How to Can & Preserve Food
Canning is easier than many people think.
Canning food is a great way to preserve foods you want to make larger batches of. For example, I love to make jams and jellies, but it's impossible to make small enough batches for just me, myself, and I to consume before they start to mold. I learned to can so that I can not only preserve them, but I can also keep them on hand to give to family, friends, and neighbors. When I first looked into it, I had assumed canning would be a complicated and somewhat difficult process. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how simple it is!
Gather Your Supplies
In order to get started canning, you'll need the following:
- Glass Jars With Lids and Bands. These are 2-part lids with a flat disc that sits on top of the jar, and a metal ring that screws on over the disc. I highly recommend Ball jars. I've never had a single issue with them cracking from temperature change, not sealing properly, or even cracking when they've slipped out of my tongs and clunked back into the water bath. They're very resilient, reasonably priced, and fairly easy to find both in-store and online, making consistency easy to maintain.
- A large pot: The pot you boil the jars in to seal them needs to be tall enough that you can completely submerge whatever size jar you are using to can and have approximately 1 inch of water above the top of the jar.
- A jar lifter (optional): While this isn't 100% necessary, I do recommend getting one. I used tongs for a while, and it's very easy to lose your grip. At best this results in a lot of splashing of hot water. At worst, it results in broken glass and a massive mess. You can also get a canning rack, which allows you to lift an entire pot full of jars at once, but I prefer the jar lifter so that I can have multiple batches going at the same time and can just lift specific jars as needed.
Prepare Your Jars
Now that all of your supplies are ready to go, it's time to prepare your jars for canning.
- Fill your pot until the water is high enough to cover the jars with about 1 inch of water above the top of the jars, and bring it to a boil.
- Put the jars and lids (with the lids not on the jar) into the boiling water. Leave them there for 10 minutes. This will sterilize the jars prior to filling them with food.
- Remove the jars and lids with tongs or a jar lifter, and leave at room temperature.
Fill Your Jars
Now you're ready to add your food to your jars. If what you're canning is hot, such as jams or jellies you just took off the stove, you can add them to the jars right away. If you're making pickles or preserving anything else that is cold, wait for the jars to cool slightly before adding the contents, as rapid temperature changes can crack the glass. Once the jar is the right temperature, follow the below steps to properly fill the jars and prepare them for sealing.
- Fill the jar, leaving approximately 1/2 inch of space at the top. There are a variety of canning funnels you can use to make filling the jars easier and to ensure you have less of a mess to clean up, but a ladle works fine as well.
- Take a wet paper towel and wipe along the rim of the jar, ensuring there is nothing on the outside of the jar mouth.
- Carefully place the disc on the top of the jar, and screw the ring over it. The ring should be just a very little bit loose - almost as tight as you can get it but not quite. This leaves a little bit of room for air bubbles to escape during the water bath process.
Once again, bring the water in your pot to a boil, making sure you add more water if it no longer covers the jar and leaves about an inch of water above the top of the jar.
- Once the water is boiling, put the filled jars into the bath. Leave them in there for 20–30 minutes. The heat of the water bath forces air bubbles out of the jar, and
- they escape through the sides of the disc. If you watch closely, you should see bubbles come out of the top of the ring while your jars are in the water bath.
- After 20–30 minutes, remove the cans from the water bath and put them somewhere at room temperature to cool. Do NOT put them right into the refrigerator. The rapid temperature drop can crack the glass jars. It's better to let them cool entirely at room temperature, but if you're in a hurry and need to cool them faster, wait at least an hour before placing them in the fridge.
- Once the jars are cool, you should be able to press on the disc without it moving/depressing at all. If you hear pinging noises as the jars cool don't be alarmed; this is the discs depressing as the jars seal themselves. If the disc still shifts when you press on it once the jar is entirely cool, the jar did not fully seal and you need to repeat the water bath.
- Once the jars are cool enough to handle, fully tighten the ring. Depending on the jars you use, your canned food should last 12–18 months.