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Our grandmothers “put up food” as a means to preserve their garden’s bounty for the winter months. A stocked pantry acted as an emergency fund of sorts during times of job loss, illness and economic uncertainty. Now, new generations of women are discovering the domestic art of canning.
The type of food you are preserving, will determine the canning method which should be used. Pressure canning is the only method recommended for the safe canning of low acid foods. Low acid foods include vegetables (with the exception of tomatoes and pickles to which vinegar is added), meat, poultry and seafood. Water bath canning is suitable for high acid foods like soft spreads (jam, jelly, fruit butter, conserve, preserves, marmalade), fruits and fruit juices, salsa, relish, chutney, condiments (ketchup, barbecue sauce, chili sauce, mustard, vinegar), pickles and basic tomatoes. It is also great for beginners and will be the method discussed below.
To get started with water bath canning, you’ll need the proper equipment.
— A water bath canner with canning rack, a large stockpot with a canning rack or a starter kit, such as the Ball Canning Discovery Kit. The canning kit includes a rack and lifter in one and fits in most standard stock pots.
— Glass preserving jars (Mason jars) with lids and bands
— Other equipment – Jar lifter, canning funnel, lid lifter (has a magnet on the end to remove lids from hot water), a non-metallic spatula and a ladle or large spoon.
— Begin by washing the jars, lids and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse well. Jars and bands from previous canning projects can be reused provided there are no nicks or cracks in the jars. However, you must always use new lids for each canning session. Lids can be purchased separately wherever canning supplies are sold.
— Keep your jars warm by placing them in a pot of simmering water or in a heated dishwasher. Keeping the jars warm will reduce the chance of breakage when you fill them with your hot, prepared food. Set bands to the side as they do not need to be heated.
— Fill your canner or stock pot with enough water to cover the jars by at least 1 inch of water. Place the lid on the canner and heat to a simmer. Keep your rack to the side until ready to use.
While the water in the canner is heating, prepare your recipe. Remember, only high acid foods when using the water bath method. When selecting a recipe, it is important to use those from trusted canning sources. And to follow those recipes to a tee! Don’t experiment! A few sources for trusted recipes are:
— Once your food is prepared, fill each jar allowing for the proper “headspace” as stated in the recipe. Headspace is measured from the top of the jar rim to the top of the food. The space is needed to give the food room to expand.
— Using a non-metallic spatula, slide the spatula inside the jar gently pressing the food against the opposite side of the jar. This removes any air bubbles which may interfere with sealing.
— Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth. Center the lid on the jar, and then twist on the band until “fingertip tight”. Do not over-tighten the band!
— Place filled jars into the canning rack and lower into the canner. The jars should be covered by at least an inch of water. Cover the canner and heat to a steady boil for the time specified in the recipe.
— When time is complete, turn off the heat and allow jars to sit in water for 5 minutes.
— Remove jars from the water and cool upright on a towel in a draft free area for 24 hours. Don’t worry about any water resting on the tops of the lids; it will evaporate during the cooling period.
After jars have cooled, check the seal by pressing the center of the lid. If the jar is sealed, the lid will not flex. If the lid flexes, the jar did not seal properly. Jars that did not seal properly must be refrigerated or reprocessed immediately.
And there you have it! If you can boil water, then you can preserve your own food using the water bath method.