Canning Basics

Canning Methods: There are two safe ways of processing food, water bath canning and pressure canning.  

  • The water bath canning method is safe for high acid foods (less than 4.6) such as fruits, jams, jellies, pickles and other preserves. In this method, jars of food are heated while covered with at least an inch of boiling water, and cooked for a specified amount of time. Certain foods like, tomatoes and figs, that have a pH value close to 4.6, need to have acid added to them in order to use the water bath method. This is accomplished by adding lemon juice or vinegars depending on the recipe.
  • Pressure canning is the only safe method of preserving low acid (greater than 4.6) foods like vegetables, meats, poultry and seafood. For the purpose of this blog, I will be sticking with water bath canning.
  • It is important to not can low acid foods in a water bath, because Clostridium botulinum spores can grow and produce the toxin causing botulism, and you don’t want that!
  • Water bath canner: This can be a large cooking pot with a cake cooling rack on the bottom, or a pot that you buy specifically for canning. Either way you want a lid, something to raise the jars off the bottom of the pan, and an optional rack to keep the jars in place (so they don’t bump into each other while boiling).   You also want to make sure that when your jars are in the pot, that there is at least 1-2 inches of water above the jars to ensure proper processing.
  • Jars: Mason jars and Ball jars are specifically made for in home canning. The lids are designed for at-home sealing, and the glass is able to withstand the heat. Commercial jars, jars from store bought products, and Grandma’s old wire ball jars are a BIG no no! Jars come in a variety of sizes from half-pint jars to half-gallon jars, and can be used over and over again as long as they still in good condition (aka no chips or cracks)!  
  • Jar Lids: The two piece lid consists of a metal lid with a rubber seal on the edge, and a metal screw band. The lids should only be used once, as the heating, cooling, and opening causes the seal itself to break down. The bands can be re-used as long as they are not rusty (and the best way to keep them from rusting is to remove and dry them after your canned goods cool!).
  • Jar lifter/tongs: The best accessory to invest in! The jar lifter will allow you to transport your hot jars in and out of the water bath.  
  • Wide Mouth Jar Funnel: Funnels are great when you are trying to ladle hot jam into a jar. They allow you to get the jam into the jars with minimal waste. They also help keep that counter clean by minimizing spills!  
  • Ladle: Helps you transfer your jams into a jar with ease!
  • Narrow, rubber or wood spatula: Helps you remove air bubbles when packing.
  • Lid Lifter: Magnetized Wand for getting lids out of hot water (NOT BOILING!) and for placing the lid onto the jars if you need some help.
  • Clean Towels: Great to have handy for wiping jar rims, spills and general cleanup. Also nice to have on the counter when you remove your jars from the water bath.
  • Misc:  Apple slicers/skinners, cherry pitters, Knives, cutting boards, timers, cheese cloth bag for making jellies, bowls etc.
Water Bath Canning Basics:
1.   Read the recipe! And then read it again! No seriously, you want to make sure you have all the necessary supplies, and in the right amount.
2.   Prep those ingredients. Wash your fruit, measure out your sugar etc. into an easy to grab bowl if you’d like.
3.   Put the canning water on the stove to be boiled.
4.   Sterilize your jars, either in the dishwasher or in a boiling pot. Personally, I use my water bath pot to sterilize my jars, and when my jam is ready to be poured, I take them out one by one with my jar tongs, pour the jam in, and grab the next.
5.   For your lids: you DON’T WANT TO BOIL THEM! If you boil them it will impact your final seal. I bring a small saucepan to a boil, turn off the heat, add my lids, and keep it covered to retain the heat. As they are needed I use my lid lifter to get them out of the hot water.
6.   For your bands: Rinse them with hot soapy water.
7.   Getting cooking!  Follow your recipe, especially if you are just starting out.
8.   Process: When processing you want to follow the direction for timing and head space (the space between the top of your goods and the top of the jar) given in your recipe, but always make sure you cover your jars with 1-2 inches of water when in your water bath.
9. When your jars are cooled, take off the bands, ensure the seal is strong (I do this by lifting my jar by the lid, holding it the air, and make sure it stays on!), wipe off anything from the lid like leftover water, and store them in a cool, dry, dark place.
9.   Enjoy!