Water Bath Canning

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Preserving foods at home, especially canning, is becoming more popular and there are a number of recipes, blogs, and canning guidelines available on internet. As exciting as it is, some of these sources are not research-based and give unsafe food handling advice.

We here at Breathing Room want to make sure your homemade products are safe, healthy and delicious. Considering the food safety issues associated with home preserved foods, I will be providing instruction and advice on canning methods in this, and upcoming, blogs.

Let’s start with canning fruits and pickles. Most beginners tend to start canning fruits, jams, jellies, and pickles over other food items because it utilizes water bath canning – a method recommended for canning high acid foods – as opposed to pressure canning.

What Equipment Do I Need?

Water bath canner – a large aluminum or porcelain pot with a lid. It also comes with a wire rack that fits inside to hold canning jars.

Mason jars with two lids – a metal lid with sealing compound, and a metal screwband. They come in different sizes such as half-pint, pint, etc., or with a wide mouth (for pickles or whole fruits).

Canning toolkit – contains a lid magnet (for lifting metal lids), a funnel, tongs, a bubble wand (for removing air bubbles and measuring headspace), and jar lifter (to lift and handle hot jars).

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What Products Will I Need?

Most jam and jelly recipes will include the following general items:

Produce: Use almost-ripe fruits for products with better taste and texture. Support local agriculture by using produce grown at home, from local farm stands, or by participating in Community Supported Agriculture.

Pectin/Gelatin: Pectin helps to form gel by holding moisture present, and is sold as a powder and a liquid. IMPORTANT: Use the form indicated in the recipe, do not substitute.

Acid: Acid content in fruit varies. Some jellied products may not need added acid, whereas others may use lemon juice (commercial juice with 5% acidity) or citric acid.

Sugar: Sugar enhances taste, acts as a preservative, and works with pectin and acid to stabilize the gel. To limit sugar, use a tested and reliable recipe that uses modified pectin. You can also use recipes with artificial sweeteners however, it will not provide preservative properties and can alter the taste of the product. Note: do not swap sweeteners in recipes calling for sugar.

General Steps for Canning Jams and Jellies

  • Sterilize your jars:
    • Wash glass jars and metal screwbands in hot soapy water (if reusing jars). Sterilize in boiling water for 10 minutes. This step can be skipped if the processing time for canning is longer than 10 minutes.
    • Sterilize new metal lids with sealing compound in simmering water. NOTE – These should NOT be reused.
  • Recipe preparation:
    • Thoroughly wash produce. Trim, cut, and prep your fruit as indicated in the recipe. Cut pieces as evenly as possible.
    • Follow tested recipe guidelines without altering the ingredient amount.
  • Processing:
    • Use a funnel to pour the prepared recipe in the sterilized jars.
    • Remove air bubbles using the bubble wand and measure and/or adjust the headspace as indicated in the recipe.
    • Wipe the jar rim with clean towel without touching the food.
    • Use the lid magnet to lift metal lid and place it on the jar. Place metal screwband and finger-tip tighten the lid.
    • Place prepared jars in the canner and cover with the lid. Wait for the water to come to a rolling boil.
    • Start timer for the processing.
    • Turn off the burner and let it rest for 10 minutes.
    • Remove the jars with the jar lifter, and remove the lids. Rest the jars on the counter for at least 12 hours.
    • Clean the jars and label with recipe name, production and expiration date. 

What are Tested/Reliable Recipes?

These recipes are lab-tested for time, temperature, and pH to ensure safety of the product if followed diligently. These recipes can be found on USDA’s website, state extension websites, So Easy to Preserve Book, and the Ball Book on Preserving. You can also participate in the University of Maryland Extension’s statewide Food preservation program to gain hands-on experience.

Have fun canning!

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