Home Canning

Home canning can be intimidating for the inexperienced. It seems like a lot of things can go wrong, with rather dire consequences. In reality, home canning is simple, inspiring, and fun. The best way to learn is to do it yourself, made more enjoyable with the helping and reassuring hand of someone who has experience. Here is some limited and very valuable information that one should remember (and remind themselves of) every time, to ensure safe preservation.

Altitude adjustment for water-bath processing:

From the book ‘Putting Food By’

If the base boiling water bath time is less than 20 minutes for sea level, increase the time in increments of five minutes, thus, if sea level calls for 10 minutes of processing, the following changes take place for altitude.

0-1000 ft = 10 min

1001-6000 ft = 15 min

6001-9000 ft = 20 min

If the base boiling water bath time is more than 20 minutes for sea level, increase in the following increments based on the altitude (based on a 35 minute base time.)

0-1000 ft = 35 min

1001-3000 ft = 40 min

3001-6000 ft = 45 min

6001-9000 ft = 50 min

Always remember:

  • You can’t be too careful about sanitizing and cleanliness.
  • Wipe the jar rims before sealing.
  • Check the seals after processing to be sure they’ve vacuumed.
  • You must use a pressure canner to process low-acid foods (with pH higher than 4.6)

What You Need for Water Bath Canning

  • 2 large pots, one 16 quart, one 10 or larger
  • Clean, sterilized jars with proper lids and rings (also clean and sterilized)
  • 1 set of kitchen tongs or jar tongs
  • A pile of clean rags
  • Canning (wide mouth) funnel
  • Ladle

Basic Process

1. Wash, sanitize, and heat your jars. If you are fortunate enough to have a dishwasher, run the jars in the cycle and leave the door closed to keep them nice and hot and ready for your product. If you do not have a dishwasher, wash the jars, lids and rings in hot soapy water, then submerge them in a pot of water and bring the pot to a boil. Leave on a simmer until your recipe is ready to pot up.

2. Wash your work station. Sanitize with hot water, vinegar, or bleach. Wash all of your tools and sanitize in a pot of boiling water (or dishwasher.)

3. Wash your product, even if you are peeling it for the recipe

4. Prepare your recipe according to a tested method. Do not substitute, change proportions, or divide amounts. Never use raw garlic, and avoid mushrooms.

5. When you have completed the recipe, take it off the heat and quickly prepare your jars, two at a time, with lids and rings out and ready to go. Fill your jars to the proper head space (most recipes include how much room to leave between the surface of the product and the rim of the jar, usually 1/2 to 1/8 inch.)

6. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean rag dipped in boiling water.

7. Fit the jar lids being sure the sealing circle is properly matched with the jar. Tighten the rings just until they catch (never crank them on there, as it will prevent proper water bath processing.)

8. Place the jars carefully in a large pot of water that you have pre-heated. There should be some sort of strainer below the jars so that they do not come in direct contact with the bottom of the pot, and can have even water flow around them during processing. Make sure the water reaches at least one inch above the top of the tallest jar. When the water comes to a boil, begin timing the minutes according to the recipe.

9. When the jars finish processing, lift them out with jar tongs (or a corn picker-upper) and set them on a cloth on the countertop to cool. As they cool, the tops should pop down. If one does not pop, simply keep it in the refrigerator. Label and date the jars, then stack them up in the pantry. Once you break the seal, be sure to keep the product in the refrigerator.

Safety Precautions

Once you have canned properly, it is simple to enjoy many recipes and preserve a lot of wonderful food safely. If you ever have any doubt about the state of your jars, do not hesitate to throw the product away (keeping the jars for future use of course.) Questionable jams, jellies, pickles, and sauces would include:

  • Cloudy or murky liquid
  • Mold
  • Popped sealing lid
  • Foaming or leaking out of the top of a sealed jar
  • A terrible smell

The growth of the botulism bacteria is the scariest outcome for improperly canned foods. While relatively infrequent nowadays, it is important to realize that botulism is impossible to detect simply by looking at or smelling a jar of food. That’s why anything that you may have even the slightest doubt about should be discarded without tasting. The smallest amount of the bacteria is dangerous.

Almost all recipes for the water bath canner require some sort of acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice, to be added to foods. A high proportion of acid prevents the growth of any sort of bacteria, including those that produce botulism. It is always a good idea to add some lemon juice to jam or jelly recipes that do not have added acid, just in case (you can’t taste it.)

Symptoms of botulism include blurry vision and slurred speech, difficulty holding up the head, facial weakness, and difficulty breathing. Immediate medical attention and administering of the antitoxin is necessary.

Scrupulous cleanliness and proper processing should allay any fears you may have about home canning. It is a delicious, economical, and satisfying way to preserve the harvest and enjoy fresh foods all winter long.


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