This post will explain clearly the canning process and detail what is boiling when so you can begin canning with confidence.
The part about canning the really makes newbies worried (other than food safety) is not knowing what has to happen when. When you were a kid, you might remember someone canning in your family and looking up at the stove and seeing what seemed like 10 pots of boiling water. Well, canning does not require 10 pots, but I know it can seem like it to a busy beginner.
I like to mentally break the canning process into two main parts. You have to PREPARE and then you PROCESS. Prepare and process; that’s the name of the game, Wildflowers.
First, you must prepare the big water bath processing pot in which your jars will hang out. Fill it and the jars with hot tap water, turn the stove on high, and bring to a boil.
Prepare the preserving pan. In the preserving pan, you will be cooking the fruit into jam, the tomatoes into sauce, or bringing a brine to a boil.
Then it is time to PROCESS. This is where the action happens. Your food is cooked according to the recipe, and your jars are warm.
The process begins with you pulling one jar out of the processing pot at a time. Pour the boiling water out, place the hot jar on a towel on the countertop. Fill the hot jar with hot food (your cooked jam, applesauce, etc). Put a lid and ring on to the jar. Return the hot jar (now full of food) into the boiling water bath. Pull your next empty jar from the pot and repeat the process. Here’s what you need to keep in mind as you repeat the process:
- You may need to lower the heat on the processing pan. As the amount of food decreases (because you are putting it into the jar) the remaining food will boil faster. Keep an eye on the preserves and stir often. You want it hot but not burning or scorching on the bottom.
- As you fill hot jars with hot food and return them to the processing pot, you will notice the water level rising. Avoid overflowing by pulling a jar from the boiling water and pouring the water from it into the sink.
- This water level issue is compounded a bit by the vigor of the boil and the amount of water that is lost to steam. There are plenty of times where I have had to dump water in the sink to only have to add a bit more once all the jars are filled with food. The jars need to be covered by a minimum of 1 inch of boiling water in order to process.
Once all the jars are filled with food and submerged in the boiling water bath, bring the pot back up to boil. This is when you may have to add hot water to the pot to cover the lids sufficiently. I have filled a drinking glass with hot tap water or used water from the tea kettle. It isn’t advisable to move the very heavy pot full of boiling water and jars from the stove. Use a vessel to fill it.
Once the water is boiling, set a timer for the time specified in the recipe, be sure to adjust for your elevation. Because of the change in atmospheric pressure the higher you get in altitude, you must add 5 minutes of processing time for every 1000 feet you are canning above sea level. I go through my cookbook with a pencil and change all the processing times so I never have to think about it.
If during the canning process the water stops boiling (if you turned the stove down a bit too much, or you lost power) stop the timer, and once the boil is resumed, resume timing.
Once the time required has passed, turn the stove off and use the jar lifter to pull one jar at a time from the boiling water bath and set each jar carefully on a towel covered countertop.
Listen and watch for the lids to make a ping, ding, or click type of noise, and to become firmly concave on the jars. It may take up to 12 hours for the lid to seal and that is perfectly okay. Sometimes the lids seal while they are still in the air, clasped in the jar lifter. That is also okay. Don’t disturb the jars until they are cool and sealed, at least 12 hours later. Label and store in a cool, dark spot.
That’s the order of events, Wildflowers! When people tell me it seems like a lot going on or that they don’t think they can do all that at once, I ask if they have ever cooked or helped cook a big holiday dinner. I think that those cooking marathons are way more complicated; you have meat in the oven, gravy on the stove, veggies in the fridge, dressing to whisk, timers for a bunch of different dishes, rolls to warm, pies to cut… THAT is a lot to manage. Canning is just 3 burners going and once your food is in the processing pot, you usually don’t have to move around the kitchen that much.
While you are actively filling the jars, I would say that is the part that might be stressful for a newbie. I make my small children stay out of the kitchen just in case I splash hot water and I make sure my sweet but underfoot Lab is outside and not going to trip me on accident.
The first few times you can, this may seem like a lot but I’d advise a beginner to focus on the task at hand to ensure low stress and fun experience.