Tag Archives | New to Canning

An Update on the Canning 101/New to Canning Plan

spices

Several weeks back, I wrote a post asking for feedback about my Canning 101 and New To Canning categories. It’s taken me a little bit of time to digest all the questions and figure out how to tackle them. I found that they shake out into about ten categories (though one is something of a catchall). Here’s what I’m finding that you’re interested in:

  • Canning Basics
  • Fruit Preserves
  • Pickles
  • Tomatoes
  • Sugar
  • Altitude Adjustments
  • Recipe Sourcing and Development
  • Pressure Canning
  • Using Preserves
  • Other Questions

What I’ve done is tried to pull out all the individual questions. Though I have answered many of these questions in one way or another, often those responses are buried in the middle of another post and so aren’t always easy to find. So here’s the plan. Starting next week, I’m going to start answering these questions. I probably will jump around the list a lot and will occasionally group two or three questions together if I think they are different sides of the same coin.

Some of these posts will be short and will live forever under the Canning 101 header. Others will be longer, tutorial-style posts and will get filed under the New to Canning. Hopefully, they’ll all be both useful and interesting. I’m going to use the list below as something of an index, so I will link the questions to the answers once they’re written and I may add to the list as I work.

Finally, if you have a question and don’t see it here, leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list!

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New to Canning? Start Here: Boiling Water Bath Canning

stock pot and trivet

For years, there has been a something missing from this site and that was a post that detailed the basics of boiling water bath canning. I didn’t do it in the very beginning and then, as time went on, I felt a little embarrassed about writing that kind of post so late in the game. Whenever people would ask me for it, I would refer them to other websites. However, I’m happy to finally be filling in that gap with this post here today.

pot with trivet inside

So, a little disclaimer to start out with. I’m going to detail my particular canning workflow. This might not be exactly how you do it in your kitchen and that’s okay. We all find ways to make it work with the tools, equipment and space that we have. In the end, the most important things are that you get your jars hot, that you fill them to the proper headspace, and that you process them for the amount of time prescribed by your recipe. There’s a good deal of flexibility in the rest of the details.

filled with jars

As I mentioned in the first post in this series, any pot can be your canning pot as long as it’s tall enough to hold a rack and your jars, and that it allows the jars to be fully submerged in the water. I like this one, but the best pot to use is the one already in your kitchen. Once you’ve picked out your pot, position a rack in the bottom. I have a silicone trivet pictured here, but any round rack, collection of old canning jar rings or a hand towel will work. Then put your jars in the pot.

filling with water

Then, fill up the jars and pot with water. I like to use the hottest tap water available, as it speeds up the boiling process a bit to start.

all filled up

It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but at this point, I only fill the pot enough to just barely cover the tallest jar I’m using. This should be more than enough water for the processing stage, because once you lower your filled jars in the pot, they will displace enough water to sufficiently cover the jars (sometimes, you need to remove a little water from the pot to prevent overflow. If this becomes necessary, use something heatproof, like a Pyrex measuring cup so that you don’t burn yourself).

white vinegar

It is always a good idea to pour a generous glug of white vinegar into your canning pot before you start heating it. This will prevent any minerals present in your water from depositing on your canning pot or jars. I don’t live in a place with particularly hard water, but I still do this because it keeps my pot in good shape and makes it easier to clean.

canning pot on stove

Now the pot is ready to go on the stove an come to a boil. I do all of this before I ever apply heat to my preserves. That way, the canning pot has a head start on my product and the jars will be nice and hot when I’m ready to use them.

lids

Here’s where my practice diverges a little from what the  canning books will tell you. Almost all instructions (even those printed in my cookbook), will instruct you to take out a small saucepan, place the lids in it, cover them with water and bring it to a very gentle simmer. While this is good in theory (you don’t want to over soften the sealing compound), I rarely do it in practice.

Instead, I watch my heating canning pot. When it reaches a boil, I turn it down to a simmer and drop my lids in. Everything stays nice and hot until I need to use it. The sealing compound gets to the perfect level of softness and I am a happy canner.

removing hot jars

When the product is ready to go into the jars, I slide the canning pot off the heat and pull out the jars with a handy jar lifter. Just a note: These jars are hot, but not sterilized, because I turn the heat down to a simmer as soon as the pot boils. This works because the filled jars get boiled for at least ten minutes (and often longer) during the processing step.

However, if your recipe calls for a processing time that is shorter than ten minutes, you either need to increase the processing time to ten minutes, or you need to actively boil your jars for at least ten minutes before filled, to ensure you have sterilized jars.

ready to fill

Now you fill up your jars.

filled jars

Before applying the lids and rings, wipe the rims with a damp paper towel (I use the hot water from the canning pot as my dampening water, as the heat helps remove any stubborn sticky spots). Then, center a lid on each jar and secure it with a ring. Don’t over tighten the rings, because there needs to be enough space for the oxygen in the jars to escape. The term for this level of tightening is called “finger tip tight” meaning that you only tighten as much as you can with the tips of your fingers. I always tell my canning students that you turn just until the ring meets resistance.

processing

Once all the jars have lids and rings, lower them into your canning pot. Make sure the jars are fully submerged and are covered with about an inch of water (you need that much to ensure that they won’t become exposed during boiling). Turn the burner to high. When the pot returns to a boil, set a a timer to the prescribed amount of processing time. You do want to maintain an active boil throughout the processing of the jars, but make sure you control your boil. If the pot is madly rolling, the chances that you will burn yourself increase. Turn it down a little, to minimize splashing and injury.

removing finished jars

When time is up, turn off the heat. If you have an electric stove that stays hot for a while, slide the pot off the burner. You don’t want the water to be rolling when you reach in with your jar lifter. Then, lift your jars out of the pot and place them on a folded kitchen towel to cool (if you have countertops made from marble, granite, stainless steel or some other surface that stays cool, the towel is really important so that you don’t shock your jars).

all done

Once the jars are out of the canner, leave them alone and let them cool. Hopefully, you’ll hear a symphony of popping and pinging lids. This is good, it means that the seals are being formed. However, don’t freak out if you don’t hear those noises. Jars sometimes seal slowly and quietly. Once the jars are cool enough to handle, remove the rings and test the seals by holding onto the edges of the lids and lifting up an inch or two. If the lids hold fast, the seals are good.

Sealed jars should be stored in a cool, dark place without the rings. If the jars are at all sticky after processing, make sure to wash them before you put them away. Any sticky residue can attracts ants and other pests, so make sure your jars are squeaky clean.

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New to Canning? Start Here: Equipment

canning pots

For months now, I’ve had it in my head to do a series here on the blog that would give new canners everything they needed to know to get started. A collection of posts that would detail necessary equipment, the boiling water bath process, best safety practices, good starter recipes, tips for successful jam making, and hints on how to make flavorful, texturally pleasing pickles.

As is the case with so many ideas, it’s taken me a while to bring it from concept to execution, but my plan is to start this series now and continue for the next six to eight weeks. As we move along, if you feel like there’s something that belongs in a canning primer that I’m missing, do get in touch and let me know.

trivet canning rack

One of the misconceptions about canning is the belief that you must have a dedicated canning pot in order to can. This is not true. All you need is a pot that is tall enough to hold a rack, your jars, an inch of water above the jars and an additional inch or so of space where the water can boil.

Most often, I use this 12 quart stock pot made buy Cuisinart (in the picture above, it’s the one on the left). For batches that only make three or four jars, I use the yellow stock pot in the middle of the photo (made by Dansk, that one was an eBay find). And for when I only have two or three half pints to process, I use a 4th burner pot.

Any time you turn a stock pot into a canning pot, you need to find a small rack to drop into the bottom. I’ve used round cake cooling racks, kitchen towels, a layer of old canning jar rings, dedicated racks like this one from Progressive International (it’s quite good). However, my favorite is this silicone trivet. It folds up for easy storage, never rusts, and because it’s flexible, it works in a fairly wide array of pots.

Obviously, you don’t need to have all three of these pots when you’re starting out. The idea is simply to show that nearly any tall pot can serve as a canner and that if you’re only canning a few jars, you can use a smaller pot, should you have one in your kitchen arsenal.

jam pans

Once you have your canning pot figured out, you need a pot in which to cook your product. For jams, jellies, tomato products, chutneys, and other products that need to be cooked down, I typically opt for a roomy Dutch oven. I really like the my nine quart Le Creuset that’s pictured above for its ability to conduct heat.

I also regularly use an 8 quart stainless steel All-Clad Dutch oven, particularly when I’m cooking something that I know has a tendency to burn (my tomato jam springs to mind). You can always scrub a burnt spot off stainless steel. It’s harder to do without ruining the finish on an enameled pan. I also recently added a Sur La Table 8 quart pan to the set of cookware I take to canning classes and I like it. It’s not quite as low and wide as the All-Clad model (a plus when trying to encourage evaporation), but is of equal tri-ply quality for about $100 less.

I also use a stainless steel skillet for a lot of my very small batches. The one I have is from that crazily high rated set of tri-ply cookware made by Tramontina that only Walmart* appears to sell. It’s also a third of the price of a comparable All-Clad model. Sur La Table makes a nice one that falls in the middle of the price range. Because these small batches quickly over very high heat, you want something that will perform well under those conditions and I’ve found that any heavy, low, wide stainless skillet will do.

For heating pickle brines, I always turn to the 4th burner pot pictured above. Because it’s got both the spout and the handle, it makes it a breeze to pour the brine into the jars.

favorite canning utensils

Finally, we come to the small tools. You’ll need a knife and a cutting board, but I figure most of you have those, so they’re not pictured here. A heatproof tool for stirring and scraping is always good and that silicone one on the left end is my favorite because it can go in the dishwasher (have five of them, to ensure that at least one is always clean).

A wide mouth funnel is always useful for getting your products into jars without a huge mess. I like the stainless steel ones just a little bit better than the plastic, but use both regularly. A jar lifter is a handy tool to have and I’ve found that the one made by Progressive International is my favorite (it’s got a stronger magnet than most, which makes retrieving lids a bit easier).

Jar lifters are designed to give you a secure grip on the jars as you move them in and out of the water. Though the jar lifter has been redesigned repeatedly over the last few years, I find that I still like the classic model the best (even if the rubber on the grips does have a tendency to peel away over time).

Finally, you want a good tool to move your product from the pot and into the jars. For years, I used an 8-ounce measuring cup to do this job (since it’s the same size as a half pint, you knew that with each scoop, you were getting enough to fill a jar). However, since getting this canning ladle from Progressive International last year, I find that I turn to it for almost every batch. Like my measuring cup, it’s sized to hold one cup,  really does a good job of getting those tricky last drops out of the bottom of the pot, and has a little hook that allows you rest it on the pot between scoops so that it doesn’t slide away and make a mess. If they made it in stainless steel, it would be the most perfect ladle ever.

bubbling the relish

Other tools that I like.

  • Potato mashers! They help break down large chunks without pureeing like an immersion blender does. I like this one and this one.
  • Skinny silicone spatulas! They are the perfect tool for easing air bubbles out of pickles and whole canned fruit because they can slip in without doing a lot of damage.
  • Paper towels or reusable cloth towels, like these from Athena Creates. I use these for wiping jar rims, cleaning up spills, and generally controlling the mess of canning.

As you’ve read through this post, you’ve probably noticed that a number of the things I call for are items that already exist in your kitchen. And if you don’t have exactly what I’m recommending, chances are you have something similar. Truly, it’s a kitchen task that many are already equipped to do.

Finally, remember that this post details just my opinions. You may have or discover favorites that aren’t mentioned here anywhere. Such is the way of life.

*I know Walmart isn’t for everyone (and they aren’t typically for me), but this particular line of cookware is of amazingly high quality and is ridiculously affordable.

Disclosure: This post is liberally peppered with affiliate links. If you follow those links and subsequently make a purchase, I get a few cents. Additionally, the Progressive International tools I mentioned above were received last year for review and giveaway. The opinions expressed here are the result of a year+ of regular use. No one asked me to update my thoughts or include them in this post, I wrote about them because they’ve proven to be useful. 
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