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 lids and screw bands (lids can't be reused, but screw bands can)
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, lids, 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.) Keep the jars hot. You may do this by filling a sanitized sink with hot water, being sure the water stays quite hot while the jars sit in it, or you may keep the jars in the dishwasher with the heat cycle on, or you may put the jars in the canner. (More on that last option in step 2.)
2. Place the rack in the bottom of the canner and fill the canner with hot tap water. Turn the burner to medium heat. (If you'll be keeping the canning jars hot in the canner, now is the time to place them there. If the water in the canner is cold, the jars should be, too. If the water in the canner is warm, the jars should be warm before going into the water. And if the water in the canner is hot, the jars should be hot being being placed in the canner. Being careful about this will prevent canning jars from breaking.)
3. 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.
4. 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 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.
5. 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).
6. 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.
7. 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.)
8. 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.
9. Place a lid on top of the jar. Don’t worry about centering it perfectly.
10. 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.
11. Place the jar inside the canner, using a jar lifter.
12. Repeat steps 6 through 13 until all the jars are filled and are inside the canner.
13. Make sure there is at least 2 inches of water over every jar in the canner. Add water, if necessary.
14. Put the lid on the canner and bring the water inside it to a boil.
15. Once the water is boiling rapidly, "cook" or process 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
29. 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 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.