Why the Ball Canning Book is My #1 Guide to Safe Food Preservation

A Terrific Book about Canning Tomatoes, Pickles, and Other Foods the Right Way

Why the Ball Canning Book is My #1 Guide to Safe Food Preservation

What’s the best food preservation guide to buy? The Ball canning book is my most trusted source. And here’s why: 

The Ball Brothers started making jars in 1880, shortly after John Mason’s patent expired for his Mason jars. The first edition of the Ball Blue Book was published in 1909, back when jars were tinted bluish-green because it was believed filtering the light kept fruit fresher. The advice within that first edition reflects scientific knowledge within the early 1900s: the book instructs that corn be water-bath-canned if it boils three hours. It also says most canning spoilage is because the fruit wasn’t bottled within an hour or so after it was picked. Meat is canned by cooking, stuffing into a sterilized jar, then inverting onto the rubber seal. The book says nothing about botulism. 

But, as scientific research developed, so did the Ball canning book. There have now been 37 different editions. Each contains new research and information; each disqualifies the previous version as the most up-to-date on safety rules. 

Now, the Ball canning book is considered one of the highest-rated guides on how to can food, up there with the USDA’s guide. I even asked my Master Gardener friends which recipes the local Cooperative Extension recommends for canning, and Shelley said they just send people straight to the Ball canning book. It’s that dependable. 

The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is like the Ball Blue Book on a superstar level. It has all the important stuff — the safety rules, processing times, temperatures at which pathogens die, troubleshooting, and rules for pressure canning — and with 400 tried-and-true recipes. It’s easy to follow, with well-identified sections, charts, and helpful sidebar tips. The book claims it’s user-friendly for novice and experienced canners, and it firmly lives up to that claim. 

I grew up canning. But rules have changed regarding food preservation methods, even in a couple of decades since my childhood. I also had another disadvantage: by then, my mother had passed away, along with her knowledge. I lived in an area where few other people knew how to can, not even those of my mother’s generation. So I was excited to learn that the Ball canning book had a larger, more expanded version. 

The Ball canning book isn’t just about recipes. The first 378 pages list ways to make jams and jellies, preserves, chutneys, ketchup and sauces, relishes, pickles, salsas, and many ways to safely preserve tomatoes within a water bath. Then it talks about pressure canning. After explaining how to use the pressure canner, making altitude adjustments, and choosing the right equipment, it goes on to discuss canning vegetables and meats. 

The end of the book is a tutorial on the art and science of home canning. Want to know why heat-processing canned food is not optional? Why water bath canning will never kill botulism spores even though 212 degrees F will kill the active bacteria? Why yeast won’t grow on pickles but will flourish on applesauce? And did you know that altitude adjustments are because water boils before 212 degrees F in higher elevations? This book answers all of that. It’s a great, factual resource of rebuttals for old-school canners who tell you it’s perfectly fine to water bath your potatoes. (It’s not.) 

A book isn’t complete without discussing what not to do. Within its pages, the Ball canning book tells you not to purée pumpkin, even when pressure canning. Do not alter quantities, though it is okay to substitute equal portions of one type of pepper with a hotter variety. 

Recently, the Ball canning book has come in handy when a friend reposted a salsa recipe on Facebook. Something on the recipe didn’t look quite right, even though whoever had written it said it was “fine for canning.” I looked up the closest comparable recipe within the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. Her recipe was almost identical to Fresh Vegetable Salsa, but with two huge flaws. First, it instructed using two bell peppers and one onion instead of providing measured quantities. Bell peppers differ in size! Also, her recipe called for ¼ cup white vinegar while the Ball recipe required ¾ cup. That’s a big acid difference! I advised my friend to only prepare her recipe if she was going to use it fresh. It was not safe for canning. 

My favorite recipes within the book include Pick-a-Vegetable Dill Pickles, which explains that interchanging certain vegetables within a vinegar pickle is safe. This is how I discovered that zucchini makes much better pickles than cucumbers. The recipe also allows asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, and snap beans. 

Choose-a-Berry Preserves lets you use your own ratios of blackberries, loganberries, or any color of raspberries; it still turns out great, as long as you use the proper total amount of fruit. 

Always on the lookout for ways to use excess zucchini, I have made Zesty Zucchini Relish three times. It combines my garden’s most plentiful produce with onions, sweet peppers, and spices such as turmeric and horseradish. Not too hot or too spicy, it’s great on hot dogs or bratwurst. My favorite way to use it is to replace some of the mayonnaise in deviled eggs. 

I’m a huge fan of mustard pickle recipes. The Ball canning book contains a recipe for Mustard Beans. Use either green or yellow beans, onions, bell pepper, spices, sugar, vinegar, and ClearJel for a finished product which is a hit with my kids. 

Each growing season invites me to try new recipes. This year I’ve planted 102 tomato plants and have gallons of ripe tomatoes sitting in my freezer, waiting to be processed. I’ve already tried the Sweet ‘n Sour Sauce, Carrot Pepper Salsa, Steak and Burger Sauce, and several versions of stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Maybe this year I’ll try the Barbeque Sauce and Seafood Cocktail Sauce, since I have horseradish growing in my garden. 

Though the pages are wrinkled from condensation and stained with food samples, the Ball canning book remains priceless. Other canning books have been published but this is the one I trust most. If I follow the recipe to the exact ingredient, I don’t have to worry about my family’s safety. And that places its value well above the 400 recipes and 448 pages. 

Do you use this Ball canning book? What do you think of it? 

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