Canning 101: Defining The Terms

August 3, 2011(updated on October 3, 2018)

pink and orange

Last week, I wrote a post in which I rounded up some of the Canning 101 entries I’d previously published. At the end, I asked for suggestions as to other topic areas that you all felt needed some clarification. A bunch of you offered up some really great suggestions and so I’m going to spend the next few weeks working through your questions.

To start, I’m going to define some common canning terms. Like so many activities, canning does have its own vocabulary and it’s important that we’re all speaking the same language.

Boiling Water Canner: Also known as a boiling water bath or hot water bath. It is a large pot, tall enough to fully submerge your canning jars with an inch of water over top. It is for both the sterilization of jars prior to filling and also for boiling the jars once they are filled.

Canning Rack: A shallow rack that elevates your jars slightly off the bottom of the canning pot. It can be a rack designed precisely for this purpose or it can be a round cake cooling rack. Canners use these racks for two purposes. The first is to keep the jars from being in direct contact with the heat of the stove. The second is to ensure that the boiling water is able to be in contact with all facets of the jars.

Processing: This is the term most often used for the time when you submerge your full jars in the Boiling Water Canner and boil them for the amount of time prescribed by your recipe.

Set point: 220 degrees. Also known as the gel point. This is what you look for when cooking jam without pectin.

Siphoning: When small amounts of your product seeps out of the jars during process or cooling. This happens most often when the jars have been insufficiently bubbled or undergo drastic changes in temperature. You can prevent it in some cases by doing a better job of bubbling your jars, or leaving your jars in the canner with the heat off for a few minutes when the time is up.

Bubbling: The process of removing any air bubbles from your jars before applying the lids and rings. This is done to help prevent liquid loss during or after processing.

Cold Pack: This is when you pack your jars with raw ingredients (cucumbers, green beans, cherries, etc.) and then filling them with hot brine or syrup. This is of particular benefit when you’re working with more fragile ingredients that need to have their exposure to heat limited as much as possible.

Hot Pack: This is when you simmer the fruit or vegetable that you’re working to preserve in the brine or syrup prior to filling jars. I particularly like doing this with peaches, as they shrink a bit in the syrup and so I’m able to squeeze a few more slices into the jars.

Let me know if you have any other terms you’d like to see on this list!

Sharing is caring!

Posted in

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

34 thoughts on "Canning 101: Defining The Terms"

  • My grandmother used to process tomatoes in jars a lot. Before putting the tomatoes into the jars, she would par cook them for about 12 minutes… just long enough for the skins to come off the tomato meat easily. She called this term to “blanch” the tomatoes. She did this with a lot of fruit before processing them too.

    1. I do that too although not for that long. Usually a few minutes will do to split the skins (keep an eye on them and you can watch it happen) and then you put them into really cold water and that lifts off the skins. Sometimes if there is a bit of a greener spot you have to peel with a knife, but the blanching usually does the trick.

    1. Basically, a pot that is made of a material that won’t react to acids/brines, etc. Some commonly used “non-reactive” pots would be stainless steel, glass & enameled (like the Le Creuset brand cookware).

  • Oh thank you so much for these! Not being from the States, the terminology does get confusing!
    And also, I think I just solved the problem I’ve been having with preserving my Pepperdews (hot piquant peppers). The cold pack method should do the trick! Thanks!

  • yay! knew them all! today we trade chickens for peaches and the canning is ON! Want the results to last all year, so we are canning a lot!

  • Could you please define the term ‘Blanche’ here as well?
    Some canning books states that certain foods should be ‘blanched’ before canning but I am not sure what it means (and too lazy to Google it!) 🙂

    1. Blanching simply means to bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Then ad your fruit or (more commonly vegetables), (which you have cut into smaller pieces) to the pot of boiling water. Start the timer after your water returns to a boil. The amount of time varies (1-3 minutes is average) but also depends on the fruit or vegetable, and what is being done with it ie: canning or freezing. So if you don’t have a book on blanching times you may very well have to google it.

  • I’m always confused when a pickling recipe calls for a “head” or “sprig” of dill – is this the flower? The entire flower head? When it’s yellow, or when it’s at full maturity? Some recipes seem to use “sprig” to mean a small part of the flower, others seem to use “sprig” to mean some of the leaves.

    1. I’ve always taken the term sprig to mean the whole mature flower head. I have some dill ready right now, quite a bit before my cukes are ready so I’m going to try drying them. They ‘should’ plump up in the brink later on….fingers crossed.

  • I would suggest adding to the set point that it depends on your altitude. Reaching 220 as your set point is for those at sea level to 999 feet. Once you are over 1,000 feet in altitude, it changes. Using Google to find out your town’s altitude is very useful as I found my town is just over 1,000 feet above sea level.

    This chart from the National Center for Home Food Preservation from their jam making page has the set points for different altitudes –

    1. The temperature water boils is lower as you increase in altitude. Been doing some more reading on the UGA site which is where my home extension agent always tells me to refer to first.

  • Good Day! I am new at canning, I live at 7800 feet. At what temperature will my jam set and do I need to increase water bath time?

    1. Nancy, check the chart out on the link I posted. The University of Georgia hosts the National Center for Home Food Preservation which is what most extension agents refer back to. According to their chart, the temperature you are aiming for with your elevation is 207. Although the temperature for 8,000 feet is 205. And increase your water bath time to 15 minutes. I have found with jams and jellies, a bit of extra time in the water bath doesn’t hurt it. And you can test to see if your jam is set but using the spoon and plate from the freezer method. Before you start, put a small plate and a few spoons in the freezer. When you have cooked your jam to where you think it is done, pull out a spoon and the plate. Stick the spoon into the jam and drizzle it onto the plate. If it sets up, you are ready to can. I have read to stick the plate in the refrigerator but I have never done that. Hope this helps.

  • Good list to start with! HIGHLY recommend the enamelware pots for any sort of sauces and jams. Even heating throughout the process, and cleanup is a dream. Definitely worth the investment! (And you can often find them at Marshalls or TJ Maxx for a lot less.)

  • I have been so inspired by your blog. I am jamming and canning nearly daily. So far, I have made strawberry jam, strawberry balsamic-w/and w/o black pepper, blueberry with lime, strawberry rhubarb, pineapple with pinot, fig with red wine, tomato butter, and right now I am roasting some okra from the neighbor.
    Two of my attempts–watermelon jelly and blueberry basil, came out too thick–like fruit roll-up thick–can I take it back out and thin it, and then recan it?
    Thanks for all the inspiration!

  • I want you to know that my favorite jams so far have been an adaptation of your rosemary apricot jam. I saw a recipe on another blog including dried apricots soaked over night in sweet white dessert wine. So I combined the two. It was delightful! I have a recipe for rosemary citrus scones. Adding a dollop of this jam would absolutely push me over the edge with joy! My second fav is jam made with our nearly local, Fredericksburg peaches. Absolutely simple and divine. So, again, thank you!

  • Oh no! I’m in a big mess. This is my first year of canning. I have really enjoyed learning about it from your site. I have some of the Ms Wages salsa in the hot water bath as we “speak”. Here is my problem. I have been working on pickles this season too. They only take 10 minutes to process. Tomatoes take at least 30. I think with the last couple of tomato and salsa batches I did, I only processed them 10 minutes. I can’t remember. I feel like I should throw out all the jars that have tomatoes in them.. They are all sealed. I knew something like this would happen when I started this canning thing. I was trying to be so careful. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

  • I just bought the “ball elite” canner as a birthday present (upgrade from my old one that I’m pretty sure was getting rusty) However when I process the jars the lid doesn’t seem to quite fit and hot water sprays out of it in spurts while I can hear my jars rattling around inside. I’ve used it 3 times now, and every time I break a jar. Am I doing something wrong? I never had this problem before. I thought maybe when you use a real canner with a rack there is a trick but I’m just not sure

    1. Leigh, I don’t know what to tell you. I actually never use a “real” canner anymore. I use a stock pot with a flat rack in the bottom and I never have a jar break. However, it does sound like you should turn the heat down a little bit. It doesn’t need to be at a crazy boil the whole time. A gentle bubble is just as good.

      1. thanks! maybe that’s it. The pot does seem to get a lot hotter than my other one. I’m a little disappointed in the pot, but I guess now I do have a huge pot and once I get the hang of it maybe things will settle down and work better.

        I was also wondering about why one can’t re-use a lid. My grandmother told me that she used to boil the lids in a mixture of water and baking soda and then they would be reusable. I know that canning “law” has changed a lot since her time, but was curious if you knew anything about this?

  • This is my first year with a garden – and I am going to try my first shot at canning today. (Wish me luck – but after finding your blog – I think I’ll be ok)

    I am wondering if you have a any salsa recipes that are good for canning so we can keep them for awhile. We really love Black bean and corn salsa, but want to try a couple different kinds.


  • Is there a minimum temperature when talking about Boiling Water Canner / boiling water bath / hot water bath? Or does it just mean 100 degrees C?