To some people, canning your own food probably seems like a lot of effort when you could just go to the store and buy canned goods. But, to the farmer or homesteader, water bath canning is an easy way of preserving the harvest, so none of your hard work goes to waste. It’s kind of like the gateway drug of home preserving! When you start canning your own homegrown produce, you won’t want to go back to store-bought canned goods. Home canned foods just taste so much better!
Water bath canning (also called boiling water canning) is a straightforward process, so it’s the perfect way for first-time canners to learn how to can. You don’t have to spend a lot of money buying a canner… even a large stockpot with a lid will do the trick. And, once your foods have been properly canned, they can be stored right on the shelf in your pantry for a year or more. Best of all, by canning your own home-grown foods, you know exactly what’s going into each and every jar.
Foods That Can Be Water Bath Canned
High-acid foods can be safely canned with the water bath canning method. This includes fruits and jams, jellies, preserves, sauces, and pie fillings that are made from fruit. Pickles can also be water bath canned because the vinegar used in pickling raises the acidity level. If you add bottled lemon juice or citric acid, you can also water bath can your tomatoes.
Water Bath Canning Supplies
- Water Bath Canner or large stock pot
- Canning jars, lids, and rings
- Canning funnel
- Jar lifter
- Canning rack or basket
- Food to be canned- only can high-quality, fresh produce
Step by Step Water Bath Canning
These are the basic steps of water bath canning; however, you will need to check the National Center for Home Food Preservation guidelines, or a trusted recipe to find the proper processing time for each type of food. The Ball Blue Book is an excellent resource for safe canning recipes and processing times, and I always have a copy nearby whenever I’m doing any type of putting up.
- Start by filling your canning pot about a third of the way full of water. Put the pot on your stove and heat it until it’s hot, but not boiling.
- While your water is heating, wash your jars either by hand or in the dishwasher. The jars should be kept hot until your ready to fill them. If you wash the jars in a dishwasher, simply leave them right in the dishwasher until you’re ready to fill them. The steam will keep them hot, and you can remove just a couple of jars at a time, as your ready to fill them. I don’t have a dishwasher, so I place my jars in a large pan filled with a few inches of hot water after I wash them. Then, I bring the water to a boil and turn off the heat. The jars stay right in the hot water until I’m ready to fill them.
- The lids need to be warned in hot water, but you don’t have to boil them.
- Now, prepare your food for canning as specified in the recipe. Pack the food into your jars according to the directions, being sure to leave the specified amount of headspace.
- As each jar is filled, run a non-metallic instrument, such a rubber spatula or plastic headspace tool, around the inside of the jar to remove any air bubbles.
- Now, wipe down the rim of your jar with a damp paper towel or kitchen towel, being careful to remove any food that could prevent the jar from sealing.
- Put your rings and lids on the jars and tighten them until snug, but not over tight.
- Carefully place the jars on the rack in your canner using your jar lifter tongs. It’s important that the jars do not touch the bottom of the canner, or each other. If you don’t have a rack or basket for the pot you are using, a tea towel can be placed on the bottom of the pot in a pinch.
- Once all of your jars are in the pot, ensure that water can flow freely around every jar and that each jar is covered by at least two inches of water. Add more hot water if needed.
- Cover the pot with its lid and bring the water to a full boil. Do not start your timer until the water is at a full boil.
- Set your timer according to the recipe instructions, making adjustments for your altitude if needed. Keep an eye on the canner as your food processes to make sure that the water stays at a gentle, but complete boil. Sometimes, you may also need to add boiling water to keep the water at the correct level. If the water falls below boiling at any time during processing, simply bring it back up to a boil and start the timer over again.
- At the end of the processing time, turn off the water and give the pot a few minutes to cool. Then, raise the jars up out of the water if you have a canning basket. Once, the jars have cooled a bit, use your jar lifter tongs to move the jars out of the canner and onto a kitchen towel on your countertop. Keep the jars level as you remove them, being careful not to tip them as you take them out of the canner.
- Allow the jars to cool completely with at least one inch of space between each jar to allow the air to circulate. It will usually take between 12 to 24 hours for them to cool.
- Before storing your jars, be sure to remove the rings and test the seals. Any jars that didn’t seal can be put in the refrigerator and used immediately. Wash the jars and lids to remove any food residue.
- Finally, label the jars with the name of the food that’s in the jar and the date it was processed. Store the jars away from direct light in a dry, cool place.
That’s all there is to it! Water bath canning isn’t rocket science, and it’s a great place to start if you’ve never done any home canning before. Once you have a few batches under your belt, you’ll wonder why didn’t start water canning a long time ago!