After I posted my Canning Tools 101 post, I got a ton of comments and emails about people looking for some guidance as they embark on their first canning adventures. I know canning sounds intimidating, but luckily, once you know the process, it is pretty straightforward! Here’s what you’ll need to do, step-by-step:
1. Pick a recipe. Make sure you’re using recipes from trusted sources, and following them exactly. There are some changes you can make safely – tweaking the dried spices or increasing the amount of acid, for instance, but until you know what you’re doing and understand the process and workings of a canning recipe, stick to following every single step and ingredient amount. Some of my favorite places to find canning recipes are:
FreshPreserving.com (Ball’s website)
(And I recommend my recipes as well, of course!)
2. Wash your jars in hot, soapy water and place them on the rack in your canning pot.
3. Fill the canning pot with hot water so that the jars are covered by at least 1″ of water. To keep the jars from floating up, fill the jars at least part-way with water first.
4. Put the lid on the canning pot and bring to a boil on the stovetop.
5. Put the flat lids in a small, heat-proof bowl. You MUST use brand new flat lids every single time you do any canning. Some people recommend simmering the flat lids on the stovetop, but quite frankly, I don’t usually have the space. Don’t worry, we’ll still get them heated and taken care of later!
Edited September 2014 to note: Ball says that preheating the lids is no longer necessary. The rest of the post has been edited to reflect this change.
6. Make your recipe.
7. When your jam or preserves are done, and your jars have been boiling for at least 10 minutes, take the jars out of the canning pot and place them on a clean dishtowel.
When you take the first jar out, carefully pour the water from the jar into the bowl with the flat lids. This will help clean the lids, and the heat will soften the rubber so that a proper seal can form. For the rest of the jars, pour the water into the canning pot before moving them to the dishtowel. Replace the lid on the canning pot so the water stays nice and hot.
8. Fill the jars with your preserve, making sure to leave the amount of headspace that the recipe asks for. Headspace is the distance between the top of the preserve and the bottom of the flat lid. Too much headspace, and you’ll leave room for bacteria and other nasties to grow. Leave too little headspace, and your jars won’t seal properly or your jam will overflow!
9. If you are making preserves that use big pieces of fruit, slide a plastic/wooden chopstick or thin plastic spatula around the edges of the jar to release any air bubbles. This is not necessary when it comes to jam or jelly.
10. Using a damp paper towel or clean dishtowel, wipe off the rims of the jars. Any preserves stuck to the edges will prevent a good seal from forming!
11. By now, your flat lids should have been sitting in the hot water for plenty of time. Center one flat lid on each jar, and screw a ring onto each jar so that it is finger-tight. You may re-use the rings between canning sessions, as long as they aren’t dented or rusted.
12. Put the full jars of preserves back in the canning pot and replace the lid. Process for the time instructed in the recipe, starting from when the water comes back to a boil (so you may need to add a minute or two).
13. Transfer the processed preserves to a clean, dry towel to cool, keeping the jars upright at all times.
14. Allow to rest for at least an hour, then test the seals by pressing down on the center of each lid. If the lid doesn’t budge, you’ve got a seal! If it flexes down, the jar didn’t seal properly. You’ll either need to store it in the fridge and use it within a few weeks, or reprocess it in a fresh, clean jar.
15. Allow the jars to rest, undisturbed, for at least 24 hours. Label your jars, and store without the rings on.
Ready to get started? Make sure you have all the tools you need!
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