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Home Canning 101


It is true that canning and preserving took a hiatus for a few decades.  With the advent of supermarkets and expanded varieties of jams, jellies, pickles, and canned produce, you could buy anything you wanted.  But, today we are experiencing a revival of eating minimally processed and organic foods. With home canning, we can capture fruits and vegetables at their height of flavor and peak of nutrient development.  Whether we purchase them at farmer’s markets or harvest them ourselves, we can preserve them as jelly or jam on the same day to retain that treasured fresh taste. We can pluck tomatoes off the vine at their developmental zenith and they will contain greater concentrations of nutrients. From farm-to-table, home canning is the optimum way to capture and preserve fresh taste and maximum nutrition of summer produce.

Doing it right is important, but if you have the equipment ready and break the process into steps, your first time will be a success.  You will have confidence that you have sealed the jars safely for long-term storage, and go forth on a quest to try a new canning project!

What You Need

Hot, Water-Bath or Pressure Canner? The canner itself is the most important piece of equipment. All high-acid foods go into a hot-water-bath canner.  That means fruit products such as jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades, chutneys, fruit butters, and anything pickled with vinegar like pickles and relishes. Tomatoes are high in acid and are canned in a hot-water-bath canner. (You can use a large stockpot with a lid, but you must have a rack in the bottom to keep the jars away from direct heat.)

Low acid foods, such as non-pickled vegetables (except tomatoes), dried beans, meats, and poultry, must be processed in a pressure canner.

Both methods heat the ingredients in the canning jar enough to create a vacuum and kill off any potentially harmful bacteria.

Other Basic Equipment:

  • Canning jars, lids, and screw bands: Use only Mason jars, in sizes suitable for the product and your family’s needs; they come in half-pint-, pint-, and quart-sized.  Lids can be used only once; there is a chance they might not seal properly the second time around.  Screw bands can be reused; make sure they are clean and dry before storing.
  • Large spoons, slotted spoons, and soup ladles for mixing and filling jars
  • Sharp paring knives and a vegetable peeler for preparing the produce
  • Canning funnel for filling jars with hot liquid
  • Magnetic lid lifter or tongs for lifting sterilized lids from boiling water, keeping lids from being contaminated by fingers
  • “Jar lifter” for lifting hot filled jars from the hot water bath
  • Table knife or narrow plastic spatula for getting air bubbles out of jars
  • Kitchen timer
  • Kitchen towels for wiping the jars clean after filling and cooling hot processed jars.

Helpful Hints Before You Start

  • Use only peak produce; cut off and discard defects.
  • Fill jars with same-sized food pieces for even processing.
  • Keep workspace and equipment very clean to reduce the risk of contamination in your food jars.
  • Know how high you live above sea level. The higher you live, the lower the boiling point of water.  Hot-water-bath processing time has to be increased to offset the lower temperature.  For altitudes higher than 1,000 feet, increase processing time as follows: 5 minutes for 1,001 to 3,000 feet; 10 minutes for 3,001 to 6,000 feet; 15 minutes for 6,001 to 8,000 feet; 20 minutes for 8,001 to 10,000 feet.

Canning Steps

Step 1: Be Prepared
Read the entire recipe and familiarize yourself with the instructions.  Assemble equipment and ingredients.

Step 2: Check and Clean Equipment
Check jars for nicks, cracks, or uneven rims that will prevent sealing or cause breakage.  Lids should be unused and clear of scratches; sealing screw bands should fit on jars.  Then wash all in hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly.

Step 3: Heat the Jars
Keep jars hot to prevent them from breaking when filling with hot food: Fill a large saucepan halfway with water; place the jars in the water and make sure they are completely submerged.  Bring the water to a simmer, and keep jars in the simmering water until you are ready to fill and seal them. Alternately, you can use a dishwasher to wash and heat the jars.


Step 4: Heat the Lids and Screw bands
Keep lids and screw bands hot in a small saucepan of simmering water until ready to use.  Do NOT boil.

Step 5: Prepare the Canners
Prepare the hot-water-bath canner by filling halfway with water; bring to a simmer and maintain simmer, covering the canner, until the jars are filled and added to canner.  Make sure the rack is properly positioned in the canner.

Prepare the pressure canner by filling with 2 to 3 inches of water.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat; bring to a simmer and maintain simmer, covering the canner, until the jars are filled and added to canner.  Follow manufacturer’s instructions for usage.

Step 6: Prep Ingredients
Prepare the recipe using quality ingredients.

Step 7: Fill Jars
Fill one jar at a time: use a jar lifter to remove a hot jar from hot water, pouring out the water inside the jar. Fill it with the prepared food using a funnel, leaving the headspace recommended in the recipe. The rule of thumb is: 1/4 inch headspace for jams and jellies; 1/2 inch headspace for fruits (including tomatoes), pickles, salsa, and sauces; 1 inch headspace for low acid, pressure-canned fruits. If there is too much air space between the food and the lid, a discoloration in the top of the product may result.

Step 8: Remove the Air Bubbles
Remove air bubbles that are trapped between pieces of food by sliding a table knife or plastic spatula between the food and the jar. Wipe the rim and threads of the jar with a damp cloth to remove any residue.  Lift a lid from the hot water; center the hot lid on the jar allowing the sealing compound to come in contact with the jar rim.  Apply the screw band, and screw onto the jar just until resistance is met.

Step 9: Place the Filled Jars Into the Hot Water
Place the jars, as they are filled, in the canner until all jars are filled or the canner is full.  Check the water level in the canner: for the hot-water-bath canner, water should cover the jars by 1 or 2 inches. For the pressure canner, the water level should be 2 to 3 inches high or what is recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 10: Process
Hot-water-bath canner: Place lid on canner.  Bring water to a full rolling boil and begin the processing time indicated in the recipe, adjusting for altitude.  When the processing time is finished, turn off the heat and remove the canner lid.  Allow the jars to stand in the canner for 5 minutes.

Pressure canner: Lock the canner lid in place, leaving the vent pipe open.  Turn up the heat to medium-high and allow the steam to escape.  When there is a steady stream of steam escaping, allow to vent for 10 minutes to make sure steam, not air, is left in the canner.  Close the vent and process using the method described in the manufacturer’s instructions and the recommended pounds of pressure and time indicated in the recipe.  When the processing time is finished, cool the canner by removing it from the heat.  Let the canner stand, undisturbed, until the pressure returns to zero all by itself.  Wait 2 minutes and remove the lid as instructed by manufacturer.

Step 11: Remove and Cool
Use the jar lifter to remove the jars from the canner.  Place them on a towel to prevent breakage when the hot jars come in contact with the countertop. Let them stand, undisturbed, 12 to 24 hours. Do not attempt to retighten screw bands.

Step 12: Check Seals
Make sure all jars have sealed by testing the seal: Remove the screw bands and press the middle of the lid.  It should not pop up or spring back when you remove your finger.  Also, the lids should not lift off with your fingertips.  If unsealed, immediately reprocess or refrigerate and eat right away.

Store the processed jars in a clean, cool, dark, dry place for up to 1 year. The ideal temperature for storing canned food is between 40 degrees F. and 70 degrees F.

Put up some of your own canned goodness today using Paula’s recipes! What are your favorite things to can? Let us know in the comments below.

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