and sickness.
2. Avoid using rotten produce, wash fresh foods before handling, cut away bad spots, and only use fresh meat or meat that hasn’t been thawed for more than 2 days. Remember, the most important factor in canning any product is the overall quality of your ingredients.
3. Always wash canning jars in hot, soapy water before filling them, then simmer them for 10 minutes in a pot of water or run them through the dishwasher to sanitize the jars.
4. Wash lids and rings with hot soapy water before canning. While it’s okay to reuse rings, you should never reuse lids, as this can contaminate your food. Reused lids often fail to reseal, and it’s sometimes unnoticeable during and even after canning.
5. Always handle food with clean hands and clean tools.
6. Heat the food just to a boil before ladling into clean jars.
7. Process meats and veggies in a pressure canner at the appropriate time and temperature.
8. Allow the jars to cool for 24 hours before making sure the lids are sealed properly before storing them.
9. Store the foods out of direct sunlight, protected from extreme temperatures. Ideally, you should store them in temperatures between forty and sixty degrees Fahrenheit. The lower the temperature, the longer they’ll keep – unless they are exposed to freezing temperatures, in which case your jars can crack. Keep them up off the ground so they aren’t exposed to temperature extremes or condensation, and rotate your jars as often as possible.
10. Make sure that the lid cannot be easily pulled off by hand before you consume the food in the jar. (Sometimes lids become unsealed after being stored for a while.)
11. Never consume home canned foods that have mold growing in the jars, have a funny smell, or the lid is bulging.
12. Reheat canned foods to a simmer for 10 minutes before consuming.
13. Never can soups containing cream or dairy. While it’s safe to consume canned cream soups, like cream of mushroom or cream of chicken, from the grocery store, the technologies used for commercial canning are different from those used by home canners. Their ingredients interfere with the way heat is distributed during processing, and you can get extremely sick. Instead, freeze these soups.
14. Only use ingredients that are safe to be canned. This sounds obvious, but it’s an easy tip to forget when you’re busy processing, packing, and preparing your canned foods! For example, cabbage and eggplant don’t have demonstrated safe methods of canning. Therefore, you should never include them in a soup, chili, or stew that you plan to can at home. Either leave the ingredients out of your soup, or stick to freezing.
15. Make sure you adjust for altitude! If you live at a higher altitude, your pressure can have up to a four or five-pound difference in pressure. Failing to adjust for altitude may mean your soup does not preserve safely.
How Can I Tell if My Food Has Gone Bad?
It’s best to consume home canned foods within the first year for the best taste and nutritional value, however, they’ll still be for good many years down the road. I typically try to eat up our canned foods within 5 years.
That being said, some may last for slightly longer. Interestingly, canned goods found from the sunken steamboat Bertrand, which sank in the Missouri River, had no microbial growth when they were found, even though they were at least a hundred years old!
Of course, the food had very little flavor and didn’t look too appealing, but the message here is that some canned foods last a very long time.
Just make sure you are educated in the tell-tale signs that your canned food has gone bad. Foods can go bad quicker than expected, such as if you store them at the wrong temperature or you drop the cans and a hole or crack in the jar forms. Signs you should toss the food, instead of risk contamination, include:
Some noise when you open the can is normal. This just means the vacuum seal is being released. However, if you hear a hissing sound that is extremely loud, or before you have even opened the jar, this could be a sign of toxic gas produced by bacteria.
If the lid on your can bulges, or if there is any swelling or pressure, this is not safe. Often, lids will bulge as soon as they are canned – if that’s the case, pop them in your fridge and eat within a week, or re-can them.
This one is okay if it’s just on the bands, but if the rust has spread to anywhere else on the jar, exercise caution. Metals can leach into your food and cause long-term illness. If it’s just the bands you are worried about, keep in mind you can twist them off as soon as the foods are canned – the lids will protect the food just fine.
If your jars are leaking any liquid, or have any sticky areas, toss them. This is why it’s important to wipe down your jars before you store them.
If there’s any liquid on the jar immediately after canning, that’s just some debris from the canner and is nothing to worry about. However, if you don’t wipe your jars down right away, it can be tough to tell whether the seepage is old or new.
If you open a can of soup and it immediately erupts all over your countertop, like an uncontrolled geyser, it’s time to toss it. This signals a build-up of pressure caused by agitated bacteria.
Just like any other spoiled food, spoiled canned soups will smell bad. They might smell overly metallic or acidic, so don’t just sniff for that “rotten” smell. Be hyper-vigilant to avoid food poisoning.
Bubbles on the surface of the can after it’s just been opened aren’t necessarily a bad sign. However, if you see bubbles inside the jar, or if it’s foaming, toss it. Bubbles are caused by bacteria releasing waste products – ew.
Some soups and foods naturally discolor when heated. For example, green beans always get paler. But if your food is a different color than it was when you stored it, it could be contaminated by bacteria, fungi, or metals.
Obviously, mold is a no-go and will be a pretty obvious sign of contamination. Sometimes, it can be hard to spot in soups, which already have a variety of colors and textures going on.
However, if your food appears mushier than normal, that is a sign of mold. Don’t just scrape the mold off the top – get rid of the whole jar and try again.
This article contains tons of information on the dangers of canning your own soup, but at the end of the day, don’t let that information deter you! Canning your own soups, chili, and stews is a great way to preserve a bountiful harvest, as well as to provide premade healthy meals for your family.
You’ll stay healthier, as homemade soups have far less sodium and other additives than store-bought soups, and also save some time and money. You’ll appreciate the hot, delicious broth this winter, and you won’t even have to lift a finger later on!
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.