There is nothing better than a cellar or pantry stocked with home-canned food. It’s frugal, it’s easy, and it makes for great gifts with the addition of decorative canning lids, labels, and a bit of tied raffia or ribbon.
*Hot water bath canning is for high-acid foods only, which generally includes fruits and soft spreads. Figs and tomatoes may be canned in a hot water bath with the addition of a sufficient amount of acid (bottled lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar). Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and pickles may also be preserved by this method. Standard canning recipes are calculated for altitudes of 1000 feet above sea level or lower. Always consult expert resources for canning method recommendations for the type of food you are canning as well as for altitude adjustments. before you start so you prepare your foods correctly and safely.
If you are going to bottle/can low acid food you need to pressure can them, something we haven't traditionally done here in Australia but which is slowly changing as more of us import pressure canners and take on the challenge of putting up more of our foods but this is for another post.
I have been bottling/canning for many years, visiting an op shop last week I came across a box that while it looked a little scuffed up from being tossed around in the shop, contained an unused Ball canning basket and tongs for $1. This same box of goodies costs $16.95 new and as I'd been intrigued with the canning basket when I had seen it in the catalogue decided a $1 wasn't much to give up so I could try the basket and besides one of the grips had fallen off my own tongs the last time I had used them so it will be handy to have another set to fall back on if needed.
Now how do we do this?
First I would decide what I would like to make and if I was using a particular recipe look at the notation regarding how many jars the recipe is expected to make. Experience tells me that I usually have extra of what ever I am making left over so I always add at least 1 large & 1 small jar for that just in case moment so I am not caught short.
I have used both methods for putting up low acid foods, the Fowlers Vacola method and the stove top boiling water bath (water canner) one. Fowlers Vacola units used to come on both electric and have a manual stove top unit as well. When I was younger and traveling around a lot I eventually gave up my old stove top one (though I wish I hadn't) and haven't seen one since myself. However when I was younger and in full swing it was handy having both as I could prepare the ingredients for two recipes then as soon as one was on start the next one meaning I got through a lot more in the day and could keep up with the produce more easily. These days I just feel over whelmed! Though truth be known that may be more about age than what needs attending to. Anyway I digress.
You will need – your bottling/canning pot with a rack (if you don't have one pop a flannel in the bottom of it (this is to keep the glass jars from sitting right on the heat), a funnel suitable for what your making (mine is interchangeable so is suitable for sauces and chunkier recipes), your jars, lids, rubbers or bands if your using them or clips too, long handled spoons, thermometer, testing saucer to begin with.
Before you begin the final preparation stage of the food to be made, fill your water bath pot or the vacola unit half full of water and heat to 180 degrees. Use the rack that you have for your pot and the sized jars your going to use and remember the jars must not come in direct contact with the bottom of the pan otherwise they may crack. At the same time in a smaller saucepan prepare your jar lids & bands as these should be heated 10 minutes prior to using. I often put my lids, bands & rubbers into my small crock pot because it will maintain the temperature around the 180 degree mark with out over heating them) which may cause seal failure and I can remove them as necessary.
Prepare your chosen recipe. Then having finished cooking ladle the finished fruit, jam, relish or whatever you’ve chosen into the prepared heated jars. Years ago I was taught to heat my jars in the oven or place them in boiling water for 30 minutes prior to filling them for the reason of sterilising them before use. I read recently that this is no longer considered necessary and that we now only have to ensure the jars are clean by washing them in hot soapy water, rinsing them well and let them sit in hot water prior to use to ensure the jars don't crack from the difference in the temperatures of the ingredients and the jars. For me, I think old habits die hard so I shall probably continue to make my preserves as I have always done by sterilising the jars in the oven prior to use as apart from it being old habits, I have never had a recipe spoil as a result of poor practices prior to making them. I believe it is better to err on the side of caution then to be slap happy when it comes to preparing food for long term storage to feed my family.
Anyway, using the funnel of choice spoon food into jars, filling to the recommended head space per your recipe. Use a plastic or wooden spatula to move the mixture around the jar and thus remove air bubbles. (Always remove air bubbles even if you think there doesn't look to be any, because believe me they will be there!)
Never use metal in a glass jar as the slightest knock of metal against a glass jar could cause an invisible fracture that may cause the jar to crack during processing. Wipe the rims of your jars clean with a little white vinegar to ensure that the jar rims remain clean and free of any food spillage which could affect the formation of a good vacuum seal. Take lids one at a time from simmering water with tongs, (they do not need to be dried prior to placing onto the jars), I use a magnetic wand to remove my hot lids and bands. Place the lids onto the wiped jars and screw on your bands or clip your lids on depending on the type of jar you've decided to use. If using screw on bands, make sure they are finger tight and not over tightened as this can interfere with the vacuum sealing and cause buckled lids.
Slowly lower each jar as you fill it into the simmering pot of water using your jar lifter. Making sure jars remain upright as they are moved. Once all jars are loaded into the pot check the water is at least 2” over the tops of the jars. If necessary add more boiling water to reach the required level, place lid on the pot.
Time the boil according to the directions for your recipe and the method you are going to use ie fowlers vacola method or boiling water bath on the stove top one. After placing your lid on the pot increase heat to medium-high and bring the water in the pot to a rolling boil. Begin timing the processing time when the rolling boil begins. Keep water boiling during the entire processing time.
When processing time has expired turn heat off, remove lid and let the pot cool down for 5 minutes. Remove jars one at a time with your jar lifter and place them on a wooden board or on a towel on the bench, not touching and at least 1” apart to prevent thermal shock. Keep cooling jars out of any drafts and do not remove or adjust rings during the resting period.
Allow the jars to rest undisturbed for 12-24 hours. You will hear the lids “pop” as they cool which is an indication of the vacuum seal being formed. If you don't hear the pop all is not lost, as another method of checking for a seal is to place a knife across the top of the jars lid once it has cooled, if you see light from under the edge of the back of your knife then the lid has become concave and it has sealed. Once the jars are completely sealed, remove rings/bands if using this type of jar, thoroughly wash is warm soapy water to get rid of any residue from preparation/cooking etc label and place in your store room.
Do not store your jars with the rings/bands on them as they may rust onto the jars and become difficult to remove. Rings may also mask a bad seal and result in jar explosion. Always remove prior to storing. You can always replace the rings onto the jars if giving the food as a gift just prior to doing so or if your transporting them, it is just not a good idea to leave them on the jars for long term storage.
I highly recommend the Ball Blue Book for further information if your new to preserving and it also has plenty of delicious recipes in it too. This book was not readily available years ago and it has only become available in BigW along with the Ball jars and bands in the past 2 or 3 yrs over here in the West. Do not take any ones advice on the internet, including mine with out investigating reliable expert sources first so that you are informed and comfortable with your decisions. I love to share my knowledge with others however freely admit that I am not infallible so be aware that I am only passing on knowledge as I know and practice it for my own use and that of my family in the hope that by doing so I will inspire others to seek further information as they attempt to become more self reliant. I use the Ball Blue Book, Blue Ribbon Preserves, River Cottage Preserves, Better Homes & Gardens Preserving handbook (not an Australian edition), The Big Book of Preserves, the Joy of Canning and several others to a lesser degree. Over the years I've also developed many of my own recipes as I am sure others will also do as they become more experienced.
Happy Preserving Everyone till next time