I keep referring to “the Canning Thing” in posts, and I don’t think I am going to stop – so I guess I need to write up a little tutorial on the process. Which is kind of silly, I know. Everyone and their chihuahua have posted a “how to” on canning. But if the fact that the internet needed something like I need another hole in my head was gonna stop me – do you think I would have started a food blog? HA!

So here goes. I am putting in links to Amazon so you can see the stuff – but there are way better and cheaper places to buy things. Amazon is just less likely to change up their pages and make my links dead-dead-deadski.

Hardware for Canning:

  • Big ole pot for Boiling Water Bath (BOP)
  • Some sort of rack to keep the jars off of the bottom of BOP –  one usually comes with the BOP – some books say to tie a bunch of the jar rings together to makeshift a rack but I did that and it was a giant pain in the tuckus and I do not recommend wasting rings that way.
  • Canning funnel*
  • Jar Lifter*
  • Magnetic Lid Lifter*
  • Tongs* all of these items I have marked with a * you can usually get in a  “canning kit” they are very inexpensive and infinitely useful.  The kits also tend to include a “jar wrench” which I find completely useless – but hey you might need to prop open a window or something.
  • Canning jars with two piece lids. – This is where you will end up spending the big bucks. Once you have jars then you want more jars. And then you want cooler jars and you find yourself trying to decipher German websites and contemplating international shipping on Weck.

Everything else you probably already have in your kitchen: big ladle, small saute or sauce pan, non-metallic straight thing to remove air pockets (also known as a chopstick), and  when you are first starting out a plastic ruler can be handy.

The Method:

Here is how I do things. Everything I have learned is based on books and the National Center for Home Preservation. You could probably go there right now and get much better instructions on how to do this stuff. But hey – since you are already here I might as well write it down.

First thing, fill up your BOP and put it on the stove to start coming up to a boil – it will take approximately forever.

Then wash all of the jars, lids and rings you will need for your recipe in hot soapy water. Then wash a couple more just in case. Rinse well and check the rims and body of the jars for cracks and dings – cracks and dings are bad. Also make sure all of your other tools are nice and clean. Then clean them again just to make sure.

Set up for Success:
I place a clean dishtowel on the counter beside the stove eye upon which I will be cooking my preserve and this is where I line up my implements of destruction.

Rings go on the towel and jars go directly into the BOP. I use the tongs that come with the canning kit to gently lower them into the water and line them up in the rack. Lid goes back on and the BOP resumes its never-ending march towards boiling.

I place a small saute pan on the eye behind where I will be cooking the preserves and I fill it with water – this is where the lids wait and warm up. Turn the heat on here but be careful not to really boil the lids. They need to be hot but not boiled.

Next to the towel I place a medium sized plate. Upon this plate I put my funnel, ladle, chopstick and a regular old spoon for any of my regular spoon needs. Also within arms reach is a roll of paper towels and a pot holder or two.

Cook it up!
From this point you pretty much follow whatever recipe you are using – I am afraid I cannot generalize enough to make anything useful. So lets assume you have reached the part of the program where you are ready to put the preserves into the jars.

If your BOP actually reaches the point of boiling before you are ready to put your preserves in your jar – reduce the heat to it and hold it at a simmer. You don’t need to be boiling your jars willy nilly unless your recipe calls for it. As long as you are processing your preserves for a minimum of 10 minutes, you do not need to “sterilize” your equipment. The processing time will do that for you. Now – if you live below 1K feet there is a possibility that you have processing times for some things below 10 minutes – if so then ignore what I said and consult the USDA.

Now back to your regularly scheduled process.

Finishing the Deed:
Using the rack, lift your jars out of the BOP and rest the rack so it is suspended on the rim – it is a cool feature of the rack. Remove the hot jars from the rack and dump the water into the BOP. Place the jars on your kitchen towel. Place the funnel in a jar and then fill it up to the stated head-space. Do this for each jar until you run out of stuff.

Take your chopstick and run it around the edge of the stuff in the jar to make sure that you don’t have any air pockets – I poke the middle for good measure if I have a really chunky filling. Check your head-space and fix it with your regular old spoon if it went wonky.

Using a paper towel, wipe the rim and threads of the jar clean. Lift the lid from the hot water with the magnetic lifter and place it on the jar. Add ring and tighten to “finger tight”. What this means is don’t crank down on the lid. You don’t want it loose, nor do you want it super tight. The boiling water bath forces air out of the jar and there needs to be some way for the air to escape. If you tighten the ring too much then that will not happen. So medium tight is the way to go.

With the jar lifter, transfer filled jars to the rack in the BOP and then lower the whole schebang into the water. Make sure your jars are covered with at least 1 inch of water. If you need to add water, make sure it is hot water and don’t pour it directly on one of the jars. Put your lid on your BOP and crank up the heat.

Start your processing timing from when  you have reached a full rolling boil. Once the processing time is up, take off the lid, shut off the heat and allow the jars to sit in the water for an additional 5 minutes. During the boiling time I usually move my now dirty kitchen towel over to the side of the stove with the boiling water bath.

Almost Finished:
Using the jar lifters, remove the jars from the water and place them on the kitchen towel. Do not mess with them for a minimum of 12 hours. Now, why the additional 5 minutes you may ask?

Apparently if you remove the jars from the water as soon as they are “done” you can have problems with the equalization of pressure in the jars. The preserves that you very much want to keep in the jars can seep out of the jars and make the outside all sticky and stuff. The additional 5 minutes allows the pressure to even out enough so that you shouldn’t have that problem.

If you have done everything right then the jars will “pop” which is the sound the forming vacuum makes when it pulls the lid down into place. Don’t poke the lids to see if they are sucked down because you could make them pop down before they are ready and you will have a false positive seal. Check everything after the 12 hour waiting period.

YAY pretty pretty preserves:
You should be able to remove the rings and pick the jars up only by the sucked on lids. Keep your non-lifting hand just beneath the jar so that if the seal fails you don’t get a marmalade bomb all over your counter or floor.

I have only had one seal failure so far (knock on wood) and I simply reprocessed it with a new lid and ring. Check with the USDA and make your own call on how to deal with unsealed jars. You might have to eat it right away. A hardship, I know, but someone has to sacrifice themselves.

Are you still reading?
Man that was long. I am sorry. If by some small chance I missed anything, please feel free to ask as many questions as you like. If you totally disagree with something I said – please let me know. I am still learning and hope to improve for years to come.

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3 Responses to “The Canning Thing”

  1. Jane Says:

    Great instructions! (Wish I’d read them before, instead of after, my first batch of jam. It turned out alright, though. Six jars processed, just two seal failures. I spooned the jam into freezer containers, so now I have strawberry freezer jam too.)

    1. robbingpeter Says:

      I am glad that they worked for you, but sorry about your seal fails. I find that making sure the edges are clean and watching your headspace are the two biggest issues with not achieving seals. Enjoy your jam!

      1. Jane Says:

        I suspect it was the edges. I forgot to wipe them off a couple of times. Very meticulous, though, about the headspace, using my new Ball “Bubble Remover & Headspace Tool” – lol. (I love gadgets.)

        I’ve started a batch of peach butter. (I’m blogging about it.) I’ll be more careful this time!

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