How to Can Food in a Boiling Water Bath
Water bath canning is a great way to start for beginners. There is no scary equipment, the start-up cost is minimal, and there is less margin for error.
Water bath canning is a safe method for preserving high-acid foods. You should NOT water bath can low acid foods like vegetables or meat. (It doesn’t matter if your Grandma Matilda did it and live to the ripe old age of 99 and a half. We know now that the risk of botulism in much higher when low acid foods are preserved, and it’s not worth the risk of paralysis or death. Low acid foods must be pressure canned.)
Some examples of foods that may be canned in a water bath are:
Jams and Jellies
Here’s what you need for water bath canning (you can find specific products HERE):
- A big canning pot
- A canning rack (If you don’t have a rack you can use a folded towel in the bottom of the pot)
- Jar lifter
- Canning jar funnel
Then of course you also need:
- Flats (also called snap lids)
Easy Step-by-Step Guide to Water Bath Canning
Okay….your product is on the stove, bubbling merrily away……
Sanitize your jars, lids and rings. If you have a dishwasher, you can wash them in the dishwasher – the heat from it is enough to sterilize everything. Otherwise, you need to boil the items for at least 10 minutes, lifting them carefully in and out with the jar lifter. Leave the items in the dishwasher or the hot water until ready to use. Another option is to add 10 minutes to your processing time in the water bath but this can affect the quality of your product. I’m notoriously lazy and use the dishwasher when I have one. Click HERE for more information on prepping your jars.
Prepare your canner. Place your rack in the bottom of your canner and fill your canner with water, leaving about 3-5 inches at the top to allow for room for your filled jars. If you don’t have a rack, you can line the bottom with a folded towel. Bring your water to a boil. Because it takes forever and a day to bring that much water to a boil, I generally start it while I am prepping my food.
Fill your jars. Line up your jars on a heat proof surface near the stove. You can place a towel on the counter to protect it from the hot, filled jars. Using the funnel, ladle the prepared product into the jars, leaving the headspace recommended in your recipe.
Put on your lids. With a dry clean dishtowel, carefully wipe the lip of the filled jars, removing any residue. You can dampen the dishtowel with vinegar to remove anything sticky or greasy. Place the flats on each jar, then finger tighten the rings – you don’t have to really torque on them – the job of the rings it to hold the flats in place until they seal.
Place your jars in the canner. With your handy-dandy jar lifter, place the closed jars carefully into the canner. Put them in gently because, as you know, boiling water hurts when it splashes on you. Be careful not to let the jars touch because they could break when they bump together in the boiling water. Make sure the lids are all completely submerged under the water. They don’t have to be under by inches – just covered.
Process the jars. Put the lid back on and return the canner back to a rolling boil. Don’t start clocking your processing time until the water is at a full boil. Then just leave the jars in the water bath for the amount of time required in your recipe. If you want to sound productive you can refer to this as “processing your jars”.
Remove the jars from the canner. Using your jar lifter, carefully remove the jars from the boiling water. Tip the jars to the side to allow the hot water to drip off the top. Then place the jar on your towel or heat-proof surface.
Now, leave ’em alone! Allow 12-24 hours for the jars to cool and seal. You will hear a musical “pop” “plink” “ping” noise as the jars seal in the cool air – that is the lid getting sucked down and forming a seal to the lip of the jar.
When you are ready to store the jars, you can remove the rings. This keeps your rings from rusting because of moisture trapped between the metal ring and the jar. Test the seal by pushing down with your finger. If it pops back and forth it is not sealed. Put it in the refrigerator and use the unsealed product in the next few weeks. Store your sealed little gems in a cool, dark place. (It’s okay to peek in and admire them from time to time.)