Canning for Ultra-Beginners

Refrigerator pickles: my first solo canning project

I’m by no means a whiz in the kitchen, and honestly, I prefer to eat my garden veggies raw when possible. However, they are piling up!

This week, I dipped my toe in the water with a couple of refrigerator-canning projects. They turned out to be pretty easy, so I thought I’d encourage any other beginners with abundant harvests to try this type of processing. They don’t take long, the final products aren’t full of sugar like jams and jellies, and you won’t be risking botulism or exploding pressure cookers either.

My sister (who is a whiz in the kitchen) showed me how to make an easy tomato sauce that will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks and can be used as a spaghetti sauce or a base for soups or stews. We blanched enough tomatoes to fill about 3/4 of a small stock pot, added a couple handsful of fresh leaves of basil, oregano, and parsley from the garden, plus about a cup of red wine, then mashed and simmered until the sauce achieved the desired thickness. It made a great spaghetti sauce as is — I only added salt and a little grated cheese!

If you’re more inclined to experiment, check out this chef’s breakdown of all the elements of a fabulous tomato sauce.

A friend pointed me to an online recipe for refrigerator pickles, which will keep in the fridge for 6 weeks. Confidence buoyed by the sauce experience, I made two batches (8 quarts) of pickles one evening all by myself, and I even experimented a bit by using two different vinegars. It took about 90 minutes, and both batches turned out delicious. The regular white vinegar batch was more zingy like dill pickles that you buy in the store, and the batch in which I used a white wine vinegar was a bit milder and sweeter tasting. The jars of pickles are pretty enough to give as gifts too. (And I will be giving away a lot of them — who can eat that many pickles?)

Are you, like me, a bit cautious about canning? What’s your favorite easy way to preserve/prolong your harvest?


  1. I grew up with canning because my parents were country people, people who remembered hard times, and they were gardeners, so they canned and froze produce. As the eldest I was the one who was counted on to “get a peck basket of pickles” or “pick a bushel of green beans”. And they were delivered to the canning kitchen in the walkout basement. Pickles and jellies are good places to begin. Easy. Good. Almost foolproof.

  2. I made refrigerator pickles a few years ago and never got around to eating them all. The same would be true for refrigerator tomato sauce. So this year I decided to start water-bath canning and love it. Thus far we’ve canned beets, cucumber relish, cocktail cherries, and fish pepper jelly using mostly Ball Blue Book recipes and a few from the ‘nets. So far they’ve all been great, except the cherries that we brined first (good: keeps the color, bad: keeps some of the salt). The fish pepper jelly has the most amazing red color and a nice, hot kick. My nephew became a beet convert. I agree about the sugar–that’s a drawback to water-bath/pressure canning. The biggest drawback, however, is time. It’s a real time suck, but if you do it as a group activity and split the prep work, it’s fun. Listening to O’s games on the radio helps, too. But time I spend now is less time I’ll spend Christmas shopping, because everyone’s getting a jar of something this year. Good luck and keep us up to date.

  3. My father was the son of a son of a son of a (you get the picture) German farmer and I grew up watching and helping my family can and ferment foods. Not all of the techniques they used are considered safe in America these days, but the results were delicious and no one died, haha! I walk the road of caution and use updated methods when I can today since many of my products end up in the hands of friends. I would never forgive myself if someone got sick!

    I bring out my canning equipment mid-summer and it stays out until fall; the process is second nature to me and many evenings after work you’ll find me in the kitchen with the water bath boiling. I don’t consider it a task – it is pure pleasure to me to carry on the traditions of my family.

    My favorite recipe is Annie’s Salsa which I got from Gardenweb years ago. But I could have hit my father when he tasted it and deemed it “tastes just like Pace!” Enthusiastically! Not a compliment, dad…

  4. For me refrigerator pickles were the gateway drug to more canning, then more canning, and now pickling and fermenting. It is glorious. Every Holiday gift package I send to family and friends has some kind of jam in it. I’ve begun swapping canned stuff with people who brew their own beer and make their own brandy. And I have lifelong friends now who will gladly exchange hours of menial garden labor in return for some pickled beets. I’ve found it’s one of the best ways to find like-minded folks and build community.

  5. I just put up 3 dozen pints of peach jam… easy as pie if you just go slow and follow the rules. Keep everything clean and have a good heavy pot to keep your giant batch of sweet lava from scorching. Also, use the boiling canning water to clean your giant pot after the jars are all put up! (A tip from someone who didn’t enjoy cleaning said giant pot after it cooled and was caked with sticky stuff.)
    Seriously, though, its the nicest thing to do,

  6. I did a freezer jam (jelly?) for my sour cherries and it was amazing! Easy and no boiling of jars! I definitely think if you have the fridge or freezer space, there are a ton of recipes for the canning challenged.

Comments are closed.