Home Canning: The Basics

Beginners Guide to Canning

Preserve your garden produce by canning the bounty in your kitchen

Another year, another successful garden ready for harvest! It’s canning season, the time to bring your locally grown, healthy, preservative-free rewards into the home and to the table. Canning, of course, is how you preserve and store the excess while it’s at its freshest.

If you’re new to canning, you’re in the right place. We’re here to help you get started whether you plan to can food from the garden or fresh produce purchased at the farmers’ market. For either, the canning process is the same.

You will need just a few items for home canning, some of which you may already have in your kitchen.

Here’s the List:

  • Canning Jars and Sealed Lids: Regular and wide-mouth Ball and Kerr mason jars are available typically in 4-ounce, half pint, pint, and quart sizes. Jar size depends on what you’re canning and the quantity you use typically to prepare a meal. The smaller sizes are ideal for jams and jellies, while the larger sizes are better for tomatoes, salsas, and fruit. The jar opening, regular or wide-mouth, is a choice dependent on the size of the food. Large chunks fit better through a wide-mouth opening. Sealed lids are a combination of a lid and a rim, also known as a ring.
    Tip: Once the jar has cooled and the rim has sealed, remove the lid. Lids can rust.
  • Large Pot or Kettle: You will need a large pot with a lid and rack to boil preserves, pickled vegetables, fruits, tomatoes, and jams.
  • Pressure Canner: The pressure canner with a rack can be heated to higher temperatures which is beneficial for canning meats and vegetables.
  • Jar Lifter: You will need a good set of jar lifters or tongs to remove slippery cans from their hot water bath.
  • Ladle: Use the ladle to fill jars.
  • Clean Cloths: Canning can get messy, and you will need cloths to clean messes, wipe down jars and lids, and protect countertops from hot jars.
  • Funnel: Not necessary but nice to have. A funnel helps cut down the mess when transferring food into jars.

Now, on to the types of canning.

Canning Methods

Water Bath Canning and Pressure Cooking are the two most common ways to preserve food while retaining natural flavors and killing harmful bacteria. Which to use depends on what types of food you’re processing.

Water Bath Canning: This lower-pressure process preserves acidic foods like fruit by placing them in jars and boiling them in an open kettle or pot. The process of time and temperature creates a vacuum seal and destroys bacteria, mold, enzymes, and yeast.

Pressure Canning: This is an advanced process for low-acid foods such as beef, poultry, fish, and vegetables, except for tomatoes. A pressure canner heats up the jars to higher temperatures, which is important to kill off harmful bacteria, even botulism while creating a vacuum seal.

Let’s Get Canning

Sterilize Your Jars

After washing your jars and lids in soapy water, sterilize them in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the jars and let them dry. It’s best to leave the lids in the hot water until you need them, which prevents them from coming in contact with bacteria prior to use. You can also sanitize the jars by heating them in the oven or using the sanitize setting on your dishwasher.

Get Your Canning Method Prepped

Water Bath: Set the rack in the pot and fill the pot about midway with water. Heat the water to a simmer and keep it there, covered, until the jars are ready to be placed inside.

Pressure Canner: Place the rack in the canner and fill it with about 3 inches of water.

Cut Up and Prepare Your Food

Slice and dice your fresh fruits and vegetables, pickle your vegetables, and get your jams and preserves prepared using a favorite recipe before inserting the goodies into jars. Tomatoes require the addition of citric acid, like lemon juice, to raise their pH level prior to canning.

Fill Your Jars

Use the funnel to pour the food into the jars, leaving an inch or two of headspace, or gap, between the top of the food and the lid (whatever the recipe calls for). This headspace will alleviate leaking and mess. When the food is in the jar, use a wooden skewer, chopstick, or rubber spatula to remove any air bubbles seen on the inside of the jar. Wipe the rims of the jars, cleaning them of any residue. Place the lid on the jar and screw the rim over the lid until it is finger-tight.

Place Jars into the Pot

Using the jar lifter, carefully place the jars into the water bath or pressure canner.

Water Bath: There should be about an inch or two of water above the tops of the lids; that headspace. Bring the water to a boil and boil for the allotted time in the recipe. Once done, turn off the heat and let the cans sit for several minutes before removing the jars to the countertop.

Pressure Cooker: Place the cans on the rack in a pressure canner filled with about 2 to 3 inches of water. Lock the lid, turn the heat to medium-high and let the steam vent for 10 minutes before closing it or employing the weight gauge on the vent. At the recommended pressure, start the timer and let the cooker do its work for the recommended pressure and time. When done, turn off the heat and let sit until the pressure returns to zero. Carefully open the lid and let the jars rest for 10 minutes or so before moving them to the counter.

Remove and Cool Your Jars

Once you move the jars to the counter, let them sit for a half or full day. Over this period you will hear the lids “pop” when they seal completely, one at a time. After sitting, check the seals by removing the rims and lifting the jars by the lids. If the lids stay sealed, they’re good to go (if they do not stay sealed, use the contents in your next meal or refrigerate). Leave the rims off to avoid rusting from any water left under the seals. Store the jars in your pantry for up to 18 months or less, according to the recipe.

You did it! Good job!

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