Canning 101: It’s as Easy as Boiling Water…Yes, Really!

August 13, 2014

Canning 101: It’s as Easy as Boiling Water…Yes, Really!

Grandma’s tradition of “putting up” preserves has come back into vogue among trendy hipsters and farm-to-table fans for many good reasons: It’s a super way to enjoy summer’s goodness all year long, a seriously fun kitchen project, results in a fab hostess gift, and it’s as easy as boiling water.

The Basics

In a nutshell, canning is stopping (or slowing) natural spoilage by removing air from filled, covered jars by exposing the jars to heat. The best entry point for canning is with “acidic foods” like tomato sauce, salsas, chutneys, jams, pie fillings, and pickles. They’re less likely to spoil in the first place — their high pH helps keep bacteria at bay.

We’re covering the most popular and basic method here: water bath canning. It’s perfect for commonly canned and safer “acidic” foods, is the easiest to master, and requires minimal gear to get started. (Lower pH foods like meats and fish require more TLC when canning and a full pressure canning system.)

Gearing Up

First, choose something to can. Find inspiration online or in cookbooks, but be sure to use canning specific recipes for the best results. The National Center for Home Food Preservation and USDA websites both have tested and approved canning recipes and tons of food safety info, too.

Next, make sure you have plenty of Mason jars, rings, and lids. Have them clean and ready to use.

You’ll also need a large enough pot to cover the jars with at least an inch of water when boiling. A canning rack (used to immerse jars and pull them out) is inexpensive and extremely helpful but not necessary. Sturdy tongs and a hot mitt work too.

Now you’re ready to get canning!

1) Fill the pot with enough water to cover the jars by one inch of water and heat to a simmer.

2) Keep the jars warm (either in the dishwasher or another pot of water) to avoid breakage when filling.

3) Fill the jars with your prepared dish up to only one inch from the top. It’s important to leave that space for heat expansion during canning.

4 Slide a small plastic spatula around the inside of the jar and press to make sure there are no air bubbles and food is packed in tightly.

5) Wipe food from the rim of the jar. Place a new lid on the jar and twist the band until it’s just barely on. The band shouldn’t be completely tight — air needs to be able to escape.

6) Place the filled, lidded jars into the simmering water using your canning rack or tongs. Cover the pot and heat to a steady boil for the amount of time specified in the recipe.

7) Turn off the heat and let the jars stand for five minutes. Remove them from the water and cool upright on a wire rack or dishtowels for 12 hours. Don’t mess with the lids and bands during this time so you don’t interfere with the sealing process! You’ll hear satisfying “pops” as they seal.

8) Test your seal. Press down on the center of the lid –if it’s sealed properly it won’t flex up or down. If the lid flexes you can either refrigerate the food for immediate use or remove it from the jar and add it to another batch for canning.

That’s it! Pretty darn easy, right? Sealed jars last for up to one year and can be stored without bands if you like. Undo the bands and dry underneath if you’ll be leaving them on.

Once you’ve mastered water bath canning, you can consider investing in a pressure canning system for non-acidic foods. Find all your canning supplies online or at a Bed Bath & Beyond near you.

What’s your favorite type of home canned treat? Mine are Dilly Beans — perfect for these Spicy Bloody Marys!

Julie Hartigan

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