Showing posts with label Canning 101. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Canning 101. Show all posts

Dec 4, 2013

Best FREE Canning Jar Labels on the Net

Home canned foods and gifts in a jar both make excellent Christmas gifts. Not only are they yummy (or, in the case of some gifts in a jar, useful), but they say "You cared enough to take the time and creativity to make this for me." In years past, I've discussed some fun ways to dress up your jarred gifts, but this year I specifically wanted to focus on labels. There are a ton of free jar labels available online - just print them off, cut them out, and attach. But to help you wade through all those offerings, I've rounded up what I consider the very best the Internet has to offer.

Canning Jar Top Labels

These are the type of labels designed to fit on the lid of canning jar. You may either glue these labels on top of the lid or simply set them on top of the jar lid and hold them in place with a jar screwband.

* Beautiful, old fashioned labels for blueberry, peach, apricot, grape, cherry, raspberry, strawberry,
Old fashioned labels from World Label.
bumbleberry (mixed berry), and marmalade.

* Simple "homemade" labels

* Colorful stripes

* Black and white Art Deco inspired

* Candy stripes

* Simple "Homemade Just for You"

* Green and blue stripes

* Flower power

* Several styles of vintage labels

* Classy chalkboard style

* Plaid, polka-dotted, and starburst labels

* Pretty fruit labels for berry, cherry, raspberry, and strawberry jam

* Citrus

* Antique-style

* "Spread Love" labels and tags

* Apples

Mason jar labels from
* Blue, maroon, gold, and green print

* Cute fruit labels

* Colorful polka-dots and stripes

* Christmas trees

* Red and white "Jam Made with Love By..."

* Beautiful fruits: cherry, peaches, lemons, tomato, pear, grapes, pumpkin, strawberry, currents, raspberry, and blackberry.

* Photos of real food: apple, tomato, cucumber

* Sunbursts

* Simple "Made With Love"

* "Farm Fresh"

* Red, blue, and green gingham

* Snazzy black, white, and color labels

* Flowery black and white

* Colorful leaves

* Green leaves and grass

* Mason jars

* Old fashioned strawberry jam

Christmas presents and penguins from World Label.
* Applesauce

* Pretty vintage

* Red and white striped, snowflakes, and holly labels

* Christmas lights

* Christmas presents and penguins

Canning Jar Front Labels

These labels are designed to glue on the front of a jar - just like labels on grocery-store purchased canned goods. For best results, print on paper with a sticky back.

* Sweet cherry jar labels

* Cute blue and red "Made with Love"

* Red gingham
Old fashioned strawberries from Happy Miscellany.

* Colorful polka-dots and stripes

* "The Jam Labelizer:" choose from several fonts and colors

* Christmas and winter theme labels

* Apple pie

* Old fashioned strawberries

* Fruity labels

* Vintage

* Red and white striped, snowflakes, and holly labels

* Elaborate antique

* Modern blue and gold 

Canning Jar Tags

These tags tie on with string or ribbon.

* Cute "What's Inside" tags
Mason jar tags from Cottage Industrialist.

* Mason jar tags

* Rustic tags for strawberry, peach, cherry, plum, blueberry, raspberry, mixed berry, damson, and blackberry jams (also orange marmalade)

* Patterned mason jars

* "Spread the Love"

* Cute strawberries

* "Homemade Salsa"

* "Farm Fresh"

* Christmasy birds

* Merry Christmas

Other Ideas

* Use old Christmas cards to create jar labels.

* Use muffin liners as decorative toppers. Or use brown kraft paper. Tie with string, or just put a jar ring on.

Aug 21, 2013

When & How to Sterilize Canning Jars

A few days ago, I read an article in one of the country's most famous cooking magazines (affiliated with a very famous television network), trying to explain how to can tomatoes. It was riddled with errors – none of which were going to lead to food poisoning, thank goodness. But it was yet another reminder that as canning gains popularity again, there’s an awful lot of misinformation out there.

One area that many, many canners seem to find confusing is when to sterilize jars.

Why Sterilize Canning Jars?
The only reason to sterilize canning jars before canning is if the processing time is very short. Otherwise, the jars and their contents will be perfectly sterilized during the processing time - assuming you're using an approved recipe from Ball or the National Center for Home Food Preservation. (All canning recipes here at Proverbs 31 Woman are from one of these sources.)

When to Sterilize Canning Jars 
It is only necessary to sterilize canning jars before filling them if the processing time is under 10 minutes. Very few things fall into that category: Some jellies, jams, marmalades, and similar preserves, and perhaps some pickles in smaller jars, for example.

Anything that is processed more than 10 minutes is put in clean, hot jars that don’t need sterilizing first.

Jars in the Canner Aren't Sterile
Some people think if they put their jars in the canner and turn on the heat, making the water hot (and perhaps even simmering), they are sterilizing the jars. This is not true. This keeps the jars warm before filling them - which is necessary in order to prevent jars from breaking - but the jars aren't actually getting sterilized. (There are other ways to keep jars warm, too, including in a clean sink of hot water and in a dishwasher that has a hot "drying" temperature. I do not recommend keeping them hot in the stove, since this can lead to temperature fluctuations that can make jars break.)

How to Sterilize Canning Jars
There are people who recommend sterilizing canning jars in the oven or the dishwasher, but the only safe way to get them sterile is to boil them. Here’s how:

1. Fill your canner with water so it comes at least 2 inches above the tops of the jars. Be sure there is a rack in the bottom of the canner.

2. Add the canning jars and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes.

3. Now just leave the jars in the canner until you are ready to fill them. (Don’t take them out of the canner and let them air dry.)

It’s that simple!

Jun 21, 2013

Canning Q & A 2013

Q: Is it true canning lids contain BPA?

A: Older canning lids did contain a layer of BPA sandwiched in between the metal layers, but new Ball and Kerr canning jars no longer do. Look for lids marked "BPA Free." (Ball actually began selling BPA free lids last fall, so you can check the production date on boxes, too.)

Q: A friend told me I shouldn't store my canned jars with the rings on. I like the convenience; is there really a good reason why I shouldn't?

A: Here's why it's best to NOT to store home canned jars with jar rings on them: If, for some reason, the seal on the jar lid breaks free, the ring holds the lid in place and makes it possible for the jar to re-seal - and then there's no way to know whether or not the contents of the jar are still safe to eat. (While you should always smell the product and look for mold, sometimes food can be spoiled and show no signs of it.) So, yes, you really should store your jar rings elsewhere.

(c) 2013 by Gretchen Harris.
Q: When a recipes calls for hot jars, does it mean just wash them in hot water?

A: No. When a canning recipe calls for putting food in hot jars, it means the jars must be pre-heated. Otherwise, the jars may break during the canning process, or the contents of the jar may not reach the temperature required to kill off harmful bacteria. There are several ways to keep jars hot before filling them:

1. Place them in the canner (with both the jars and the canner filled with water) and heat the water until it steams.

2. Place the jars in a sanitized sink full of hot tap water; this will require adding fresh hot tap water periodically.

3. Wash the jars in a dishwasher and keep the dishwasher on the hot dry cycle until you're ready to use the jars.

4. Place the jars in a roasting pan with several inches of water in it and place the whole in a warm oven.

The latter method should not be confused with sterilizing jars in the oven (which is not perfectly effective) or oven canning, which is not safe.

Q: I recently canned something from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and I ended up with fewer pints than the book said I would. Is that typical?

A: It depends on how you determine how much produce to use. If you go by number (for example, 20 tomatoes), you may get more or less finished product because produce varies so much in size. For the most accuracy in how much end product to expect, go with the recipe's weight recommendations (for example, 10 lbs. of tomatoes). Even then, however, the recipe only offers an estimate of how much canned food to expect.

Q: For water bath canners, do you need to only use 2 inches of water? 

A: No; you must use more than that. The water in the canner should cover the tops of the jars by at least one inch in order to have safely home canned food.

Check out previous' year's Canning Q & A:


Mar 29, 2013

Canning Glossary

Ever bump into a canning term that leaves you scratching your head? Learn what that term means here, in Proverb's 31 Woman's Canning Glossary. Can't find a certain term listed? Be sure to email me ; I'll provide an answer and add the term to the Glossary!

Alum: In older prickling recipes, alum is sometimes called for to add crispness. However, large doses of alum can cause illness, including nasea and gastrointestinal problems. Therefore, it's no longer recommended for pickling.

Ball offers approved recipes.
Approved Recipe: A canning recipe tested and approved by the USDA. You will find approved recipes in modern day canning books, such as The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, The Ball Blue Book, at the website of the National Center for Home Food Preservation - and on this blog! Following non-approved recipes, or older recipes (even from the 1980s), is not considered safe because we now know more about food acidity and temperatures needed to kill harmful bacteria. The old canning rules simply aren't as safe as the new ones.

Ascorbic Acid: The scientific name for vitamin C. When used in canning, it prevents the discoloration of fruits and vegetables.

Bacteria: Microorganisms that are found everywhere. Certain bacteria can lead to serious illness or death in humans and may thrive in low-acid, home canned foods that aren't heated to 240 degrees F. for a specific period of time. This is why low-acid foods (like vegetables and meat) must be canned in a pressure canner.

Blanch: In cooking and canning, to blanch means to place food (usually vegetables or fruit) in a pot of boiling water for a very short period of time, then immedietly place the same food in ice water. The process preserves color and texture and makes it possible to easily remove the skin or peel of certain fruits. (Removing the skin or peel isn't merely for aetetics; the outer part of certain foods is more likely to contain bacteria.)

Boil: Heating liquid until bubbles burst over the surface. See also "Boil Gently," "Simmer," "Full Rolling Boil," and "Boiling Point."

Boil Gently: See "Simmer."

Boiling Point: The temperature at which liquid reaches a boil - 212 degrees F. at sea level.

Full Rolling Boil: Boiling rapidly; stirring does not prevent the liquid from continuing to boil. To obtain a gel in jam or jelly, it's vital to cook at a full rolling boil.

Boiling qater canner
Boiling Water Method: Also called "Bath Water Method." This is one of two ways to home can food and is used only for high-acid foods such as fruits, pickles, and jams. When jars of food are surrounded by boiling water and a temperature of 212 degrees F. is maintained, harmful bacteria is killed, making the contents of the jars safe for eating.

Botulism: Food poisoning caused by eating toxins caused by the spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. In canning, using only approved recipes with correct processing times, and using the proper canning technique (boiling water vs. pressure canner) prevents botulism.

Brine: Salt-water (with or without added herbs) used in pickling.

Bubble Remover: A canning tool that's shaped like a stick and is not metallic. To use, it is moved straight up and down in the jar to remove most air bubbles. A handle of any non-metallic utensil (such as a spoon with a long handle) may be used instead.

Calcium Chloride: A natural mineral salt used to crisp food (especially pickles) in canning.

Candy thermometer
Candy Thermometer: A thermometer with a hook or clip on its side that's used for attaching the tool to a pot or pan. Used in canning when making soft spreads made without additional pectin.

Canner: A specially designed pot used for home canning food. "Canner" may refer to a Water Bath Canner or a Pressure Canner, both of which have very specific uses.

Canning Salt: See "Pickling Salt."

Chutney: Spiced mixtures of vegetables or fruits with vinegar, typically used as a spread for breads or meats.

Citric Acid: A natural acid found in citrus fruits like lemons. Used in canning to prevent the browning of foods or to increase acidity.

ClearJel: A brand name product used as a thickener in canning. Thickeners like flour and cornstarch break down in canning and should not be used. ClearJel does not.

Dial gauge on a pressure canner
Conserve: Similar to jam, made with two or more fruits, plus nuts or raisins.

Cold Pack: To place food inside canning jars when it is unheated and uncooked.

Dial Gauge: On a pressure canner, a regulator that indicates the amount of pressure in the canner. For safety's sake, have your gauge tested every year at a local extension office. Or, buy a weighted gauge for your pressure canner (see "Weighted Gauge").

E.coli: A type of bacteria common in human intestines. A strain, Escherichia.coli 0157:H7, produces toxins that may cause diarreah, headaches, chills, fever, or even death.

Exhausting: See "Venting."

Fermentation: Fermentation is a naturally occurring process caused by yeast. In canning, if yeasts haven't been killed during processing, the food will bubble, become scummy, and break the jar's seal. Some foods are fermented before canning, such as certain kinds of pickles or sauerkraut.
Food mill

Fingertip Tight: A phrase used to describe how snugly jar ring bands should be. To put a screwband on "fingertip tight," use your fingers to turn the band until resistance is met, then tighten just a little further. Over-tightening bands can result in buckled lids or lids that don't seal. Bands that are too loose may also cause lids to not seal.

Food Mill: A device used to puree cooked, soft food, such as tomatoes or apples.

Fruit Butter: A thick, soft spread made by slowly cooking down fruit and sugar.

Funnel: A utensil that sits on top of a canning jar to make packing food into the jar easier and less messy. For canning, it should be plastic, since some foods react with metals.

Gasket: A rubber ring that fits inside the opening of a pressure canner and creates a seal so no steam can escape.

Gel Stage: The point at which a soft spread comes to a full gel: 220 degrees F or 8 degrees F. above the boiling point of water.

Headspace: The empty space between the food in a canning jar and the top rim of the jar. Correct headspace is necessary so food can expand during the canning process, and so a strong vacuum seal can be created, sealing the jars.

Jar lifter
High Acid Food: Food that has enough acid (either naturally or because of an added ingredient) to reach a pH of 4.6 or lower. Fruit (including tomatoes), jams, jellies, and most spreads are naturally high-acid foods. Pickles, relishes, and salasas become high acid due to the addition of vinegar or citric acid. High acid foods should be processed of boiling water canners. (Compare to "Low Acid Food.")

Hot Pack Method: When hot canning jars are filled with hot food prior to processing. (Compare to "Cold Pack.")

Jam: A soft spread made with crushed fruit.

Jar Lifter: A tool designed for safely lifting canning jars in and out of hot water.

Jelly: A soft spread made with fruit, then strained so it no longer has pieces of fruit in it.

Jelly strainer with jelly bag.
Jelly Bag: A cloth bag used to strain jelly. Sometimes a type of colander or strainer lined with two layers of cheesecloth is used instead.

Jelly Strainer: A metal stand with a large ring used for holding a jelly bag over a bowl.

Jelly Thermometer: See "Candy Thermometer."

Kosher salt: A coarse salt without additives like iodine. It is sometimes used in pickling, although (due to variations in granule size) it can be difficult to measure accurately. Therefore, pickling salt is usually preferred for canning.

Canning lids in a lid rack.
Lid: The metal disc that sits on top of the canning jar and is initially held in place with a metal ring. Once the jars are cooled and sealed, the metal ring is generally removed so that if the jars loose their seal in storage they don't reseal potentially spoiled food.

Lid Lifter: A wand-like tool with a magnet at one end, designed for lifting canning lids out of hot water.

Lid Rack: A tool designed to neatly hold canning lids in pots of hot water.

Low Acid Food: Food that has a pH higher than 4.6. Meat and vegetables are low acid foods - which must be processed in a pressure canner in order to kill harmful bacteria.

Marmalade: A soft, jam-like spread made from citrus and citrus peel.

Open Kettle Canning: An old fashioned method of canning where a canner is not used. Hot jars are filled with hot food and lids are screwed on. As the jars cool, the lids seal. This method does not adequately heat foods and destroy bacteria and therefore is no longer considered safe.

Oven Canning: An old fashioned method of canning where jars are placed in the oven to process. Because it does not adequately heat foods and kill bacteria, it is no longer considered a safe method of canning.

Oxidation: When fruits and vegetables are exposed to oxygen in the air, they oxidize, or turn brown. Oxidation isn't harmful, but may cause textural changes. It can be prevented by keeping cut fruits and vegetables in a bowl of lemon juice and water as you work with them.

Paraffin Wax: A type of wax used to seal jars in an old fashioned canning method. It is no longer used because it doesn't kill all harmful bacteria.

Pectin: A carbohydrate naturally found in fruit and vegetables. In canning, a powdered or liquid form of pectin is used to gel jams, jellies, and other spreads.

Pickle Crisp: A product that uses calcium cloride (naturally found in some salts) to  make home canned pickles more crisp.

Pickling: Preserving food in a vinegar solution, often with added spices. Cucumber pickles are the most common pickled food, but many vegetables and fruits may also be pickled.

Pickling Cucumber: A type of cucumber that is small when mature - typically no longer than 6 inches. For the best pickles, they should be processed immediately after picking off the vine.

Pickling Lime: A caustic white powder (also called "slaked lime") used in some old pickle recipes and designed to add crispness. Because it burns, corrodes, and may increase the risk of botulism, it is no longer recommended for home pickling.

Pressure canner
Pickling Salt: A fine grained salt that contains no anti-caking ingredients or iodine, which can darken pickles and cloud their brine.Also called "canning salt."

Preserves: A soft spread where the fruit retains it shape and is shiny and transparent. Unlike other soft spreads, preserves do not hold their shape when spooned from the jar.

Pressure Canner: A heavy pot with a lid that locks in place and has a pressure regulator. Used to process low acid foods like vegetables and meat. Pressure cookers - similar looking pots used for cooking food - are not suitable for canning; however, some pressure canners are designed to double as pressure cookers.

Pressure Canning Method: A home canning method used to can low acid foods, like meat and vegetables, safely. Because the steam inside the canner is pressurized, it can exceed the point of boiling water (212 degrees F.), which enables the method to kill harmful bacteria in low acid foods.

Pressure Cooker: An air tight pot that cooks food with pressurized steam. Pressure cookers are not the same as pressure canners and should never be used for canning.

Processing Time: The amount of time filled jars are heated in a boiling water canner or pressure canner. Processing times are tested to ensure the contents at the center of the jar reach a temperature that kills off harmful bacteria, and vary according to jar size, contents of the jar, and whether or not the jar was hot packed or cold packed.

Raw Pack: Filling canning jars with unheated, raw food prior to processing them in a canner.

Relish: A pickled food made from chopped vegetables and/or fruits. It is cooked in vinegar and may or may not contain sugar. It is used as a condiment.

Screw bands
Reprocess: Re-can. When a canning jar fails to seal, the contents are reheated according to the original directions, a new lid is put on, and the jars are reprocessed.

Screw Band: A metal circle used to hold a canning lid in place on a canning jar while the jar is being processed. Once the jar is completely cool and sealed, it's best to remove the screw band.

Simmer: To cook just below the boiling point. Bubbles will form in the pot, but will only burst occasionally on top of the liquid.

Slacked Lime: See "Pickling Lime."

Sterilizing: Killing all microorganizsms. In canning, jars don't need to be sterilized before being processed in a canner unless the processing time is 10 minutes or less. To sterilize jars, fill them with water but don't put on lids. Place them in a canner filled with water; bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes.

Table Salt: A fine grained salt commonly used at the dining table for seasoning. It usually includes anti-caking ingredients and iodine, which can cause cloudy brine or darkened fruit. Pickling salt is preferred for canning.

Vacuum Seal: The state of negative pressure that allows home canned jars to seal and prevent spoilage. When the jar is heated inside the canner, the food and air inside it expand, pushing air out of the jar. When the jar cools and the food inside shrinks, a vacuum forms. The sealing compound on the underside of home canning lids prevents air from re-entering the jar.

Victorio strainer
Venting: Allowing air to escape from a pressure canner OR forcing air to escape a jar during processing in a canner (see "Vacuum Seal").

Victorio Strainer: A tool that separates the skins and seeds of fruit. It also purees the "meat" of the fruit. It is commonly used for making applesauce and tomato paste.
Weighted gauge

Weighted Gauge Pressure Canner: A type of pressure canner that has a three- or one-piece weight on the lid that allows steam to vent. The steam causes the weight to rock back and forth during processing, which indicates the correct pressure has been achieved for safe canning. Unlike dial gauges, which should be tested every year for accuracy, a weighted gauge can be used without special testing.

May 23, 2012

Canning Q & A: 2012

New to canning? Check out the Proverbs 31 Woman post on purchasing canning equipment; if you want to learn the steps involved in canning, read Using a Boiling Water Canner and Using a Pressure Canner.

Q: I was told it's best not to can on ceramic top stoves. Any workarounds?

A: It's true; canning is strongly discouraged on a ceramic or glass top stoves. Here's why: Because these stove tops can crack at high temperatures, they are designed to never go above a certain heat level. This means the burners don't stay at a temperature that's high enough or consistent enough to kill bacteria that causes food poisoning in canned goods.

Often you'll hear you need a flat-bottomed canner for ceramic or glass stove tops, but the truth is, this may not solve the high/consistent heat problem - especially when the heat sensor on the stove turns off the burner; even if you turn the burner right back on, you've cause a heat fluctuation that could be problematic.

Some folks use a flat bottomed stock pot with a well fitting lid in leiu of a boiling water bath canner. They place a wire cake rack in the bottom, so jars don't touch the bottom of the pot and break. This might work fine, but you'll have to test it on your particular stove. 

To test any stove for canning ability:

1. Fill the stock pot or canner with water bring it to a full, rolling boil. If the water won't come to a full boil, the stove can't be used for canning.

2. If the water comes to a full boil, keep it there for the length of time required by the canning recipe you're using. If the stove won't keep the full boil going, the stove can't be used for canning.

Other things to watch out for:

* The pot musn't be more than 1 inch wider than the burner.

* Be sure to carefully lift the canner/pot off the stove; never drag it, as this could damage the stove top.

* If the stove has an automatic shut off, it's almost certainly unsuitable for canning.

If your ceramic top stove is unsuitable for canning, you could purchase a new or used electric coil burner or gas stove and put it outside, just for use when canning. Or you might be able to use a camping stove to can outside, if the stove has enough power to pass the test mentioned above. I've heard the Coleman 2 Burner Propane Grill /Stove works, but I have not personally tested it.

Q: I've seen a lot of blogs with directions for canning butter; is this safe? 

A: No. Scientific testing has found no way to home can dairy products (including butter) in a way that effectively kills off dangerous bacteria. 

I once knew a lady who canned butter, despite this fact; she stored it in a a very cool, dark area of her home. She didn't have any problems with the butter keeping - until one hot summer when her air conditioning stopped working. Then all her canned butter spoiled rapidly. This means the canning process was doing nothing to preserve the butter; it was keeping it in a very cool location (basically, refrigerating it) that kept the butter good. 

Instead of canning butter, I recommend freezing it, learning to make it from scratch (it's easy with a mixer), and/or purchasing commercially canned butter powder or ghee.

Q: I've heard they are bringing back pint and a half jars; I want them for canning asparagus! Where can I buy them?

A: Yes, pint and half (24 oz.) jars are now being made again - and they are perfect for canning asparagus, longer beans, whole carrots, and such. You can purchase pint and a half jars direct from Ball. Amazon carries them, also, and many stores that carry canning jars will introduce them as the canning season comes to full run, including ACE Hardware. Be sure to process pint and a half jars using the quart processing times given with the recipe.

Q: I want to can my jam in pint jars, not half pint jars the recipe gives processing times for. For how long should I process the pint jars?

A: You're right to be concerned about how long to process jars of a different size than the recipe calls for. Failing to do so can result in food that's dangerous to eat because it hasn't been heated well enough to kill off dangerous bacteria. With jams and jellies, use the same processing time for half pint and pint jars. (And don't decrease the processing time when using quarter pint jars.) For other types of foods, consult one of the Ball canning books or the National Center for Home Food Preservation for appropriate processing times.

Be sure to check out "Canning Q & A" from 2011 and 2010, too!

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Aug 15, 2011

Canning Q & A, 2011

Q: Total beginner here. Do you recommend starting with a water bath canner or a pressure canner? And what are some good first canning projects?

A: I recommend starting your canning career with a hot water bath canner because it's cheaper to purchase. Most people also find a water bath canner less intimidating (it's just a big pot, after all). Just remember, you won't be able to can soups, meats, or veggies - unless you pickle those veggies. This is a safety concern; a water bath canner can't bring low acid foods to a high enough temperature to make them shelf stable.

The two first projects I recommend are some kind of pickle (click here for a super-easy method) or tomatoes. Pickles are easy (just be sure to can the freshest produce you can find) and tomatoes are not difficult, yet so much tastier than store bought.

For step-by-step water bath canning instructions, click here.

Q: I've been using a water bath canner, but I'd like to do some soups and things. But my friends all agree that using a pressure canner is just - well, scary. What do you think?

A: For some reason, many people find pressure canners intimidating. Maybe it's stories of them blowing up in grandma's kitchen (something that won't happen today, unless you blatantly don't use the canner correctly) or maybe it's just that dial gauge sitting on top of the canner. But I encourage you to take the plunge. I was nervous the first time I used a pressure canner, too, but after my first batch I realized pressure canning isn't so different from canning with a water bath canner. Pressure canners also keep the kitchen cooler, which is nice during the summer.

Q: How long do home canned foods last?

A: According to the U.S. government, one year. However, home canned foods can last many years.
Mostly it's a matter of quality, taste, and nutrition; the longer the jar sits, the more the quality declines. Low acid foods (mostly things you'd use a pressure canner for) last the longest; for example, their is a true story about a 118 year old can of meat that was eaten safely (by a cat).
Q: I had an incident last week where a few of my jars broke in the canner. Why did that happen?

A: First, I want to assure newbies I've never had this happen in 10 years of canning. There are a few reasons this could happen, however: 1. If jars have cracks in them. 2. If you don't use a rack on the bottom of the canner. 3. If use non-canning jars are used. 4. If jars are exposed to rapid temperature changes.

It's true canning jars can take greater temperature fluctuations than ordinary glass jars, but they still should be warmed and cooled gradually. If you pour hot contents into a cool jar, or if you put jars filled with cool food into boiling water, the jars may break. So be sure the water in the canner isn't boiling when you put jars in it, and always keep jars hot while they are waiting to be filled. You can do the latter by putting jars in a canner filled with cool water, then bringing the water to steaming, or by placing the jars in a sink of hot water, or by washing the jars in the dishwasher and keeping them hot in the heated (drying) cycle.

Q: What causes seal failures? I recently had a few jars not seal.

A: There are actually quite a number of reasons lids might not seal, all of which are preventable:

1. Over- or under tightening screw bands; they should be just tight.

2. Not wiping the jar rims clean with a fresh cloth or paper towel; any bit of food or debris on the jar rim makes a seal impossible. (This includes bits of cloth or paper from your towel.)

3. Jars without smooth rims; before using them, always run your finger over the rims of jars to ensure they don't have cracks or chips.

4. Leaving an incorrect amount of headspace; you don't have to get out a ruler and measure, but if you leave only 1/2 inch of headspace when the recipe calls for 1 inch, you will have seal failures.

5. Not allowing a pressure canner to vent or exhaust 10 minutes before timing processing.

6. Not getting lids warm enough before placing them on jars; the sticking agent on the lids needs to soften before being applied to a jar. Barely simmering the lids in a saucepan does the trick.

7. Allowing the temperature in the canner to fluctuate during processing.

8. Re-using canning lids; they are considered suitable for only one use.

9. Using screw bands that are bent, warped, or rusty.

Q: Can I can fruit without sugar? What about jams and jellies with lower sugar?
A: In home canning, sugar does not preserve fruit. However, fruit canned in water tends to have very little flavor. For those limiting the amount of sugar in their diet, use a light syrup of 5 cups of water for every 1/2 cup of sugar. It's also possible to can fruits with fruit juice or honey. For more information on this technique, read Canning and Preserving Without Sugar by Norma Macrae.

Jams and jellies made with less sugar can result in a watery product, but you may lower the overall sugar levels in the food by using a "no sugar needed" pectin (available in the canning section of stores like Walmart). Macrea's book also covers jams without sugar.

Q: When I can my fruit, it floats. I notice yours does, too. What's up with that?

A: Floating fruit is normal and is especially prevalent if you can fruit without cooking it first. Fruit is full of air, and when it is cooked or canned, it will loose air. This results in jars that don't look nearly as full as they did before you packed them with fruit. Instead, the fruit floats at the top of the jar. It is not a safety issue. (So why not just cook the fruit first? Because it will loose nutrients. It also adds another step to the canning process.)

Q: I bought a rocker gauge for my pressure canner, but it didn't come with instructions. How do I use it?

A: If you don't want to have your pressure canner's dial gauge tested every year, you should buy a rocker gauge for your canner. For complete info on this, read this post. To use the rocker gauge, remove the weight vent that came with the canner and replace it with the rocker gauge. The gauge has three parts. If you use just the bottom piece, it will bring the canner to 5 lbs. pressure. If you use the bottom and middle part on top of each other, they'll bring the canner to 10 lbs. pressure. Add the top part, and the canner will come to 15 lbs. pressure. When the gauge rocks steadily, you know you've reached the right pressure.

Be sure to also check out last year's Canning Q & A.

Aug 23, 2010

Canning 101: Using a Boiling Water Bath Canner (Canning Peaches)

I think it's smart for most people to begin their canning adventure using a boiling water bath canner (sometimes called a boiling bath canner). Most people find it less intimidating - because it is, after, just a big pot, like you might use for cooking. Boiling water canners are suitable for home canning fruit (including tomatoes), pickles, jams, jellies, preserves, marmalade, and fruit butters. (To can other vegetables, seafood, meat, or meat stocks, a pressure canner is necessary. Learn about pressure canning here.)

This weekend, I pulled out my boiling water canner for the first time this year. I'd just made a trip to a local grower, buying two flats (about 36 lbs.) of peaches, two flats of apples, about 23 lbs. of tomatoes (to supplement what we grow in our garden), and a few apricots. Since peaches go bad pretty quickly, I started with those - and they offer a good basic lesson in using a boiling water canner.

This step-by-step canning tutorial will take you through the entire process
of learning to can with a boiling water canner.

What You Need:
Boiling bath canner
Canning jars
Canning lids and screw bands (lids can't be reused, but screw bands can)
Jar lifter
Lid lifter
Large pot
2 saucepans
1/4 cup lemon juice (optional)
Plastic or wooden handled utensil
Cooling rack or bath towel
Food to can (in this case, fresh peaches)

How to Do It:

(Before you begin, I recommend cleaning an electric coil or gas stove top thoroughly. Any grease or grime on the stove may turn into a difficult-to-remove stain due to the heat of canning. Glass stove tops are not recommended for canning. Also make sure the canner is clean, being sure to scrub down the bottom and sides.)

1. Clean all the jars and screw bands. You may do this in the sink with soapy, hot water, or you can run everything through the dishwasher. (See *NOTE at the bottom of this post.)

2. Place the rack in the bottom of the canner and fill the canner with hot tap water. Place the lid on the canner to speed up the process of heating the water.

3. Place the jars in a sink full of hot tap water. Alternatively, you may clean them in the dishwasher and keep them hot in the dry cycle. Or place them in the canner, filled with water, placed over enough temperature that the water is hot, but not simmering or boiling. The jars must be quite warm to avoid breaking.

4. Fill a saucepan with water and place the canning lids inside it. Place the saucepan on the stove and heat. The water should simmer, but not boil.

5. Lay a towel on the counter, or set out a large cooling rack or wooden cutting board. This will protect your counter from hot jars.

5. Prepare the recipe.

To Can Peaches, begin by making a syrup, which preserves the color and flavor of the fruit. I like to make the lightest syrup possible, using 5 cups of water for every 1/2 cup of sugar. Other options include: 5 1/2 cups water to 1 1/4 cups sugar, 5 1/2 cups water to 2 1/4 cups sugar, 5 cups water to 3 1/4 cups sugar, or 4 1/4 cups water to 4 1/4 cups sugar. Place the sugar water mixture in a second saucepan and simmer it on the stove. If desired, fill a large bowl with the lemon juice and 4 cups of water. Keeping the peeled peaches in this mixture will prevent the fruit from browning, but it isn't necessary for a tasty or safe finished product. Fill a sink or large tub with ice and cold tap water. Once the water in the canner is boiling, place a quantity of peaches inside the canner itself, using a jar lifter to gently drop them in the water. After 30 seconds, remove the peaches (using the jar lifter) and place in the sink of ice water. The skins will now come off easily if you rub your fingers over the fruit. If the skins resist coming off, the peaches aren't fully ripe. After peeling each peach, drop it in the bowl of lemon water, if using. Using a knife, carefully cut around the circumference of the peach twice, cutting it into quarters. Throw away the pits.

6. Remove a single jar from the sink of hot water and fill it with peach slices, keeping the concave part of the fruit (where the pit was) down. Make sure there is 1/2 inch of headspace (the amount of space between the top of the food in the jar and the top of the jar itself).

7. Ladle the simmering sugar water over the peach slices, being sure to maintain 1/2 inch of headspace. Use a funnel to make the job neater.

8. Work a non-metallic spoon or spatula handle up and down in the filled jar. This helps remove air bubbles that can cause food spoilage. (It's okay to see some air bubbles in the jar once it's through processing.)

9. Wipe the edge of the jar with a clean, damp towel, removing any food or syrup that may have dripped onto it. Any debris on the jar rim will prevent the jar from properly sealing.

10. Using the magnetic lifter, remove a hot lid from the saucepan and place it on top of the jar. Don’t worry about centering it perfectly.

11. Screw a band around the jar until it is just tight. Do not over tighten or screw down hard, or the jar may not seal properly.

12. Place the jar inside the canner, using a jar lifter.

13. Repeat steps 6 through 13 until all the jars are filled and are inside the canner.

14. Make sure there is at least 2 inches of water over every jar in the canner. Add water, if necessary.

15. Put the lid on the canner and bring the water inside it to a boil.

16. Once the water is boiling rapidly, “cook” the jars for the amount of time specified in the recipe. In this case, that's 30 minutes for quart jars or 25 for pint jars.** Do not start timing the processing until the water reaches a full, rolling boil.

17. Once the processing is done, remove the canner lid and turn off the heat. Allow the jars to sit in the canner for 5 minutes.

18. Remove the jars, one at a time, using a jar lifter to set them on a towel, wooden cutting board, or strong cooling rack. Do not dry the jars or try to remove water that might sit on top of them, since this could prevent the jars from sealing properly. Simply allow the cans to sit, undisturbed in a non-drafty location, for 24 hours.

19. When the jars have cooled for 24 hours, make sure each one is sealed properly: Press down on the center of each lid with your fingers. Sealed lids will not move when you press on them.

20. Write the contents and the date on each can's lid, using a Sharpie pen. The U.S. government recommends consuming home canned food within a year.

* NOTE: Any food processed or "cooked" in a canner for under 10 minutes (like some jams and pickles) requires sterile canning jars. To sterilize jars, fill them with warm water and place them in the canner (which is already filled with water that reaches at least an inch above the jars). Boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jars one at a time, fill with food, and place back in the canner for processing.

** NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.


Jun 29, 2010

Canning 101: Using a Pressure Canner (Canning Beets)

This weekend, I did my first canning of the season. My "Bull's Blood" beets were ready to harvest, and since we mostly use them in borscht, I canned them right away. As I typed in my earlier post on canning supplies, beets and most other vegetables require a pressure canner. Unlike a boiling water bath canner (sometimes called a boiling bath canner), a pressure canner can be used for all types of home canning.

Whether you've never canned before, or you've only used a boiling bath canner - never a pressure canner - this step-by-step canning tutorial will take you through the entire process.

What You Need:
A pressure canner
Canning jars
Canning lids and screw bands (lids can't be reused, but screw bands can)
Jar lifter
Lid lifter
Large pot
Cutting board
Plastic or wooden handled utensil
Cooling rack or bath towel
Food to can (in this case, beets)

How to Do It:
1. Wash the canning jars and screw bands.

2. Clean an electric coil or gas stove top thoroughly. Any grease or grime on the stove may turn into a difficult-to-remove stain due to the heat of canning. (Glass stove tops are not recommended for canning.) Also make sure the canner is clean, being sure to scrub down the bottom and sides.

3. Fill the pressure canner with water, according to the manufacturer's directions. There's usually a line on the side of the canner to show how high the water should reach.

4. Place the jars in the canner. Place the canner on a large burner, under medium high heat.

5. Place the lids in a saucepan filled with water. Place the saucepan on medium heat. Let the lids simmer, but don't boil them.

6. Prepare food according to a trusted recipe. Two respected sources for canning recipes are the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and the USDA website. Canning recipes require careful testing, or the food could spoil because the recipe's chemistry is incorrect for home canning.

To can beets, first place warm water in a large pot and set it on the stove to boil. Then select beets that are between 2 and 3 inches in diameter. Cut off all but 2 inches of the stems. (Reserve the leaves to add to salads, soups, or stews - or saute the leaves, substituting beet leaves for collards in this recipe.) Clean the beets well and add them to the boiling water in the pot. (The water should cover the beets entirely.) Begin timing when the water returns to a boil, and cook the beets for 15 to 25 minutes, or until the skins easily slip off the vegetable. Remove the beets and pour off the hot liquid in the pot. Add fresh, hot tap water to the pot and place the it back on the hot burner. Rinse the beets in cool water. Cut off the remaining stem and roots, then slip the skin off. Slice the beets.
7. Using a jar lifter, remove one empty jar from the canner. Fill it with food. The recipe will tell you how much "head space" (i.e. space between the top of the food and the top of the jar) is necessary. In this case, I kept 1 inch between the top of the beets and the top of the jar. Then I "hot packed" the food by ladling hot water from the large pot over the beets - always being careful to ensure the head space remained at 1 inch.

8. Using a wooden or plastic handle (from a spoon, spatula, or some other utensil), remove any bubbles from the jar. Use an up and down (not round and round motion).

9. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean, damp towel.

10. With a lid lifter (a little wand with a magnet at the end), lift one lid from the saucepan and center it on the jar.

11. Place one screw band on top of the jar. Screw the screw band in place until you just begin to feel resistance. Then screw just a tad more, until the band is "fingertip tight." Don't screw down hard.

12. Using a jar lifter, place the jar in the canner.

13. Repeat steps 7 through 12 with another jar, until all the food is in jars.

14. Place the lid on the canner and lock it in place according to the manufacturer's directions. It may take a few minutes for the water to boil, but you'll know it's boiling again when steam begins coming out of the vent at the top of the canner. Allow the steam to vent steadily for 10 minutes.

15. Place the canner's weight on the vent. (The weight comes with the pressure canner and is a sort of lid for the vent hole.)

16. Most pressure canners have what's called a "weighted-gauge" on their lid. In most cases, wait until the gauge reads 10 before timing your recipe - but always read the manufacturer's instructions and follow them on this point. Set a timer, according to the "processing time" given in the recipe; in this case, 30 minutes for pint jars and 35 minutes for quart jars.

17. Regulate the heat by watching the gauge and keeping it at the recommended pressure level (usually, 10 or slightly higher). If necessary, turn the burner heat slightly up to increase the pressure level, or turn the heat slightly down to decrease the pressure level.

18. When the specified time is up, turn off the burner and let the canner cool. Do NOT remove the lid. Do NOT remove the vent weight.

19. When the canner gauge reads zero, let the canner sit 5 additional minutes. Then remove the vent weight. Unlock and remove the canner lid, letting the steam in the canner escape in the opposite direction from your face and body. (HINT: The lid should come off easily; if it doesn't, give the canner more time to sit, then try again.) Allow the jars to sit in the open canner for 10 minutes.

20. Remove the jars, one at a time, using a jar lifter. Place them on a strong cooling rack or on a towel placed atop the counter. Make sure that as you move the jars, you keep them upright. Don't try to wipe off the jars or lids because this may prevent the lids from sealing properly.

21. Allow the jars to cool, untouched and undisturbed, for 24 hours.

22. After 24 hours, check to see if the lids have sealed: Press down on the center of each lid; a properly sealed jar lid will not move.

23. Be sure to write the contents and the date on each can's lid. The government recommends consuming home canned food within a year.

* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.