Water bath canning is a great way to preserve vegetables, jams, and sauces. It can be used to extend the shelf life of many types of produce from foraging, your garden or the farmer’s market. I have been canning for many years. It is still a safe way to preserve your food. There is nothing like using your own can of tomatoes in a homemade sauce or chopping up some pickles that you preserved to put in your tuna salad. This method of preserving your own food is becoming a lost art, which I hope to bring back to life. In this article, I will attempt to show you my techniques for water bath canning. I hope this article will inspire you to try canning for yourself and you will see how fun, enjoyable and rewarding preserving can be. This is my how-to guide on water bath canning.
The How-to Guide on Water Bath Canning
Deciding What to Can
There are certain foods that should only be canned using a water bath canner. Generally, foods with high acidity levels are good subjects for water bath canning. In some cases, you can increase the acidity level by adding lemon, citric acid or vinegar to canning recipes. Foods with low acidity levels should be canned using a pressure canner. You can find many recipes and books on this site that will help you decide what to can.
High acidity foods that are good for water bath canning:
Preparing Your Recipe
You should have a recipe decided and planned out before you start canning. If you are planning on canning vegetables you should pick them when they are at their peak or not long after harvesting. There are many great recipes available. There are some excellent tried and true canning and preserving recipes in these books:
Boiling Water Canning
How does water canning work? Water bath canning is a way to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables and to have them available year-round. The heat destroys potentially harmful organisms. When the jars cool, the vacuum seal that is created prevents other microorganisms from entering the jar. This process starts by boiling the jars, lids and bands in water at a temperature of 212 degrees. This will kill yeasts, molds, enzymes and bacteria. The amount of time you need to boil your jars depends on the recipe and food you plan on canning. There are many great books that can help you decide what to can and how.
Water bath canners have been around for many years. The technology has not changed that much. Here is the basic equipment you will need to get started:
Water Bath Canner With Rack
6 Piece Canning Set
Jars, Lids and Bands
Jars come in different sizes depending on the recipe or food you plan on canning. Most of the jars you buy will already come with bands and lids. The bands and lids consist of a two-piece system. The lids are placed on first and then you screw on the bands to keep the lids secure during the canning process. You can reuse your bands and jars again after each canning process if they are not damaged or chipped. You will need to buy replacement lids each time you decide to can.
32 Ounce or Quart Jars
16 Ounce or Pint Jars
Preparing and Sterilizing Jars, Lids and Bands
The first step is to sterilize all of your jars, lids and bands. Place all the jars, lids and bands you plan on using in your canning recipe into a sink with hot soapy water. You can use a jar brush or sponge to scrub clean all of your jars, lids and bands. I like to place a few extra jars, lids and bands into the sink just in case your recipe yields more then it should. This way you will be prepared. Clean and rinse your jars and lids and place them into your water bath canner submerged in simmering water (180 degrees F). Allow them to sit for about 15 to 20 minutes. Once they are done, remove the jars and bands to a towel and allow them to air dry. Some recipes call for your jars to be hot when packing them. In this case, you can keep them warm in some water on the stove top. You can also use a slow cooker or dishwasher to keep them at temperature (180 degrees F). Place the lids in water in a separate pan on a burner. Keep them on a low simmer. This will help the sealing compound on the lids to create a vacuum seal. You will use these later in the canning process.
There are two methods for filling your jars. The Hot Pack and Raw Pack methods. Generally, the recipe that you follow will specify which method should be used.
The Hot Pack method is the process of filling your jars with a precooked recipe. You fill the jars with the cooked ingredients.
The Raw Pack method is the process of filling your jars with your raw vegetables or fruit first. Then add the brine solution.
Measuring and Headspace
When packing your jars, it is important to allow enough headspace at the top of the jar. This will prevent the jar from bursting during the canning process. It will allow for some expansion during the canning. The recipe will state how much room you should leave at the top of the jar. A good guideline is low-acid foods should have a headspace of 1 inch. 1/2 inch headspace for high-acid foods and 1/4 inch headspace for jams, juices, pickles, and relishes.
Each jar must have all air bubbles removed before capping. This method is done by placing a plastic spatula between the food and the jar. Working your way around the jar until you have dislodged any air bubble stuck between the food.
Cleaning Jar Rims
Once your cans are packed and all air bubbles have been removed, you must clean the rims of the jars with a clean towel. This will ensure a strong seal with the lid. Just gently wipe the rims clean.
Applying Lids and Bands
Now it is time to apply the lids and bands to your jars. You will use the lids that are simmering in a separate pan. Use a magnetic lid lifter to place the lid on the jar. Make sure to place the lid with the sealing end on the glass lip. Then screw and tighten a band on to each jar. You should tighten each band until hand tight. Then place each jar into the canner rack.
You must follow the guidelines for your recipe. All recipes will tell you how long you should boil or process your jars. Make sure that the water canner is at least half full of water. Bring the water to a simmer. It is a good practice to have your water canner already simmering during the packing stage. This way you are ready to transfer your jars quite quickly. Place your rack of jars slowly into the water. Make sure that the jars are completely submerged in water. There should be at least 1 to 2 inches of water covering the jars. You can add more boiling water as needed.
Place the lid on the canner and turn the heat up until you can maintain a rolling boil. Set your timer according to the processing time your recipe requires. You should maintain a rolling boil throughout the process. After the allotted time is over, turn off the heat and allow the jars to cool for about 5 minutes before removing.
Removing and Cooling
You can place the rack on its hanging stage and remove each jar using a jar lifter. Place the jars on a towel. Allow at least 1 to 2 inches of space between each jar. I like to place a towel over the jars to let them cool slowly. The jars should cool for 12 to 24 hours. Over the course of the cooling time, you will hear the jars start making a pinging noise. That indicates that the jars are sealed. Once cooled, check to see if any of the jars did not seal. I like to remove the bands and inspect the lid to ensure a proper seal. If any of the jars are cracked or not properly sealed, place them in the refrigerator for later consumption.
Labeling and Storing
You should label each jar with the date and contents. Depending on the type of food you preserved they should last for several years. I like to store my jars in a dark cool place like a basement or root cellar. Make sure to rotate your stock and use the food with the oldest dates first.
I hope this how-to guide on water bath canning will inspire you to give canning a try. There are many great recipes for canning all sorts of foods. It can be a fun and rewarding endeavor. If you have a garden or like experimenting with preserving foods then water bath canning is a great place to start.