With canning lids is short supply in many areas of the country, what options does a self-sufficient homestead have to preserve their harvest? Here are the best options for canning without lids.
The best ways to can without disposable lids are wax seals and reusable lids. There are also a number of non-canning preservation methods including drying, smoking, salting, fermenting, root cellaring, and water glassing to name a few.
Not sure which method is right for you? I’ll walk you through the options, and there are probably some ideas here you haven’t heard elsewhere. Here’s how you can without lids.
One traditional way of canning without lids is wax sealing, where you pour molten wax on top of tightly packed jars.
Traditional Wax Seals for Jams and Jellies
This method was once widely used and even preferred over using lids for canning jams and jellies. The method goes as follows
- Serialize and clean jars
- Prepare jam or jelly using normal recipies
- Melt paraffin wax in double boiler
- Pour preserves in hot jar, then fill head space with molten wax
Generally, once the jars cool and the wax solidifies, the jars are covered with a piece of cloth or other covering, and tied with a bit of yarn or string. But, this is mostly for decoration, and not necessary for preserving.
Before eating, wax sealed preserves should be inspected to ensure there is no cracking and the wax is tight to the rim all the way around.
Because jam and jellies are high in acid, botulism growth will be inhibited, assuming you followed known safe canning recipes. The biggest danger is potential mold grow due to broken seals, which is easily detectable via taste and smell.
Still, this method is not recommend by the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Use this canning method at your own risk.
Using Wax Seals for Other Preservation
If sealing with wax works for jams, can’t it work for other canning project?
While there is no mainstream university or government authority that recommends the use of wax to seal canning jars, I have not seen definitive research that indicates that it won’t work.
Wax sealing is not the preferred method for canning if you gave access to lids. But, in an emergency situation, it might be a viable alternative.
The homesteader in the video embedded above has attempted to can meat with wax sealing and has had apparent success. In his trials, canning beef worked well, but he had difficulty with chicken products.
This method used is as follows —
- Prepare cans as usual, and pressure can without lids
- Melt paraffin wax either on a double boiler or inside pressure canner
- When canning cycle is complete and pressure is back to 0, quickly remove canner lid and pour molten wax on jars.
The thing to watch with this method is that while you are pouring the wax, the contents of the jar are exposed to the atmosphere. So, sealing with wax quickly is essential. A couple of other tips —
- Paraffin wax is best, soy wax contracts when it cools (beeswax may be good as well)
- Wax works better on jars with vertical sides. Jars with concave shoulders are more likely to let the wax separate
Be careful if you attempt to use these methods. I cannot guarantee the safety of such procedures.
As always, the biggest danger with pressure canning is the growth of the Clostridium botulinum bacteria in sealed cans. This bacteria generally doesn’t produce a bad taste, and creates a neurotoxin that generally causes symptoms only 12–24 hours later.
However, botulism toxin can be destroyed by boiling for 10 minutes. When using wax seals, or when you aren’t confident about the quality of a canned good, it is safe practice to boil the contents first.
Once again, while wax sealing may not be a preferred method for pressure canning, it may be a viable method of last resort.
Reusing Sealing Wax
Paraffin is the most commonly used sealing wax.
After use, paraffin wax used for canning will generally be discolored and may have some food embedded in it. While some canners just throw this away and use new wax each year, it seems to be possible to clarify and reuse wax by melting it and skimming clear wax from the top. Any food or discolored bits will fall to the bottom of molten wax.
While, just another form of lids, reusable lids are an item that lasts indefinitely and my be used multiple times.
And, at the time of writing these reusable lids are still available. Even when standard lids are in short supply.
Are reusable lids a good alternative? Reviews are mixed. While some people have reported having success canning with these plastic lids, others report difficult getting a consistent seal.
According to more successful canners, there is a trick to getting the tightness of the lids just right when you put them in the canner. They need to be tight, but not too tight in order to make a consistent good connection without causing the lids to blow off during serialization.
Other Ways to Preserve Food Besides Canning
If lids are off the table, and these other canning methods aren’t working for you, another option is to forgo canning altogether and use other food preservation methods.
For detailed information on off grid food preservation here –
Salting and Smoking
Before canning and refrigeration, salting and smoking was the preferred way of preserving meats and fish. Salt pork, salt beef, ham, bacon, jerky, salt fish, and sausage, to name a few.
While modern health standards generally recommend refrigeration, traditional recipes were created with the intent of storing meat long term in naturally cool cellars or meat houses.
Vegetables were traditionally stored long term either whole of via fermentation. The fermentation method is again gaining in popularity, using the modern name lacto-fermentation. Almost any vegetable can be lacto-fermented. Some traditional food that have historically been fermented include —
- Sauerruben (turnip)
If you look up recipes for these, make sure they involve a several week period or more of fermentation, rather than just adding vinegar as some modern recipes call for.
All lacto-fermentation works by adding salt to the vegetables, and sometimes water as well. Most recipes call for brine ratio of about 2%–5%, although some softer vegetable like cucumbers stay crisper with last ratios of up to 10%. Other recipes like sauerkraut don’t generally require any water at all. A generous application of salt and mashing will produce all the liquid that you need to ferment the cabbage.
While fermented vegetables are generally canned or refrigerated in modern times, you have the option of fermenting them indefinitely. Fermenting vessels with one way valves, or even a loose lid rubber banded closed, keeps contamination to a minimum. Storing in a cool place and adding more salt slows fermentation as well, allowing the vegetables to keep longer without being too sour.
The old time and much less effort way of storing hearty fruits and vegetables like carrots, beats, potatoes, squash, pumpkin, and apples is to store them in a root cellar.
Root cellars are underground rooms with shelves that allow natural ground moisture to keep up the humidity. With proper storage in a well built root cellar, fall and winter vegetables can be kept for months or up to a year.
I wrote an in depth article on designing and constructing a root cellar, as well as how to store food in them —
Keeping Livestock and Planting Gardens
Lastly, I’ll mention that historically, many people “preserved food” by keeping it alive. A good flock of chickens, pen of pigs, or herd of animals is like a walking pantry.
Likewise, taking pains to plan your own garden and use greenhouses to extend the season means you have access to fresh produce much of the year. Using garden planing and permaculture food forest design methods to spread out harvests reduces the need to store food manually.
How Do You Can Without Lids?
The best method to can without lids is to seal jars with paraffin wax. While this method has a long history of use with jams and jellies, it is not currently recommended by the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Some canners have experimented sealing pressure canned meats and vegetables with paraffin wax, and have had some success.