Monday, June 10, 2013

Canning 101 ~ Step by Step Procedures

So, you gathered all the supplies to "can like crazy" this summer... You have your jars, boiling-water canner and you purchased the canning kit. Your reliable recipe is ready but you don't know where to begin with the canning process?! All the terms sound so foreign and scary! I remember that feeling...

Here are step-by-step, detailed instructions to preserve foods using the boiling-water method. This post is a compilation of these two articles; Canning 101 ~ Basic Terms and Canning 101 ~ Supplies. It is meant to share (in order) the preparations necessary to begin canning high-acid foods, safe and sound.

Step One ~ Sterilize Your Jars & Prepare Boiling Water in Canner

Examine Your Jars: Prior to canning, examine your jars (especially the rims) to make sure there are no nicks, cracks or other defects that may hinder safe processing. Do not use the faulty ones. Jars that have a filmy look should be soaked and cleaned in a vinegar with hot water solution.

Sterilizing Jars With Dishwasher. If you have a dishwasher, simple place your jars inside, run your dishwasher with soap (like normal) and keep door closed until you are ready to use them (keeping the jars nice, warm and clean inside). You will need to do this at the very beginning of your canning day and time it to where the jars are hot, clean and ready when you need to start filling them.

Prepare Boiling Water in Canner. The next step is to fill your canner about ¾ full with clean water and bring it to a boil (this takes time so it is best to start this step and then begin preparing your food items). There are ridges on the inside of most canners. The lower ridge is the mark to fill up with water when you are canning with quart jars. The higher ridge is for smaller jars. If you filled the canner too high with water, when you place your jars in, it may overflow. Just ladle out extra water if this happens. Keep this simmering until you are ready to process your foods in the canner.

Note: If you have really hard water and your jars come out filmy, add 1/2 - 1 cup of vinegar to your canner water.

If you don't have a dishwasher like myself then…

Sterilizing Jars Without Dishwasher. Wash your jars in hot, soapy water, rinse clean and place them directly inside your canner rack inside the canner. Fill up the jars/canner with clean 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 boil for about ten minutes. When done, shut off the burner and keep lid closed (or turn to a simmer if you are not quite ready for them because you do want to start off with hot jars). Simply remove your jars with a jar lifter when you are ready to fill with your food. There will be too much water in the canner for processing so dump out half of the water that comes out with each jar and keep the rest in the canner until you get to the proper water height for processing (explained in step one).

Note: 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. Just keep this water simmering and ready to use for the final canning of your food product.

Step Two ~ Prepare Your Jar Caps and Bands

Sterilize Caps/Bands. Wash your canning caps and bands in hot soapy water prior to using them. Lay the bands aside in a clean area.

Begin to heat your canning lids (photo above). 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. You can safely remove them when ready by using a magnetic wand.

{Important Update: This step of heating your canning lids is no longer necessary, read this post for the updated canning procedure.}

Step Three ~ Fill Your Jar with Prepared Foods

Diagram is taken from Ball Blue Book of Preserving.

Once you have your food contents prepared (such as your jams, tomatoes, etc…) you will want to fill your clean and hot (aka sterilized) jars. The level in which to fill your jars is called headspace. Some recipes call for 1" headspace so you would ladle the jam up to the 1" mark shown on the diagram above. Some recipes may call for 1/2" headspace. But don't worry, each reliable canning recipe should state the amount of headspace necessary.

Step Four ~ Remove Air Bubbles

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 release the bubbles (see picture above). I always use a butter knife to do this though the experts suggest a plastic item since it won't scratch the glass or cause a jar to break if mishandled. 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.

Step Five ~ Wiping the Jar Rims

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

Step Six ~ Cap Your Jars (Adjusting Bands and Lids)

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 your jar and then place the screw band on top. 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.

Important 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. You should wait 24 hours before handling your canned goods because everything will be cooled off and set by then.

Step Seven ~ Load Jars Into Canning Rack 

Now, using your jar lifter, place your prepared jars into the canning rack. Keep in mind that the racks work out well for the quart size jars but when you are using the small jars, it may be a bit of a challenge to move the rack from the counter and into the canner since the jars seem like they want to topple over (in some rack models). Just carry with caution as you place the rack of prepared goods into the canner full of hot, boiling water. Some people shut off the canner first and let it cool down a bit prior to adding the jars. I just put mine straight in and have never had any problems because the jars are already warmed and tempered.

Step Eight ~ Place in Boiling-Water Canner (aka "Processing")

"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 Method)

Slowly place the full canning rack inside your canner full of boiling-water. You want the water level 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.

Once your loaded canner comes to a rolling boil again, begin the processing time. If your recipe calls for ten minutes in the water canner, wait until your pot comes back to a boil and then start the timing for the appropriate time.

Important Note: The only time you start timing right away prior to waiting for a rolling boil is when you are canning pickles.

Important Note: If you live in an altitude above 1000 feet elevation, your processing times will be different. Canning books will share charts and time increases or visit here for more information.

Important Note: Make sure that your recipe is fit for water bath canning. Low acid foods should be pressure-canned. All reliable canning recipes will share which method should be used.

Step Nine ~ Remove From Canner

(This picture shows the rack resting along the side of the pot using the ledge in the canning rack.)

When processing time is over, turn off heat. Remove your contents from the canner and place on an old thick towel (or something like it) to protect your surfaces because the jars are very hot. I usually set my rack on the ledge of the canner (shown above) and remove the jars one by one with a jar lifter (or you can carefully remove the whole rack at once). Some people let the water cool completely before removing.

Space jars a few inches apart on your surface to allow them to cool. Keep jars away from drafts while they are cooling as well. You may get tempted to tighten lids and bands that seem loose. Do not do this as you may jeopardize the seal. You should wait 24 hours before handling your canned goods because everything will be safe and set by then. If a jar does not seal, place in the refrigerator and enjoy right away :)

Step Ten ~ Enjoy the Fruit of Your Labors

I hope you enjoy preparing a stocked pantry as much as I do! It is very rewarding to see the filled jars!

Important 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 preserving 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.

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  1. Those pickles look scrumptious!! We ran out months ago!!! :)

    1. Don't fear ~ summer is on the way :) Nice hearing from you, Farmlife Chick :)

  2. Very nicely done, a great resource for someone who hasn't canned before. I am pinning it in case any of my friends could use it! Blessings, Melissa

  3. Thank you for posting this. I am new to canning and this is very helpful. :)

    1. Feel free to email if you ever have any canning questions :)

  4. You have my mouth watering! You also have made me sad, that I don't get to start canning for at least another few weeks. My basement is looking mighty empty right now and I can't wait to make it full again!

    1. Mine is about empty too! Happy (soon to be) harvesting ~ JES

  5. Nice post. What are you canning in the picture where it looks like boiled eggs in the jars?

    1. Pickled eggs. You can find tutorial in the canning section above :) Great for potato salads/macaroni salads...

  6. Great Canning 101, thanks! :) I think the most helpful little piece of info for me was the visual on the marks for different headspace! :)

    1. Pictures do tell a thousand words :) Glad to help!

  7. Thank you!! The best (and most needed)tutorial I have ever found on-line.


  8. JES, Hi, there! I've been missing you :) I love canning, but, sadly, have not canned for some time. I will be doing preserves and jellies soon, I hope. I think of you on your trip and pray for you often, sweet sister :) BTW, your photography is increasingly beautiful...the pickles are magnifique! Stay safe and have an amazing day, friend!

  9. Thank you for the high altitude links. We're at 7000 feet, so canning makes me nervous. Boiling point up here is around 198 degrees, I think, and that's what makes the procedures different. Pretty much everything I learned growing up at 1500 feet above sea level I needed to relearn when I moved here ;-)


    1. Hi Leah! Yes, that altitude situation always made me nervous when we made a move to a new location! Hope the link is helpful :) ~ JES

  10. Dear Jes, I think with the clear tutorial, I might be able to do it. thank you so much! I love the pictures.

  11. Your pickles look wonderful! Your tutorial is very good. We've just put up our strawberry jam, and the garden is off to a good start. Praying for a bountiful harvest so we can be busy doing the very things you shared with us today.
    Thanks for your tips!

  12. This is wonderfully beautiful and detailed. My fave of the week.
    Elaine @

  13. Hi! Just letting you know we have chosen your fantastic, detailed canning article as one of our favorites for From The Farm Blog Hop from last week! We'll be sharing it on our facebook page and on Pinterest. It has been featured this week on our From The Farm Blog Hop. You can check it out here:

    Thanks! Looking forward to seeing what you have to share next time.
    -Leona (From The Farm Co-Host) from