An Update on the Canning 101/New to Canning Plan

February 11, 2014(updated on October 3, 2018)


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!

Canning Basics:

  • What exactly is finger-tip tight?
  • Why do I have to add citric acid or lemon juice when canning tomatoes?
  • If I heat an extra lid and then don’t end up using it, do I need to throw it out since the sealing compound has been “activated” or can they be dried and saved for future canning?
  • Can you talk about the differences between “hot packing” and “cold packing”?
  • Where can you get a water bath canner that can adequately over quart jars?
  • How about a post on how to clean and maintain canning equipment.
  • Should I worry about small amounts of liquid condensation on the inside of my jars?
  • Is it safe to stack jars in the canner?

Fruit Preserves:

  • How do you know when a sweet preserve is ready to be placed in the jars? Tips, tricks and visual clues would be most helpful.
  • My strawberry jam is always foamy. Using a pat of butter works the best but I still have jam with a foamy “head.” Any ideas?
  • Do set points vary based on the fruit you’re using?
  • What should you do when the liquid doesn’t cover the top of the fruit when you’ve canned whole fruit in syrup?
  • How do you get overset plum jam out of jars when it is seriously hard set? 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?
  • What causes foaming in jams/jellies? How do you stop it?
  • Using a steam juicer vs. boil-and-strain method – Is there a difference & which do you prefer?
  • Is there a way to double recipes? Or should you just have two pots of jam going at once?
  • How do you make pectin-free jams with frozen fruit? Can you convert a recipe to work with a different kind of fruit? Like making raspberry butter in the same manner as blueberry butter. And what about fruit blends?
  • For recipes using fruit, is using ripe fruits better than those not ripe?
  • If my jam is too firm, what went wrong?
  • Is there any way to fix the consistency after canning it?
  • I have trouble figuring out how to adjust my recipe if it was not successful. Any tips would be helpful.


  • 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?
  • How do you know when home fermented products are acidic enough to can?
  • Can you break down the step in canning directions that says, “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.
  • I am interested in technical information regarding no sodium canning. Especially tips on retaining flavor and texture and safety in the canned results.
  • How do you tell the difference between safe air bubbles and unsafe, active bubbles?


  • Why do I have to add citric acid or lemon juice when canning tomatoes?
  •  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?


  • How can I adjust the amount of sugar in a recipe? 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 find that the jams are a bit too sweet for my taste, and the pickles came out too vinegary. 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?
  • Can you give some tips or recipes on fruit preserves that are less sweet or use honey/agave instead of sugar.
  • How do you use Splenda and other alternative sugars for preserving?

Altitude Adjustments:

  • 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.
  • Canning at high altitude – how does that impact the set point of jams and jellies?

Recipe Sourcing and Development:

  • How can you tell that a recipe found online is safe? A guide to some other online sources of canning recipes would be great.
  • How do you develop your own safe recipe?
  • How do you check the acidity of a home canned food?
  • Is there any guide to converting large batch recipes to small batch (one or two jars) ones?
  • What is your process for developing and testing a recipe?
  • Do you ever use a ph meter or strips to measure the ph?

Pressure Canning:

  • How can you convert a water bath process to a pressure canner process?
  • When is it better to pressure can than use a hot water bath?
  • Is there a simple chart that shows canning times and pressure amounts for different foods?
  • How do you keep the jars from getting gross in a pressure canner?
  • 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.
  • Do you have any suggestions 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).

Using Preserves: (This question probably didn’t need its own category, but I didn’t want it to get lost elsewhere.)

  • More suggestions on how to use what I’ve made as I’m always looking for ways to USE what I canned.

Other Questions:

  • What do you do with things you’ve canned and you find you don’t like them?
  • 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?
  • The marmalade turned very dark when I added the sugar. Is this normal?
  • The little cheese cloth bundle gets thrown out before any simmering of lemons/water happens, correct?
  • How do you make your own pectin?
  • More tips on using one-piece lids!
  • 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?

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43 thoughts on "An Update on the Canning 101/New to Canning Plan"

  • Is it safe to use sealed canned goods that had quite a bit of siphoning when pulled out of the canner?

    How to substitute honey into a recipe rather than sugar – for instance to make a syrup to can peaches in. (I have a recipe which calls for 1 cup sugar, 1 cup honey with the water in the syrup but I’d like to use just honey.)

    1. Yes please, info on siphoning (why it happens, how to avoid it), and whether the resulting jars are still safe to store.

  • Can I use my pressure cooker for canning?
    Thanks so much for your passion and willingness to share what you’ve learned!

  • I’d like to know more about keeping pickles crispy. I made my first batch last summer and they are really tasty, just not crispy. I’d like to second the question about packing, especially for small pieces of fruit/veggie. It’s bad enough that my dills have more brine than pickle but the bread and butter pickle slices barely take up half the jar.

    1. I learned that packing a grape leaf on top of the dills before processing keeps the product crisp. just discard it after opening the jar. this works well with zucchini dills.

  • This may be in the list of questions, but I didn’t specifically see it. Is there anyway to keep the canned items (I’m thinking tomatos) from floating to the top of the jar? I don’t think it’s a safety or quality issue, it just doesn’t look very nice.

  • Lots of great questions, a couple I had never thought about before, like if I had heated up a lid and didn’t use it. I have also been wondering what you use to can when you are not at home for a heat source, like during your classes. I have a flat top stove and do most of my canning on the side burner on my grill or at my mom’s house on her gas stove. I have heard about getting electric burners for the counter but not sure what to look for.

  • I just got my first pressure canner – it was delivered yesterday. My question is: wow, jars are expensive! Do you have any tips for saving money on jars? At $32 for six, this will be the most expensive chicken broth I’ve ever had!

    1. Marlene, go to an ace hardware, or something similar in your area. Regular canning jars are way cheaper than that, and you can get the lids, etc. all in the same place. Enjoy!

    2. You can also acquire jars from thrift shops. Just make sure they don’t have any chips in them. I just got ten dozen jars for $2.

    3. We were snowed in here in Portland at the same time the bean canning post came out. I started canning beans out of boredom 🙂 and ended up with 30 pints! Easiest thing ever and plain old canning jars are just fine.
      If you have none, start asking around . . .friends, people at church, aunts, gramma, neighbors etc . . .people are ALWAYS looking for someone to give their canning jars to.
      Now I just need to figure out what the heck I am going to do with them all

    4. I got my first giant load of canning jars (mason jars, not weck) from a classified listing in our small town. It was cases and cases of jars for $50 or $25… I don’t remember but it was super cheap. I then found some at the scratch and dent store for half price. I’ve seen them at thrift stores and garage sales so they’re around for even cheaper than the grocery store (which has the best prices in our area).

    5. Weck Jars are the BEST for staying away from the TOXIC BP’s (BPA’s, BPS, etc.) that line the lids of Ball, Mason, Kerr Jar lids. Yes, Weck is the most expensive to use in Canning, BUT, your health is worth it…and considering the many years you’ll be able to use your Weck jars AND rubber rings, the cost can be broken down over the life of them. Most folks pay the extra expense for these jars because they are concerned about the TOXIC plastics that line the “regular” canning lids/jars.
      I saved money on my Weck jars this year when I ordered on The price wasn’t any cheaper there, but when I used my Credit Card points, I saved about 50% when applying those points towards purchasing the jars. Credit Card points add up very quickly…and so easy to apply toward any Amazon purchase.

  • I live pretty much at sea level (within 100m) and my jams never, ever set, nor do they ever reach the appropriate temperature. I’m usually off by a degree or two. As well, they tend to burn to the bottom of my LeCreuset pot even if I have it at the lowest setting on my gas stove.

    Thanks Marisa for helping all of us take the mystery out of canning!

  • HELP! I can’t seem to find an answer to this question – ARE AIR BUBBLES A SAFETY ISSUE IN MY CANNED SPAGHETTI SAUCE? I use a water canning method, processed for 40 minutes and bubbled each jar. Sorry, a little frustrated as a new canner I don’t want to make anyone ill from bad canning. Please advise 😉

  • Fantastic list of questions! I recall seeing the post asking us for questions, but none came to mind. Now, looking at this list, I see several questions that have crossed my mind in my several years of canning. Looking forward to the posts with the responses. Thank you for the thoughtfulness in asking your readers what we want to know and accommodating us!

  • I’d like to know how to can safely with the least amount of sugar for jams and preserves using sugar, not honey or artificial sweetners or juices. Also, possibly no pectin. I don’t mind if they are a little runny. Many times the fruit is so sweet you really don’t need much sugar. With only two at home now I really love the small batch canning. Thank you.

  • I must say; you have the Best canning site there is on the web. I have learned much since I first signed up for your email newsletter.
    Thank you

  • I have one question to add- How can I avoid jar breakage when cold packing whole peeled tomatoes? Last year I lost at least 2 jars when I added them to the water. I use uncooked whole peeled tomatoes, boiling water or tomato juice, and added them to a not yet boiling water bath, and I was really surprised and bummed to lose a few. Any tips? Thanks!

  • Every time I can I seem to have a few jars that don’t seal. I always wipe the rims and follow the instructions on headspace. Any suggestions or tips on why this happening and how to prevent unsealed jars.

  • YES on the topic of using less sugar/different sugars. YES on WHAT to do with stuff afterwards (you know, besides eating them as is).

  • I appreciate the opportunity to be thankful. For instance, I’m very thankful to have stumbled upon a site (after googling Laurie Colvin) that resonates with my present enjoyment in making and enjoying simple homemade ingredients.

    Both my daughter and I are very good thank-you note writers. All it takes is a reflection on the gift, how the person doing the giving was thoughtful and intuitive in their selection. Then a reflection on how the gift will be enjoyed so that the giver, who typically isn’t there f you’re writing to them, can see in their minds eye how their gift will be living with its present owner. Thats all it takes, but it takes writing it.

    You’ve posted some exquisite letterpress notecards. Even the tag and string is lovely ~

    A funny comment on canning. My mother canned from our large garden, and kept her canning in the basement in a small room built just for that. For years I’ve called it her “Cole Cellar” and finally thought to look it up, asking myself how it could possibly be called that. I thought it was some quaint Appalachian-like term, harkening back to a different use for the area. Turns out, I had it wrong. Its definitely, and sensibly, called a Cold Cellar. I must have heard the term from very young and not questioned it.

  • When submerging jars into the water bath and bubbles come out, do you have to worry about water going in? If it does, are the jars no longer safe? Does it prevent the seal? Thanks! Looking forward to all the answers.

  • Hi,

    Thank you for the thoughtfulness of doing this project to answer the many questions that are so important to canning. I’ve been a canner for years, canning everything I could in the water bath. About 3 yrs. ago my dear husband got me a wonderful new pressure canner which would allow me to do the veggies, meats, beans, etc. that I’ve longed to do. However, it doesn’t have the rocking weights, only the pressure gauge, and I was intimidated by all the things I read about the weights being a better, more dependable system.

    I even took it to have the gauge tested but then due to many other things going on, it was put aside. It’s still in the box and I’m so upset at not having used it yet. So I guess my question would be if you could help someone experiment with the pressure canners using just the gauge – perhaps assuring it’s going to be as simple as with the weights. When I called Presto, they weren’t very helpful. They do have the weights on a different model, but my husband thought I’d like the bigger canner even though it’s just the two of us. I couldn’t understand why this one couldn’t have the weights like the others.

  • First, thank you — the site and books are amazing and so well written!! Here are a few more questions that came to mind:

    When using a recipe how do you switch out the types of pectin called for? Ex:If I am using a recipe from the Ball cookbook but want to use a different pectin then their own. Can I just stick with the same ingredients and change the order/pectin used?

    Also when packing pickles, I never can get the pickles and brine in fast enough so the jars cool by the time everything is in. Is this a safety issue or just a precaution to keep the cans from breaking?

    I’d love love a page with charts. Simple things like time adjustments when you change the size of the jar. Altitude. An easy reference page to print out.

  • Do you have to fill jars to required headspace or can you process partially filled jars? I hate wasting the end of a batch because it’s not enough to fill my current jar but is too much for next size down.

    1. You need to fill the jars all the way to the proper headspace. The product will not keep well in a half full jar, and the jar runs the risk of floating in the canning pot and then breaking.

  • I would love a post at some point about how you managed to prepare jars of jam as wedding favors! It’s something I’ve often thought about, but I have no idea how I would plan head for that much fruit, time, etc.

  • None of my recipes are for tomatoes put through a tomato press.

    I just got one as a gift, and I put my tomatoes through it (according to its directions) instead of blanching-peeling-coring them. Now I don’t know how to measure the resulting “soup.” Is 7 cups of “chopped cored peeled tomatoes” the same as 7 cups of “thin souplike seedless skinless puree that came out of the tomato press”? (Also, its directions did not have me core the tomatoes or remove the blossom end.) I want to make salsa, so I really don’t want to mess up my measurements and possibly get botulism.

    Also, one of my jars of “soup” has separated even though I never heated it, just put it through the press. I’m tempted to just collect and use the pulp and discard the water. But how would I measure it?

    1. The tomato press produces a tomato pulp that you then cook down into puree. That is the only thing is it good for. If you want to make salsa, you’d need to peel and chop tomatoes the other way. Tomatoes put through a press are not going to be good for salsa.

      As far as the separated tomato juice that you made, did you can it? If so, then you did heat it. I can’t begin to advise you on trying to measure out only the pulp. So sorry!

      1. Thanks!
        I didn’t can any of it, it’s in the fridge. It’s now been 14 hours, but I noticed the separation after no more than half an hour.
        Of course the people submitting reviews of the tomato press say you can cook the “soup” down and then use it for salsa… :sigh: Live and learn! (The “salsa screen” also doesn’t work. It just produces seedy juice. It made a nice tomato soup, though!)
        OK, one last question:
        The tomatoes growing best for me are Stupice. Small, heavy, so they produce less volume for their weight. (Sauce tomatoes just do not grow well around here.) For example if you look at these two recipes:
        One is by weight and the other is by volume, but they have the same ingredients and the same amounts of vinegar, salt and pepper. That suggests the NCHFP thinks that 5 pounds tomatoes is (very approximately) 10 cups tomatoes.
        But when I actually hand-processed 5 pounds of Stupices (for refrigerator salsa), I got *2* cups.
        That’s such a big difference that I…just don’t know what to do.
        I’m thinking of following the standard tomato sauce recipe with the pulp from the tomato press: Boil it down till reduced by half, then can with 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice per pint.
        But I’m not sure how to follow any other recipe at all. Go by weight or by volume? If by weight, weigh before processing or after? I’d like to make the Ball Basil-Garlic Tomato Sauce recipe, but I’m afraid I will end up with way too much basil and garlic relative to the tomatoes.
        Thanks again!

  • Hello, I am new to canning and would like to know where I can find the recommended process time for preserving pickled sliced radishes and carrots. I was going to use open kettle canning as I don’t have the pressure canning equipment. Can you assist with that?

    1. The best option for what you want to do is boiling water bath canning. I suggest you look at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. They have all the official timings.

  • 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?

    Also, the jars that didn’t fit, can they sit on counter waiting to put in canner or do I need to wait and fill jars until first batch has finished processing?

    1. You can absolutely use the same water to process multiple batches of jars. Just make sure to top off the pot so that the jars are fully submerged. It’s better to only fill the number of jars that fit in your canner. When the first batch is nearing the end of the processing time, start prepping the next set. It’s not a good idea to have filled jars just sitting around, waiting for their turn in the canner. It can lead to thermal shock or spoilage.