What is Water Bath Canning?
Canning is the process of using glass jars to preserve food. Water bath canning is appropriate for foods that are naturally high in acid. It’s also appropriate for some foods that have added acid incorporated into the recipe that brings the acid level to an appropriate range. Fruits, jams, jellies, fruit juices, tomatoes, salsa, pickles, relishes, and some sauces are safely preserved in the water bath canner. Water bath canning is a simple process for any homestead cook.
The USDA is a trusted source of information regarding safe home canning practices. I use the Complete Guide to Home Canning. This complete guide can be accessed as a free PDF download or it can be purchased in a color, spiral-bound publication. This is my preferred guide to determine if foods are appropriate for water bath canning or should be pressure canned. It includes the instructions for each food type, length of food processing for each jar size, and high altitude instructions.
A water bath canner designed specifically for the purpose of water bath canning is not a required piece of equipment. Any large pot that is deep enough to submerge the jars and allow a minimum of 1 to 2 inches of boiling water above the jars is sufficient. When using a large pot, place a rack of some sort in the bottom so that the jars do not rest directly on the bottom of the pot. The biggest advantage to using a water bath canner is the included rack. The rack keeps the jars off the bottom of the pot. Use the rack to lower the jars into the hot water.
Complete Video Tutorial
This complete video tutorial takes you through the process from start to finish.
Water Bath Canning Supplies
- Water bath canner or deep pot with lid and rack
- Clean glass canning jars. Always inspect the jars for any nicks, chips on the rims or sharp edges that might prevent the jar from sealing.
- Clean NEW canning lids. Metal canning lids are one time use only. There are available options for plastic reusable lids with seals. Please follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using reusable lids as they require additional steps.
- Clean canning rings
- Canning funnel
- Jar lifter
- Tool to remove bubbles and headspace tool (optional)
Sterilizing the Canning Jars
Fill the water bath canner with enough water to fully submerge the jars in water Add ½ a cup of white vinegar per gallon of water. This helps reduce the mineral build-up on the jars when processed, but it not required. Add the cover and bring the water to a simmer.
Add the clean canning jars to the warm water. You will need to tip the jars and allow them to fill with water. Once filled, they should be standing upright in the canner with 1 to 2 inches of water above the tops of the jars.
Add the cover and bring the pot to a full rolling boil. Boil the jars for 10 minutes at a full rolling boil. If you live at a high altitude, adjust the length of processing time accordingly.
Acclimate the Jars to Temperature
Once the time has passed, you can shut off the heat and allow the jars to remain in the hot water until you are ready to fill them. You will use this same pot of water to process the jars once filled.
Please note: New research indicates that if your water bath processing time exceeds 10 minutes in length, sterilizing the jars beforehand is an unnecessary step. I still sterilize all my jars when water bath canning, regardless of processing time. Each homestead cook needs to do what they feel most comfortable with.
Filling the Canning Jars
Remove the prepared canning jars using a jar lifter and place them on a towel. Use a canning funnel to fill the jars leaving the necessary headspace notated in the recipe you are preparing. Using a headspace tool makes this simple.
Headspace is the amount of space between the top of the food and liquids and the bottom of the jar lid. Adequate headspace allows the canning jars to form a vacuum that will seal the jars as they cool. The recommended headspace takes into consideration the expansion of food and the bubbling of the liquids. Inadequate headspace can cause the foods or liquid to be forced out of the jar. Syphoning contaminates the seal and may prevent the jars from sealing. Too much headspace is left, air may remain in the jar, causing food at the top of the jar to turn brown.
Once the jars are filled, remove excess air bubbles from the jar. A wooden stick or plastic spatula can be used for this purpose. Simply work the spoon around the inside of the jar, gentle compressing the food to push out any bubbles.
Once complete, clean the rim and threads of the jar using a clean, damp cloth. Be sure to remove any food or liquids that may have contaminated the rim of the jar. Add a new canning lid, it is not necessary to heat the lids before use. The rings are then finger tightened. Rings that are overtightened can prevent excess air from venting from the jars. This can result in buckled lids, jars that don’t seal, or even worse, broken jars.
Adding Prepared Jars to the Water Bath Canner
Carefully place the prepared jars in the water bath canner. If you sterilized the jars beforehand, use the same heated water. If the water level is low, add additional water to maintain the 1 to 2 inches of water above the level of the jars. Add the cover and bring the water to a full rolling boil. When the water comes to a full rolling boil, it’s time to begin timing the recipe. Check the recipe for the correct processing time. The recipe should include information on the size jars you are processing. Always adjust the processing time up if using odd-sized jars. For example, pint and a half jars are processed as quart jars.
When it comes to canning, altitude matters, those living at higher altitudes above sea level will need to adjust their processing time. A reputable source will provide this information in the instructions.
Once the processing time is complete, turn off the heat and remove the cover. If the jars are in a rack basket, lift the basket to rest on the rim of the pot. Allow the jars to remain in the pot for 5 minutes to prevent temperature shock that can cause broken jars.
Remove the jars from the water bath canner using a jar lifter and place them on a towel-lined surface. If using metal lids, do not tighten bands. When the jars seal, you will hear the delightful pinging of the lids sealing. Leave the jars undisturbed for 24 hours. This ensures that the seals will set properly.
Inspect the Seals of Each Jar
After the jars have completely cooled remove the rings. Next, visually inspect the lids to make sure they have been sealed. You can press the center to see if it flexes. Sealed lids should have very little flex. The rings are used to hold the lids in place during the canning process and are not needed for storage. Once the rings are removed, check each lid to be sure it won’t lift off. Any jars that did not seal need to be placed in the fridge for immediate use or reprocessed with a new lid.
When the jars are properly sealed, home-canned food should be used in one to two years. While foods may be safe to eat after this time frame, the quality of food products begins to degrade. Check with the manufacturer of your lids to determine their recommendation regarding the length of food storage.
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Complete Canning Guide My favorite canning book!
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About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.