Monday, August 23, 2010

Never Canned? Here are the Basics

So.  You're curious about canning, hey?  You're wondering how it's done?  Well, I'm going to give you a basic overview.  This is not meant to be any official guideline.  If you decide you want to try canning, I suggest getting the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (which you can probably find at your local grocery store for around $6...it's a great resource to give you all of the details you need to can food safely).

What tools are you going to need?  Well, a big pot (like the Granite Ware 11-1/2 Quart Covered Preserving Canner with Rack).  Make sure you have a canning rack.  You can't have the jars touching the bottom of the pot.  You'll also need jars.  You can generally find them at grocery stores (I've bought them from Woodman's Pick 'n Save, Menards, and Farm & Fleet).  They run from about $6 to $9 per case, depending on the size (4 oz, 8 oz, pint, quart...they even sell 1/2 gallon and gallon jars).  When purchasing jars, you have the option of regular mouth and wide mouth when it comes to the popular pint and quart sizes.  I personally prefer the wide mouth because I find them easier to fill.  When you buy the jars, they come with lids and bands.  The bands are reusable (as long as they aren't misshapen or rusty).  The lids are NOT reusable.  Don't even think about it.  They are only made to seal once.  I've seen the lids go for about $2 per pack.

There are also tools that make the job a lot easier.  You can usually find them in a kit for about $10.  The kit includes a jar lifter, a lid lifter (this nifty contraption is just a stick with a magnet on the end...it's awesome for taking the lids out of a pot of hot water and positioning them on the jars), a funnel, and a head space measurer/air bubble remover (this is basically a stick you use to get air bubbles out of the jars and to quickly measure the amount of space at the top of a filled jar).

Now that you've got your canning essentials, here's the basic run-down on the process:

1)  Wash the jars, lids and bands in hot, soapy water.  If you will be using a recipe that requires a processing time (which is the amount of time the jars spend in the waterbath canner) greater than 10 minutes, then you can place the jars in a cool oven.  I put them on a cookie sheet, then turn the oven on to a smidge over 200 degrees.  The thing about glass jars is that they don't like big changes in temperature.  They don't like to go from room temperature to really hot or vice versa.  So, you'll want to keep them hot for when you fill them.  If you are going to be processing your jars for 10 minutes or less, then you'll want to sterilize them.  I just place them in the waterbath canner, then turn the burner up to high until the water starts to boil.  I make sure they are in there for at least 10 minutes until I'm ready to fill them.  NOTE:  It takes a giant pot of water a very long time to boil.  Do this step first!  Place the clean lids into a small sauce pot and let the simmer (or just under a simmer...DO NOT BOIL) for at least 10 minutes.  This softens the rubber ring so that it will create a proper seal later on.

2)  Prepare your recipe.  In this post I'll be making pickled green and yellow jalapenos.  First I washed them.  Next, they were chopped up (while wearing gloves, of course...I don't want to burn my eyeballs out when I take my contacts out later!).

chopped up jalapenos
Then I peeled the garlic that would go into the jars, and ran outside to pick some oregano (and washed it).
fresh oregano from my garden & peeled garlic
3)  Pull your jars out of the oven.  I place mine on a towel so I don't wreck my very ugly counter tops (they came with the house and I think they may be from the early 1950's) and so that the jars aren't shocked by the cooler temperature of the counter top.

4)  Fill your jars (the funnel makes this step neat and clean).  Make sure to leave the appropriate head space that the recipe recommends.  Use the stick tool mentioned above...just poke it around in the jar a few times to release the air bubbles.  Remeasure the head space and add more liquid if necessary.

5)  Take a dampened paper towel, and wipe the tops of the jars.  You don't want to leave anything behind on the top where the seal is going to be made.  It must be clean or you jars may not seal, or you could have a faulty seal that could cause spoilage later on (eeewww!).

6)  Use your handy dandy lid lifter to take the lids out of the hot water and center on the jars.

filled jars, lids, and lid lifter
7)  Put the bands onto the jars.  Adjust them to 'fingertip tight' which means don't tighten them as much as Superman can.  Just tight enough with your fingertips.  It needs to be just loose enough to be able to create a nice vacuum seal.  Too tight, and this cannot happen.  Too loose, and the contents could leak.

8)  Place the jars into the canning rack that is positioned in the waterbath canner.  When they are all in, lower the rack (the water must cover the jars by at least 1 inch of water).  Place the lid on the canner.  When the water returns to boiling, start your timer for the time specified in your recipe.

jars in the canning rack before it is lowered
9)  When the time is up, turn off the heat, remove the lid, but leave the jars in for another 5 minutes.  This allows them to cool a bit, and also helps to reduce leakage when you remove the jars from the canner.

10)  After the 5 minutes are up, remove the jars from the canner and place on a towel, hot pads or trivets.  You may hear the lids 'ping'.  This is a good thing!  It means the jars are sealing.

11)  The jars need to sit undisturbed for 24 hours.  After they cool off a bit, I like to check the seals.  This means I push down on the center of the lid.  If it doesn't bend up and down, it usually means there's a good seal.  I then take the bands off so they don't rust.  It gives them a chance to dry out.  Some jars take a bit longer to seal.  Don't take the bands off the jars that don't have a good seal yet.  If they haven't sealed after 24 hours, put the jars in the fridge and use those first.  With all of the canning I've done, I've only had 1 jar not seal...and I'm not sure why it happened.

admire the finished product
12)  After 24 hours, you can store the jars with or without the bands in a dark, cool or room temperature place (sunlight and heat can alter your products).  Or, you can leave them on the counter or table to admire for a few days.  I usually do this (even though my husband isn't a fan of this step).  It's also a good idea to label all jars with the name of the contents and the date when it was prepared.  Most items are officially good for 1 year (although some swear that they are still good past 1 year).

A note on food poisoning:  cleanliness is very important when it comes to canning.  You do not want to poison anyone.  However, if done correctly, canning is very safe.  For the specifics on food safety, please refer to the Ball Blue Book or USDA Guide to Home Canning.

1 comment:

  1. Great tips! Those jalepeno's look great. Be sure to check on Jen's blog on Friday as she is making Jalepeno Jelly! It's fantastic!!!!

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