Canning 101 – A Beginner’s Guide To Preserving Food

These expert tips will help you create shelf-stable food to stock your pantry with these two preserving methods. Learn which one you should be using for different kinds of foods.

This helpful and valuable step-by-step information comes from Angi Schneider, author and creator of the blog SchneiderPeeps where she shares tips on gardening, real food cooking, preserving food, herbalism, and more. She has written for Countrysideac magazine and participated in the “Beyond Off the Grid” summit. She is the author of Pressure Canning for Beginners and Beyond and The Ultimate Guide to Preserving Vegetables.

Why Can?

Process of canning green beans.

Canning is such a great skill to have and is probably the most versatile of all the preservations methods. Canning allows you to take that summer glut of green beans and cucumbers and turn them into a variety of pickles and relishes your family will love—everything from sour dills to sweet gherkins can be canned. Or use the fruit that has been foraged, harvested from your own garden, or purchased at the market and create tasty jams, jellies, and butters.

And when hunting season comes around, you can fill your pantry with shelf-stable jars of plain meat, yes, but also hearty soups and meals in jars. Truly the possibilities of canning are endless!

There are two different canning methods—water bath canning and pressure canning. Here’s when and how to use each one.

1. Water Bath Canning

Home canning and preserving of fresh food.

Water bath canning is when filled jars are put into a large pot of water and the water completely covers the jars by at least one inch. The water is then brought to a boil and the jars are boiled for the recommended processing time. The internal temperature of the jars will be 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the boiling point of water.

Because C. botulinum spores cannot survive in high acid environments, water bath processing is used for high acid foods. High acid foods are defined as those that are 4.6 and below on the pH scale. This includes…

● Most fruits (apples, pears, peaches, berries, citrus, etc.)
● Pickled vegetables
● Most BBQ sauces and salsas

pH scale infographic.
pH scale

There are some fruits that are on the 4.6 line and those need to have additional acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice added to them to ensure they are safe for water bath canning. Those fruits are….

● Bananas* (see note, below)
● Dates
● Melons
● Persimmons
● Papaya
● Pineapple
● Tomatoes

*There is no scientifically tested process for home-canning banana on its own, even any recipes that call for “pressure canning.”

2. Pressure Canning

Pressure canning at home.

Pressure canning is done in a large specialty pot that can be pressurized. Instead of filling the canner full of water like a water bath canner, a pressure canner has just a few inches of water in it. The lid for the pot locks in place and creates a seal. When the water is heated, the steam builds up pressure, and the internal temperature rises above the boiling point of water. This is important because C. botulinum spores can only be killed when heated to 240 degrees F, which is what a pressure canner is designed to do.

C. botulinum thrives in a low-acid, moist, anaerobic environment – the exact environment we create when we can low-acid foods. This is why it’s so important to use a pressure canner for low-acid foods and follow current guidelines. When you do, you can confidently can low-acid foods at home. Low acid foods include…

● Vegetables (corn, carrots, green beans, etc.)
● Legumes (dried beans, lentils, peanuts)
● Meat (beef, lamb, pork)
● Poultry (chicken, turkey)
● Seafood (fish, oysters, clams, shrimp)
● Wild Game (venison, elk, hog, duck, etc.)

Preparing to Can

Step 1 – Start With An Approved Recipe

Always start with an approved recipe and guidelines for whatever food you are going to can. There are guidelines for modifying approved recipes that you can use to experiment with flavors, but it’s important to always start with understanding the guidelines for the preserved food.

Step 2 – Prepare Your Tools

Next, gather your canning tools and recipe ingredients. Wash the canner and rack in hot, soapy water. Add water to the canner and put the canner on the stove over medium heat. Fill a water bath canner 2/3 with water and use 3 quarts of water in a pressure canner. Some pressure canners require more or less water than 3 quarts so be sure to check the manufactures instructions that came with your pressure canner. The water does not need to boil, just under boiling is ideal.

Step 3 – Clean

Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water. After washing, the jars need to stay hot to avoid thermal shock. A good place to put them while you work on the recipe is in the canner that’s being heated on the stove. The lids do not need to be kept hot, so set them aside until they’re needed.

Step 4 – Make Your Recipe

Follow the recipe to make the jar contents. When the recipe is complete, remove the jars from the canner and place them on a towel on the counter near the stove.

Step 5 – Fill Your Jars

Carefully ladle the contents into the jars and leave the recommended amount of headspace. Use a bubble removal tool to remove any bubbles and recheck the headspace. If the headspace is too big, add more to the jars. If there isn’t enough of the recipe to properly fill all the jars, use one jar to properly fill all the others. The jar that isn’t properly filled can be put into the refrigerator to use first. Do not can jars that have too much headspace.

Step 6 – Wipe and Add Lids

Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp cloth. Add the lids and bands to the jars. The bands should be put on finger tight – like you would put a lid on a mayonnaise jar.

Then do the following…

For Water Bath Processing

Pickling jars in a pot full of water.

Using canning tongs, lower each jar into the water bath canner. Once all the jars are in the canner, the water should cover them by at least 1 inch. If it doesn’t, add more water to the canner.

Turn the heat to high and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, set a time for the correct processing time. When the timer goes off, turn the heat off from under the canner, and let the contents rest for 5 minutes.

For Pressure Canning Processing

Pressure canning gauge.

These are general pressure canning instructions, be sure to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions that came with your canner for specifics for that canner. Using canning tongs, lower each jar into the pressure canner. Lock the lid in place and turn the heat up to high.

As the pressure builds there will be steam that begins to escape – this is called venting. Let the canner vent for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, place the proper weight according to the recipe and adjusted for altitude on the canner. If your canner has a petcock, close it. If you have a weighted gauge canner, the weight will start jiggling when it’s at the correct pressure. If you have a dial gauge canner, use the dial to know when it’s at the correct pressure.

Once the correct pressure has been achieved, set a timer for the processing times according to the recipe. When the processing time is complete, turn the heat off and let the canner depressurize naturally. Depending on the canner, this can take an hour or longer. The canner is fully depressurized when the dial gauge is at zero or when the weight is gently nudged and no steam escapes.

When the canner is completely depressurized remove the weight from the vent or open the petcock and let it sit for 2 minutes. Then unlock the lid and carefully remove it by lifting it away from you to keep the steam away from your face.
Removing the jars from the canner

Using the tongs, remove the jars from the canner and set them on a towel on the counter where they will not be disturbed. There is no need to cover them with a towel, clean them, tighten the bands, turn them upside down, or touch them in any way for the next 12-24 hours. Just let them be. You may hear the lids pop and you may not – either way is okay.

Step 7 – Check Seals, Label and Store

The next day, remove the bands and check the seals. When you gently press your finger on the top of the lid, there should be no movement. Next, gently pick up the jar by the lid. The lid should stay on the jar.

If any lids failed to seal, the food is still good. Just put it in the refrigerator to use first. The jars that have sealed properly can now be cleaned with a damp cloth, labeled, and stored in the pantry.

Is It Safe To Pressure Can Using Your Instant Pot?

While some electric pressure cookers (Instant Pots) have a canning option and can be used for water bath canning, they should not be used for pressure canning. Watch the video below to learn why.

Canning – Versatile and Money Saving!

Canning is an incredibly versatile and safe way to preserve the harvest, prepare for emergencies and power outages, reduce your dependence on the grocery store, and have a variety of shelf-stable meals available for those crazy days when the drive-thru is calling out to you.
There is plenty of room within the recommended guidelines to safely experiment with flavors, just remember to start with the basics and understand the guidelines for each food. And then, have fun!

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