If you’ve got tomatoes, cucumbers or strawberries coming out your ears thanks to a flourishing garden, don’t let that wonderful summer produce go to waste! Come August, home canning is a very smart way to preserve the favorite fruits and vegetables that you just can’t manage to eat. This is also a nutritious and cost-effective way to enjoy produce; store-bought canned goods often contain preservatives, not to mention cost many times what you would spend to can the same amount at home.
Step-by-Step Water Bath Canning
Water bath home canning, the simplest canning method, requires just a few pieces of equipment and knowledge of a handful of time-tested techniques.
Get the right jars. Home canning jars are specially designed to permit a lid to seal over the jar mouth and a metal band to be screwed over the flat lid, creating an airtight seal that prevents food spoilage. The standard jar opening is about 2⅜ inches. Wide-mouth jars have openings of about 3 inches, so they are easier to fill and empty. Kerr and Ball are good brands of canning jars.
Sterilize equipment. If the recipe you use requires less than 10 minutes of cook time in the canner (such as for some jellies or pickles), you must be sure all jars, lids, rings and utensils used in the canning process are sterilized in simmering water (180°F) for at least 10 minutes prior to use. If the process time is 10 minutes or more, the jars will be sterilized during the canning process. Just be sure to use clean jars and keep them warm prior to filling.
Fill the jars. Fill your jars with your produce. Before applying the lids and rings, wipe the rim of each jar with a damp paper towel. Center a lid on each jar and secure it with a ring. Avoid overtightening the rings; there must be enough space for oxygen in the jars to escape.
Process the filled jars. Position a metal rack at the bottom of a large pot that is tall enough to hold a rack and your jars, and that allows the jars to be fully submerged in water. Fill the pot with water and heat to the temperature recommended in the recipe you are using. Cover the pot and process the length of time desired. Use canning tongs to pull jars out of the hot water and set on a towel to cool (this prevents a shock in temperature from a cool countertop). The lids may make popping noises as the seals form.
To prevent broken seals, do not retighten lids after processing jars. If a seal does not form, the contents of the jar must be refrigerated. Label properly sealed jars, wipe the jars and threads clean, and store in a cool, dark place. If desired, screw bands may be removed prior to storing jars.