1. What is home canning?
Think of home canning as one step beyond cooking. It is a preservation method that applies heat to food in a closed glass jar to stop the natural spoilage that would normally take place. To do that canning removes air from the jar to create a vacuum seal.
There are two basic home canning methods: water bath canning and pressure canning.
2. Popular methods for home canning
There are many things you can preserve by canning, but it is important to understand these two canning methods before getting started.
3. Method 1: water bath canning
This method of using water bath canning is ideal for high-acid foods and requires the least cost investment in equipment. It is ideal for canning fruits, fruit juices, jams, jellies, salsas, tomatoes, pickles, relishes, chutneys, sauces, vinegars and condiments.
4. Method 2: pressure canning
Pressure canning is mandatory, for food safety, when preserving low-acid vegetables, meats, poultry and seafood. To keep these types of canned food safe to eat, use the pressure canning method. Pressure canning heats the canned food to 240º F eliminating the risk of foodborne bacteria. This is a higher processing temperature than water bath canners can achieve. Note: when mixing high acid foods with low-acid foods they must be processed using the pressure canning method to ensure food safety.
5. Gather the gear
You will need the following gear for either canning method:
21-quart water bath canner, or large stockpot, with a wire canning rack and lid; about $18 on Amazon.
A basic home canning kit: jar lifter, magnetic lid lifter, canning funnel, kitchen tongs and jar wrench. These are less expensive when bought as a kit; about $13 on Amazon.
A dozen Ball or Kerr glass preserving jars with and bands and lids; $12 to $20 a case on Amazon. Do not attempt to reuse other kinds of jars. Preserving jars are manufactured with high temperature resistant glass. Common glass jelly, pasta or pickle jars may crack during water bath processing and destroy all your hard work.
Common kitchen utensils such as: sauce pan, measuring spoons, measuring cups, cutting board, small kitchen knives, ladle, large spoon, non-metallic spatula and dish rags.
Fresh produce and any other ingredients specified in the recipe.
6. Choosing the recipe
Always use tested recipes from reliable sources for canning. Read the directions thoroughly before starting the canning process.
Several trusted recipe sources are:
The National Center for Home Food Preservation
The Ball Corporation (the jar manufacturer)
The Blue Book Guide to Preserving (considered the Bible for canning)
Recipes are also provided in the packaging for Pectin.
7. Getting started
Wash all jars, lids and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse them well.
Keep the jars warm until ready to use. Heat the jars in a pot of simmering water, or in a heated dishwasher to minimize risk of breakage when filling with hot food.
Fill the canner half full with enough water to cover jars with at least 1 inch of water and heat to a simmer. Place the lid on the canner. Keep rack to the side until ready to use. An important tip: the jars will displace much of the water in the canner. Only fill the canner half full. Wait until the jars are placed into the canner. Then, top off the water with the additional hot water needed.
Fill each jar with prepared food. Follow the canning recipe for the correct headspace in each jar. Headspace is the space between the food level and the rim of the jar. This allows for food expansion when heated during processing.
Remove any air bubbles by inserting a non-metallic spatula inside the jar and gently pressing the food against the opposite side of the jar. The headspace gauge or chopsticks will work well for this. Air bubbles can impact canning effectiveness.
Carefully remove any food from the rim of each jar, center the new lid on the jar and twist the band until fingertip tight. Do not over tighten the bands. Air must be able to escape during the canning process.
Place the filled canning jars onto the canning rack and lower the rack into the canner. Top off the water to 1 inch above the jars and cover with the canner lid.
Heat to a steady boil. Process for the time specified in the recipe. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, check the recipe for adjusting the processing time. This is usually 5 minutes for every 3,000 feet.
Turn off the heat and let the jars stand in the water for 5 minutes. Remove the jars from the water and cool upright on the wire rack or on a towel place on a kitchen counter for 12 hours.
Do not re-tighten the bands after removing the jars from the canning rack. Over tightening the bands can break the seal on the jar lids.
Check the jar seals by gently pressing on the center of a cooled lid. The lid should not flex up or down. If the lid flexes, the jar did not seal properly. Re-process or refrigerate for immediate consumption.
Store sealed jars in a pantry, or dark cabinet, for up to a year. Jars may be stored without bands.
Canned goods make great gifts for the holidays or any occasion.