Friday, March 5, 2010

Water Bath Canning

No matter what it is that you're canning in a boiling-water bath, there are some steps that are universal.

Water bath (or boiling-water) canners are inexpensive and usually include a rack that helps to hold the jars upright and keeps them from bumping each other. Many also come with extra items, like a jar lifter, a canning funnel for making jar filling easier and cleaner, and a magnetic lid lifter for removing the lids from the simmering water.

If you don't have a water bath canner, you can use a large pot with a rack at the botton to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot. A cake rack will work. Make sure the pot is tall enough so the jars will be covered with water by at least two inches during the entire processing time. Also, it needs to be tall enough so that it won't overflow while at a rolling boil

Before Filling
  • To eliminate the possibility of thermal shock, it's best not to put hot jars onto a cold countertop. A wooden cutting board or towel on the countertop is a better place to set them after you take them out of the hot water. Have that ready before you start.
  • Check all the jars you'll be using to make sure there are no cracks or chips. Canning is all about vacuum sealing the jars, and a little chip on the rim can ruin that seal.
  • Wash the jars, lidss, and rings in hot, soapy water. Never re-use lids. The rings are reusable, but make sure they're still in good shape.
  • Dry the bands and set them aside.
  • Put the jars into the canner, with enough water to cover them completely, and bring the water up to a simmer. Leave them simmering for at least ten minutes, and remove them when you're ready to start filling. A jar lifter makes this much easier. Leave the canner on the heat while you fill the jars.
  • Put the lids into a small pot or pan and heat to a simmer. They need to simmer at least ten minutes before using. Do not boil the lids.
Filling and Sealing
  • Remove the jars and put them on the towel or wooden cutting board for filling.
  • When filling jars, follow the directions in the recipe for the amount of space to leave above the product (headspace).
  • Directions may also tell you to remove the air bubbles. Use a small nonmetallic spatula inside the jar against the glass, and press against the product to release any air bubbles, then add more liquid to bring the headspace to the proper level.
  • After filling, wipe the rims of the jars.
  • Place the lid on the jar, center it, then put the ring on. Screw the lid on just until the ring is finger-tight. It should be snug, but not as tight as you can get it - air has to be released during the canning process.
Processing and Cooling
  • Place the jars into the canner, upright. A jar lifter makes it much easier to do. Make sure the water covers the tops of the jars by at least several inches.
  • Put the lid on the canner and raise the heat so the water is at a rolling boil. Start timing the process when the water comes to a boil, and keep it boiling for the entire processing time.
  • After processing time is up, turn the heat off, remove the lid, and let the jars sit for five minutes to stabilize.
  • Remove the jars, using the jar lifter and place them on the wooden cutting board or towel. Don't fiddle with the bands or lids. There's no reason to wipe off the water on top of the jars; it will evaporate as the jars cool. If the area is drafty, cover the jars with a towel.
  • Let the jars sit undisturbed for 12-24 hours before testig the seals.
Testing the Seals
  • Press down on the center of the lid; it should be firmly concave. Take the band off nd gently try to lift it with your fingertips.
  • If the center doesn't flex up and down and you can't lift the lid, it has a good seal. You can store the jars with or without the ring. If you replace the ring, don't tighten it down, or you could break the seal.
  • If there are jars that haven't sealed properly, you need to refrigerate them and use the product promptly, or reprocess them as you did the first time. Always use a new lid.
High Altitude Adjustments

Canning instructions are written for people living at sea level, or up to 1000 feet. Higher altitudes require longer processing times.
  • At 1001-3000 feet, increase processing time by 5 minutes
  • At 3001-6000 feet, increase processing time by 10 minutes
  • At 6001-8000 feet, increase processing time by 15 minutes
  • At 8001-10,000 feet, increase processing time by 20 minutes.