Canning 101 + The New to Canning Series

January 24, 2014(updated on October 3, 2018)

jar lifter

A big part of my mission with this website it to help teach people how to can and demystify the process. That’s why you don’t just see me posting recipes and pretty pictures. Fairly frequently, I try to get down into the nitty gritty of canning and shine some light on the hows and whys.

Over the years, I’ve created two series that have attempted to create this space for food preservation education. The first was Canning 101 (which launched in 2010 with this post), which has been my catch-all for the minutia of canning. I’ve covered everything from how to loosen stuck rings to what to do if a jar breaks in the canner under that heading (all the Canning 101 posts can be found here).

The second series was the one I started last summer, under the name New to Canning? Start Here! I wrote two posts and then promptly got lost in book edits, classes, and the height of the canning season.

I want to bring back more of these education focused posts, but I need some suggestions. What are the topics you’d like to see me cover? What are your burning questions? Is there a canning term that needs more explanation? The comment box is officially open (though really, when does it ever close. This is the internet, after all) and I want to hear from you!

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73 thoughts on "Canning 101 + The New to Canning Series"

    1. +1 for this. There are lots of times when I would like to figure out if something is acid enough, (for example, making ketchup from old recipes).

      I know there are issues with acid penetrating large chunks, but for something that’s smooth it would make sense that there would be a way to know, (or test), acidity and know if it’s safe.

      Also: Sometimes I would prefer to use a pressure canner for a shorter time over water bath for a long time, (mostly because if I have more than one layer it takes *forever* for all that water to come to a boil). I would love to know when this can be done, and some sort of conversion table.

      1. pH strips. Available from I’d send you a link as they are a bit hard to find using their search-er (but they’re there) if I was better at operating this computer. Get the ones that are specific to a pH right around the magic number of 4.6. My current ones run from 2.9 to 5.2. If your mix contains large chunks (say of peppers) in a tomato/vinegar juice base, it stands to my reason that just testing the juice is not going to be adequate. I liquify or puree the mix, wait a very few minutes, then test. If 4.4 or below (margin for error there), its good to go. If higher than 4.4, add lemon juice, vinegar, citric acid, stir, wait a very few minutes, test again. Repeat until right or pressure can. I’m thinking that the length of time to pressure can would also be predicated on pH; but since I don’t pressure can, I can give you no experience on that. pH strips ! It’s beyond me why strips are not available in every display containing jars. So useful and so easy.

  • My questions mostly revolve around pressure canning. When specifically is it better to pressure can than use a hot water bath, and is there a simple, handy chart that shows canning times and pressure amounts for such foods? (I got my pressure canner at a yard sale, and it has no instruction book!) I make a lot of salsa,and use a printed recipe from a cook book, but if I modify it, how do I know if I need to use a pressure canner?

    1. My questions will also be mainly around pressure canning. I got a pressure caner as a gift this holiday season and am a little nervous about using it.

      1. I would love more for the pressure canner as well. I’m not going to lie; the first time I used it I literally hid in the other room while it ran. But my chicken stock came out pretty well. How do you keep the jars from getting gross? I had some stock leakage, and it made the water and my jars all greasy-gross.

  • Two of the most frequent questions we get are: what is finger-tip tight (for tightening canning rings), and must I/why do I have to add citric acid or lemon juice when canning tomatoes?

  • I always sanitize an extra jar or two when preparing my canning supplies, just in case the yield is more than I expected. This means I heat an extra lid as well. My question is: if I don’t end up using the extra lid, do I need to throw it out since the sealing compound has been “activated” or can they be dried and saved for future canning? To be on the safe side, I have been throwing them out, but it seems like such a waste.

    1. I always cool & dry them, (make sure they’re dry before you store them, otherwise they’ll rust), and I rarely get a jar that doesn’t seal.

      My understanding is that they are heated to soften the sealing compound, which, if it’s just softening would un-soften when cooled, then re-soften when re-heated, (to a point).

  • I have canned for years, but just water bath. I really don’t want to invest in any new equipment, but would like to expand from the dilly beans, pickles and hot pepper relish….

  • I love making jams and jellies and because of you (seriously), this year, I expanded my recipes to beyond what was on the pectin box. I tend to overcook and these become too thick. Tips and tricks and visual clues to know when it is ready to place the mixture in the jars would be fabulous.

  • I have the Ball Blue Book, but there are often things I want to can that aren’t in there. When I look for recipes online, I’m always a little nervous about how trust-worthy they are (except the ones from THIS site, of course!). I would love a guide to some other online sources of canning recipes.

  • I have been making jam for our local farmers’ market for over 20 years. I do about 200 – 300 jars a season. We grow and sell a variety of berries – the jam was a way of using the extra berries. I make about 10 kinds of jam. However – my strawberry jam is always foamy. I have tried every idea that I can find. Using a pat of butter works the best but I still have jam with a foamy “head”. Any ideas? All the others are beautiful in the jars but the strawberry just looks cloudy and air bubbly.

    1. Terry, because strawberries have more air in them than other fruits, they do tend to foam and float. I cut or crush my berries, mix them with half of the sugar the recipe calls for and bring them to a boil in a saucepan. Let them cool and refrigerate them in a bowl with plastic wrap pressed against the fruit overnight or up to 5 days. When you are ready to make your jam, add the remaining sugar to the fruit and cook according to directions in your recipe. This method allows your fruit to soak up the sugar syrup and eliminates the air in the berry. You will find much less foam and the fruit will not float in the jar.

  • I always wonder about packing density when I can pickles. How do I know when there is “too much” stuff to pickling liquid ratio. Will packing too tight reduce the acidity and make the product unsafe? I am also curious about home fermented products and canning (such as sauerkraut). How do you know when it is acidic enough to can?

    I actually learned how to can from your initial canning 101 posts. They have been very helpful. We have made several batches of pickled cucumbers and hot peppers. Thank you!

    1. +1

      Everything I’ve read seems to indicate that if you can jam it in, you’re ok, but it does seem that there might not be enough acid to pickle whatever I’ve jammed in the jar.

  • Ooo yes, I have several questions. I know you’ve talked about how to know when jam is set (I used the frozen plate idea) but I still have trouble with it. I used your raspberry jam recipe and it was *very* set and soon after your strawberry vanilla jam recipe and it was very syrupy (but still somewhat spreadable). Do set points vary based on the fruit you’re using?

    Can you convert old recipes or post new recipes that use Pomona’s Pectin (since I like to use less sugar/sweeteners)? Can you give some tips or recipes on fruit preserves that are less sweet or use honey/agave instead of sugar. I made your peach preserves but found them *very* sweet.

    One last question, I canned whole plums in honey (your recipe) in regular mouth quart jars but realized after I took them out of the hot water bath that the liquid doesn’t cover the top of the fruit. I’ve also had some air bubbles (not sure if they’re still moving/rising) in the jars. Should I throw them away or are they safe to eat?

    Thanks for this opportunity to ask!

    1. +1 to recipes with Pomona’s. I find almost all non-Pomona’s recipes far too sweet for my taste, and would love more lower-sugar recipes.

    2. I second the request to help me figure out when jam is set. I’ve still got some jars of what I affectionately call “orange tarmalade” around my house. Another topic would be canning at high altitude- water boils at a lower temperature so you have to boil the heck out of everything, but I imagine it impacts set points, too.

    3. I third the request for how to tell when the jam or jelly is done. Does it differ for each recipe? In my circle, it seems that each lady has their own one, two, or three jams or jellies that they do. Is that why? Another related issue–any suggestions for how to get plum jam out of jars when it is so hard set that I cannot get a spoon into it? I tried heating it up in the canner for a long time, and I think it just got harder! Do I have to throw out my jars?

  • I would love to see more posts or information about pressure canning, I received one for Christmas and have done chicken stock and chicken soup both with great success. I cannot believe how easy it is and helping people understand that the canners made now – REALLY ARE NOT GOING TO EXPLODE – might bring more out of the woodwork. I plan on a “canning adventure” this summer when the tuna are coming in on the northwest (Tillamook) coast. There is no comparison between home canned and store bought. There is lots of information – but there is something so “digestable” about your site and your explanations. I would love to see more! Also SERIOUSLY LOVE your give aways – someday I am counting on winning something – (naturally – when I am most deserving)
    Peace to you – your blog is the first one I read every day!

    1. I would love a step by step tuna canning lesson! Years ago I had some home canned tuna and it was awesome. I need to learn how and then find an inexpensive source for the whole tuna.

  • These are ALL great suggestions that I would love to see too. I also have a question about altitude adjustment. We live at just over 3,000 feet and was wondering if there is a standard for adjusting for altitude beyond the adding a minute for every 1,000 feet. I know some recipes say more for larger jars such as quarts, or that it depends on the food you are canning. Do certain foods need more time and certain sizes need more time? I would like to know so that if the recipe doesn’t specifically state what to do for altitude, I can calculate correctly.
    I REALLY would love the answer to how to make your own salsa safe to can so I can tinker with recipes this summer.

  • I agree with the previous comments – I would greatly appreciate more tips about doneness of a jam/jelly when not using commercial pectin. The plate in a freezer is not my favorite. I’m looking for some visual clues, especially when the recipe says to stop cooking right before reaching the setting point! I’m referring to a kumquat marmalade from the Ball Blue book. I had no idea what exactly to look for, and the jelly ended up crystallized to the candy condition. Needless to say, I had to throw it out. I’m trying to cut on sugar lately and find the recipes that use pectin overly sweet; on the other hand the recipes on a Certo box seem to be foolproof, hence the dilemma about using it or not.

    Thank you for asking Marisa, I’m sure we will hear lots of useful tips from you!

  • There’s a step in every recipe for pickles that is so much more complicated than it sounds – four little words: “Pack into hot jars.”

    It sounds so simple, but it’s a step that I’m sure I’m getting wrong somehow. My pickles and other whole fruit or vegetable preserves always take two or three more jars than usual, and end up being more liquid than vegetable. For example, when I pickle okra I pack them in as tightly as possible without breaking the pods open, but as soon as I add the liquid, they float to the top and it’s impossible to tell how much headspace I’m leaving. And then there are the bubbles…!

    I’d love to read a post with tips on packing jars. Every time I do it, I imagine there are a bunch of simple yet vital tricks to doing it well that no canning guide is allowed to print. Perhaps there is a Proper Jar-Packing Conspiracy to which I must apply for entrance?

    1. Have you tried putting the jar on its side and sliding the okra into it? Let gravity do a little of the settling for you. Only works with long veggies, but it’s a start.

    2. I have similar questions. I have tried sliced peaches in a honey syrup (disaster–had to throw them out because they had small moving air bubbles and floated to the top), sliced pears in unsweetened apple juice (came out perfectly) and dill pickles (haven’t opened any yet). I found that I was trying to pack the jars as quickly as I could because I thought everything had to stay as hot as possible, so the peaches got underfilled, and the pears and pickles got packed so tight that I hardly used any of the liquid in the recipe. So the yields were off and I wonder…can you first pack all the jars then add the hot liquid to each jar? Or do you have to pack the jar, pour the liquid in that jar, put the lids on that jar and put it in the water bath, then start the whole process over again with the next jar? Thanks

  • I would like to know your process for developing and testing a recipe. Also, I would love any suggestions you may have for using alternative heating sources for pressure canners. I want to try pressure canning, but we have an induction stove, so we can’t use aluminum, and I have never seen a stainless steel pressure canner. I have a small house, so I can’t have two stoves (which was the response I got from Presto). I was wondering if a hot plate or camp stove would generate enough heat.

  • Maybe you already cover this in your upcoming book, which I’m looking forward to, but my main question is what do you do when you find some recipe you love, but it’s for a giant amount? Is there any guide to converting large batch recipes to small batch (one or two jars) ones? Also would be great for trying out something without committing to a huge amount of produce.

  • Here are just a few thoughts on problems/questions I’ve had on canning:

    What causes foaming in jams/jellies & how to stop it.

    Using a steam juicer vs. boil-and-strain method – Is there a difference & which do you prefer?

    Do you ever use a ph meter or strips to measure the ph?

  • Is there a way to double recipes? Or should you just have two pots of jam going at once. Love your blog…thanks canning friend!

  • It is because of your beautifully done first book that I began canning in the first place. I have recommended it to everyone who asks how and WHY I even began canning. But back to the question at hand. I have had some issues with things I have canned and just don’t like! For one reason or another, texture, flavor, or just not my thing. Well, even though these things have been on my shelf for a year or more (because they do LOOK beautiful!!) I just don’t have the heart to open and dump them out. I don’t want to give them away, because I am not in love with them myself and feel thats important. How do you handle the…it was work, it is pretty, and what a waste issue????

    1. I sigh, dump, and learn from it – be it a slight modification or just looking for a different recipe. That said, if it’s a new recipe and one I’m not sure of, I make a point of trying it before too much time has passed so I can see if someone else does want it before I dump if I don’t like it. If it’s just terrible – well, live and learn. Was it the recipe? The fruit/vegetable (not ripe enough, too ripe, not in season)? Didn’t follow the recipe carefully enough (wrong type of vinegar)? It may be wasted ‘work’ sometimes, but for most of us nowadays it’s supposed to be fun, too. If you’re not having fun, you won’t keep doing it. Dump it and make a batch of something you know you like and will come out well to get back to enjoying it.

  • I’d like to learn the ins and outs of “hot packing” and “cold packing” for canned whole fruit or slices and vegetables for pickles. I like to can peaches and plums and have been having a lot of trouble with floating fruit. I think it’s to do with both under-packing my jars and the temperature of the fruit and hot syrup?

  • I have a relative who is on a low sodium diet. I am interested in technical information regarding no sodium canning. Especially tips on retaining flavor and texture and safety in the canned results.

  • Love all of the suggestions. My pressure canner is wonderful for canning dry beans and meat, but I also wonder when I can use it for giant batches of things that can normally be hot water bathed, and how long to run it for.

    Also, tinkering with recipes to make it my own would be nice, but I worry about keeping it safe. I’ve read that when making salsa you have a little but of give with how much you use as long as you keep the total amount of high pH items in or below the original recipe amount, but the science behind it would be nice to fully comprehend.

    Love your cookbook, and can’t wait until the new ones out!

  • Hi! I love your book and use it often, but I would LOVE more recipes that do not require pectin. I eat your blueberry butter most mornings on toast with home made nut butter and made a raspberry butter the same way. But like others, I have no idea how “safe” that is, other than I haven’t dropped dead with my coffee yet. I always remind myself that my grandmother somehow managed to do all of this for 9 kids without killing anyone, and tell myself something that gorgeous can’t POSSIBLY harbor anything deadly…but still 🙂

    So, all that to say–I vote for (1) yes own recipes that (2) require no pectin and (3) can occasionally be used with frozen fruit.


  • Pressure canning meat, and meat dishes would be at the top of my list, Marisa! I’ve canned chili, but that’s about it. Anything without sugar, too, as I feed a diabetic. We don’t eat many sweets, including jams or jellies, but when we do, I use Splenda.

  • I have canned before this year when I had a garden, but it was many years ago. So this last September when I got a wild hair to can for Christmas was a new experience all over again. The one thing I would like to know about is the use of all the various sugars/sweetners. I have diabetic friends and I have had the weight loss surgery and I have an issue where the recipe calls for more sugar than ingredients. I used Pomona Pectin and the flex batch little or no sugar pectin, but many recipes call for plain old sugar. I would like to use Agave or Pomona Pectin much more often as the refined white sugar craze is one of the reasons I was canning; to make recipes that I can eat safely and to know what the ingredients are in my food. So I am on the bandwagon of how to tweak recipes to use a different sweetner than white refined sugar.

  • I mainly would like to hear more about pressure canning. I made over 200 jars this year of jams/jellies/whole fruit/chutney/pickles/salsas etc and feel very comfortable with the water bath canning. But, I am so hesitant to get into pressure canning. A pressure canner was lent to me and had the weight and no gauge, my gas stove is so sensitive I could never get the weight to ‘rattle’ just right, gave up around 11PM and pitched it all the next morning. I’m planning on buying a pressure canner with both the weight and gauge for the best of both worlds, but want to know more about the whole process before I jump into a big purchase like that.

  • I would love to know the easiest way to water bath can quart jars. My pressure canner and stockpot are both huge, but even so, covering quart jars leaves me with a pot that is full to the top and spits water everywhere. Great for cleaning the stove, but otherwise a huge mess.

    1. I would love to find an inexpensive water bath canner that is tall enough to adequately cover QUART jars without the water boiling over. I water bath outside using my camp stove so I don’t worry about a mess but I have had the boiling over put the flame out.

  • I would love to see a post on how to clean and maintain canning equipment. My water bath canner has a layer of deposit film from what I hope is just the result of hard water in my area. Do I need a new one or can I clean it somehow?

    1. Michelle, my canner gets a lot of calcium buildup in it. That may be what you are getting as well. Just put some (maybe two cups) cheap, white vinegar in the bottom, add a quart of water and start scrubbing. It comes off pretty easily. Keeping it reasonably clean also helps keep calcium from settling out on the jars, necessitating a quick wash (when the lids are very well settled–I usually wait about two days). If your canner is extremely deposit-ridden, you can always splurge on a whole gallon of cheap vinegar, dump it in your canner, add water to the top of the canner and let it soak overnight. If the problem is calcium deposit, it will be sleek and shiny as new in the morning.

  • I have just completed my very first batch of preserves: Meyer Lemon Marmalade (using your Small Batch Blood Orange Marmalade recipe) and I have been pouring over your “canning 101” posts and “new to canning” posts. Pretty sure all was a success, but I did have some questions along the way.
    1. I used a combination of Kerr and Weck jars, and in the processed weck jar, you can see what looks like water or condensation on the lid of the jar. Is this acceptable or sign of failure? The ring “tongue” seems to be pointed down and the seal holds when I lift by the lid.
    2. when you say to add a glug of vinegar to the boiling water bath canner before you start, you mean to actually add it to the water you are boiling your jars in, correct? not just to clean out the pot with vinegar first?
    3. the marmalade turned very dark when I added the sugar… is this normal?
    4. the little cheese cloth bundle gets thrown out before any simmering of lemons/water happens, correct?

    As far as canning 101 posts, I guess I would like to see some beginning super easy recipes laid out in step by step fashion in the same way that the New to Canning? Start Here posts are. I love your site! Thanks so much- I couldn’t have done it without you!

  • Oh have I got questions! I make prickly pear jelly and last year was the first time I made a batch of low-sugar jelly. I used Ball’s Low or no sugar needed pectin. The jelly came out a little loose using half the amount of sugar. The other batches I used Classic Pectin (both are powders) and the jelly came out more substantial with the full amount of sugar called for. Why did that happen? Also, last year I made your pear/vanilla jam. Sounded good, poured into my jars great but it was kind of hard and after opening a jar and then placing it in the ‘fridge, I could’ve used it to build a block wall! Do you think I over-cooked it? Also, would it have been better to use more ripe pears? The ones I bought didn’t have ‘give’ to them like a fully ripe pear would. As a matter of fact, for recipes using fruit, is using ripe fruits better than those not ripe? Thank You! Love your blog! You’ve helped me overcome my fear of killing off friends and relatives with botulism!

  • I recently made several large batches of peach cobbler for a large church dinner. We used six jumbo cans of peaches packed in syrup. I saved the syrup hoping there’s a way to use it. Maybe peach jelly?? I’ve got nearly 64 ounces. Any suggestions and/or recipes? Thanks!

  • I’d love to see two things:
    1. How to make your own pectin. My two attempts have been spectacular flops.
    2. Tips on using one-piece lids. Again, I’ve only had moderate success with these. I find many of the jars so pretty, and tend to use them for gifts; I’m just not having much luck.
    Thanks for asking!

  • I´m new to canning and would like to know about sugar and it roll in jams, jellies, etc.

    When can I and when not and how much sugar can I reduce? Can I just buy low or no sugar pectin and replace it in any recipe and reduce the amount of sugar willingly? I know sugar is important but I´m not clear how and if I can just reduce it.

  • I don’t can jam because of the high sugar content. I use Mrs. Wages freezer jam pectin. It calls for the least amount of sugar than any others. It is delicious but freezer space is a premium. I bought some Pomona’s to try this spring and am hoping that will be the answer. Low sugar ( no artificial sugar please) jam recipes would be great.

  • Last summer was my first time canning so I followed your recipes to the T. Only difference is that I halved all the ingredients of the ones I tried because I did not want to be stuck with a lot of something I might not like. In general, I find that the jams are a bit too sweet for my taste, and the pickles came out too vinegary.

    I would like to know: what’s the least amount of sugar I could use to have a less sweet jam, and what’s the least amount of vinegar I can use to have less acidic pickles? All while being safe to can and still delicious to eat.

    Another question I have is about food discoloration. I find that the fruit and veggies that float up tend to change color because they’re not submerged in the syrup or brine. Is it safe/good to eat the discolored parts?

    Thanks for asking!

  • And there are the real cases: canning meats and dairy is very challenging to do at home; the risks are much greater for food poisoning than for high acid fruits and vegetables (like jam, applesauce and salsa). The latter are much safer, but still pose some risks. On the other hand low acid foods like canned green beans are more risky than high acid foods, but a bit safer than meats and dairy.

  • Ditto for the questions on your own recipes; ie: any guidelines for a safe recipe? Is there any way to test a recipe and see if it’s acidic enough? What foods should be flat out avoided?

    What about jams that don’t set properly? I’m a victim of strawberry jam/syrup, is there any way to fix the consistency after canning it?

  • i am always looking for ways to USE what i canned. recipes that don’t include smearing it on a cracker with cheese. i have so many jams and frankly just don’t eat that many biscuits or pancakes. ways to use it – like add to breakfast bars, glaze tofu, add to bourbon for an old fashioned with a twist.. etc. there’s a book called “well-preserved” i like that inspires some ways to use things but generally i have a pantry full of uneaten jam!

  • I love how versatile your recipes are – from large quantities to give as gifts and small batch canning for those in urban apartments! – and I had a couple questions to maximize them. When canning a large amount, for tomatoes for example – if you’ve packed more jars than you can fit in your water bath at once, after the first set has processed, do you dump the water out and wait for fresh water to boil before processing the rest? Or can you immediately put the second set of jars in the same water?

    And for smaller batches, I’ve been eyeing your 4th Burner Pot – I was curious what to look for in small pots that keeps the glass safe. I noticed yours are often stacked – is that always okay? Thanks so much for opening this blog for questions!

  • I have trouble figuring out how to adjust my recipe if it was not successful. I know there are lots of variables, depending on the fruit, natural sugar or pectin levels etc. But I find myself combing through cookbooks looking for applicable information (which may be just fine; I do that with other types of cooking) For example, made pomegranate jelly from jarred juice. Great the first time, too soft the next. Why? Made lovely blueberry maple syrup conserve from Small Batch Preserving, but used wild blueberries which provided less juice and more skin surface….gummy jam the first time around. So do I change the lemon, sugar, water….and how to decide?