Basics of Canning and Preserving – It’s easier than it looks!

Recently I received an opportunity to host a Ball Canning Party sponsored by Ball Canning from Houseparty. For hosting my party, I was sent a free party kit that included everything in the above picture. All opinions expressed in this post are 100% my own. First let me tell you a little about my party. I had 12 guests over. Most were family and I also had a couple friends over as well. Some of them had never canned before while a couple of them had. I have canned before myself but I hadn’t done any canning for a few years. I almost forgot how fun it was.

The reason why I hadn’t done it in a few years is because we haven’t been growing as many veggies and fruits as we used to. This year the weather was weird at the beginning of the season and what we did have growing didn’t produce much. I am looking into starting a raised garden and try to see if that makes a difference. Anyway, at my party we made strawberry jam and salsa. This was my first time making any kind of jam and I was pretty happy with the way it turned out. I will have a separate post about how to make strawberry jam and the salsa we made.

I had stations set up so that everyone could get involved. We had a cutting/slicing area, a crushing area (when we made the jam), someone to add the ingredients and cook, someone else to fill the jars, and so on and so on. Then we rotated stations or other people who didn’t get a chance to do anything yet moved into a spot. It was a lot of fun and a learning experience for everyone – including me.

For this post I wanted to tell you a bit about canning. Give you the basic information about canning, what you need to get started and how it all works. There are two kinds of canning. There’s water bath canning (which is what we did) and there is pressure canning. I don’t really know much about pressure canning because I have never tried it. Mainly because everything I can is done with water bath canning and I don’t have a pressure canner. So this post is about water bath canning which is easier than it looks. First, let me start off with what you will need.

What you need for water bath canning

  • Water Bath Canner (which is a really big pot like what you see in the above pictures)
  • Rack (which usually comes with a canner) to hold jars off the bottom of the pot. The rack should be able to hold onto the side of the pot to keep the jars lifted until ready to be processed. The rack should be able to be removed from the sides to be lowered into the pot when jars are ready to be processed.
  • Jar Funnel – You will definitely want on of these to make filling jars easier and also so you keep the jars clean from food.
  • Jar Lifter – Must have. You will need one for lifting and placing jars in water bath.
  • Kitchen Timer – This is for obvious reasons
  • Saucepans – For cooking you want to use nonreactive saucepans, enameled or stainless steel-clad metal. You don’t want to use aluminum.
  • Labels – You want to label your jars with what food it is and the date it was made. Most foods can last a year as long as they have a good seal.
  • Canning Lids – Canning lids are the metal discs that have a rubber ring around them on the backside of them.
  • Jars – Only use jars that are designed for canning.
  • Bands – These are metal rings/bands that go with the lids. They secure the lids on the jar until it’s time to remove them to check the seal.
  • Bubble Remover and Headspace Tool – This is a must to remove air bubbles after filling jars and measuring headspace.
  • Utensils – The utensils you will need for cooking. One that I want to point out is a skimmer. When making jams or other related food recipes, you want to be able to skim any foam on top after cooking and before filling jars. 
  • Towels – You will want to have a cloth towel to place hot jars on. The towel prevents drastic changes in temperature when removing hot jars and sitting them down outside of the pot. Paper towels can be used to wipe the rim of the jar before placing lid. 

Step 1

Before starting to cook anything, you want to fill your water bath canner with water. You want to fill the pot a little more than halfway full. Make sure your rack is hanging inside the pot so that it is raised off the bottom. Then fill your empty jars about halfway with water too. Then place your jars in the pot on the rack. You want to heat the water and make sure it stays hot. Don’t let it boil just yet but maintain the water to stay hot. You shouldn’t have any lids on the jars either. If you don’t keep your jars hot before using, they could break when you fill them.

You may have to heat the lids too depending on what brand of lids you are using. The new Ball Canning lids don’t need to be heated like they used to because of the new sealant they use now. But It used to be that no matter what, you were supposed to put the lids in a small pot with water and keep them in hot water until ready to use as well. Double check and make sure whether you should be doing that with the lids you have.

Step 2

While the water in your canner is heating to keep your jars hot, this is when you should start preparing your food and cooking. By the time you are finished preparing your food, your jars should be hot. Make sure you only use tested recipes and make sure you follow processing times. It is very important because different fruits and veggies have different acidic makeups.

Step 3

Using the jar lifter, pick up one of your jars from the canner. Tilt it so that the water inside the jar is poured back into the canner. Place empty jar on a cloth towel before filling. Use your jar funnel when filling. Double check what the headspace should be for the food you prepared. You measure headspace from the rim of the jar. Having that tool is a must. You must leave the correct headspace before processing. If its a little lower than required, that’s okay but the jars can’t be filled higher than they should be.

Step 4

When you are ready to put the lid on, wipe the rim with a paper towel before placing the lid whether it has food on it or not. Then place the lid on the rim of the jar. Make sure it’s centered and then place a band on top of the lid. Twist the band until fingertip tight. Once the lid and band is in place, use your jar lifter and place back in the canner on the rack. Continue the same thing with the rest of the jars until they are all filled.

Step 5

Once all jars are filled you are ready for processing. Lower the rack into the canner. Make sure the tops of the jars are 1 to 2 inches under the water. Yes, they will be completely submerged. Turn the heat up to get a medium boil going. Covering the canner will help get to the boiling point. Once water starts boiling, set your kitchen timer for the processing time required for the food you are preparing. Maintain the boil for the duration of that time.

Step 6

Once processing time is done, you can turn the heat off and remove the jars from the canner. Use your jar lifter to remove them. Again, place them on a cloth towel. When you remove them, you should hear a “ping” when you take them out. Do not be alarmed. It’s actually a good thing to hear that sound because it’s a good indicator your lid has a good seal. They still need to be checked. Just because you hear that sound doesn’t always mean you have a good seal. After you removed the jars, leave them cool and undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours. 

Step 7

After leaving your jars alone for the recommended time, it’s time to check the seals. Remove the bands from the jars. They should stay off too. You don’t want to store the jars with the bands on because over time those bands have the possibility of getting corroded. Test the lid by tapping on the center of the lid. You want to make sure it doesn’t pop, flex or move at all. Then with your fingertips, grip the lid itself and lift the jar off the counter to make sure the lid doesn’t lift up.

As you can see in the above picture, the center of the lid has a circular dent in the center. This is also a good indicator of a good seal. When removing a lid, you should have to use a can opener to pry open the lid. If you have extra food left over that doesn’t fill a whole jar, don’t worry about processing it. Just store it in the refrigerator and start using immediately. Most open foods can last in the refrigerator for three weeks. Processed jars can last a year in your pantry.

Things to remember

Make sure you label your jars. Not only with the food that is contained in the jar, but also the date when it was made so that you know when it will expire. Make sure to rotate your jars by date in your pantry.

Do not store jars with the bands. As I said above, they can corrode.

Do not use lids again. Once they have been used, they can not be used again. You can use the same bands though.

Do not eat any food from jars if the lid is too easy to remove, is lifting from the jar, or have a lid with a broken seal. Normally if there is a broken seal, it means food has gone bad.

Resource Recommendation

I would recommend the book, “The All New Book of Ball Canning and Preserving”. That’s the book that I received in my party pack. It is full of recipes and more detailed information. I found it to be really helpful and in my opinion is a great resource in your kitchen if you are trying canning for yourself. There’s everything you need to know about water bath canning, pressure canning and even other kinds of food preserving.

Look for my upcoming canning recipe posts!

Disclaimer: I received a free party pack from Houseparty and Ball Canning with products mentioned and shown in this post to host a party in my home. All opinions expressed in this post are 100% my own.

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