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Water bath canning can feel a bit overwhelming but knowing potential problems and solutions upfront can make it easier.
There’s not a better time to learn to preserve food at home. And water bath canning also referred to as the boiling water method is a great place to start. But with starting anything new, there is a learning curve.
Since I’ve been doing it for a while, I’m often asked some really great questions. So I’ve compiled several beginner water bath canning problems and solutions together that you may find helpful.
There are, of course, some safety procedures that should be followed. Make sure that when you are doing your home canning research you gather your water bath canning times and water bath canning recipes from a reputable site such as The National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Water bath canning problems and solutions for beginners
No matter if you grow your own harvest or buy it in bulk from the farmer’s market, doing your own food preservation is worth the effort. Not only will you save money, but your family will be eating real food and be healthier for it.
Since I’ve been canning and preserving for several years, I thought I knew a lot about canning, but I recently got my hands on a great book, The Farm Girls Guide to Preserving the Harvest written by Ann Accetta-Scott.
I will say with great confidence, this is the most thoroughly written home preserving book I’ve read so far. And trust me, my library of canning books is rather large. I’ve made a list of my favorites further down.
Not only does Ann cover water bath canning, but she also goes in-depth in pressure canning, freezing, dehydrating, curing and smoking meats & fish, and fermentation, and even freeze-drying!
I’ve tried my best to answer some of the common questions I get about water bath canning today, but, I would highly recommend you get this book too.
If you are interested in a simple step-by-step, how-to can, and how to control canning catastrophes, this book is a must for your homestead library.
Whether you are new to home preservation or have been doing it for years you’ll learn so much from this book, I know I have.
The answers to each of the following questions are my words. But I’ll say it again, for a more in-depth helpful manual The Farm Girls Guide To Preserving The Harvest it’s a must-have! Let’s get started:
1) What does water bath canning mean?
Essentially water bath canning is done in a very large pot that will hold up to 7-quart jars at a time. It is deep enough to allow them to be submerged and covered by a minimum of 2″ of water.
A water bath canner includes a rack for holding the jars in place and keeping them off the bottom of the pot.
Foods that contain high amounts of acid or the recipe incorporates the correct balance of acid, can be safely water canned. Foods such as:
- Fruits and Fruit Juices
- Jams and Jellies
- Fruit Spreads
- Salsa, Pizza Sauce and Spaghetti Sauce
- Condiments such as Barbecue Sauce and Ketsup
2) what is the purpose of water bath canning?
This is a safe way of preserving fresh foods for long shelf life or storage.
It involves completely submersing filled jars of food into boiling water for a specific period of time, depending on the food item.
Water bathing drives out the air in the food and in the jar to prevent spoiling. It gets hot enough to kill spores of E-coli, Salmonella, and other pathogenic bacteria that might be present.
The heat will drive out all air and form a vacuum that causes the mason jar to seal.
Be sure to follow the canning process steps closely as well as the water bath canning time of whatever recipe you are water boil canning.
3) Is it necessary to sterilize canning jars?
The short answer is yes. Even new mason jars are not sterile. The boiling water will kill any bacteria or spores that may be on the jar itself.
In your research, you may come across several ways of “sterilizing jars” such as in the dishwasher or oven, in the microwave, or oven, and on the stovetop.
The only approved method is by completely submerging in boiling water. Not any of these other methods are approved, so I wouldn’t recommend them.
4) How do you sterilize Canning Jars?
To sterilize jars they should be completely submerged or covered by boiling water. Here is a step-by-step how to sterilize canning jars.
5) Why do canning jars break in a water bath?
There are several reasons canning jars break, also known as Mason jar thermal shock, in a water bath, a few of the most common reasons are:
- Jar is too cool when it was placed into a hot canner of water
- The jar was too hot and the water inside canner was to cool when it was submerged
- The jar was already cracked or weak and the hot temperature of the water caused it to break
- If the rack that comes with the canner is not inside, the jars will break since too close to the heat source
- Using low quality commercial jars such as mayonnaise jars or pickle jars
- It’s possible the lid was put on too tight – all canning recipes specify “finger tight”
- If you put hot foods into cold jars this can cause them to crack or break too
Keep in mind that as strong as Mason jars are, they do weaken over time. And a weak mason jar can break in boiling water.
It’s easy to pick up recycled jars at thrift stores and yard sales. I know if you are trying to live frugally, it does save money. I’ve done it, just be careful with used jars.
But be sure to check the rims closely, on both recycled and new jars, for chips or cracks. If a canning jar has a chip or crack, it is not safe for canning.
You can recycle it for storing dehydrated herbs and such, so don’t throw it out.
6) What happens if a jar breaks during canning?
You most likely will not know it is broken until the timer has ended. This is a good thing actually.
All that will happen is the jar will break and you may end up with food floating in the water. This is ok, because the other jars are closed and will not be affected. Just take them out of the canner and then clean up the broken jar and food.
Do not use this food because it could have glass in it. It should be tossed out into the compost or trash. Don’t feed it to pets or farm animals either.
7) Can you boil canning jars without a rack?
I think this is the most common question I’m ever asked. I’m sure it is because finding a water bath canner at a yard sale or thrift store without the rack is not unusual.
But unfortunately, you must have a rack or some type of surface to keep the jars off the direct bottom of the canner.
This is for 2 reasons: 1) the water is able to boil and circulate all the way around the jars and 2) the heat source is too hot to be in direct contact with the glass jar.
Even though canning jars are tempered, too much heat can still cause them to crack.
If you don’t have the rack that comes with your water bath canner, you can make one that will work. Sharon at Simply Canning has some really good ideas from her readers you can take a look at.
I also came across this tutorial for one made out of aluminum foil that would work. Just make sure it is thick enough to allow the water to circulate around your jars.
8) When should I start timing hot water bath?
Once the canner is full, set the heat to the highest temperature and place the lid on your water bath canner. When it comes to a boil, set your timer once it begins to boil.
If for some reason the water bath stops boiling, make sure the canner has enough water, bring it back to a boil, and restart the timer. It is important that your garden’s harvest is “boiled” the full time your canning recipe requires.
9) How long does it take for canning jars to seal?
Depending on what you are canning, it could take up to an hour or more for jars to seal. Mine often ping as soon as I take them out of the water with my jar lifter. But not always.
If you remember, I had mentioned that canning forms a vacuum and removes all the air from both the jar and the food inside the jar. Some jars may lose all the air during water boil and others may not.
Once the timer ends, gently remove jars from the canner and place them on a towel or cutting board on the counter.
I don’t advise you to put them directly on the counter surface. Remember, the jar is very hot and the counter is cool. This could cause your jar to break.
The jars will continue to boil inside, removing the air. Once all of it has been removed, the jar lid will vacuum seal to the rim and will make a ping sound which means it is sealed.
Resist touching them and leave them undisturbed for 24 hours. Over this time, enjoy counting the pings that are taking place in the kitchen.
10) How do you test home canned jars for proper seal?
If your canning jar did not pop or ping after cooling, you can test the seal in a couple of different ways:
1) By pressing down on the center of the jar lid. It should not pop up when pressed. A well-sealed lid will remain down. If it pops, the jar is not sealed.
2) Carefully remove the metal ring and pull on the lid with your fingers to check for a seal. It should be well stuck to the rim. If not, the jar is not sealed.
Canning lids have a special sealant that is designed to seal the rim of the Mason jar. This special sealant is why lids cannot be reused. Only the ring and jar can be reused.
11) What do i do if a jar doesn’t seal after canning?
You have a couple of choices depending on what you are canning.
1) You serve up the food for dinner that day. I’ve done this a couple of times.
2) You can put it in the refrigerator and use it within a couple of days. I’ve done this as well.
3) Place the jar in the freezer and leave it until you are ready to eat it. Foods can be frozen in mason jars.
4) You can reprocess the unsealed jar – here’s how:
- Check the jar rim for a chip or crack to maybe figure out why it did not seal
- If necessary, replace the jar with a new one and use a new canning lid as well
- Adjust the headspace a bit to make if larger
- Follow the canning recipe precisely and reprocess the jar in the water bath canner for the proper amount of time (this will not harm your food to reprocess)
Honestly, I have never reprocessed a jar. My family is quick to finish it off and I’m ok with this. It’s just one less jar that goes onto the pantry shelves.
I realize we have covered a lot of information. But I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed. When you are beginning to do home canning, water bath canning problems and solutions can feel a bit scary.
Don’t let it be. I remember my first time, it was stressful, but I think this is with anything we try.
She makes every step of the way very simple and easy to understand. You’ll love adding it to your homestead canning library.
I’m also here to help to guide you along the way. Feel free to reach out any time.
Simple Water Bath Canning Recipes:
- How to Can Whole Tomatoes
- Homemade Pizza Sauce
- Canning Tomato Juice with Fresh Tomatoes
- Sweet Pickle Relish
- Bread and Butter Pickles
- Easy Applesauce Recipe for Canning
- Canning Homemade Apple Pie Filling
- Easy Spaghetti Sauce Canning Recipe
- Homemade Dill Pickles for Canning
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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.