Canning 101: Water bath canning

Water bath canning is sometimes referred to as boiling water canning. This is a very simple method of canning that allows you to eliminate harmful bacteria by submerging foods in a pot of boiling water.

Water bath canning is used to preserve high acid foods, such as tomatoes, fruits, and pickles. The bacteria in these foods can be killed at 212°F, or the boiling point of water.

While you can purchase a water bath canner, which is a large graniteware pot, you can also use a large stockpot with a lid, as long as it’s deep enough to leave 2”-3” of water over the top of the jars. The canner or pot needs to be fitted with a rack (available to purchase at many hardware and discount stores) to keep the jars from touching the pan directly.

Select a recipe from a trusted source, such as the Ball Canning Book or Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving. When selecting your recipe, try to select one that features seasonal produce. You should always can with fresh produce that’s free of blemishes, as it harbors less bacteria than older, damaged produce.

When selecting your recipe, read through the directions and make sure it states that it is for boiling water or water bath canning, not pressure canning. Pressure canning is a different method that is not interchangeable with water bath canning.

Before preparing your recipe, you should inspect and clean your jars. Look them over and if you see any nicks, scratches, or chips, don’t use them. Wash them in warm, soapy water. If there is a whitish film on the jars, soak in a mixture of 1 part vinegar and 10 parts water, then wash. You can also wash with hot water in the dishwasher.

You should ALWAYS use new lids each time you can. You may reuse rings, but the sealing compound adhered to the lids is only safe for one use. Wash each with warm soapy water and place the lids in a pot of simmering water (180°F) until ready to use.

Jars must also be heated before filling. If you’ve washed them in the dishwasher, leave the door closed and the steam will keep them heated until you’re ready to use them. If you have washed by hand, they will need to be placed in a pot of simmering water for no less than 10 minutes before use. The food must be packed into hot jars, so do not allow them to cool before using.

Prepare the recipe as directed, making NO substitutions or variations. Each recipe is fully tested for safety and deviation may cause spoilage.

When the jars are filled, wipe the rims with a clean cloth. Place the lids and rings on filled jars and tighten the rings. Use a jar lifter to place the jars into the canner, place the lid on top, and process for the amount of time specified in the recipe. When they are done, remove from water and place on a towel.   Allow to cool for 8-12 hours and check to make sure the lid has sealed. Simply press on the center of each lid and if it doesn’t give, it’s sealed. If it has some give to it and makes a slight popping sound, reprocess. You can only reprocess within 24 hours of the initial processing. Once your jars have cooled, store in a cool, dry place.

Water bath canning is a very simple and inexpensive way to get started canning. By learning the proper process, you can enjoy fresh produce all year long without worry.