7 Ways to Get Your Act Together for the Canning Season

They say if you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else, and this certainly rings true when it comes to home preservation. If you don’t have a game plan, the summer can easily pass you by with little or no canning accomplished, making for a fall scramble to put food up.

A plan of action for canning is also important for avoiding a physical -or mental- collapse during those short and hot summer months. Those softening strawberries and quick-ripening tomatoes really know how to put on the pressure. It is easy to take on too much, and canning really isn’t a project that can be rushed or accomplished under stress.

The alternate title for this post was How to Avoid Burnout During Canning Season, because I want to help you streamline your home canning efforts to be as efficient as possible, while yielding the personal satisfaction of a job well done – without burnout!

7 Ways to Avoid Burnout During Canning Season

1. Be Realistic.

Start the season with a practical assessment of what you will eat. Try and think realistically.

In chatting with Marisa of Food in Jars on this topic, she wisely advises:

“If you aren’t chutney people, don’t force yourself to put up a dozen jars thinking your tastes will magically change. Only can what you know you and your family will eat.

At the beginning of the year, make a list of what you want to preserve. List only what you (and your family) love to eat and ask these questions:

  • What was popular last winter?
  • What is still sitting on shelves now?
  • What was the family’s least favorite canned item last year?
  • What was a pain in the neck to put up?
  • What was best received as gifts?

A list will quickly form for this season’s canning projects. I could have made triple the amount of blueberry syrup. During the winter, a spoonful was a such refreshing reminder of summer – and friends loved receiving it as gifts.

What will I be dropping from my repertoire? Applesauce. I’ve got jars and jars of it that never got used. My former applesauce-loving two year old is now a ‘big boy’ who would far rather chomp down on a fresh apple. A changing, growing (or shrinking!) household are some good reasons to update your canning repertoire each season.

Also think realistically about what you can accomplish.
Take a good look at your list. These should be your ‘Must Have’ items. If you feel like you will be able to fit them in, add one or two new recipes or techniques that you’ve been wanting to try.

Here’s what’s on my ‘Must Have’ list this season:

Some of you can and preserve food all summer long to provide for your family’s basic needs year round, but most of us don’t can out of sheer necessity. We all have different reasons to preserve the harvest and I think making a list of our favorite items helps prioritize what needs to happen.

Photo by Elizabeth Nyland

2. Book the Dates

Are you hosting a family reunion like I did last June? Traveling for most of August? Start by taking a good look at the calendar and set aside one weekend morning or afternoon a month now for canning before it gets booked with birthday parties and barbecues. Then, stick to your guns.

Pencil in a few evenings, too, and think about asking a friend to come and work with you. But that is our next point.

3. Recruit Help

Many hands make light work, especially when canning at home. Enlist the help of your spouse, friend, or family member for the big projects. Often there are mundane tasks such as pitting cherries or peeling tomatoes that anyone can do, so previous kitchen experience is not required of a helper.

Perhaps a grandmother or uncle could play Uno with the little ones one afternoon a week while you make preserves. Thank them with a few jars of canned cherries and everyone will be happy.

Better yet, host a canning party, although this sounds like more of a social event than a hot and sticky canning marathon.

Photo by Mama’s Minutia

4. Pace Yourself

Can only the essentials, what is in season NOW. Even if tomatoes are plentiful in July, focus on berries and stone fruit. The tomatoes are not going anywhere just yet.

Only once the early summer fruit has passed its peak, then move on. Talk to growers to find out how much longer specific produce will be around the market and if prices are expected to lower anytime. I generally can my tomatoes in the last week that they are available at the market because they are incredibly cheap if I wait that long.

TIP: Don’t buy produce just because it’s a deal. Have a game plan before you go to the market — with a little wiggle room, of course.

5. Hire Help for the ‘Extras’

Gardening, dinner prep, household chore – these tasks don’t magically get done when we’re canning. They pile up and can become a stress if left for too long. We’ve talked about recruiting some help from family, but if you can afford it, get even more back-up.

On days that you’ve slotted a major canning undertaking, hire a babysitter or the neighbor’s pre-teen daughter to play with the kids outside or at the park. If you’re really serious about canning, book a sitter for the same time every week and make that your designated canning time.

No kids, and still no time? Hire someone to come in a help with other household tasks that are a major time suck so you can hit the kitchen.

6. Organize a preserve swap.

Two seasons in a row I have coordinated to have between 15 and 20 people come together and swap home canned goods in the fall. It’s an extremely practical way of garnering a wide assortment of jam, jelly and preserves if you don’t have a whole lot of canning experience (or time) yourself.

You can read about my first event and take a peek at my extremely well stocked pantry if you are curious about how it went. Both events were such fun and another swap is in the works for this coming fall.

7. Be Prepared.

It’s almost too obvious to be mentioned, but organize yourself well before beginning a canning project. Brush up on canning basics and double check your equipment.

Here’s a list of everything you’ll need. Don’t be the knumbskull who is all set to jam – only to discover the pectin is past its due date. Yep, that was me.

Get ready, get set, go! Happy Canning!

What are your tips for staying sane during the busy canning months?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Even though I’m a beginning canner, this is great information! I’ve got the “canning craze” and cannot wait to make preserves, jams, jellies, and pickled things. However, after reading this post I realized I need to take a step back! Having a game plan is essential, only buying what is in season, and not buying because of a great deal (unless you’ve got the time!) are great things to remember. Thanks for the great blog post!

    • Jen, I’m so glad you found this helpful. I too start the season with wild and crazy plans – then I usually get a reality check. 🙂 Happy Canning!

  2. Love this Aimee! I have a topic similar to this on the way and will certainly refer back to this post. One thing I’ve told myself this year is I’m NOT going to preserve crazy amounts of every kind of vegetable while it’s in season. Except for our staples, a couple jars will do just fine for my family. AND love the part about only putting up what our family consumes… I have 8 jars of plum chutney still sitting downstairs. HMM… any good recipes you can pass along, lol!!!

  3. Great simple advice! I have gotten over my head several times thinking I could tackle large canning projects (with 5 kids!) This year I am going to keep it lowkey…corn is seriously on sale right now, so I’m going to stock up on that and maybe some jams. Last year I had an abundance of cukes, so I tried my hand at pickles…what started out as dills, turned into a warped version of sweets after I realized (mid way) that I didn’t have dill in any form…check your supplies before you start!!!

  4. Lisa @ Tarte du Jour says

    Wonderful and helpful post! I’ve done minimal canning in the past but now I’ve committed to a packaging free trash free kitchen and condiments is one item that has stumped us. I look forward to canning soon!

  5. I’m soooooo looking forward to canning this summer! Last summer I got quite a bit of canning in, and my goal/desire is to accomplish even more! 🙂 This year we have a garden with tomatoes and green beans so those will be my focus (if they grow well! LOL). I can write a list a mile long of things to can!

    One thing I want to get this year is an apple corer/peeler to make my applesauce with. That will make it go so much faster than hand peeling apples, and my husband applesauce made without the peels so much better.

    • elizabeh says

      I have a peeler-corer and don’t like it. I prefer to quarter the apples, cut out the seeds, cook the quarters and then put through a food mill. Leaves the peels behind. Makes a very smooth sauce, which I prefer for cooking anyways. We actually use most of our sauce for recipes, replace oil etc. I use the leftover apples in the drawer to freshly make a chunky applesauce when want it to accompany a meal. I can around 25 pints of applesauce a year.

      • My husband prefers the chunky sauce…most of the sauce I did last year was with the method you described, but my husband liked the chunky sauce I made later in the season much better. 🙂

  6. I’m thinking of canning for the first time ever this year. I really appreciate the advice to be realistic and not get myself in over my head. The swap party sounds like a great way to diversify!! Thanks for your post, Aimee!

  7. Speaking of apple sauce… I’ve found that since my boys like to eat fresh apples more than the apple sauce, we tend to use the apple sauce in different ways. I started putting it in the batter for pancakes and it is wonderful. They turn out light and fluffy with just a mild sweetness to them. I think for 2 cups of dry batter I put in about a cup of apple sauce and a dash of cinnamon and then mix it like I would normally with water (I typically use premade batter). Im sure it would work well for the home made pancake mix too. Another thing is that we use it for topping on the pancakes as well, with a little bit of vanilla yogurt. So yummy! Also, as a treat sometimes, I will heat up some apple sauce and put a dash of cinnamon on for an apple pie alternative. The kids love it.

    • I’m so hungry now! Thanks for the recipe, Maranda.

      • You’re welcome! 🙂

        • Also, you can substitute applesauce for oil in nearly any cake, muffin, or quick bread recipe. I generally replace half the oil with applesauce and half with plain (unsweetened) yogurt. We still eat some applesauce, but mostly these days it goes into baked goods at our house.

  8. Yay! I’m so excited about this post! This is the first year I’m planning on doing some REAL canning and these tips are just what I needed. I’m going to get to work on my list this weekend. 🙂 So far I’m planning cherry pie filling, applesauce (baby will be eating in just a couple months!) and jam. Can’t wait to get started!

  9. Maria @ Scandifoodie says

    This is fantastic! It’s autumn here in Sydney, but I’ve been thinking of making some pickles or jams using whatever fruit/veggies are in season now. Preserve swap is a great idea too!

  10. What a FANTASTIC post! This year I really went through to see what was left over from last year. This not only helped me decide what to can, but helped me decide what to plant in the first place. I also thought about what we actually eat, and decided to only grow those things instead of planting tons of cucumbers and making all these pickles no one ever eats. 🙁 Don’t get me wrong, we love fresh cukes, but there’s always way too many. This year, it’s GREEN BEANS baby!! I’m going to have to pull out the pressure cooker and figure out how to use it! (a post on canning with a pressure cooker would be AWESOME!)

  11. Stephanie says

    My question is how to get those jars back from the people you give them to? I have horrible dreams of my lovely jars ending up in recycling bins.

    I’ll be makign pickled cauliflower, dilly lemon beans, plums, and maybe apple pie filling. A compote or two, if I get to it.

    My tip: don’t let someone considerably stronger than you tighten the rings.

    • I make it clear when I gift that the jars need to be returned to be refilled. No jars, no more gifts. One friend so loved my Intense Raspberry Jam she collected jars from her friends family and co-workers. I have some very very old jars in my collection now.
      Despite that, patience is the key. I made some bourbon brown mustard and some spicy ketchup to gift over the holidays. I foolishly expected folks to open them right away but was surprised to get feedback that the already opened commercial versions had to be finished first. I know I’ll get the jars back, maybe not till next winter though.

  12. The only thing I have to disbute is waiting to can those tomatoes. As soon as my garden and then kitchen is overrun with them, I start canning those suckers. We go through whatever I can, so I never seem to have enough of them. I can, freeze and pickle my garden as I go through the summer, as I have it on hand. My canning equipment sits on my dining room table all summer long, with a few cases of jars on the hutch, ready to go, so if I know I have a few free hours, I try to knock out whatever is fresh and taking up too much space on the kitchen counter.

    I have been canning for years and with good planning, I do some marathon days where I can tomatoes, cherries, peaches and make pickles all on one day, with no help. Outsourcing the kids definitely helps with this. But I also do a little bit every day, especially the month of August, when it seems everything is so plentiful.

    I’ve also found that if I make something new that we aren’t wild about, it makes for excellent gifts.

  13. Pressure canning is pretty much the only thing I do! I’m just not really into jams and canned fruits and such, and you can easily pressure can year-round (I do stock, beans, spaghetti sauce with meat in it, chili!). I did an online course through Georgia’s county extension or something, plus Ball’s books are great.

    I think another thing to keep in mind is small batches are okay (Marisa just said this on Food in Jars). Last night, I canned four pints of white beans. That’s all! But now that’s four pints of beans I don’t have to soak later on.

    As for the jars, Stephanie, maybe when you give the gift you can say, “and if you don’t have a use for the jar, you can just give it back to me.” I think some people like the jars! I know I’ve gotten jam as gifts and then kept the jar as a glass or storage container.

  14. Great post. I have just gone through reconciling our food storage from last Summer, and was pleased to find that we really did pretty well. Because of some almost mistakes that you mention in the article, we ended up getting tons of fruit and then having to work like crazy to freeze or can them… and then make sure we ate it ! For us, this meant making pies and desserts much more than we had in the past, but it was a delicious change. We finished 70 lbs of apples, 40 lbs of blueberries, 40 lbs of cherries, and 60 lbs of peaches in various forms. But, you’re right… applesauce definitely goes further than you expect.

  15. I love the idea of a preserve swap. Brilliant. Now to just find people who love to can . . .

  16. Love this post! Like you Lynn – now to find people to do a preserve swap with! Can’t wait to share these tips on this coming weeks [Preserving Mondays].

  17. Love the post. We have been doing a lot of these steps and I’m glad to see several that we hadn’t thought of yet. I realized that a half bushel of peaches is way more than we eat in a year tons of them are still down in the basement waiting to get eaten. We are hoping to have a canning party and I can’t wait to see how you did yours. Thanks!

  18. Thanks for these tips. I’ll have to make more effort to can this summer.

  19. Melissa @ Baking For The Boys says

    I am a minimal canner but do enjoy doing so when I partake. I mostly do jams and preserves. Thanks for the tips! One day I hope to expand my canning knowledge and skill!

  20. What are your new or old go to books on canning?
    Thanks and great article,

  21. This is really helpful Aimee. I’m thinking about canning tomatoes this summer but know I will spend the week in the kitchen doing not much else if I do.

  22. This is so helpful. I’ve already lost a month and a half not canning anything because I wasn’t sure where to start. Making a list makes everything seem so much easier. I’ve also realized, that while making apple butter last year was fun, it’s not something we eat a lot of, so I won’t be making it again. We do love strawberry jam in the winter though!

    • I’m reviewing this post again in 2013. 🙂 I’m getting ready to pickle asparagus and make some strawberry ruhbarb butter. Yum!

  23. Sally Thompson says

    Canning food is not that easy to make.. Thanks for this post!

  24. Toni Cunningham says

    You mentioned having extra applesauce since tastes have changed. I use my unsweetened applesauce in jello. Use 1 cup of applesauce in place of the 1 cup of cold water. Otherwise make it as you would normally make jello. Big kids like this and adults do too.

  25. Aimee, thank you for this article! I tried out canning jams last summer and fell in love! I believe my boyfriend as well, seeing how fast the jam jars got emptied…! 😉
    It will prouve most useful for our berry picking weekend that is coming up! 😀

  26. Kathy Hanford says

    I use older jars of applesauce to make applebutter. The spices help perk up the flavor that has been lost in time.

  27. Great post! After searching “How to plan a preserve swap,” your post came up. I’ve long been following your blog so was pleased to find this post. Many of your must have preserves are on my list ad well. In fact I just put up a double batch of salsa. I’m curious if you would be willing to share your salsa recipe. I’ve been making the following recipe. https://www.canadianliving.com/food/appetizers-snacks/recipe/peppy-salsa
    Thanks again for the great blog!

  28. New to canning but love the summer and fall produces. Do I need a cold room to store canning?

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