Learning how to preserve foods is one of the most satisfying gifts you can give yourself. To me, there’s nothing quite like popping the lid off a quart of homegrown tomatoes in the dead of winter, and catching a whiff of summer all over again. Even if you are a novice, you can easily learn how to make jams, jellies, applesauce, tomatoes, and fruit butters. Let’s start with a basic overview of the two ways that foods are canned – the boiling water bath and pressure canning. The method you will use is directly related to the type of food you will be canning.
Boiling Water Bath
This method is considered safe for high acid foods such as fruits, pickles, tomatoes, jams and jellies, and preserves. (Tomatoes do need a bit of lemon juice added to them to fall into the high acid group). Food is packed into canning jars, lids are added, and the jar is placed in a water bath canner, which is basically a large pot with a lid. A wire rack fits inside the canner, and the jars are placed into the rack. This keeps them from knocking into each other, which can cause breakage. Your canner should be deep enough to be hold enough water to completely submerge your jars and keep an inch or two of water over them. For proper heating, your canner should not extend farther than 4 inches off of your stove’s burner. If you have inherited an old two-burner canner, they are no longer recommended for safe use since the middle portion does not heat properly.
This method is necessary for canning low-acid foods such as vegetables, dairy products, poultry, meats, and fish. You will need a special type of pressure canner meant especially this purpose. It’s very important that these foods be pressure canned since bacteria present in low acid foods can form spores which are capable of surviving the hot water bath process. If these spores are not killed completely, your food can become a haven for botulism.
- Water bath canner
- Pressure canner
- Canning jars – Bell and Mason are the leading brands, and very reliable. Be very sure that there are no nicks, chips or cracks in your jars before use. Run your finger around the rim to be sure there are no rough or chipped spots that might keep the lid from forming a tight seal. Pints and quarts are the most popular sizes. Jelly jars are also available, and many are beautifully crafted for gift giving. Jars may be used over and over again, as long as they are not chipped or cracked. I have some jars that are actually older than me, and still in service.
- Jar Lids – Choose widemouth or regular, depending on your jar style. These are flat metal lids with a rubber edging. They are only used once.
- Jar rings – Again, choose widemouth or regular. These are bands that screw on over your jar lid, and have threads that follow the threading in your jars. You can use these over and over again, until they become rusty or damaged. (Pickles will often corrode rings.)
- Jar lifter – You will need this to pull the hot jars out of the canning pots. It is specially shaped in a curve to grip the jar without damaging it.
- Wide Mouth Funnels – Very handy for filling up your jars.
- Dishcloths – save aside some of your older dishcloths for canning. You will need to wipe off the rims of the jars, as well as having a folded-over cloth handy to set the hot jars on to cool. Plan on them getting messy and stained, it’s part of the fun.
- Slim, long, rubber spatula – Necessary for releasing air bubbles from jars full of food before canning.
- Timer – you will be processing foods for exact time periods, and relying on memory is not good enough.
- Hot pads and potholders – I find mitten type potholders handy for dealing with the wire rack in my hot water bath canner.
- Lid wand – a handy magnetized gadget that will fish a hot jar lid out of a pan of simmering water. You will find this a real sanity saver.
- Ladles and large stirring spoons for cooking and dishing up your foods.
- Pectin, kosher salt, lemon juice – Many recipes will require these common canning ingredients.