Basics of water-bath canning

Steps and materials to water-bath can in your home kitchen.

High-acid foods, such as fruits, tomatoes, pickled products, jam, jellies and preserves are processed in a water-bath canner. A water-bath canner is a large, deep kettle that has a cover and rack to hold jars. A large, covered stock-pot that is deep enough to allow water to be one to two inches over the tops of the jars can also be used. A rack can be purchased wherever canning supplies are sold.

There are two methods of packing food to be water-bathed: Raw pack and hot pack. Raw pack involves thoroughly washing prepared food and packing it tightly in manufactured canning jars. Hot pack suggests bringing food to a boil and simmering for two to five minutes and promptly packing into clean, hot manufactured canning jars.

Both raw and hot packed food need to be covered with boiling water, cooking liquid, syrup and juice according to research-tested recipes. Release air bubbles by using a plastic spatula, bubble freer or wooden spoon to go around the inside of the jars. Follow science-tested recipes for proper amount of head space. Wipe the jar rims with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel. Michigan State University Extension recommends using the two-piece canning lid with a sealing compound and screw band.

Recommended water-bath procedures are as follows:

  • Fill canner or stockpot half full with water, cover and heat.
  • Using a jar lifter, place filled jars on rack in canner. If needed, add additional boiling water to cover jars one to two inches.
  • Cover canner.
  • Start counting processing times, when water comes to a rolling boil. Monitor rolling boil and add additional boiling water to keep level one to two inches above jars.
  • Turn off heat as soon as processing time is completed and use jar lifter to remove jars.
  • Place hot jars on cooling rack or towel to cool. Leave undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours.
  • Check for sealed jars. If jars have not sealed, the food can be reprocessed according to a science-tested recipe or put in the refrigerator and eaten within three to four days.

For best results in water-bath preserving, MSU Extension recommends using only manufacturer canning jars. Check all jars for cracks, chips or nicks, such defects can result in breakage or sealing failures.

For further information on water-bath processing and other food preservation methods visit the MSU Extension Online Home Food Preservation.

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