Discovering the Secrets of Water Bath Canning

Water bath canning is the perfect canning method for beginners; it’s relatively easy, requires no specialized equipment, and keeps food fresh longer than simply dehydrating or even pickling. There are, however, a few secrets you’ll need to know to make your canning experience easier.

Secret #1: Water Baths are Not for Everyone

Water bath canning is ideal for canning foods with high acidity content, like jams and jellies or any tomato-based sauce (spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, salsa, etc.) To can garden vegetables such as green beans or any mixture containing a meat product, you’ll want to use the pressure canning method.

Secret #2: Jars are Reusable; Flats are Not

Each canning jar has three pieces: the jar, the ring, and the flat (or lid.) The jars are composed of thick, high temperature rated food-grade glass, while the rings and flats are crafted from food-grade stainless steel. During the canning process, the flat lid is vacuum sealed to the jar and held in place by the ring. Because the seal is broken when the jar is opened, the flat cannot be reused. This is especially important to keep in mind if you’re working with used jars—make sure the flats are new, otherwise your jars won’t seal.

Secret #3: Keep It Hot, Keep It Clean

For successful canning, each element of the process must be sterilized. This means all jars, rings, and lids will be submerged in boiling water before being filled, and all food must be at boiling temperature when poured into the jars. You’ll also have to be careful that nothing sticks to the lip or the thread of your jar, thus preventing the lid from making a seal. Don’t worry if you’re a messy canner—just keep a clean cloth handy to wipe up any spills or drips.

Secret #4: Gather Your Forces

You’ll find your canning process going along much more smoothly if your supplies are lined up and ready to go before you start. While there aren’t any specialized tools just for water bath canning, there are some items that will help you streamline the process. Aside from the jars themselves, you’ll need a pair of thick rubber gloves, a large stock pot (or a deep sauce pan if you’re working with only a few small jars), a funnel and a pair of tongs. If you have a little extra cash to invest in a wide mouth funnel and jar tongs, you’ll find them remarkably helpful, but an average funnel and a set of tongs are adequate substitutes.

Begin by placing your clean jars, flats and rings in boiling water. Place the rings and flats in a shallow pan to make them easier to retrieve. Next bring the food (jelly, fruit filling, salsa, pizza sauce, etc.) to a boil in a separate pot. Once the food is ready, remove one jar from the boiling water, making sure to drain off any excess water, place the funnel in the jar, and ladle the food into the jar. Fill the jar to within a quarter inch from the top, which should be around the bottom of the thread for the ring. Clean off any excess food that may have spilled onto the jar. Now remove the ring and lid, screw them securely to the jar and completely submerge the full jar in boiling water. Repeat this process for each jar, filling your stock pot and submerging the jars for ten minutes. After ten minutes, remove each jar with the tongs and place it on a level, heat-resistant surface such as a table covered with an old towel or a cookie sheet. Listen for the tell-tale “pop” that lets you know the jar has sealed. Label each jar with its contents and the date on which it was canned.