It’s important to label each jar with the food product inside it, and the month and year it was canned.
Some people like labelling: for them it’s the crowning artistic moment of their canning.
For other people, having to label three dozen green bean jars is a slit your wrist moment.
Either way, it’s best to resolve never to put any jars on the shelf until they are labelled. Even if you have the jars annoying you by taking up counter or table space, and company coming over, at least that will nag you to just get the job done.
Challenges in labelling home canned goods
Cost of labelling
It’s important at the start to bear in mind what labelling can add to the cost of your home-canned good.
- Let’s say it was a ½ litre (1 US pint) jar. Let’s count the jar as free, because it is re-usable.
- Let’s say we got a bargain at a farmer’s market, and the cost of filling that jar with green beans was 10 cents.
- Let’s say the cost of energy to pressure can that jar was 2 cents.
- Let’s say the cost of the metal lid is 30 cents.
- Let’s say the cost of the label for the jar was 8 cents.
- We have spent 12 cents on the ingredient and processing the ingredient; and 38 cents on the lid and label.
At 8 cents, the cost of that label compared to the ingredient is quiet high. (Indeed, the lid cost is even higher.)
Ideally for everyday home-usage canned goods you want that labelling cost to be as close to zero as possible, reserving the labelling budget for fancy presentation labels for when the jars of food are meant to be gifts.
Jars with unfriendly surfaces
Ball’s flagship pint and quart jars can be hard to put labels on, because they have embossing on every single side of them, leaving no blank surfaces. Kerr, Bernardin and Golden Harvest only have embossing on one side of their work horse ½ litre and 1 litre (1 US pint and 1 US quart) jars. The Golden Harvest ¼ litre (1 cup / ½ US pint) jelly jars have embossing that leaves no flat surface anywhere for a label. If you want a flat lozenge area to stick a label, you have to pay to upgrade to the Ball / Bernardin / Kerr branded line of those jars.
Labels hard to remove
Most labels on the sides of jars can be hard to remove when the jar is empty.
It’s definitely best to always remove old labels before putting a newly-emptied jar through the dishwasher, or a label can get baked on and be ten times harder to remove. If the label in question is a regular Ball / Bernardin label, then a soak of the jar in hot soapy water for 10 minutes will cause the label to come off when nudged by your thumb.
Ball / Bernardin now sell “dissolvable” labels that basically turn to moosh and wipe off the second water hits them. They fit perfectly into those small, flat lozenge spaces on Ball / Bernardin / Kerr decorative jars. Some people report, though, when you take a labelled item such as ketchup, pickles or jam, say, out of the fridge, and it starts to warm up on the counter on a humid day, the label starts to dissolve from the condensation on the container. A handful of people who live in high temperature / high humidity areas have reported that a roll of this kind of label works best if stored in a refrigerator — otherwise taking a label off the roll can leave the sticky stuff behind.
Writing on lids
Long-time canners will just scrawl on the top of the metal lid with a sharpie marker what the item is and when it was canned. The only issue is that it can be hard to scan a shelf. Carrots and green beans are easily distinguishable from the front of a jar, but beet relish and strawberry jam could be easy to confuse in a hurry until spread on morning toast.
For gift giving, there are label templates you can download, and you can purchase Avery label shapes to print these templates out onto. Some of them are designed to be stuck onto the side of a jar; others are designed to be stuck on top of the metal lid.
Labelling jars with Tatter lids
Some people write on Tattler lids using Sharpie pens. To remove the writing, they use a cotton ball moistened with nail polish remover (aka acetone), or a Mr. Clean eraser, or 91% rubbing alcohol. (The 50% and 70% rubbing alcohol would have little or no effect on the Sharpie marks; you need 91%.) Afterwards they wash the lids as usual and the lids are ready for another re-use.
Alternatively, on top the Tattlers you can stick masking tape or an address label and write on that, but adhesive things don’t always stick great to the top of Tattler lids, especially with all the embossed writing on it.
With Tattler lids, the best strategy is perhaps to aim to label the side of the jar.
Printing labels from a computer
This solution sounds ideal. Type something once, print it out for thirty-six jars.
The issue is the cost. The cost per label can often be more than the ingredient inside the jar.
And, some labels such as the strip labels from Dymo printers, can be next to impossible to get off jars without a half-hour scrubbing session with Goo-Be-Gone.
In fact, many computer printed labels are extremely hard to get off. Any time saved at the “front end” by printing is well and truly lost many times over by the repeated soakings and scrubbings to get the label off at the “back end” part of the cycle.
Labelling Multiple Batches
If you are canning multiple batches over the course of a day or several days of the same food item (say green beans), long-term pros recommend that you should also add a batch # on the label, such as 1, 2 or 3, etc. The reason for this is just in case there are issues and you want to identify and track those jars. A possible issue would be that you left too many woody stem bits on one particular batch of asparagus, so you decide that batch is best used for puréed soups, etc, rather than giving to a friend as a much-ballyhooed delicacy.
Painters Tape Labels
One possible solution is to use painter’s tape to label jars. It is inexpensive, and is designed to come off easily and not to leave any sticky residue behind.
- It sticks very well even in humidity;
- It sticks well even on top of embossed surfaces;
- It comes off leaving no residue behind, even if left on the jar and put through dishwasher;
- The colours — such as blue or green — are pleasing and stand out;
- The cost is negligible per jar.
The downside is the tedious handwriting that a computer solution would avoid. And, it’s not the prettiest. But, the handwriting time is far, far less than the time required to remove computer generated labels from jars.
That being said, admittedly any kind of written label solution is not friendly to arthritic hands.
Perhaps Ball / Bernardin should work on a computer printable version of their dissoluble labels, while doing their utmost to keep the cost per jar down.
So, if I opt to use a computer printed label (because my writing has declined to that of a 6-year old due to lack of actually writing anything), what would happen if I left the label (stuck to the side of the jar) on the next time I used the jar (in a water bath or pressure canner)?
Sometimes they keep on sticking, other times they may come off or partly off. “Goo be gone” can be good at getting labels off. P.S. We hear you about losing clear handwriting through lack of use!