Home Canning Basics

Home canning fruits and vegetables can be accomplished by either a boiling water bath or with the use of a pressure cooker. Foods containing higher amounts of pectin and naturally occurring acids, such as tomatoes, peaches, jams, jellies and pickles are usually canned in a boiling water bath (212F or 100C degrees) and foods that have low acid levels such as green beans, corn, mushrooms, and potatoes require a higher processing temperature (240F or 116C degrees) in order to kill off harmful bacteria and molds that can spoil food products.

The other consideration is altitude. The higher your location, the longer food products should be processed. The rule of thumb is for every 3,000 feet (915 Meters) in altitude, you must add 5 minutes to the boiling water bath processing time. One way to get the exact altitude of your location is to check out your address on GoogleEarth.com. Calling your local extension service or farm bureau will also get this vital information.

Boiling Water Bath Canning

Because of the high levels of naturally occurring acids, most fruit jams, jellies and sauces are processed in a boiling water bath canner. With a relatively small investment, you can gear up to can jams, jellies, soft spreads and pickles with equipment that will ensure successful home canning.

Equipment Required:

1. Large stainless steel or enamel pot with lid for the boiling water bath.

2. A canner rack that fits into the bottom of the large pot for the boiling water bath.

3. Jars, made especially for home canning, that are blemish free and clean.

4. Canning lids and screw bands specifically made for home canning and come in two basic sizes...wide mouth and regular.

5. Long handled wooden spoons, the longer, the better, are used to stir the cooking ingredients, and do not transfer heat, which is particularly helpful when cooking the food products.

6. A pair of jar tongs, specially designed to fit around the circular neck of the canning jars help lift the hot jars in and out of the boiling water bath.

7. A small stainless steel pot to heat up the canning lids in will come in handy to keep the lids hot. It is not recommended that you boil them, as this might damage the special sealant on the underside (interior) of the lids.

8. A large stainless steel or enamel pot to cook the ingredients in that will be canned in the jars. Never use aluminum cooking pots for canning. Aluminum breaks down under heat and can flake off into the cooking food products. A good way to test if the pot is stainless steel or aluminum, is to boil water in the pot. After the water has boiled for 15 minutes or so, pour some of the water into a clear glass and set up in a sunny window. If you can see small, almost invisible flakes floating around in the water when the light shines through it, then the pot is aluminum and should not be used.

9. A food mill is used to make smooth sauces such as applesauce. A food mill can also cut down the preparation time of applesauce, allowing you to cook the apples or other fruits without peeling or pitting them, as the mill will separate the peels and seeds from the pulp, thus allowing you to get the maximum dietary benefits from the fresh food products.

10. A large bowl that can withstand heated pulp is used to catch the pulp as it is passed through the food mill. When using a food mill, remember that the sieved food product will need to be returned to the cooking pot to be brought back to a boil before the pulp can be put into the hot canning jars.

11. A long handled ladle to fill the hot jars with the food product will really come in handy, as the food product will be very hot by the time the jars will be filled.

12. A jar funnel, a wide funnel used to fill the hot jars, will help keep the rims of the jars clean and minimize the waste.

13. A long bamboo skewer is used to remove air bubbles that might become trapped in the food product after the jars have been filled.

13. Various spices and sugars necessary for the recipe.

13. Pot holders

14. A clean cloth is used to wipe the top of the jar rim to remove any food product that might have spilled onto the rim during the filling of the jars.

Basic Boiling Water Canning Proceedure

1. Gather all materials, equipment and produce together to reduce time once the process has started.

2. Make sure it is all clean, that the jars are blemish free and the rings and jar lids are in good condition.

3. Fill the hot water bath canner about 1/2 of the way full of fresh water and heat up on the stove to boiling.

4. Wash all jars and place into the rack of the canner full of water to account for the displacement of the jars when lowered into the boiling water canner.

5. Bring the water to a gentle boil to sterilize the jars and then lower the heat to keep the jars very hot.

Hot or Raw Pack:

Depending upon which fruit or vegetable to be canned, your next choice is whether to pack the produce into the hot jars and adding the hot canning liquid, known as raw packing, or cooking the produce in the hot liquid briefly and then packing into the hot jars, a process known as Hot Packing. Produce perfect for raw packing for boiling water bath processing include fruits, pickles, and tomatoes.

Hot Packing:

With this method, the produce is placed into the boiling canning liquids and brought back to a boil before it is placed into the sterilized canning jars to be processed. All jellies, jams, fruit butters, and salsas are processed in this manner. The following set of photographs demonstrate making bread and butter pickles from my mother's old recipe to illustrate the hot packing process.

Gather the materials required for the produce processing. Slice the cucumbers and onions thin into the bowl.

For sweet pickles, a mixture of vinegar, spices and sugar is used for the pickling liquid, which is combined in a large enamel or stainless steel pot and brought to a slow boil. Usually, the mixture is slowly boiled for 5 minutes or so to infuse the spices in the vinegar and sugar.

Slice the cucumbers and onions about 1/4 inch thin and place them in the large bowl. Add the cucumbers and onions one layer at a time, sprinkling pickling salt lightly and evenly over each layer as added.

The first layer of onions and cucumbers ready for the salt sprinkle. Once the produce has all been sliced and layered with the salt, add clean water to the bowl to cover the cucumber slices.

When preparing certain pickle recipes, the recipe calls for soaking the prepared vegetable, in this case cucumbers, in a brine, or salt and water mixture for several hours to overnight in the refrigerator. My mother prefered to soak the onions and cucumbers overnight to make sure that the produce was completely chilled before they were drained and added to the hot pickling mixture. Shhhhh...don't tell Mom I told you, but she claims that is why she had the crispest pickles in town! Placing a plate on top of the cucumbers keeps them submerged in the brine.

Before the cucumbers are added to the hot liquid, they are drained and rinsed in cold water to remove the excess salt water.

While the cucumbers were draining, mix the vinegar, sugar and spices in a large enamel pot and slowly bring it to a boil. Once the produce is drained and rinsed it is ready to add to the hot liquid. Be careful to add the cucumbers slowly to keep the hot liquid from splashing up and onto your skin or clothes.

Once the cucumbers have been added, stir them thoroughly to mix with the liquid. Bring this mixture back to a boil and cook for 5 minutes to infuse the liquid into the produce.

Remove a hot jar from the canner, place it on a folded kitchen towel and place a jar funnel over the mouth of the jar. Ladle the hot cucumbers and liquid into the jar to a headspace of 1/2 inch. Check the sides of the jar to make sure there are not any bubbles caught in the liquid. Use the bamboo skewer to adjust the pickles to release the bubbles, and gently rotate the jar back and forth to make sure that all of the air that is trapped has been released. Place a warm jar lid on the mouth of the jar and add the screw band, tightening only fingertip tight. This is important. If the band is tightened too tight, the air released during the canning process will not be able to escape and could build up, increasing the chances that the jars will crack or not seal properly.

If you have bought a canning kit that has a canning rack, you will notice that there are notches half-way up the lifting handles. These are used to allow the rack to be lifted half-way out of the pot. This comes in handy when loading filled jars onto the rack.

You might find that the number of hot filled jars is less than the number of jars that you sterilized. When processing the filled jars, it is advised to keep the unfilled jars in the canner to make sure that the filled jars are not allowed to bounce around or tip over, which would compromise the seal. I always fill my canner with jars, regardless of how many jars the recipe calls for. If there are still big gaps between the jars, space them evenly on the rack and place a screw band between each jar to act as a buffer between the glass.

The jars are then carefully lowered into the hot water and a check ismade to make sure that the water level is at lease one to two inches above the topsof the jars. If is not, now is the time to add more water. To speed up this process in the event that you think you might need to add water before processing, have a kettle of very hot or boiling water ready to add. Adding cold water will slow the process up a bit. Bring the water back to a boil. Once the water has started a full boil, place the lid on the canner and process for 15 minutes at altitudes below 1,000 feet above sea level. NOTE: for each 2,000 feet above sea level after the first 1,000 feet, add 5 minutes to the total processing time to insure that the contents heats thoroughly.

Cold or Raw Packing:

This method is used when pickling raw vegetables in either a sugar syrup or vinegar solution using a boiling water canner. Tomatoes, which are flash boiled to remove their skins are also good for use with this method.

The easiest cold packing involves slicing and preparing the fruits, vegetables or tomatoes into the hot sterilized jars, adding the salt and/or spices, and pouring the hot liquid into the jars over the produce to the proper head space. The jars are then sealed with the two-piece lid and ring, lowered into the hot water bath and processed according to altitude and variety of produce and recipe.