Canning 101: Water Bath Basics
I know in some circles canning your own food is horribly old-fashioned to which I say, call me old-fashioned because I kind of love it. Many of you have expressed interest in learning more about canning (and many of you know quite a bit already!) so today begins a little series on the basics of water bath canning.
Canning may seem intimidating – I get it! I used to feel that way until I actually started water bath canning and realized how easy it is. Often people think they have to can 146 jars of jam in order to justify pulling out the canning equipment. While that is awfully ambitious and wonderful, there are many, many times that I use my water bath canning to process a simple 3-4 jars of strawberry jam or whatever it is. It doesn’t have to be a day long, epic adventure every time. It’s easy. I promise!
To start, there are two main types of home canning: Water Bath and Pressure.
Water Bath canning is the most approachable type of canning (and is a bit more affordable to get started with) and is for high acidity foods like tomatoes, pickles. Jams, jellies, salsa, applesauce and peaches are also ok for water bath canning.
Pressure canning is for those foods that are low in acidity and that need higher temperatures to be food safe. Think: green beans, meats, other vegetables, fish, etc. Pressure canning basically takes the jars/food to a higher temperature (240 degrees instead of 212 degrees) and requires a special pressure canner to do the job.
We’ll talk about pressure canning next month but today, let’s quickly cover the equipment needed for water bath canning.
I have a trusty resource that I use for almost all my canning questions: The Almighty Awesome Ball Blue Book of Canning (not the official title but I like to call it that). I always peek in here before figuring out how and what to can as a first step and then usually tweak or use my own recipes along the way. I think they’ve since updated the cover since I bought mine years ago but it’s the same info.
Here’s the rundown on basic equipment needed (not a whole lot of stuff!):
First, you need to get yourself some jars. The size and style will depend on what you are canning. I’m pretty boring and even put my jellies/jams in pint-size jars instead of the cute, quilted glass jars.
You can see from the picture below that jars come in either wide-mouth or regular, which refers to the size of the opening. I far prefer wide-mouth jars for the ease of filling, but in the end, a jar is a jar. Jars can be reused time and time again unless they have developed cracks or chips.
Rings and lids are necessary for canning, too. The rings can be reused over again and I recommend taking the rings off your sealed and canned jars once you put the jars on the shelf – it helps the rings not get rusty and nasty but the jars will still stay sealed after the ring is removed (don’t detach the lid).
Lids, on the other hand, should only be used once in order to make sure the jars seal correctly every time. The little POP! you hear as the jars seal is like music to my ears. That’s the lid in action. Make sure to buy the same size lid as your jar (wide-mouth jars = wide-mouth lids).
These basic little canning sets are very common and are worth their weight in gold.
The large funnel is perfect for filling jars to eliminate sticky spills down the side of the jar.
The grabber-tong thingies help to get the jars out of the boiling water (sorry, I’d rather not use my hands) and the little stick with a magnet, while totally frivolous, is actually quite handy to nab the lids that sit in really hot water before topping the jars.
Now, the pot. Pretty essential, I’d say. The style of pot you see here is very common and can be found at most stores that sell canning jars and supplies. They are inexpensive and come with a rack that can fit about 7 quart-size jars and about that many, if not a few more, pint-size jars.
I can’t talk about canning without mentioning my Camp Chef stove. I don’t can indoors. I always, always use my Camp Chef that we got a hundred years ago outside for canning.
It’s so much easier (and keeps my house cooler) to do the processing outside. Plus, you can get two water bath pots going at the same time and have a party.
Didn’t you know canning with friends is much more fun? It is. You can certainly can inside if your stovetop is canning-approved (some glass/ceramic tops are not) but it’s also very convenient to do the processing outside if you can.
While not a part of the basics of water bath canning, I do have to give a shout out to something that revolutionized how I can jams/jellies. I was spending a fortune at the store buying low-sugar jam (it’s virtually impossible to find jam where the first ingredient is fruit and not sugar or HFCS) and hated the taste of home-canned high-sugar jam (tasted all sugar and no fruit).
Enter Pomona’s Pectin. I don’t even remember how I discovered this gem but I’ve been using it for years and won’t can jam or jelly without it. In a nutshell, Pomona’s is a sugar- and preservative-free citrus pectin that does not require sugar to jell. As a result, jams and jellies can be made with less, little, or no sugar at all and also require much less cooking time than traditional recipes – this means the resulting jams and jellies are healthier and taste more like fruit than sugar. Honestly, I can’t say enough about this stuff. It’s amazing. You have to search around for the best deals online but most recently, I found it on sale at Vitacost. One box can make many batches of jam.
Ok, so that’s the basics of what you need to start water bath canning. Very soon I’ll be sharing a step-by-step for how I can applesauce, peaches and jam. And next month, we’ll start in on pressure canning.