I’ve gotten quite a few questions on canning ever since I participated in the Tigress Can Jam, so I thought I’d take a moment to answer some of them…and hopefully, I’ll encourage those of you who are intimidated by canning to give it a try. So, come on and join the canning fun!
When I decided I wanted to learn how to can, the first thing I did was order the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It’s a wonderful resource that includes tons of recipes for both jamming and pickling. There are other books out there, but this is my go-to resource. It also explains the difference between water bath canning and pressure canning:
- Water bath canning is where you boil canned foods in hot water for a certain amount of time (high acid foods; mostly your jams, jellies, and marmalades).
- Pressure canning is where you enclose canned foods in a pressure canner and process them for a certain amount of time (low acid foods; mostly your canned vegetables).
If you’re interested in the science behind canning, check out the USDA Food Preservation and Home Canning guidelines. There are instructions, explanations, diagrams – the whole nine yards. Also, the canning bible, So Easy to Preserve, can be ordered via printable form on University of Georgia’s website. The book currently runs you about $18, and contains all the latest and greatest information from the USDA on safe home food preservation.
Once I had gathered my resources, I went shopping for canning supplies. I bought a large water bath canner similar to this one (although I currently use a large stockpot since the canner doesn’t work as well on my electric stovetop), and I also picked up a 5-piece canning kit to make life easier – both of which were very inexpensive. The 5-piece kit includes:
- Funnel: Great for pouring hot jam into jars.
- Lid lifter: It’s magnetic, so it’s great for grabbing lids out of hot water.
- Jar lifter: Grips on to filled jars so that you can easily pull them out of boiling water. (I’ve tried to do this before with tongs, and it didn’t work out so well.)
- Tongs: I usually use these to grab not-yet-filled jars out of the hot water for filling.
- Jar wrench: I use this to remove lids both when I’m removing the lid from a new jar if it’s extra stuck, and when I’m opening a filled jar to enjoy – very handy.
Also included in the picture above are jars and a large pot for cooking up whatever I’m going to fill the jars with. I’m more of a jammer than a pickler, so I typically do water bath canning only.
Once you have your supplies ready to go, it’s time to pick out a recipe. There’s a lot you can make with a water bath canner, including the following:
- Conserves: whole fruit jam/whole fruits stewed in sugar
- Fruit butters: stewed fruits forced through a sieve or food mill to produce a smooth consistency
- Fruit curds: fruit juice combined with egg yolks and sugar, and then cooked before processing
- Jams: contains both fruit juices and pulp of the fruit
- Jellies: contains fruit juice and sugar, and pectin if needed
- Marmalades: similar to jam; marmalades are usually made from citrus and contain the peel of the fruit
Once you’ve decided on a recipe, it’s time to get canning – and it’s important to note that you should always follow a recipe from a trusted source.
You can see that on all of my canning posts, there are similar instructions for the canning process in each recipe as below:
When ready to can, prepare your supplies. Bring the temperature of the glass jars up by processing them in hot water for several minutes. Heat a few cups of water in a small saucepan for the lids. When the jars are ready, fill them with the jam and place the lids and bands on top, screwing on the bands just to fingertip-tight. Place the full jars back into the boiling water and boil 10 minutes. Remove from the water and place the jars on a towel, and let the jars cool. The seals should suck down (you’ll hear a popping noise as they do). Makes 6 eight-ounce jars.
These instructions are great if you’re a regular canner, but if you’re new, they can be a little high-level. So, let’s break it down in more detail:
- As you cook your filling, fill the canner full of water and bring it to almost a boil – more of a simmer. Place all of the jars into the water, where they will stay until you’re ready to fill them, so that they’ll be sterile and heated up to handle the hot jam that will be going into the jars. Do the same thing with the lids in a smaller pan to make things easier.
- After you’ve finished preparing your recipe, it’s time to fill the jars. Pull them out of the hot water one at a time – I usually do this with tongs and don’t bother to dry them off – and place the funnel on one of the jars. Pour in your hot filling, leaving about 1/4″ headspace (space from the filling to the very top of the jar).
- Use the lid lifter to grab one of the lids out of the pan, dry it off, and place it on top of the jar. Grab a band and screw it on just until fingertip-tight. Repeat with the rest of the jars.
- When all the jars are ready, place the jars back into the water and process (gently boil) the jars for as long as the recipe requires – usually 10 minutes or so for jams – before removing them.
- Set the jars on a towel on the counter and let them cool, and soon you should hear the lids pop as they suck down. I leave mine out on the counter for the next 24 hours to cool and continue to set. You can lift up on the lids later to make sure they’ve sealed, and if you have any jars that don’t end up sealing, just stick them in the fridge and use them over the next couple weeks. If you want to reuse jars, you can – just make sure to buy some new lids for them (you can buy the lids and jars separately).
That’s it – that’s really all there is to water bath canning! I hope this post was helpful and that it encourages those of you who have been intimidated by canning to give it a try. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail. Happy canning!