A Minnesota Canning Bee: How to Host a Home Canning Party

Two years ago on a sunny Saturday morning in October, my husband and I pulled up to a church in North Minneapolis with a flyer, some produce from our garden, and a carload of anticipation. Earlier that week, a friend had forwarded directions to a canning bee for anyone brand new to canning. There was one typed line in the email: “This sooo sounds like the crazy stuff you’re always trying!”


My friends know me well; I called right away to register for the last two spots in the canning bee. From 9:30 am to 5:30 pm that day, our group of 10 quietly listened and scribbled down the canning expert’s notes, poked our heads over steaming pots of pickles and salsas, and had silly full-teeth grins every time we pulled a jar from the hot water bath.


Since the canning bee, I’ve fallen in love with my Mason jars and have a pantry full of tomatoes and pickles to show for it. Whether you’re brand new to canning or haven’t canned since you helped in your grandmother’s kitchen, now is the time to break out the water bath canner and quart jars and start canning. And why not make it a group event? Produce is at its peak and ready to be put up for the cooler days ahead. Canning has re-emerged as a trendy and affordable way to eat more locally, and a canning bee is a great way to get started.


What is a canning bee?

Generations ago, canning bees were way to share the labor and equipment required in home canning. Families would bring produce to share collectively, spend the day chopping, chatting, and canning meals for the coming winter. Now home canning parties range from large group events to educational courses to casual get-togethers in the kitchen. Canning bees have become so popular, Ball brand now hosts a National Can-it-Forward Day in July to encourage friends and families to come together for group canning events.


How do I host a canning bee?


      1. Find a location.  Look for a kitchen large enough for several boiling-water bath canners and countertop space for prep work, filling jars, and resting the finished product. Be creative in thinking about kitchen spaces — office break rooms, church basements, community centers, and apartment rec rooms are often good places to look if your own kitchen seems cramped.

      2. Invite friends and family. It helps to have a few experienced canners for your first canning bee to answer questions and share recipes. However, some of the fun comes from learning and making mistakes in the kitchen as a group. If you’re all new to canning, contact your extension office about Master Canners in the area who could attend your event and offer lessons/coaching. Looking for fun invitations? has simple cooking-themed invitations perfect for a canning bee.


      3. Set the recipes. Canning bees come in all shapes and forms. Some ask guests to bring whatever produce they have in their garden and the recipes are decided from whatever combinations show up on the day of the party. Others have a few recipes pre-selected and guests are assigned an ingredient or two to bring. If you’re the plan-ahead type, you might gather all the ingredients and have guests split the cost of the materials. As always in home preservation, be sure to use well-researched and tested recipes to ensure food safety and prevent spoilage. (See the end of this post for a few recipes to start.)


       4. Gather the equipment. Canning is a simple and safe process if you’re using the right tools. It’s best

     to start with some canning guides and literature.

     The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is trusted place to start, as are the National Center for Home Food Preservation and Minnesota extension office websites. These guides will help you determine the best canning jar and lid size, whether you’ll need a boiling water or pressure canner and any special ingredients like pectin, vinegar, or citric acid for

     your recipes. Secondhand stores are good places

     to look for used canning equipment, however new utensils, jars, and canners can often be purchased for under $100 total. If canning bees become a regular summer event, the group may decide to purchase additional equipment to share.


      5. Enjoy the party! Canning and home food preservation has a reputation of being complicated and risky. However, if you follow a few simple steps, it can be a fun and relaxing way to spend an afternoon with friends. Try adding a few special touches to your canning bee to make it a more personal event: 


§       Print custom canning party labels with the date and location of the canning bee

§       Set up a table with ribbons, fabric and stickers for guests to decorate their finished jars. A great idea if jars will be given as gifts later.

§       Share a pot-luck meal while you listen for the jars to seal.

§       Provide guests with recipes to use their canned items later. Have each guest send an email when they make their stewed tomatoes into a great chili or casserole later.

§       After a few canning bees, assemble a cookbook with your group’s favorite recipes, photos, and canning advice.


Looking for recipes to try at your canning bee? Check out Cranberry Apple Jam and The Code of the Mason Jar posted here on Simple, Good and Tasty or try this simple applesauce recipe adapted from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.



Pumpkin Pie Applesauce

Adapted from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving 


2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds apples for each finished quart jar


1/8 to ¼ cup sugar per pound of apple

1 to 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (available in the spice aisle or make your own)



1. Prep the apples  - Wash apples and remove any damaged or decaying fruit. Remove stems, cut into large pieces, and remove the core. It’s not necessary to remove the apple peel if you have a food mill to process the apples later; if you don’t have a food mill, peel the apples in this step.


2. Cook the apples – Place the apples in a large stockpot over medium-low heat. Add enough water to prevent scorching. Cook until apples are soft and begin to fall apart. This can take 15-30 minutes depending on the quantity and type of apple and how large the pieces the apples were cut.


3. Purée the sauce – Using a food processor or a food mill, purée the apples into a thick pulp. If you left the apple peelings on, use a food mill to separate the peels from the sauce rather than grind the peelings into the pulp. If you prefer a chunky applesauce, only purée half of the sauce, leaving the rest of the apples in large pieces for the next step.


4. Bring the sauce to a boil –Place the pulp back into the saucepot. Add sugar to taste (add it in ¼ cup increments to avoid over-sweetening) and bring to a boil over medium-low heat. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Just before the sauce reaches 212˚F, add in the pumpkin pie spice to taste. Add in the spice in small amounts—a little goes a long way.


5. Process the jars – While maintaining the pot of applesauce at 212˚ F, pack the sauce into each sterile, hot quart jar. Leave ½ “ headspace and remove any air bubbles with a rubber spatula or bubble remover. Add lid and tighten with a metal ring. Process each quart jar for 20 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Place any jars that do not properly seal in the refrigerator for immediate use.


Amy Sippl is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good, and Tasty. She grew up in rural Wisconsin, but now calls St. Paul her home. She writes about her successes and struggles to eat and grow local food on her blog: Minnesota Locavore. Here at SGT, she writes the Great Grains column, highlighting unusual whole grains and easy ways to incorporate them into your diet. She last wrote about corn and cornmeal.