Water Bath Canning-An Introduction to Canning

Canning is a baseline skill to preserve food! The easiest way to start your home canning journey is with water bath canning. Home food preservation requires a basic understanding of the science behind what you are doing, no matter what recipe you are following.

Ten jars of homemade salsa in a water bath canner.

What is Water Bath Canning?

Home food preservation is a great skill to learn. I began this series with a video on the history, process, and safety of canning and have written a post on how to start canning here.

Now, I want to break it down further into more specific methods used for canning. There are two main methods of home canning: water bath canning and pressure canning.

  • Water bath canning is not difficult and only takes a few tools, but you must follow some specific steps to ensure your food is safe to consume. Water bath canning can be defined as filling sterilized jars with food, boiling it to a temperature that will kill contaminates in the contents, and allowing the heat to create a vacuum, which will then seal the jar and create an oxygen-less environment where spoilage cannot occur.
  • Pressure canning has the same goal, but the pressurized steam reaches a higher temperature than the water bath method. This high temperature is required to preserve low-acid foods safely.

Various jars of stacked canned foods.

What Foods Can Be Water Bath Canned?

Water bath canning works for high-acid foods because the acid in the food makes up for what the temperature lacked. Some of the foods you can safely water bath can are:

  • Fruit and Fruit Juices
  • Jams and Jellies
  • Tomatoes(Including tomato sauce)
  • Pickles
  • Salsas (some, but not all)
  • Relishes
  • Chutneys
  • Pie Fillings (some, but not all)
  • Cherries
  • Apples and Pears

Water bath and pressure canner with jars of home-canned foods.

Equipment Needed for Water Bath Canning

  • Jars – I mostly can with my American brand Mason jars, but I also show you how to can with Weck Jars here if you want to try a European brand.
  • Big Canning Pot – This does not have to be a specific pot, however this canning pot will do the trick. The basic criteria for the pot are that it needs to be large enough to hold your jars and have enough room on top of them to allow 1″ of water plus a little more space for boiling. You will also need something in the pan to keep the jars from touching the bottom. It can be canning rings, a towel, or a trivet that can handle the heat.
  • New Lids – You can reuse jars and rings, but the lids need to be new.
  • Wide-Mouth Canning Funnel – A funnel is useful for filling the jars. I like this funnel.
  • Jar Lifter – This tool is used to lift the hot jars out of the water.

This basic canning kit will also come with a magnetic tool for lifting lids, a jar lifter mitt, and a tool for pressing into the jar to release air bubbles.

Step by Step Guide to Water Bath Canning

Preparing Canner and Supplies

  1. Fill the water bath canner with several inches of water and turn on the stove burner. Make sure to have placed your barrier on the bottom of the pan. You will want enough water in the canner that it will cover the jars with water by about 1 inch. Take into consideration that the jars will displace the water so estimate accordingly.
  2. Sterilize jars by placing them in the hot, canner water for about 10 minutes. If you have a big day of canning ahead of you, another option is to fill the dishwasher with jars and run them on a sanitization cycle.
  3. Fill a separate saucepan with water and place the new jar lids in the water to sanitize them and also soften the compound on the underside of the lid.

Mason jars filled with ingredients for home canned pickles.

Filling the Jars for Water Bath Canning

  1. Place the funnel on the jar and fill it with the food you are canning. Follow your specific recipe's instructions on how much head space to allow for the food you are canning. This is important to pay attention to as the result of not allowing enough space can lead to overflow, which could then cause the jars not to seal.
  2. Prepare some hot water with a splash of vinegar. Using a clean rag, dip it into the water and wipe the top rim of each jar. This is an extra step in ensuring that there is nothing between the jar and the compound of the lid.
  3. Using the magnetic tool or another sanitary object, place each lid on top of the jar and finger-tighten the ring around it. Don't turn it too tight because the seal might not work, but try to make it tight enough so no water can seep into the jar.

Processing Food in the Water Bath Canner

  1. Lower each jar carefully into the canner. Put the jars in at an angle as you lower them to prevent splash-back and burning yourself. Make sure the jars are not touching each other or the sides of the canner. They will move somewhat as they are cooking. You don't want them bumping into each other which could lead to breaking.
  2. Process the contents for the amount of time on the recipe. The processing time will vary considerably, but keep the water at a rolling boil.

Canned peaches lining a counter next to a water bath canner.

Removing Jars and Preparing for Storage

  1. Carefully remove the jars from the water bath canner with the jar lifter and set them on a towel-lined kitchen counter for at least 12 hours untouched. Listen for the popping sounds. This usually happens within 30 minutes of removing them from the water, but sometimes it can take longer. The sound comes from the lid being sucked down as the heat releases, creating a vacuum sealing the jar.
  2. After 12 hours, check to see if all the lids have been sealed by pressing down on the center. If they are sealed, they will not pop down. If the lid makes a popping sound, it did not seal properly. You can either remove the lids and try the entire canning process again or place the jars in the refrigerator and eat the contents before they spoil.
  3. Remove the metal bands, wipe down any residue on the jars and store your canned goods in a cool, dark place. I keep mine on a shelf in my pantry, but a basement is also a good location. Don't stack the jars. The suggested storage time is one year, but if you have a family that loves to eat like mine, it will disappear quickly!

FAQs of Water Bath Canning

What Cannot be Canned in Waterbath?

Any low-acid foods cannot safely be canned. Things included as low acid are items such as meat, potatoes, pumpkin, and green beans. If you don't know, always look for a trusted source and recipe!

The internet, including blog posts and Pinterest, can't always be trusted. My favorite resource for canning is the Ball Canning Book. It's been around a long time, and the methods and recipes are tried and true!

How Long do you Water Bath for Canning?

The processing time varies according to the food you are canning. Follow the instructions on your trusted recipe.

Do you Submerge Jars When Water Bath Canning?

Yes, the jars must be covered with one inch of boiling water to ensure a proper seal.

Raw Pack vs. Hot Pack

Raw packing and hot packing are two terms you will need to understand in your recipes. Hot packing is cooking the food before you pour it into the jars. Raw packing is putting your uncooked foods into the jars and preparing a hot brine or liquid to pour over the raw food before canning it.

Why Do Some Recipes Call for Lemon Juice or Citric Acid?

The purpose of adding lemon juice or citric acid is to help create an environment with pH levels where pathogens cannot survive. Food safety is important, and no one likes to get sick!

Water bath canning is entirely safe if done correctly with items sterilized and things like mold, yeast, and enzymes dealt with properly.

What Condition Should My Produce be in for Water Bath Canning?

Choose ripe produce that you would eat raw. If you don't want to eat it raw, don't can it! Don't use rotted or damaged produce that might be contaminated.

What is Pectin?

Pectin is used in the process of making jams and jellies. Adding pectin and sugar in the exact amount the recipe calls for and heating it to 220*F for a certain amount of time will make the food jell to the consistency desired.

Sugar is not required to can safely, but sugar works alongside pectin, so most recipes will call for it.

Hot Jars/Cold Contents

AVOID this! Adding contents to hot jars can cause your jars to break.

I want to share this beautiful life with others and teach them the lessons we've learned along the way. Welcome to Roots and Refuge, friend. I am so glad you're here.

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