Home Canning: How to Can Using the Boiling Water Bath Method

A good recipe and these eight simple steps are all you need to preserve fresh produce and give yourself a year-round supply of healthy, delicious food. Learn how to water bath can!

| September/October 2011

Few things in the world can match the succulent taste of perfectly ripe, just-picked food. But if you haven’t enjoyed juicy tomatoes or ripe blackberries in the depths of winter, you might be surprised to discover how home-canned food can almost deliver that same garden-fresh flavor. Your taste buds likely won’t notice a difference as they savor flavor-packed, nearly fresh produce as the snow falls outdoors. Home food preservation is also one of the easiest ways to do two things we all love: save money and buy locally. You can stock up on surpluses of peak-season food from local growers when prices are lowest, and put it up for year-round delight.

Many people are afraid to try canning because they’ve heard it’s difficult and have been warned about potential food contaminants. While these are valid concerns without proper guidance, canning is safe and healthy if you follow a few simple steps, as outlined here. This article details the easy method known as boiling water-bath canning. The other method, pressure canning, allows you to preserve a wider range of foods, but it’s more complex. We recommend experimenting with inexpensive, easy water-bath canning before graduating to pressure canning. If you start with small projects that produce mouthwatering results (see "Put 'Em Up! Easy Home Canning Recipes"), you are bound to be pleased with the payoff for your time investment.

Find the Best Food

If you’re growing your own food, you’re all set! Otherwise, check farmer’s markets or community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs for great deals on peak-season items. If you’re not sure when it’s your favorite foods’ peak season—and when you can nab the lowest prices and highest quality—just ask the farmers.

To save money and reduce waste, don’t disregard another time-honored way to score loads of inexpensive but delicious food: gleaning. Not so long ago, farmers let peasants glean what was left in their fields after a big harvest. These days, many farmers love it when you approach them and offer to glean when they’re ready. Misshapen strawberries that aren’t attractive enough for market may be just fine for your strawberry jam.

To get the most out of your efforts, plan to can the foods you like to eat, the way you like to eat them. If you don’t like spicy carrots, by all means don’t can them! If your family goes through a jar of pickles a week, you know what to do.

Choose the Right Canning Method

Bacteria won’t survive in acidic foods—such as tomatoes, fruit and pickles—that are preserved in a boiling water bath. Low-acid foods like veggies, beans and meat, however, are a perfect home for bacteria, and boiling isn’t enough to knock them out. For any recipes that contain low-acid foods, you must use a pressure canner, which reaches bacteria-killing temperatures higher than the boiling point. All good canning recipes will indicate the necessary method. After you’ve had success with water-bath canning, you can move on to pressure canning.

8/29/2013 10:03:29 AM

A comment about canning lids. The one-use metal lids have BPA--one of the things some of us are trying to avoid by home canning in glass jars! In addition, the one-use lids are, well, one use. I recommend Tattler's re-usable lids--they work with standard jars and metal bands, come in both regular and wide-mouth size, and are just as easy to handle as the throw-aways. (The only exception I had was with cheap, made-in-China Walmart jars--brought home by well-meaning hubby; at least half the seals failed, apparently because the poorly-designed jar rim is rounded.) You can find out more about the reusable lids at reusablecanninglids.com.

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