Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Calling All Canners!

Yes, YOU! I mentioned earlier that I know next to nothing about canning, which is why for the past couple of weeks, I've been googling "how to can" and watching videos on Youtube. I plan on harvesting a few of my Meyer lemons either this weekend or the next and wanted to make/preserve some marmalade.

So here is what I've learned so far (please correct me if I'm wrong!):

- You use the water bath canning method to preserve acid foods like most fruits, jams, jellies, pickles and tomato sauce.
- You use the pressure canning method to preserve low acid foods like veggies and meats. (I don't think I'll mess with this just yet.)

For the water bath canning method:
- Check the jars (including rims) to make sure there are no cracks or nicks.
- Wash the jars and bands in hot soapy water.
- The jars should remain at a fairly hot temperature either by keeping them submerged in hot water or in a hot dishwasher until you're ready to use them.
- Dry the bands and set them aside.
- Fill the canner with water and start to heat it, making sure there is enough water to cover the jars by at least 1 inch.
- Try to coincide the heating of the water so that it is very hot when the filled jars are placed into the canner.
- Simmer the lids for 3 - 5 minutes and keep them hot until you're ready to use them.
- Fill a hot jar with the food, leaving the recommended head space (as a general rule - 1/4 inch for spreads, jellies and pickles and 1/2 inch for fruits and tomatoes.)
- Remove any bubbles by sliding a non-metallic stick down the sides of the jar.
- Wipe the rim and threads of the jar with a clean damp cloth.
- Remove a lid from the hot water and center it onto the top of the jar.
- Screw the bands onto the lids firmly but do not over tighten.
- Place the jar into the canner.
- Repeat with the remaining jars and food.
- Once all of the jars are placed into the canner, add extra boiling water if needed so that the jars are submerged by 1 to 2 inches.
- Cover the canner and bring the water back to a boil.
- Once a rolling boil is achieved, turn the heat down so that the water gently boils for the remainder of the processing time. (Processing time is counted from the time the water reaches back up to a rolling boil.)
- The canner should be covered with the lid for the entire processing time.
- At the end of the processing time, remove the jars from the canner and leave them to cool undisturbed for 8 to 12 hours.
- Check the seals by removing the bands and gently lifting the jars by the lids. The lids should be pulled down leaving a slightly concave surface.
- If you're unsure, push down onto the center of the lid. If the lid springs back then it has not been sealed.
- Store jars in a cool dark place.

Please let me know if there are any additional steps that I'm missing.
I also have a few questions:
1. Do you have to follow a special canning recipe for a specific food (like tomato sauce) or can you use any recipe that you like?
2. As far as processing times go, do you base it on the size of the jar or is it determined by the type of food that you're processing? More specifically, how long should I process marmalade/preserves/jellies for?
3. Obviously you can reuse bands if they are not rusty but can you reuse lids as well?
4. Do you store the jars with the bands screwed on or just the lids?
5. When you're screwing the band onto the jar and lid before it goes into the canner, how firmly should you do so? I'm assuming if you screw it on too tightly, then then the lids won't seal properly?
6. Is there a particular brand of canner or jars that you like?

Answers to these questions and any additional advise would be greatly appreciated!


  1. This is according to MY Granny, other Grannies may have differing ideas.

    1. You can use any recipe you want.
    2. Pickles and conserves- 10 minutes; Jellies and jams, about 5 minutes; Cold-packed preserves will have to be processed longer- 20 minutes. Your marmalade, hot, and put into hot jars, would need to be processed about 5 minutes.
    3. Do NOT reuse lids. NO! NO! No!
    4. It depends. If I need the bands, I will remove them. I usually just leave them on the jars.
    5. I tighten the lid to good and tight, then back it off about 1/2 turn.
    6. I like Ball jars. Also, whatever I find at a good yard sale. A jar is a jar, as long as it is not a jar that something came in from the grocery store. I do not re-use mayo jars for canning anything.

  2. Here is the link to Ball Canning


    The Ball Blue Book of Preserving is a great resource filled with good recipes and tips.

    Happy Canning!

  3. I find sterilizing my jars in the oven before filling to be the easiest method I have found. I just wash them really well, rinse and place them wet in a 200f oven for about 20 minutes. Then you can just leave them in the hot oven until you need to use them.

    Also when you are sterilizing the sealer lids you have to make sure not to over heat them. I heat them until the water just starts to lightly bubble and then just leave them on low until needed.

    I would only use recipes that are specifically safe to can, lots of books out there for recipes. Canning books will also specify processing time for each recipe.

    There also is a few tools that make the task much easier, they usually can be found in a kit. A jar lifter and magnetic lid lifter are the most useful.

  4. Ditto with Dan about oven warming the jars. It's much easier.

    Do not boil the lids. Overheating can cause seal failure.

    Adjust recipes for altitude if you are above sea level.

    Especially with tomato sauce/tomatoes, if water bath canning, use a tested recipe. They can be borderline low acid and tested recipes adjust for that, hence the added lemon juice or vinegar.

    I store my jars with the rings off. If you want to store with the rings on, remove them first and make sure you wash any food residue from under the rings. Your jars can overflow in the canner and still seal properly, but food residue under the ring can make it rust. Rings left on may also disguise a seal failure. That said, it's often easier to keep the rings on if you can a lot or you will end up with stray boxes of rings everywhere.

    Another tip I didn't see covered: if you have hard water, add a TBSP or two to your canning water to keep your jars clear.

  5. I store with the rings off, too. Another thing, you don't need a real "canner" for a bwb. All you need is a good stock pot and something to keep the jars from touching the bottom. I wire tied jar lids together and they fit perfectly on the bottom of my pot. THe jars fit in just wonderfully.

    If you have a glass cook top, your pot needs to have a flat bottom. One of those ridged bottoms will crack it. That's why I need to use the flat stock pot.

  6. Wow, you and your readers have great info and advice. I have never tried canning- probably because I have never grown much in a garden. One day I might try it. I am wondering how long canned food lasts? I imagine it depends on what is being preserved. I'm sure you'll have great photos for us Thomas!

  7. 1. For water bath canning, you should always follow a tested recipe. You want to make sure that it is acidic enough. Pressure canning is something else entirely.

    2. Processing times are usually indicated in the recipe. Jams are usually 10-15 minutes.

    3. You are not supposed to reuse lids, although unofficially, I will tell you that it is possible. But I didn't really say that.

    4. I always remove the bands. Moisture can get under the bands and not only cause the band to rust, but the lid as well. This can cause seal failure and be a real mess.

    5. You screw it on finger tip tight. This means that you put it on tight enough that you don't need to use your whole hand to tighten it. Too tight can cause seal failure.

    6. For water bath canning, any big pot with something keeping the jars off the bottom will work. Pressure canners are again a different thing altogether.

    I would recommend getting the Ball Blue book of canning. Its about 7 bucks at Walmart. You can also get it as part of a kit that has the pot and all the other pieces you need.

  8. WOW! Thank you everyone for the great advice and resources. I feel a lot more confident now. And Dan, I will definitely be putting the oven technique to use.

    I guess I'll go to Borders during lunch and to get a book on canning and canning recipes.

    Again, thank you!

  9. I sterilize jars and bands in my boiling water bath water, then turn off the burner while filling the jars. When all are filled, I throw enough lids into the water (sometimes you won't have enough to fill that last jar, and I don't want to waste a lid) while I wipe off jar rims. I might have to dip out some water, with a 2 qt cup, to put the filled jars back in, but I keep the last scoop of water in case I need to pour some back in. I add a splash of vinegar to the water then too. Jar size plus altitude affects processing time. I remove bands for storage. I use the rounded end of an old "church key" to open jars. Don't reuse lids (but I do have a stash of ones with unbent rims, just in case).

  10. With all the info and advice generated, this may well be one of the best sources of canning info out there !

    Thanks for the post, Thomas ! *click* bookmarked

  11. I am very impressed, great research. I am new at canning, but I was just reading in a magazine (maybe grow? Growing?) that some canning lids could have Bisphenol A (BPA). This can cause health issues such as heart disease, cancer and others. They recommended buying lids without BPA. They also say that the BPA gets into the food when the lid contacts the food. I am planning to find some BPA free lids for next year, but I have not done my research yet.

  12. Hmm I wrote a whole big post that seems to have gotten lost. I suppose I ought to write it again.

    1) It depends. If you are using all high acid fruit (as in jams and jellies) you don't have to. Mix and match and add any other fruit you want. But if you are adding low acid foods, like in salsa or spaghetti sauce you have to follow the recipe exactly. Recipes for canning these have been tested to make sure the acidity is low enough to be safe. If you water bath can and your food inside has a pH of over 4.6 botulism can grow. Tomatoes don't quite make the cut for high acid food. Some of them are and some aren't. It isn't even totally variety specific. If the plant is stressed or diseased it can make a lower acid tomato. The USDA has guidelines for how much lemon juice or vinegar to add to make sure it will be safe. I'm going to try citric acid next year when canning my tomatoes since it doesn't change the flavor as much.

    2) It is based on what is inside it (densities and acidities) and how large the jar is. The USDA has guidelines about what is safe. Someone has them all up on the web:
    That guide will tell you how long for the different things you could can and how big your jar is.

    3) No. At least you aren't supposed to.

    4) No. It is better to leaves them off to keep the bands from rusting.

    5) I do it until the band grabs but no farther. Don't do it tightly or it won't seal.

    6) I like Ball because I can get them close. I get them at the Ace hardware store in Woburn on Winn St just north of the town center. I dislike them in one way. They have raised glass all around the jar so there is no place to put a label on the side. I label the top, but it would be easier to see if it were the side. I recommend getting at least the jars locally since they can break in transit, but if you can't find something the canning pantry has just about anything you might want:

    BTW I do boil my lids. I have a cute little lid holder that keeps them off the bottom so they never overheat. Boiling them is fine. It is leaving them on the bottom of the pan that is bad. Since I got the little gadget all my jars have sealed perfectly. Before it, I would overheat some of them.

  13. Daphne, thanks for the great info! It seems that everyone has their own slight twists on how they can and that there is not just one way to do it. I guess at the end of the day, it's all about food safety - making sure the jars are properly sterilized, the acidity level is where it should be, the appropriate processing time is used, and the lids are properly sealed.

    I can't wait to put all of this great info to use!

  14. 1. Special recipes: most any is o.k however if you change a spaghetti sauce and add say...three times the amount of peppers (low acid) you could change the ph balance of the sauce. So...tweak a bit but no MAJOR changes to a recipe unless you plan on pressure canning---then go for it.

    2. Both...get a couple of books for your permanent library. Like the one Matron recommended (Ball's)

    3 I don't, some do. They're cheap and the biggest problem could be lack of sealing thus wasting (and possibly ruining) the food you spent a lot of time on.

    4. I always take off bands after everything cools and then soak them in clean water to remove any ick. Why? sometimes stuff comes out of the jar even with correct time/temp/volumne and then over time it will crust the ring shut making it VERY difficult to remove. Also they can/do rust. Cleaning and then storing keeps them nice and you will never ever have to replace them..

    5. Tight enough that you begin to feel resistance but not clamped down until it's impossible to screw it down any more. You need to leave a bit of "give" for the air to evacuate from

    6.Jars...only one company makes them unless you go with european style. Canner I aspire to (but don't have) is the all american. No gasket to replace and I can buy one that holds 14 quarts instead of 7.

    By the way...the jellies are safe not only because most fruit is more acidic but because of the high sugar content.This is why in Europe (and our grandmothers) they do not generally water bath jam/jelly. They either wax or put it up hot into hot jars and let it seal on the counter. The sugar keeps it safe.
    Super good luck. You'll do fine.:-D

  15. You may want to check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation website, located here http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/
    They have plenty of good information and recipes about canning, drying, etc and lots of good tested recipes.

  16. Oh Thomas...looks like you got alot of great advice....
    As much as I LOVE to cook.. all the Home Arts...but I have never canned anything for the pantry...

    Sounds like great fun !

    More later,

  17. Thomas, you've got so much good advice about canning that I don't have anything to add. But, I do have a good recipe on my blog for Meyer Lemon Marmalade...

    Keep us posted on your canning project.

  18. You have received such wonderful advice! I too learned from this post. Dan’s post about sterilizing jars in the oven will be very helpful in the future.

    I recently purchased a new pressure canner that I absolutely love. I put a lot of time and effort on researching this purchase and posted my experience here: Investing in a Pressure Canner

    Ball Blue Book of Preserving is my bible of canning. The Ball Freshpreserving.com

  19. Thomas, pick up the Ball Blue Book for canning. It's got lots of recipes... provides canning times... Like GrafixMuse, I refer to it constantly during canning season.

    Your local grocery store or hardware store probably has them next to the canning jars.

    Get one! You'll need it!

    I canned tons of tomato sauce & salsa this year... using the water bath method.

  20. PS... I used my electric roaster for water bath canning my half pints & pints this year!

    Toni in Wyoming.

  21. I hope you'll post your progress on this. I've been trying to learn to can in much the same way and I always feel just a little nervous about it. I wish I lived near someone who could show me! The internet is a second best solution.

  22. What do you do when you do not have enough meat filled jars for a pressure canner? Do you use empty jars to fill space so the jars won't fall over? Or empty jars filled with plain water and sealed with lid and band? please advise. thanks!

  23. Wow, a lot of things have been covered in this post and the comments! Very informative.

    I like Ball jars the best (although Ball bought out Kerr and they are technically the same company now, Ball is still better made in my opinion). The ball lids also are coated which can reduce metallic tastes in your food.

    I use just a regular stock pot for canning and have found that a lot of the "canning" pots do not allow for enough room over the jars for the water and boiling allowance (you not only need room for 1" water but also at least an additional inch for air space to prevent the water boiling over).

    I also use a thermometer to keep track of the temp (it should stay at about 212F during processing) but my parents and grandparents did not use thermometers and none of us died or even got sick from canned foods.

    Two must have tools (besides something to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot - I often use a stainless steel trivet) are the magnetic lid stick and jar lifter.

    I only recently learned that you shouldn't boil the lids. All my other canning sessions have gone just fine - no seal failures.

    I store my jars with bands on, mostly because I like the way that they look and where else am I going to put all those bands?

    I always sterilize my jars before filling and processing. I even do that for jams and jellies. It probably isn't necessary, but I figure anything I can do to eliminate contaminants is worth it. If I am doing back to back batches, I keep the water boiling and use a jar lifter to hold the jar over the boiling water while I ladle boiling water over the jar until it heats up before placing them into the water to sterilize. You want to be sure to avoid sudden temp extremes as the jars will break. Also, be sure to place the finished hot jars on a towel - not directly on your cold countertop.

    Make sure to label your finished product with what it is and the date you processed it.

    Good luck - and you will love the taste of home-canned foods!

  24. There is no point sterilizing the jars if you don't sterilize the lids. If you using a water canner and processing for less than 10 minutes then the jars and lids need to be sterile. Boiling the lids prior to processing for 10 minutes isn't going to damage the sealing compound