Your mom canned when you were growing up. Your grandma probably did it when she was growing up. And you want to continue the tradition in your home, but you’re not sure where to start? Good news – it’s easy! And the rewards are well worth the time and effort when you get to open a jar of fresh, local green beans in January rather than the processed stuff from the grocery store.
There are two home canning methods, and the one you use will depend on the type of food you want to preserve. Pressure canning is for saving meats, poultry, veggies, chili, fish, and other low-acid foods. Waterbath canning is best for preserving tomatoes, salsa, jellies, jams, fruits, and other high-acid foods. It’s also the easiest for beginners, so that’s where we’re going to start. This is a step-by-step flow we adapted from Ball’s freshpreserving.com site. Get Ball’s printable instructions with photos here.
Check your jars, lids and bands for proper functioning. Cracks, uneven rims, scratches or sharp edges may prevent sealing or cause your jar to break.
Wash jars, lids and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse well and dry.
Heat the jars and lids in hot water, not boiling (as this will hinder the sealing later), until you’re ready to use them. To do this, you can fill a large saucepan halfway with water then drop in the jars. If you fill the jars with a bit of water, it will keep them from floating. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat. You’ll want to do the same with your lids, but keep the rims at room temp for easy handling.
Prepare your boiling water canner by filling it half full with water and keeping the water at a simmer until ready for use. Be sure your rack is resting inside as well. Don’t feel like you have to go out and buy a water canner, as a pot can do the trick as well. A boiling water canner is simply a large, deep pot that has a lid and a rack. The pot just needs to be big enough to fully surround and immerse the jars in water by 1-2 inches while still allowing the water to boil rapidly with the lid on. If you don’t have a rack designed for home preserving, you can use a cake cooling rack or extra bands to cover the bottom of the pot.
Prepare your recipe, like this canned salsa from our cookbook.
Remove hot jars from the pot in Step 3, emptying the water inside. Fill jars with your prepared recipe from Step 5, leaving headspace recommended in the recipe (1/4 inch for soft spreads like jams and jellies; ½ inch for fruits, pickles, salsa, and tomatoes).
Remove air bubbles if stated in the recipe by sliding a rubber spatula between the jar and food to release trapped air. Repeat around the jar 2-3 times.
Clean the rim and threads of the jars using a clean, damp cloth to remove any food residue. Remove lid from hot water in Step 3. Center the lid on the jar allowing sealing compound to come in contact with the far rim. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.
Place the jars into your pot or canner of simmering water from Step 4. Make sure the water comes up over the capped jars by at least 1-2 inches.
Place the lid on the canner/pot and bring the water to a full rolling boil. Start your processing time.
Process the jars in the boiling water for the time indicated in the recipe, adjusting for altitude. When processing time is complete, turn off the head and remove the lid. Allow your jars to stand in the canner for 5 minutes to get acclimated to the outside temperature.
Remove the jars from the canner/pot and put upright on a towel to prevent jar breakage that might occur from temperature changes. Leave the jars undisturbed for 12-24 hours. Don’t go back to retighten the bands as that could interfere with the sealing process.
Check the lids for seals. If it flexes when pushed in the middle, the seal isn’t there. Remove the bands and try to lift lids off with your fingertips. If you can’t, the lid has a good seal. If the lid doesn’t seal within 24 hours, you can immediate reprocess the jar or refrigerate it.
Label your jars and store in a cool, dry, dark place for up to a year.
Congrats! You just canned!
About the Author
Susan is a Colorado Master Gardener, as designated by Colorado State University. She is the voice behind our Green Thumb Gossip, a weekly blog where she shares her expertise on things like when to plant what, tricks of the trade, and how to make your yard the talk of the town