Preserving the Harvest
For an online copy of this handout and others, go to TheRedneckHippie.com and click on the “Tutorials” tab.
There are two canning processes - which type of process to use and why:
- Water-bath canning
= to preserve very acidic foods (at least 4.6pH) - heating sealed jars of
food in boiling water for a specified time. Kills all bacteria and toxins
except botulinum spores, so only food that is 4.6pH or more acidic should
be preserved this way (that level of acidity keeps those spores
- Pressure canning
= to preserve foods more alkaline than 4.6pH - heating sealed jars of food
under pressure which raises temperatures above 212 degrees, so kills even
the botulinum toxin spores.
processes are exactly the same in their methods until you do the actual
Basic equipment for water bath canning
- Ball Blue Book.
- Large pot with lid and rack, large enough to hold jars along with enough water to cover them
well. A pasta pot with colander insert works well for small batches,
or soup pot with vegetable steamer in the bottom.
- Canning jars - Only use jars made and sold for canning.
- Rings and NEW lids - Rings can be re-used, but lids
cannot (unless they are Tattler re-usables).
- Cooking pot - Anything big enough to prepare the food
you are going to put in the jars.
- Clean kitchen towels and hot pads, spoons, measuring
cups, butter knife for “bubbling” jars (working air bubbles out of filled
- Tongs for removing jars, rings, and lids from hot water
- Special canning tongs are recommended for this, but you can use anything
that will allow you to safely and firmly grasp and lift hot jars and lids
from boiling water.
- Stove or other heat source capable of boiling water.
Glass-top stoves are not recommended.
- Labeling supplies
- And, of course, food to be canned
Extra equipment that is recommended but not essential
- Canning tool kit: Magnetic lid “lifter”, canning jar
funnel, canning jar tongs
- Food mill, food processor, tomato mill, etc.
- Water-bath canner with rack
How to water-bath can high-acid foods, step by step:
- Bring lids, rings, and jars just to a simmer in your canning
pot, then turn off heat. To avoid lime deposits on jars, add a cup
vinegar per gallon of water.
- While jars are heating, prepare food to be canned
according to your recipe or method:
· Use ONLY lab-tested recipes to ensure acidity stays in the safe range, and follow them exactly. Even something as simple as substituting “whole” for “sliced” can adjust the pH to dangerous levels later.
· Be sure to use vinegar of the exact percentage of acidity your recipe calls for.
· A note about tomatoes: Some tomatoes aren’t really as acidic as commonly thought, so need acidity added to make them safe to water-bath can. Refer to your recipe or the Ball Blue Book for specifics.
- Remove jars,
lids, and rings onto clean kitchen towel laid out on counter.
Immediately fill jars, being careful to keep rims clean, leaving at
least half an inch of headspace (empty space between top of food and rim
- “Bubble” them, ie insert a thin utensil to work out air
bubbles. Wipe rims with clean kitchen towel.
- Working quickly, put lids and rings on jars, not
tightening, just applying ‘til snug. The lids and
- Place jars back in canning pot, making sure water is
covering top of jars by an inch. If you stack jars, don’t stack
directly on top of each other: instead, place one jar “staggered” over two
below so they can vent.
- Cover pot, bring back to a boil and start timing.
Process (boil) for the time recommended by your recipe. If canning in altitudes higher than 1000
feet above sea level, consult the link below about adjustments.
- When time is up, remove the jars from the canner to a
towel on the counter. Using towels as hot pads, tighten lids.
- Let cool slowly, keeping them out of drafts (if they
cool too quickly, the jars make break).
- Smile as you hear the pings of the jars sealing while
you’re drinking that well-earned beer to celebrate your first canning
- Next day, test every seal (see below, under “Problems you
may encounter”), then label and date all jars and store in a cool, dark
Problems you may encounter
- Jars not “pinging” when sealing - Wait ‘til jars
are completely cool (next day is good) and feel the center of the lid.
If it’s convex (“caved in/down”), your jar is sealed. I
double-check by removing the ring and trying to pick up the jar by the
lid; if it holds, I’ve got a good seal. If the jar fails any of
these tests, I refrigerate and eat promptly.
- Lime deposits on jars - Add one cup vinegar per gallon
of water to canner pot before boiling jars.
- Jars breaking - This doesn’t happen often, but it’s
usually because the rings were tightened too much before processing or
they were exposed to drafts or cold while still hot from the canner.