This article has been updated.
You’ve worked hard on your organic vegetable garden and now you want to extend this harvest throughout the winter. Canning is an efficient way to preserve summer’s bounty.
There are two basic types of canners: ‘water bath’ for high acid foods like jams, fruit and tomatoes, and pressure canners for low acid foods like most vegetables, meat and fish.
Canning is a precision process with emphasis on sterilization and cleanliness. You will want to have recently published information on home canning from Ball, Kerr (well known sources of canning supplies), and the US Department of Agriculture. Your pressure canner will also come with a reliable manual. Be sure to read all instructions before starting.
Even though you follow the instructions carefully, you can still make mistakes. The following tips may help, and they apply to both water bath and pressure canning.
1. Be organized
Lay out all the equipment and ingredients before starting food preparation. In addition to your canner and jars, you’ll need lids, rings, towels and tongs. You may also need a funnel for filling jars.
2. Try using the dishwasher to clean and preheat your jars
Canning jars must be clean and hot before filling. You can pour hot water into the jars to preheat them, but it is convenient to time your dishwasher load so the hot jars are ready when you need them. Preheating the jars prevents them from breaking when filled with hot foods and hot additives like syrup.
Note, preheating your jars is not the same as sterilizing them. It’s necessary to sterilize jars to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, but in many cases sterilization happens during processing. You’ll need to pre-sterilize your jars (before filling them) if your recipe calls for less than 10 minutes of processing time or you live 1,000 feet above sea level. For more information, see this information from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
3. Avoid placing hot jars on cold surfaces
When removing processed jars, place on tea towels or layered newspapers. I like the newspapers because it easier to clean up the mess afterwards. Never put freshly processed jars on a cold surface or they may break.
4. Don't 'clunk' the jars
Make sure not to ‘clunk’ or tap hot jars together when removing them from the canner because hot glass breaks easily. As a general rule, be gentle with the jars throughout the process.
5. Avoid drafts when removing jars
Canning is a hot business and the temptation is to open all the windows. This is fine until you take the jars out of the canner. Then, you should consider closing nearby windows and doors because a cool draft can break a hot glass jar. Alternatively you can cover your jars with a towel.
6. Use a footstool if necessary when removing jars from canner
Ideally, the bottom of a pressure canner should be about waist height. This is so you can see inside and have good control when lifting the jars out of the canner. If you are short, you may want to use a footstool for easier and safer jar removal.
7. Avoid disturbing your jars
Once you’ve set the glass jars on the counter, avoid moving them for 12 to 24 hours, as this may interrupt the sealing process. Be patient, as the lids may take a long time to seal. A sealed jar usually has a visible indentation of the lid.
Once the jars have successfully sealed, it’s a good practice to remove rings and wipe the tops clean for storage.
8. Store it cool, dry, and dark
Store processed jars in a cool (50 – 70 degrees F), dry and shady place for best results and longest lasting products. In our home, we store jars under the kids’ beds and other indoor locations that won’t freeze.
9. Consider using a magnetic lid lifter
Some jar lids need to be preheated in hot water before using. Check the instructions on your lid packaging to ensure you follow proper instructions, since not all models are the same.
Those models that do require preheating can be tricky to lift out to set on the jars. Tongs will work, but magnetic lid lifters (wands) will make things easier.
10. Label everything you make
Use a permanent marker to label lids with the month, day and year. This helps you keep track of different batches, rotate your stock and identify batches for comparison purposes.
Successful home canning
Success breeds success. By following these tips and recording your own, you will feel encouraged to pursue the art of home canning in future seasons, and make home food preservation part of your family culture.