Doing the Can-Can: Water Bath Canning Basics

Even the newest of preppers knows that adequate food storage is a must have. You can build long term food storage by purchasing it or preserving your own food. For years, I wanted to can fruits but didn’t know anything about it. What I remembered was what my mom did when she made preserves — she used paraffin to seal the jars. When I was faced with a lug of fresh, sweet cherries from nearby orchards, I had no choice but to learn to can.

The Basics of Water Bath Canning

Canning with a pressure canner can be very expensive, so I went with the water bath canner. Boy, was I glad I did. Here’s how to get over the fear of canning and preserve your food for the future.

What Can You Can?

Water bath canning works by putting the foods in jars and using boiling water to process it (hence the name “waterbath.”) Water bath canning works for foods with high acid contents such as jams, preserves, fruits, tomatoes, pickles, and salsas. These types of foods stay safe if properly canned using this process. Non-acidic foods such as most vegetables, meats, and meals aren’t safe using the waterbath technique. Non-acidic foods need pressure canning to ensure safety.

It’s a good idea to try your hand at water bath canning before going into the pressure canning route. Once you have a good idea how it all works, you can move onto pressure canning with more confidence and less worry.

Before you get started.

It’s important to understand that certain canning techniques aren’t recommended anymore. Although I never got sick from my mom’s preserves, the USDA says it’s a no-no to can using paraffin because it doesn’t give a good seal. Reusing canning lids, using the old-style rubber-type seals, and using old-style canning rings are definitely out for the same reason. The last thing you want to do is get sick on your own canned food.

What you will need is a water bath canner (bigger the better, in my opinion), canning jars of the appropriate size for the recipe, rings, and new lids with seals. It’s best to have a jar lifter because the mason jars are hot and using a pot holder isn’t the best method.

To keep from getting sick on canned foods, you need to get rid of the bacterium known as Clostridium botulinum or botulism. Boiling the food for at least 10 minutes at sea level will kill botulism. If you live at higher altitudes, like I do, you add one minute for each 1000 feet of elevation.

Note that any food that smells funny, has mold or off colors, or is in a jar with a broken seal needs to be thrown out.

9 Steps to Water Bath Canning

  1. Clean all canning equipment with warm, soapy water and rinse well.
  2. Prepare the food for canning.
  3. Hot or cold pack the food.
  4. Remove air bubbles in the food. (You can simply run a butter knife inside the jar to release air bubbles.)
  5. Put lids and rings on jars tightly.
  6. Place in a waterbath canner and boil the water for the time in the recipe.
  7. Remove canned food when processed.
  8. Test the seals with your fingers.
  9. Let cool, label, and store.

Any food that hasn’t fully sealed needs to be put in the refrigerator and used within two weeks. One thing you’ll probably have to do is add citric acid or lemon juice to preserve the color of some of the foods as well as keep the food acidic enough to keep it preserved. Follow the recipe to the letter until you have enough knowledge to know what can substitute for what.

Recipe, Please

It’s best to stay away from old recipes. Even recipes from 20 years ago or more may be suspect. Other recipes that haven’t been tested by the USDA or canning jar manufacturers are also questionable, so until you really know what you’re doing, stay away from Great Aunt Gertrude’s old recipes.

The good news is that you don’t have to go far to get really good recipes. The USDA has their entire canning book online for freeBall® jars also has a nice website with canning recipes you know will work because they’ve tested them for the consumer.

Storing Your Food

Storing your food isn’t difficult. Just find a nice cool place out of sunlight like a cupboard, basement, or pantry. Be sure to mark the date on the food and use it up within a couple of years (hence the need to rotate your stock) to ensure freshness.

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One thought on “Doing the Can-Can: Water Bath Canning Basics”

  1. Before you do anything else, check the rims of your jars to make sure they are not cracked or chipped. And sterilize your jars! Also, look to your County Extension agents for recipes that are tried and tested. Remember to mark the name of the food item on the label of the jar as well as date, and make sure your shelves are earthquake- and accident-proof so your jars don’t fall off.

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