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Home Canning 101: The Basics

Home canning is simple and healthier than other canned foods you buy in a store. It is important for anyone who is canning to understand the process that takes place when you are canning food.  Canning interrupts the natural spoilage of food by heating the food in a home canning jar. When heat is applied to the correct temperature and held there for a certain period of time, it destroys harmful microorganisms. Listed below are basic tips and advice to help you start canning for the first time. Always do research and refer to directions from a manufacturer like “Ball” before you begin canning.

1) Select produce at it’s peak of freshness and flavor, and choose varieties best suited for canning. It’s best to can fruits and veggies as soon as you can after harvesting them, preferably within the same day. Make sure you remove any diseased or bruised spots and thoroughly wash your produce to get rid of dirt and chemicals. Microorganisms multiply rapidly on diseased vegetation. 

pH levels2) Understand your food’s pH level. Your food either has a high-acid pH level or a low-acid pH level. Figure 2 shows common foods and their pH level…for an example, tomatoes have a pH level of 4. Low-acid foods include soups, stew, meat, poultry and seafood. The figure also shows weather you will need to can your food in a water canner or a pressure canner.

3) Only use proven processing methods–boiling-water canner and pressure canner. Purchase a copy of the “Ball” canning book which includes proven canning recipes and steps. Only use recipes that give a specific processing time for the food type and size home canning jar used.

4) Know the altitude where you live. Union, Missouri has an altitude of 545 ft. Altitude levels effect the temperature in which water boils. “Ball’s Blue Book Guide To Preserving” gives processing times based on canning at or below 1,ooo feet above sea level. If you are above 1,000 ft., the ball canning book gives you the increased processing time.

5) Have the proper equipment on hand.

Jars-only use mason jars that are specifically made for home canning, ie. Ball and Kerr glass jars. Reusing a glass jar from the grocery store, like baby food jars, spaghetti jars and fruit jars are not recommended because they may not be designed to withstand the temperatures of a pressure canner. Ball and Kerr make a wide variety of glass jar sizes. These jars are specifically made to fit home canning lids, and the glass within the jars are made to withstand the heat of pressure canning. It is recommended that you use only the jar size recommended in the home canning recipe you are using….using a different jar size could result in your food not getting fully processed. Wash your jars before you use them.
Lids and Bands– come in regular or wide mouth sizes. Lids are not reusable, but bands are! Purchase lids and bands that are recommended by whatever jars you have purchased.
Boiling-Water Canner or Pressure Canner– do your research and find out if you need to purchase a water canner or pressure canner for the food you are processing.
Canning Utensils– Jar lifter, jar funnel, bubble remover & headspace tool, lid wand are among some of the tools that are important to have on hand.
Speciality Equipment– You may have some of these specialty tools in your house already. Depending on what you are canning, you may not need all these specialty tools; food scale, juice strainer, candy/jelly thermometer, cheesecloth

6) Follow manufacturer’s directions for preparing home canning jars and two-piece vacuum caps.

7) Fill the hot jar with prepared recipe making sure you leave the recommended headspace (follow the manufacturer’s recommended headspace…it’s important!) Remove air bubbles by sliding a nonmetallic spatula between the jar and food; press gently on the food to release trapped air. Repeat around the circumference of the jar.

8) Put the lid and band on the jars. The rim of the jars must be wiped with a clean, damp cloth. Center the heated lid on the jar. Screw the band down evenly and firmly until a point of resistance is met – fingertip tight.

9) After processing-

If you are using a pressure canner, make sure the jars have been sitting long enough and there is no pressure left in the canner.

Remove the jars from the canner with a jar lifter…..the jars will be hot and may be submerged in water still…this will prevent scalding.

Place the jars upright on a towel or cutting board 1-2 inches apart so they can cool evenly

Test the lids-after the jars have cooled for 12-24 hours. The best way to test the lid is to apply pressure to the top and see if you hear a pop or if the center flexes up and down at all. (reprocess or refrigerate and unsealed jars)

Label and store your jars in a cool/dry place.

Ball+Blue+Book10) Use your canned food within one year

Now that we have given you the basic steps for home canning, we recommend that you buy a canning book with specific canning recipes and more information on proper processing times. Dickey Bub offers the “Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving” for $8.99 in stores. This book explains everything you need to know about canning. After reading a canning recipe, you can determine the appropriate tools you will need. If you are unsure what certain supplies looks like, the Ball canning book gives great examples on pg 8 and 9. Dickey Bub also offers lots of canning supplies and spices for home canning. When you use your canned food, you will notice that it tastes as fresh and delicious as the day you picked it!

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