Thursday, April 19, 2012

Canning 101 ~ Basic Terms

Part II ~ Basic Terms

Once you understand what canning supplies are in order, the next step is to figure out… what to do with them all?! This post will be giving some definitions of the basic canning "terms" used in recipes and cookbooks. The language could be intimidating and I hope to remove any obstacles that would you keep you from trying your hand at home preserving. It can be so fun!

One of the first things you will hear about canning is boiling water bath processing verses pressure canning. These are two different ways in which to store your food but make all the difference in safely canning certain items. High acid foods can be safely canned in the hot water bath (regular canner) while the low acid foods must be pressure canned to ensure safety. The recipes in a professional cookbook will tell you which method is necessary for each item and there are charts in the cookbooks as well which define low acid from high acid foods. I would recommend the regular canner for beginners and then work your way up to pressure canning. This post will be based on the boiling water bath method using a regular canner.

The first term we will discuss is sterilizing the jars. This can sound so surgical! It is rather simple. If you have a dishwasher, simple place your jars inside before you are going to can, run your dishwasher with soap and keep door closed until ready to use so the jars are nice, warm and clean inside. If you don't have a dishwasher like myself then… 

Sterilizing Jars Without Dishwasher. Wash your jars in hot, soapy water and place them directly inside your canner rack inside the canner. Fill up the jars/canner with water making sure to cover the top of the jars by at least two inches. Now, put the canner on your stove to boil and let it roll for about ten minutes. When done, shut off the burner and keep lid closed. Simply remove your jars with jar lifter when you are ready to fill with canning contents. Your jars are now sterilized and your hot water is boiled and ready to use for canning so two things have been accomplished by this method.

Caps and lids should also be washed in hot soapy water prior to using them.

Note: Prior to canning, examine your jars to make sure there are no nicks, cracks or other defects that may hinder safe canning. Do not use faulty jars. Jars that have a filmy look to them can be cleaned in a vinegar and hot water solution first.

As you are sterilizing the above mentioned goods, begin to heat your canning lids. This is done to achieve a vacuum seal on your finished product. There is a gummy substance at the bottom that needs softening. You simply place your lids in a small pot and let them simmer (at least ten minutes) until you are ready to use them. I keep mine simmering the whole time until all jars have been filled and I know I will no longer need them.

Diagram is taken from Ball Blue Book of Preserving.

Another term used is headspace. This simply means the level in which to fill your jars. Some recipes call for one inch headspace so you would ladle the jam up to the one inch mark which is shown on the jar diagram above. Each recipe should state the amount of headspace necessary.

Once your contents have been placed inside the hot sterilized jars, you will want to remove air bubbles that formed. This is done by gently placing a plastic spatula between the food and the inside of the jar which should releases the bubbles (see picture above). I always use a butter knife to do this though the experts demand a plastic item since it won't scratch the glass or cause a jar to break if mis-handled. Do not worry if you can't remove all the air bubbles, do your best. I rarely have a jar that doesn't seal and many a bubble have made it through the canning process without problems.

Now that your headspace is proper and the air bubbles are removed to the best of your ability, you need to clean the rim of your jars with a clean, damp cloth by wiping the surface of the jar. Particles of food and liquid that get on the rim from loading liquid into the jars, etc., can prevent the vacuum seal you desire so this is an important step.

Once the jar rim has been wiped, get out your handy lid wand and dip it into the simmering pot of water and retrieve a lid. Place the hot lid onto the center of jar and then place the screw band on top and screw lid with band into place firmly (just to the point of resistance, not too tight). This is referred to as adjusting bands and lids.

Note: When your finished product comes out of the canner, you may get tempted to tighten lids and bands that seem loose. Do not do this as you may jeopardize the seal.

Loading the Canner. Now, using your jar lifter, place your prepared jars into the canning rack. (Oops, do you see those bubbles that got by me, well, the jar still sealed and is fine but that is what you are really trying to eliminate. I just don't want you to be paranoid about the bubbles like I was in the beginning.) Keep in mind that the racks work out well for the quart size jars but when you are using the small jars, it is a bit of a challenge to move the rack from the counter and into the canner since they seem like they want to topple over. Just carry with caution as you place the rack of prepared goods into the canner full of hot, boiling water. 

Slowly place the full canning rack inside the boiling-water bath as it is called (which is basically your canner half full of boiling water that you prepared once you started this project). You want the boiling water to cover your jars by at least one to two inches. You can add more boiling water if you didn't end up with enough. It is handy to have a teapot boiling with water in case this happens. Place canner lid on once the desired amount of water has been accomplished.

The time that your jars get into the boiling-water bath and comes to a rolling boil again, begins the processing time. If your recipe calls for ten minutes in the water bath, wait until your pot comes back to a boil and then start the timing (the only time you start timing right away prior to waiting for a rolling boil is when you are canning pickles).

"Heat processing food is essential to minimize the possibility of food spoilage due to microogranisms in sealed jars and deterioration from enzyme activity." 
~ Ball Blue Book of Preserving, Regarding the Boiling-Water Processing

Note: When canning, it is best to follow a recipe in all areas since the pH of the food, the way it is packed, the amount of heat penetration, processing times and jar size all have to do with safely canning each specific food item. For more thorough information, I suggest looking into a canning resource book such as the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

The fun part about canning is that you are creating your very own grocery store inside the walls of your own home.

"There be four things which are little upon the earth,
but they are exceeding wise:
The ants are a people not strong,
yet they prepare their meat in the summer…"

1 comment:

  1. nice post thanks for sharing...looking for to visit more...blessings...soraya


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