Water Bath Canning for Beginners

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Welcome to the homesteading section of the blog. Today, Heather, from Second Chance Farm, is sharing her best tips on water bath canning. As a beginner canner, herself, she wants you to learn what she has learned from others, and feel confident in your journey to home food preservation. Enjoy!

As a beginner canner myself, I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea for me to share tips and information on home canning.  However, I have learned quite a bit along the way, and want to share the tips and procedures that have helped me.

I’m an educator by trade. So, I’m skilled at finding ways to teach things I may not be an expert in! But, canning is very personal to some people who have been learning from their family for generations. Those are the people I look to as experts along my personal journey.  

I began my canning journey, over the last couple of years, with the intent of being able to preserve food. The food in our garden continues to grow past the growing season. And, naturally, we don’t want it to do to waste.

I truly believe we learn best from our failures, and the beginning to my canning story has a few! Here are some tips, recommendations and information that I found useful as a beginning canner.

What is Water Bath Canning

Water bath canning is an easy method for preserving high acid food. Fruit, tomatoes, and pickled vegetables are perfect for water-bath canning.

It is when you fill your canning jars with food, cover loosely with a lid, then boil in a completely covered full boil water bath.

Water Bath Canning vs. Pressure Canning

Let’s discuss the differences between water bath canning and the pressure canning method. These two forms of food preservation are not the same.

Water-bath canning is for high-acid foods and occurs when jars of food are submerged in boiling water. The jars sit in the boiling water bath for a set amount of time, per the tested recipe and canner directions.

Pressure canning is for low-acid foods and occurs when jars are heated to a very high temperature under pressure. The higher temperature of the pressure cooker allows the steam to cook, sterilize, and vacuum seal the food.

Although you can use a pressure canner to water bath can, many people use water bath canning pots or stock pots instead. I purchased a water bath canner that is nothing fancy, and love it!

I originally started by using my pressure canner for water bath canning, but I couldn’t fit quart sized mason jars in it. So, I purchased a larger water bath canner. Now I have both!

Equipment for Water Bath Canning

To get started, canning your food using water boils, there are a few tools I recommend starting with.

The equipment and tools listed below are all things I use myself. Some things I first went without (like magnetic lid lifter) and although I could do it without them, they sure make the job easier!

  • Water bath canner (with canner lid) or stock pot with lid Make sure it’s big enough to have 1-2 inches of water above the jar after being put into the pot.
  • If you use a large pot with lid, make sure to add a wire rack so jars don’t sit directly on the bottom of the pot. You’ll want about an inch of space from the bottom of the boiler water canners.
  • Magnetic wand for lifting lids and rings
  • Empty jars, lids, and rings of matching size (wide mouth is different than regular mouth)
  • Jar lifter: It’s important to use lifting tongs correctly!
  • Funnel
  • Ladle
  • Baking tray for warming jars
  • New lids: once the pressure lids have been sealed, you cannot reuse them. Always have extra clean jars and new lids on hand.

Follow the Recipe!

It’s ok if you don’t have generational knowledge about canning to rely on. There are many of those experts who have contributed to recipes that you can learn from!

My approach to following a recipe for canning anything is as follows:

  1. Reference the guide that comes with your canner. Follow all directions for the canning recipe you are making.
  2. Find a recipe from a trusted source. A trusted source is someone or a resource that has a lot of experience with canning, not just an online influencer. Yes, I said it!
  3. Combine the knowledge from both sources; your chosen recipe along with the directions in your canner’s guide book. 

This method has worked well for me. If you have a phone a friend lifeline to someone that has experience, use it! I have a good friend who I called the first time I canned tomatoes. 

Long story short, I had a jar break in the first pot I canned and it was a mess. Still not sure why! Also, I didn’t cook the sauce down near long enough and my jars resulted in tomato sauce so watery. ⅓ of the jar was water once it settled.  

It happens, sometimes more than once. It’s ok! Keep going anyway.

Water Bath Canning Process

When setting up for a water bath canning session, I like to get everything I need so I’m not forgetting anything in a moment of need.

  • Heat the oven to 200 degrees and lay jars on a baking sheet. Once the oven is warm, put the jars in the oven to warm up until you’re ready to fill them.
  • Make sure to wash your jars, lids and rings with warm soapy water before using them.
  • Add lids and rings to a pot of water on medium heat, with canning rack installed. Make sure the water level is high enough that it will cover the jars by at least one inch of water when they are all placed inside.
  • Once you’ve cooked your food down for the recommended time, according to your recipe, you’ll be ready to fill your jars.
  • Pull jars from the oven and place them on a towel, or paper towel, while they are being filled. This is the best way to prevent spills from getting onto your counter. I use the canning funnel and a ladle to reduce as much waste as possible, but there’s no way around the mess of canning!
  • Use a magnetic wand to remove the lids and rings from the water and set them aside to be dried.
  • Once jars are filled with at least ¾” of head space (between food and top of the jar), you will need to wipe the rim of all the jars. For some reason this is a step I have forgotten more than once!
  • You want to make sure to wipe rims so that your lid seals correctly. I usually use a dampened cloth.
  • Set lids on jars and tighten rings finger tight on all jars. Now they are ready to go into the canner!
  • Use the canning tongs to lower jars slowly into the warming water. Once the canner is full, set the lid and boil the water until you hear a full boil. When it’s at a full rolling boil, you’ll start your timer for the length of time your recipe calls for.
  • Once the time for boiling is over, turn the stove top off, and let your canner sit with its lid on for a good 15-20 minutes to cool and reduce steam.
  • When you’re ready to pull the lid off, open the lid facing away from you in case there is still any hot steam inside. Pull jars out and set them on a towel on a flat surface, like your counter.
  • Don’t move them or mess with them for 24 hours. Once they have cooled, you can remove the screw band rings to ensure you have an airtight seal. You don’t \want any false seals.
  • As the jars cool and seal further, enjoy the sound of popping lids.

Canning is messy. Be prepared for a sink full of dishes afterwards.

Additional Tips for Water-Bath Canning

I can’t reiterate enough how important it is to stick to trusted recipes when you are first starting. 

My most common mistake, as a beginner, was not cooking down the food long enough. It resulted in watery tomato sauce and runny jam! Tomato products can be tricky!

For some reason, I forget to wipe the rim on my jars often. It’s important to remember to wipe them so that food or moisture doesn’t ruin the lid from sealing. The sealing compound the the key factor!

If you have a productive garden, keeping up with canning food during the busy growing season can be overwhelming. Keep in mind, you don’t have to do it all during the busy season!  

Save and freeze your fruit and vegetables for the fall and winter when the garden is done. During that time of year, you’ll likely have more time for canning.

Waiting until the Fall and Winter allows me to can large batches at once.  I have berries and tomatoes in my freezer now that will get canned this month into jam and sauces.

Instead of using your canning jars for drinking glass, storage, etc. Start saving glass food jars that you buy your food in so that you can use them for those purposes.  

My favorite jars and lids to save are honey jars, mayonnaise jars and sauce jars. 

There is nothing to be afraid of! I let fear keep me from pressure canning much longer than it should have and I’ve found it to be super easy! 

Learning to preserve your own food is a way to add to your self sustainability skills. Along with saving money and eating healthier foods, canning your own foods has many benefits!

Before you go, here are more posts you’ll enjoy:

Plantain Salve Recipe

The Best Homesteading Supplies

12 Benefits of Drinking Olive Oil Before Bed

Water Bath Canning