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Canning Basics

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:

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:

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:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Posted by on May 18, 2010.

Tags: ,

Categories: canning, how to

30 Responses

  1. These are such great tips. I have never canned anything before but have always wanted to. I really want to do some homemade jams.

    by Jessica @ How Sweet on May 18, 2010 at 10:00 am

  2. Great tips. I need to do more canning this summer!

    by Maria on May 18, 2010 at 10:04 am

  3. I literally just made my first batch of strawberry jam this past weekend. The jars sealed perfectly. My only problem it ended up being a little runny. tasts great but not thick enough. any tips?

    by Miriam on May 18, 2010 at 10:32 am

  4. I’ve got the canning bug…but I always thought it was much hard than this! You’ve encouraged me to start trying it out!

    by Beth @ 990 Square on May 18, 2010 at 10:46 am

  5. Ah! Just in time. I’ve been wanting to try canning, but have only gone as far as admiring the pretty jars. Now I’m all the more determined to start this year!

    by ivoryhut on May 18, 2010 at 10:50 am

  6. What a great post! I used to make strawberry jam with my mom (afraid to do it on my own!) Thanks for the thorough details!!

    by Kate on May 18, 2010 at 10:59 am

  7. You make it sound so simple! I wanna try…but am afraid to try it by myself.

    by Crystal on May 18, 2010 at 11:43 am

  8. Wow, fantastic post! I canned once (salsa) – so much fun. Thanks for the refresher course. I’ll be back the next time I can.

    by Maggy on May 18, 2010 at 11:48 am

  9. Cool post! I’ve always wanted to do my own canning and have yet to do it! I’ll use your post for reference when I give it a go!

    by Jenny Flake on May 18, 2010 at 2:56 pm

  10. Miriam – Did you use pectin? If so, my guess is that is has something to do with how it set. If you want, you can send me the recipe you used and I can take a look. 🙂

    by Tracy on May 18, 2010 at 3:52 pm

  11. i love this post! very helpful and interesting 🙂 you are a canning machine lately!

    by Tiffany on May 18, 2010 at 6:11 pm

  12. This is a great post! Thank you. I made homemade jam once and loved it, but I did not know how to do the preserving part as you have explained so I had to just refrigerate it which, as you know, will not stay as long. There is nothing like homemade jam. Thanks again for the info.

    by Raina @ The Garden of Yum on May 18, 2010 at 7:14 pm

  13. very nice process! I have never canned, but it is on my list to-do this summer! I will keep this bookmarked 🙂

    by shelly (cookies and cups) on May 19, 2010 at 8:09 am

  14. This is such a helpful and informative post on canning!

    by Jen @ How To: Simplify on May 19, 2010 at 11:34 am

  15. I’m looking forward to canning this fall with my grandma and mom!!! I’ve never done it, but have always wanted to!!

    by SnoWhite on May 19, 2010 at 12:19 pm

  16. This is all a bit intimidating to me but thanks so much sharing. Maybe I will get over my fear soon.

    by Eliana on May 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm

  17. Great article, Tracy. I have been using a big stock pot with a primitive rack-like one for steaming lobster– for my water bath processing. I need to invest in one designed for canning. Hopefully this summer in time for berry jams. 🙂

    I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I have the same set of canning tools. I guess it’s pretty standard fare, but they’re so useful!

    Have you tried a pressure canner before? I would love to preserve an end of summer harvest of roasted red peppers and pesto for the winter.

    by Christine on May 19, 2010 at 2:03 pm

  18. Canning scares the heck out of me, but you have made it seem manageable with these tips.

    by Cookin' Canuck on May 19, 2010 at 2:21 pm

  19. This is an awesome, useful post!

    by Jessica on May 19, 2010 at 3:03 pm

  20. great tutorial!! I posted a link on my column ( Thanks for sharing!!

    by meaghan (chic cookies) on May 19, 2010 at 4:33 pm

  21. Christine – I have never tried canning with a pressure canner before. If you give it a try, let me know how it goes!

    by Tracy on May 19, 2010 at 4:41 pm

  22. good instructions. I make Raspberry jelly every year and I always get nervouse about the steps – I’m just getting ready to make some this week so a print off of these instructions will be wonderful.

    by becky on May 20, 2010 at 3:54 pm

  23. Great site! I learned to can about 17 or so years ago. I love it and nothing tastes as good and fresh as home canned food, except maybe fresh from the garden.
    Thank you for this site. It is very informative. I also learned from the Ball Book of Canning. I have 3 of them now. Plus the one that came with my pressure canner. I also use my water bath canner, too. Just depends on what I am canning.

    by Debbie J on May 21, 2010 at 8:56 am

  24. The only thing I haven’t made in my canner are the fruit curds – something about fruit & egg yolk scares me, lol. But, I may get brave one of these days. Ball has a great water bath set you can get that includes everything from the canner to a book to even the jar lifters & other tools…it’s starting to become one of my favorite gifts to give to people because it really has everything anyone needs to get started. Your lemon vanilla marmalade sounds heavenly 🙂

    by Elizabeth on May 23, 2010 at 12:22 am

  25. I love your site! Soooo many great tips! 🙂

    by Ingrid on Jul 8, 2010 at 4:56 pm

  26. What a great write up on the basics of canning. I’ve been canning for years and I learned a few new things. Great post!

    by Cristie on Aug 24, 2010 at 11:27 am

  27. You have inspired me to try canning, thank you

    by Christy on Dec 2, 2010 at 10:54 pm

  28. I really want to try canning homemade baked beans. I’ve never canned before in my life but am excited to give it a try. Do baked beans need to be canned in a pressure cooker or can I can them with this method?

    by Stephanie on Sep 8, 2012 at 11:56 am

  29. Hi Stephanie – Baked beans must be processed in a pressure canner. There are instructions for pressure canning baked beans here: Have fun!

    by Tracy on Sep 8, 2012 at 3:50 pm

  30. Awesome and so very helpful thank you so much !!!!!

    by Beth howell on Jun 30, 2016 at 4:43 pm

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About Sugarcrafter

Hi there! I’m Tracy, and I live in upstate NY. My husband and I met in college and have been married since 2005. A Canning, baking, writing, photography, and even cleaning (yes, cleaning – it can be oddly relaxing), are all things that I enjoy. This blog brings all of those passions together – but […]more →