Water Bath Canning
Simple Instructions On How To Use Your Water Bath Canner
Here are easy to follow instructions. If you are new to water bath canning I recommend you begin with this method. It is simpler than pressure canning and can be done most likely with items that you already have in your home kitchen.
This method can only be used for High Acid foods. This includes most fruits and tomatoes.
It is important to understand that only Low Acid Food can be processed using the water bath canner.
Collect all of your supplies:
You will need a large pot with a tight fitting lid. We are all probably familiar with the blue and white pots like the one shown above. But, you can use any large pot that is deep enough to cover the jar sizes you are canning with 1 - 2 inches of water and has an additional 2 inches of space for space during the rapid boil process. If you are planning to purchase a pressure canner, the pressure canner pot can be used for water bath canning also. There isn't much need to have both since you will probably not be using your water bath canner and your pressure canner at the same time. The pressure canner is heavier than a water bath canner so you may also want to keep a water bath canner to use since it is lighter and easier to move around.
You will also want tongs and oven mitts or potholders for handling hot jars. The tongs you may have in your kitchen may not be strong enough. I have broken a few of these tongs lifting the hot and heavy jars in and out of the pot when water bath canning. These can be purchased for a few dollars and if you are lucky, they are a fairly common item at flea markets and yard sales.
Inspect your jars and discard any that are cracked, nicked, have uneven rims or are otherwise defective.
The Water Bath Canning Process
Wash and rinse your jars and lids. Some people prefer washing them in the dishwasher and leaving them in the dishwasher and pull them out as they are used.
My dishwasher is named Cindi and she isn't always home when I am canning (I think she purposely plans to not be home). Needless to say, I usually use the wash the jars by hand method. Cindi is the only dishwasher I have.
Set rack on the bottom of the canner. If you do not have a rack, get creative. The only purpose of the rack is to keep the jars off of the bottom of the canner and away from direct heat contact. I have used small charcoal grill racks, my wife uses a towel, and one creative lady used a wire rack off of a dart board.
Place jars in water bath canner with enough water to cover the jars and heat for 10 minutes to get them hot. You can add 2 tablespoons of vinegar to the water and it will help eliminate hard water deposits from forming on the jars. Keep jars hot while preparing food. (It is only necessary to sterilize jars for foods processed less than 10 minutes. Sterilizing is done by boiling jars for 10 minutes.) Keep the jars in the pot you are heating them in until they are ready to be filled.
Keep jars and lids hot until ready to be filled. Prepare lids and rings inspecting them for damage. If they are damaged, discard them. Rings may be reused but lids must be new to insure a seal. Keep lid seals warm by placing the seals in a small pan of water. Bring to just below a boil. Do not boil the lids. You are only trying to warm the seal compound on the lid to assist the sealing process. Leave the seals in the hot but not boiling water until ready for a jar.
If I am short on stove space (this happens quite often since I am spatially challenged in my cooking area), I heat my lids in the same pot I am warming my jars and remove them with a magnetic wand when I need them. I do not have hard water so I do not use vinegar in the water I heat my jars. If you are going to use vinegar when heating or canning your jars, I would not heat my lids in the same water. I am not sure if the vinegar will do anything to affect the lid sealing compound.
Fill the jars with your prepared food leaving the recommended head space per your recipe. It is worth the effort to be as careful as possible in not getting foods, syrups, salt, etc on the rim of the jars when packing them.
A funnel is a great help here during pressure canning.
Remove air bubbles by running a non-metallic spatula down the sides and around the inside of the jar. Next time you are out for Chinese, grab some of the plastic chopsticks, they work too.
Wipe the jar rim with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel. You must be sure that you remove any food, salt, syrup, etc on the rim because it will prevent the jar from sealing.
Place seals and rings on jars. Remove a lid from the hot water and place a cap on each jar, making sure it's centered and seated with the rubber edge directly over the rim. (If lids stick together, plunge them into cold water; then submerge them again in boiling water.) The rings do not have to be heated. Screw the ring band on by hand as tightly as you comfortably can.
The purpose of the ring is only to locate and hold the lid until it seals during the water bath canning process. Do not over tighten, finger tight is just fine. You may want a pot holder or hand towel to hold the jars when tightening the lids because they will be hot.
Place jars in the water bath canner. The jars must not sit directly on the direct heat on the bottom of the canner. Be sure to use some sort of rack. Be sure jars are not touching each other. Turn the jars as necessary so there is airspace around each jar. Be sure there is 1 - 2 inches of water covering the jars.
Place the cover securely on the canner.
Start timing from the time your water is at a full rolling boil. Most recipes for Water Bath Canning show times for altitudes up to 1,000 feet above sea level. Refer to an altitude adjustment chart for processing times when you are above 1,000 feet above sea level.
When time is up, turn off the heat.
Carefully remove the lid using a pot holder or oven mit because hot steam will be released when the lid is removed. Tilt the lid so the steam releases away from you and away from your face when removing the lid.
Remove the jars from the canner using a jar lifter, carefully remove the jars and set them upright on a wooden board or a thick towel to cool. Be sure they are in a draft free area and leave 1 - 2 inches space between each jar so air can circulate.
You will hear the jars individually pop. They do this as they seal. Some people will like to count the pops but if you loose count, it is OK. You can still check that the jars have sealed even if you don't hear or count all of the popping sounds.
Do not press the lids at this point. Leave the jars alone until completely cool. This may take up to 12 hours.
Do not turn the jars upside down for any reason. Some people believe this helps. It doesn't and it can effect sealing.
After jars have cooled, NOW you may press on the lids to check the seal. The seal should be sucked down and not pop up. If you find a jar that did not seal, simply put the jar in the fridge and plan on using that food within a few days. If you have the worst case scenario and have several jars that do not seal, they can be reprocessed per the original recipe. You should reprocess food if needed within 12 hours of completion of the original batch.
Remove the screw cap and wash the jar. The outsides will often be sticky. It is a good idea (but not essential) to store without the screw cap. The caps can rust if you leave them on and this can affect the seal. Rust is most likely if you are storing your canning jars in a damp area like a basement. If so, definitely remove the lids.
Label the jar.
You may think that labeling the type of food isn't necessary because you feel you will be able to tell what is in the jar. BUT, this is a big but, you will experiment with various recipes. You will try different ingredients and you may use different types of apples, meats, etc.
When you open your jars later and use them, there will be some that you will definitely want to make again and those that you won't. Proper labeling allows you to know what you have when you open a jar at a later date.
Some people like to buy fancy canning labels. I write what I want to know on the lid with a Sharpie marker. The lid is going to be thrown away when you open the can anyway. I'm to cheap to buy labels when the lid works just as well.
Always record a date. That way you will be able to ensure that you are using the oldest ones first. Trust me, as minor as this sounds, it is a good habit to get into.
Store your jars in a cool, dark, dry environment. You do not want to store your canned gods in an area that gets extremely hot. The ideal temperature for storing your canned goods is between 50 and 70 degrees. A little warm is OK but avoid excessive heat.
Like anything, it takes time and patience. Many of the variables we discussed here will become second nature after you get a few batches under your belt. Practice makes perfect. The more you can the more these things will become normal. You will do them all without thinking after your first harvest or two.
These are general water bath canning instructions. Each recipe will be a bit different in how the food is prepared for processing and the correct processing times to use.
Practice makes perfect in anything we do in life. Canning is the same. Practice, practice, practice.
Some other tips
Grandma doesn't know everything Everyone I know has a recipe to can items with a water bath canner that SHOULD NOT be canned in a water bath canner. They will tell you that they have done it and their mom and even grandma has done it. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE realize that doesn't make it safe or the best way to can it. Pressure canning must be used for all Low Acid Food.
Plan ahead. You will find that at harvest time you will have a lot to can. With Water Bath canning, you can process foods with different processing times in the same pot. If one food takes 15 minutes and another takes 20, you can put them all in the canner and remove the 15 minute food when it is done and let the 20 minute food remain until it is complete.
Gather your supplies. If your house is like mine, you need to collect your supplies and equipment and make sure you have everything before you prepare your food. It is frustrating to spend time preparing your food and then realize you can't find something you need. Someone borrowed it, the grandkids used it for some vital backyard project they were working on, or no one can remember where they put it when they used it last.
Prepare your food per the recipe instructions. If you are doing large batches, refrigerate the food that is prepared and waiting to be processed. I usually try to prepare enough for one batch and while that batch is processing, I prepare food for the next batch I will do when the present batch is completed.
I do not prepare multiple batches all at once because things can and will go wrong at my house. It is a good practice and I always try to process any food I prepare as soon as I have the food prepared.
Processing large amounts and then having something go wrong is very discouraging, Things like the power going out, you realize you checked everything except the propane and it runs out, or your wife tells her best friend she can use your canner and she loans it out when you are in the middle of preparing your food. Of course, none of these of these have personally happened to me.....very often. I prepare only what I know I can process. While my batch is processing, I use that time to prepare my next batch.
Return From Water Bath Canning to Home Page