The Basics of Home Canning

Let me tell you, home canning takes a lot of work. However, the rewards that come with it make all the work well worth the effort. For me, I like to experiment with unusual recipes. When I started canning it was not entirely for the standard jams and jellies you can find just about anywhere. When I discovered recipes that incorporated hot and spicy elements I figured I had found the right niche to work with. I was not disappointed.

But before I started to do any home canning I had to decide what canning method to use. There’s just two common ways to preserve foods – pressure canning or water bath canning. I chose the latter as I’ve had experience with both but found a hot water bath far easier for the canning recipes I had chosen. Besides, the recipes I chose were not the kind that required a pressure canner.

Water Bath Canning In a Nutshell

In a word, for me, canning with a boiling water bath is easy. Even if I didn’t have an actual canner I could use a large stock pot with a rack on the bottom to place jars. The only specialized equipment I would need is jars, lids and screw tops. The science involved is all about boiling water and the length of time the water is boiling.

Also, acidic foods, which I preserve, are safe to process in a bath of boiling water. This includes fruit, pickles, sugar preserves and tomato-based salsas because the acid content of these items – along with the heat produced by the boiling water bath – preserves the contents safely.

Here is my home canning routine. I have my canner filled with boiling water to first sterilize my jars. In a different pot I have the jam, jelly or salsa cooking. In yet another pot of boiling water I have the sealing lids. I remove a sterilized jar from the pot, fill it with hot contents leaving some head space, and then put a sterilized sealer lid on top. I add a screw top (only finger tight). I then completely immerse the warm, filled jar in the hot water bath for processing. Once time is reached (time varies with recipes and elevation) I removed the processed jar and put it on a countertop to cool.

Pressure Canning In a Nutshell

Quite honestly, I can’t bring myself to use a pressure canner. I’m sure I’m not the only person with a childhood canning story that starts with the sentence, “One day when my mom was using a pressure cooker…” and recounts an incident where there was an explosion of some kind. My story on that subject ends with the sentence, “… and it covered the ceiling.” Stories involving pressure canners in home canning accidents spooked me away from even considering that as a canning option. The thing to note here is that is my experience.

Canning under pressure is the only way to preserve many items – usually non-acidic foods. The reason for this is that the heat created by the steam in the pressure canner will be much higher in temperature than boiling water and that safely processes these foods. Typically vegetables canned in water or a salt water mixture and animal products (fish, for example) should be pressure canned.

Why Home Canning Requires Heat

When canning is done correctly, there is nothing to worry about. When it isn’t a lot of bad things can happen. For me, the worse thing I’ve encountered is jams or jellies that didn’t set properly. As far as I’m concerned, those batches are failures. The more serious consequences from improper canning are the potential of bacteria growth, particularly botulism.

Boiling water kills botulism bacteria but spores can tolerate that heat. There are two ways to eliminate them in canning. By using temperatures higher than boiling water (as in pressure canning) or by creating a high pH level with sweet preserves or pickled foods with a high vinegar content (as can be processed with water bath canning).

The Only Sound I Want to Hear

I find it quite satisfying to complete a mini batch or several batches of product for sale and am careful to follow the directions carefully with each recipe. The only variations I will make are to maybe change one ingredient to another similar one. I never change anything related to processing as no two recipes I use are the same. What works for my Hellish Relish may not work for my Vegetable Salsa so I am a stickler for not messing around with the details. There really is no shortcut to safely canning products at home.

Home canning is fun and a great way to preserve your harvest or favorite recipes to share in the off-season. I buy the majority of my produce ingredients fresh and use many that are locally-grown in the region where we live. In a way it allows me to celebrate the great growers and the crops they produce for us. It’s also turned into a profitable hobby for me. I love the sound of freshly processed jars of product popping in my kitchen telling me they have properly sealed. In fact, nothing says home canning to me more than the sound of a popping jar late at night.