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Water Bath Canning Basics

Posted by Jerson Campos on

Preserve your favorite produce year-round by mastering the basics of water bath canning (aka boiling-water canning). We'll take you through the process of water bath canning step-by-step and share some of our tips for choosing and using basic canning supplies. You'll be a canning connoisseur in no time!

Water bath canning is probably what you think of first when you want to can produce for later, but it's not meant for every food. Because water bath canning processes food at a lower temperature than a pressure canner, it should only be used for foods with a naturally high acidity, like many fruits. Of course, if you're set on water bath canning your veggies, it's possible—you'll just need to raise their acidity by pickling them in vinegar or adding a splash of lemon juice. But to keep your food safe to eat, only use a water bath canner when your recipe specifically calls for it, and always follow your recipe's instructions for mixing up pickling liquid or adding lemon juice to each can. We'll teach you the basics of water bath canning so you can get started today!

Follow these rules exactly to ensure food safety and success when canning at home:

  1. Know which canner to use: The water bath canner—basically a big pot with a lid and a rack in the bottom—is used for high-acid foods (like many fruits), which naturally resist bacteria growth. Pressure canners are used with low-acid foods (like veggies) and recipes that are especially prone to harboring harmful microorganisms. They heat food hotter than water bath canners. Recipes will specify which type of canner is appropriate.
  2. Choose the right jars: Use jars made specifically for canning. Don't use glass jars from purchased food, even if they look like canning jars. Don't use jars that look different from the canning jars currently on the market. And avoid jars with chipped edges because that can affect the seal. Use the jar size specified in the recipe. Even though vintage canning jars may look cute, don't use them for canning either, as they can easily crack or chip while processing.
  3. Use lids properly: Use the special two-piece lids manufactured for canning. You can reuse rings, but do not reuse lids, which have a sticky compound that seals the jar. Don't screw on lids too tightly or they won't create a vacuum seal. Heat the lids in very hot but not boiling water or the compound won't seal. Test for sealing on each jar after it has cooled.
  4. Choose the right recipe: Modern canning recipes are safer than those from even 20 years ago. Foods may be processed longer or hotter. Always use tested recipes from reliable, current sources—and follow the recipe exactly. Don't alter ingredients. Alterations can compromise food safety.
  5. Keep it clean and keep it hot: Keep everything scrupulously clean. Wash and sterilize jars. Pack hot food into hot jars one at a time rather than assembly-line style. Take only one sterilized jar out of the canner at a time. As soon as it is filled, place it back in the simmering water in the canner.
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