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Canning food can be intimidating if you’ve never tried it. But following some simple canning instructions, you can preserve your spring harvest for long-term storage.
Canning and preserving food is not as complicated as many believe. Once you try it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it long before now.
Wikipedia defines home canning as a method of preserving food in which the food contents are processed and sealed in airtight containers. And it provides a shelf life typically of 1-5 years, although with specific circumstances, can be longer.
Canning food can be a year-around money-saver and you’ll serve your family since you lose no nutrients or quality of your food, you are making your own convenience meals or fast foods that are nutritional.
Simple Canning Food Guide for Beginners
Many people believe that spring canning is the only time of year to do it. Home canning is can be a year-round occasion.
Canning the fall harvest and then canning venison or beef in the winter months during hunting season.
So how do you start canning at home? You’ll need a few simple supplies that will help you to get started.
Supplies needed to get started canning food
So what do you need to get started canning? There are, of course, some essential canning equipment or supplies needed for home canning.
- Canning Jars
- Jar Lids and Bands
- Canning Tools / Utensils
- Good Home Canning Book
How to Choose the Right Canning Jars for Canning
Using the right type jar is critical. Some of the most popular brands are Ball, Kerr, and Golden Harvest.
Canning jars should be inspected to be in perfect condition for home canning food. They should be completely free of chips, hairline cracks, or small nicks in the rim of the sealing edge.
They also need to be “true canning jars. Years ago, people would often re-use commercial grade glass jars such as mayonnaise, peanut butter, and pickle jars. Unfortunately, these jars are not designed for home canning and are not safe to be used as such.
True canning jars have gone through a “heat process” in order to be safe for a long-term shelf-life and even against breaking.
The rim on a canning jar is also thicker to provide a good seal area. Most commercial jar rims are thin and don’t allow enough room for lids to seal properly.
I know what you’re thinking, your grandma used commercial jars so why can’t you? My granny did too.
I’ll be honest, when I first started canning and preserving food, I thought the same way. After attending classes and getting an education on canning and food safety, I’ve changed my mind. A great place to learn more about canning food safety is on the National Center For Home Food Preservation site.
Make Sure You Are Using True Canning Jars
In recent years, Mason jars for “decorative purposes” have begun to show on the market. These are not safe for canning. Make sure the jars you are using are intended for home canning.
Why are Canning Lids in Two Pieces?
Two-piece mason jar lids have a screw-band and a flat metal lid that contains a sealing compound made into the lid itself. When applying the lid, simply tighten to fingertip tightness so the band fits comfortably on the canning jar.
The only purpose of the band is to hold the flat lid in place during the canning process. They should be removed for storage. If the bands are maintained they can be reused, but the flat lid is for one-time use only.
When the screwband is tightened down on the flat lid, it leaves enough “give” for air to escape when in the canning process, which prevents the jar from busting or exploding. After it is removed from the canner, it will seal itself.
Do not tighten the screw-band when you remove the mason from the canner, though it’s tempting, this will break the partial seal that began inside the canner. Just allow it to remain loose and the flat lid will create a vacuum and “pop” to a good seal.
Why Can’t You Use One-Part Canning Lids?
Lids can be purchased in a couple of different versions. One-piece and two-piece. Only the two-piece have been approved for canning food for a long shelf-life.
I get this question often: Q). “Can I use one-piece canning lids for canning?” And the answer is – No. Once-piece lids are not designed nor approved for canning food or long-term food storage. They are more specifically for hot-fill-hold purposes in a very well-controlled situation.
One-piece lids don’t allow for air to escape when the jar is under pressure which allows the lid to seal. This can result in the jar not sealing or busting under pressure because air has not been allowed to escape.
What Canning Tools Do I Need for Canning Food at Home?
Canning utensils are extremely helpful in the canning process. There are 3 tools specifically designed for canning food:
- Stainless Steel Jar Funnel
- Canning Jar Lifter
- Headspace Tool / Bubble Remover
- Magnetic Lid Lifter
- Stainless Steel Ladle
These can be purchased individually or as a set.
Jar Funnel – Wide mouth funnel that allows you to easily pour in sugars, liquids, foods, etc into jars without spilling.
Jar Lifter – Handheld lifter with rubber grip to safely grasp and lift hot jars out of the canner.
Headspace Tool / Bubble Remover – Can be used to remove air bubbles from the jar before placing them on the flat lid. Also has notches for measuring the amount of headspace between the food and the lid. This space is important to allow for air pressure to build to cook the food.
Magnetic Lid Lifter – Since when you do home canning it is necessary to heat the flat lids in hot, not boiling water to soften the rubber seal. This helps it to seal to the jar rim better. The lifter magnet will lift lids, one at a time, out of the hot water and you can use it to place the lid on the mason jar.
Difference between a Pressure Canner and a Water Bath Canner
3 proven methods for canning food for long-term storage. They are the Boiling-Water Method, Pressure Method, and Steam Method. The type of canner you should use depends on the pH level in the food you are processing. This chart from the USDA is a great chart for information on pH levels in foods.
Water Bath Canners
You can purchase water bath canners almost anywhere. I use this one that is Granite Ware Enamel on steel. Of course, you can also buy them that are stainless steel, which works well too. Whichever you choose, it needs to be deep enough to hold your jars and allow 3-4 inches of water above jar tops.
Jars do need to be fully submerged. The water needs to be at least 1 inch over the jar lid. This is to ensure a couple of things.
- Some of the water will evaporate during the boiling process. Having it this deep insures jars stay covered.
- The boiling process cooks the air out of the the jar, which prevents your food from spoiling. Having it covered completely insures that the jar cannot “suck” air into it when it is heating up and forming a vacuum.
1. 3 Parts to a Water Bath Canner
The water bath canner has 3 parts: The base, rack, and lid
Base – Needs to be deep enough to allow for 1 inch of water over the lid and then an additional 2 inches for air space. This will help to prevent boil-over.
Rack – Holds jars up off the bottom and side of the canner, as well as keeps them in an upright position when boiling.
Lid – Keeps the temperature inside the canner consistent which keeps the water boiling during the whole process.
2. Foods that Can Be Safely Canned using water bath canning Method?
Foods having very little natural acid, a 4.6 pH level or lower can be processed using a water-boiling method. This category contains the following:
- Soft Spreads
- Pickled Foods
- Jams and Jellies
- Chutneys and Sauces
- Pie Fillings
3. How to Properly Fill a Water Bath Canner
- Fill canner to completely cover jars with water+ one-inch over top of lids
- Put canner on stove eye on high
- Pack hot canning jars with food according to canning recipe
- Remove air bubbles and double-check head space
- Wipe canning jar rims clean with damp cloth
- Put on hot 2-piece mason jar lids and tighten to finger tight
- Place lid on and watch for water to boil
- Begin timer once water begins to boil
- When timer ends – carefully remove from heat source
- Lift lid away from you so you don’t burn yourself with the steam
- Allow jars to sit for about 5 minutes in boiling water
- Then, using jar lifter, carefully remove jars one by one and place on a towel on the counter
- Do not tighten rings
- Allow to sit undisturbed for 24 hours
- After 24 hours, check lids for seal by pressing center of lid, it should be down, label and store
Many people fear the pressure canner and they should. But with a little education – it can be a great tool to add to your homestead kitchen.
Pressure canners are just that – they build up high “pressure” inside to completely cook the food in the jars it contains. This kills off any bacteria that may be on the food or even on the jars themselves. Always follow the manufacture’s guidelines when using a pressure canner. I use the Presto 16 Quart Pressure Cooker like this one.
Pressure canners are safe as long as you follow manufactures guidelines as well as the canning recipe in your recommended canning book.
If you are not comfortable with using a pressure canner, you can check with your local agriculture extension office your area may have a public cannery. If so, you can take your food there for canning and trained volunteers are available to help.
1. 5 Parts To The Pressure Canner
Lid – Canner lid locks into place to the base and is fitted with a rubber seal, safety valve, and vent pipe.
Gauge – This measures the pressure inside the canner. There are 3 types of gauges: 3-piece, 1-piece, or dial. It will come with your canner
Base– Holds the jars for processing and is deep enough not to obstruct the lid
Rack – Keeps the jars off the bottom of the base to allow steam to circulate all the way around the jars.
Rubber Seal – Located inside the lid. Change the seal every year. Check it closely for cracks or dry-rot. The lid locks tightly on the base and then seals and prevents losing pressure from the canner.
2. What Foods Can be Safely Canned With A Pressure Canner?
Foods with a higher pH require a temperature higher than 240 degrees to fully cook or pressure canned.
Such foods are:
- vegetables (seed detailed list below)
- Or any recipe that contains these foods such as stews and meat sauces.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends the following foods be pressured canned:
- Asparagus, Spears or Pieces
- Beans or Peas
- Shelled, Dried, All Varieties
- Dry, With Tomato or Molasses
- Fresh Lima – Shelled
- Snap and Italian – Pieces, Green and Wax
- Beets – Whole, Cubed, or Sliced
- Carrots – Sliced or Diced
- Corn – Cream Style
- Corn – Whole Kernel
- Mixed Vegetables
- Mushrooms 0 Whole or Sliced
- Peas, Green or English – Shelled
- Potatoes, Sweet – Pieces or whole
- Potatoes, White – Cubed or Whole
- Pumpkins and Winter Squash – Cubed
- Spinach and Other Greens
- Winter Squash and Pumpkins – Cubed
3. Pressure Canning Packing Methods
Fill jars with raw food and cover with boiling hot syrup, juice, or water. Pack fruits and vegetables tightly into the jar, because they will “shrink” during processing.
A process of heating food in syrup, juice, or water before placing it into jars. Keep your food near boiling when filling and pack fairly loose into the jar.
4. How To Properly Fill A Water Bath Canner
- Fill canner with about 2 inches of water
- Place rack in bottom of canner
- Fill jars with food, wipe off rims
- Place 2-piece lids on jars – tight to finger tight
- Put jars inside canner, when full, BLOW through the blow valve, on the lid, to make sure nothing is blocking it
- Place lid on properly and tight
- Turn stove eye onto high
- Exhaust steam for 10 minutes
- Then place on weight or close the petcock ( which ever your canner has)
- Once weight begins to “giggle”, slowly lower heat, but not stopping the giggle
- Lower heat as low as possible, but don’t stop the giggle
- Process for the time called on recipe
- Once timer ends – turn off heat and leave on stove eye
- Let canner sit until completely cool and and the pressure valve has gone down
- When it has ZERO pressure, loosen lid and carefully remove it – venting steam away from you
- Carefully remove jars from canner using a jar lifter and place on a towel on the counter for 24 hours
- Check lids for seal, Label and store
I have never done steam canning myself. So I’m not real comfortable speaking about it in depth. To learn more about steam canning, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has this Preparing and Preserving Food At Home. It’s a great starting point to learn more.
How does Altitude Affect My Canning?
Higher altitudes have a lower barometric pressure affecting the temperature at which water boils. What this means in both Water Bath Canning and Pressure Canning cook times must be adjusted in order to get the right temperature. This Altitude Map will help you with finding your elevation.
For safe canning measures, adjust boiling-water and pressure processing methods accordingly to ensure safe canning temperatures and times. Additional time or increase in temperature may be necessary.
Canning food and food preservation are great ways to become more self-sufficient. Not only does it save on the grocery bill, but it is also more nutritious for your family.
Do you do food canning at your house? If so, what do you store?
More Food Preservation Recipes
- How to Can Whole Tomatoes
- Easy Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
- How to Freeze Peppers
- Canning Dill Pickles
- The Tangy to Fiery Hot Perfect Pickle Recipes
- Perfect Bread and Butter Pickles
- Sweet Pickle Relish Recipe
- Homemade Pizza Sauce
- Canning Green Beans
- Canning Tomato Juice with Fresh Tomatoes
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Dianne Hadorn is the owner of Hidden Springs Homestead nestled in the hills of East Tennessee. She is a Master Gardener and enjoys helping others learn how to grow and preserve their own food and sharing tips for living a more self-sufficient lifestyle.