As we discussed in last week’s article, canning the food we harvest is among the oldest of ways to preserve our fruits, vegetables, and other foods so that our families can be fed during the long cold winters and right through the spring to the next year’s harvest. Some of us may never have canned a single jar of our bountiful harvests, so I have attempted to put together a series of articles to help you get started. This week we’re discussing the water bath canner and process a little more in-depth.
Preparing the Food
- Select only the best fruit for canning—firm and not overripe. Prepare only enough for one canner full at a time. Wash under cold, running water. Peel fruit, if desired. (An easy way to peel tomatoes and peaches is to place them into a pot of boiling water for 60 to 90 seconds, and then put them into cold water for several minutes. When you remove the fruit from the cold water, the peels will practically rub right off.)
- Some fruits (apples, peaches, apricots, pears, etc.) will darken when canned. You can soak them in a dish pan filled with a solution of 2 tablespoons each of salt and vinegar to a gallon of water for 10 – 15 minutes before canning to prevent this discoloration. Place your washed, peeled, and cored fruit into the prepared solution.
- If a sugar syrup is desired, prepare according to the chart below:
- Prepare your jars by thoroughly washing them in hot soapy water. Rinse well. Leave them filled with clear hot water until you’re ready to use them. You can also wash them in your dishwasher. If you have a “Sterilize” cycle, use that. Prepare your lids by placing them in a pot of simmering (not boiling) water. You only want the rubber seal to soften. Boiling the lids breaks down the rubber and your jars may fail to seal.
- Pack fruit tightly into your prepared jars leaving ½ inch of headspace at the top of the jar.*Some fruits will need to be precooked before you pack them into your jars. This method is called “hot packing.” To hot pack your fruit, you will bring them to a boil in the liquid (juice, syrup, or water) that you will fill your jars with. Cook it briefly (2 to 3 minutes) and pack the fruit into your jars and fill with the boiling liquid. Hot packing will prevent floating fruit in your jars.
- Fill the jars with boiling fruit juice, water, or syrup, still leaving that ½ inch of headspace. Run a plastic knife or spatula around the inside of your jars to free any trapped air bubbles. Wipe jars with a clean wet cloth around the top and threads to remove any spilled juices and to help prevent poor sealing.
- Place hot sealing lids on the packed jars, rubberized side toward the glass, and screw on the ring band until just tight. Don’t over-tighten. You want it hand tight.
- Bring the water in the canner to a boil if using the hot pack method. If you’re using the raw pack method, the water in the canner should be hot, but not boiling. Placing cool jars into boiling water can break them.
- Place the rack into the canner and then place the covered jars on the rack. They should be positioned far enough apart to allow the water to circulate and the water should be 1 –2 inches over the jars.
- Begin timing when the water returns to a rolling boil. Keep the canner covered during processing. Make sure water always covers the jars by adding boiling water during the process.
- After processing is completed, remove the hot jars and place on a towel or cooling rack. Don’t set them in a drafty area, or one where an air conditioning register is directly overhead. Allow them to cool completely. If a jar has not sealed after 12 hours, either put it in the refrigerator and use it first, or put a new lid on and reprocess for the full length of time again.
- Time your food according to the chart below:
** Hot packed fruit is heated before placing in jars. Raw packed fruit is not heated but is still covered with boiling liquid
*** Tomatoes are usually thought of as an acidic food, however many varieties have ph levels above 4.6. Therefore if tomatoes are to be canned as an acidic food lemon juice needs to be added – 2 tablespoons per quart or 1 tablespoon per pint.
Testing the Seal
There are several ways to test if your jars are properly sealed, they are:
- Hear the seal – Hear the “clink” as the lid sucks in.
- Observe the seal – If the center of the lid on the jar is dipped in or depressed, then it is sealed.
- Press the seal – press the center of your jar’s lid after it has cooled. If it doesn’t move then the jar is sealed.
- Gently tug on the lid – if you gently try to pry the edge of the lid up, using your fingers, and it doesn’t move, the lid is sealed.
**Caution: Never eat food from a jar that has an unsealed or swollen lid or that shows any signs of spoiling.