Step by Step Water Bath Processing (Canning)
Canning is a great way to extend the life of your peaches and blueberries. Though it is important to follow the correct steps to ensure a safe product, home food processing is something that is safe and easy to do in your kitchen. Like many kitchen projects successful canning is all about the preparation.
There are a few specialized items you need to start canning. Each of them has a specific purpose to make the job safe and easy.
Jar Tongs/Lifter - To lift jars in and out of boiling hot water.
Magic Wand (Magnetic end wand) - To lift rings/bands out of very hot water.
Jar Funnel - To fill jars easily with reduced waste and mess.
Bubble Remover/Poker – To remove extra air and bubbles from filled jars. Often this tool serves a dual purpose. Some models have a magnetic end, others have a measuring tool to check the correct headspace.
Water Bath Canner - Water bath canners are widely available at stores. You can also use any larger-sized stock pot as long as it has a lid and is deep enough for water to cover the tops of filled jars by at about 2 inches. Jars in a canner should never touch the bottom of the pot. Canners come with a rack that holds the jars off the bottom. Ball Canning Company also makes a Canning Discovery Kit that provides the tools to turn any stock pot into a canner.
Good cooks know that getting your ‘mise’ prepared makes the job much easier. “Mise en place” is the cooking term for gathering your tools and materials, preparing your workspace, and reviewing your recipe before you begin working. Getting the prep work done ahead of time and setting up your tools to make a "canning station" is important so that you have everything within reach.
Prepping your jars is one of the most critical steps in canning because you want to have your jars be clean and sterile when you fill them with your food. You also want to make sure that your jars are as hot as possible when ladling in the recipe. This is because the liquid will be hot and you don't want to crack the jars if the they are cold. Running them in the dishwasher is an easy way to clean and sterilize your jars. Otherwise, a thorough wash in hot and soapy water immediately before use will do the job.
Prepping your lids is important so that you can soften the rubber outer seal so they will adhere to the glass rim of the jar. Jar lids need to sit for about 5 minutes in hot, previously boiled water.
You can take boiled water from your canner or put a tea kettle on to keep boiled water at the ready.
When you are ready to fill the jars you will set up your area. Remove the hot jars from the dishwasher and set them on a towel on your workspace. Using your jar lifter pour out any water in the jar.
Place your funnel on the jar and fill with the recipe. Fill up as close to the designated headspace in the recipe. Headspace is the distance from the top lip of the jar to where the food starts in the jar.
To check your headspace use the "staircase" side of your bubble remover. Shown below set the proper "stair" on the edge of the jar and measure so that the food touches the bottom of the blue flat area.
Then using the other side remove the air bubbles by going around the inside of the jar between the glass and the food. Recheck your headspace and refill to proper measurement if necessary. Wipe the top rims of the jars with a clean, wet paper towel. This will remove any food that might interfere with a good seal once the lid is put on.
Using your magnetic-end lifter, remove your hot lids from the water one at a time and place them carefully on the center of the jar. Repeat this process till all the jars have lids. Doing this one at a time will ensure you don't get two lids stuck together. Remember these have been in hot water and will be hot to the touch. Use the wand and your fingertip to release the lid from the magnet.
Add your rings, which do not have to be hot, by turning them on the threads of the jars. You will only turn them till they are finger-tight. As soon as you feel resistance, stop tightening. If you over-tighten by using your whole hand the lid may bend during canningwhile the air is trying to evacuate and the jar may not seal properly.
Place your jars to the water bath using your jar lifter. The water should be at a full rolling boil when you remove the lid from the canner. It will stop boiling as you place jars. For processing to be successful, the canner must be at a full boil. Place the jars into the canner with the rack in place without tilting.
When the canner is filled, the water should be about 2 inches over the top of the jars. If it is not, add boiling water to the canner. Place lid back on the canner. Begin your timer for the exact time stated in the recipe you are using. The water must be at a full, rolling boil during the processing.
When done, turn off heat and remove lid from canner. Use your jar lifter to remove the jars and place them on a towel without tipping or tilting them. If there is water on the lid leave it there. It will evaporate or you can gently wipe it with the paper towel once the jars have cooled. Leave them undisturbed on that towel overnight, so make sure this location is someplace that you won't need to move them. Never turn your jars upside down!
During the next few minutes, several hours or overnight the jars will seal. You may hear a "pinging" noise that will indicate that lid has sealed to the jar. Your jars may also seal as you are taking them out of the canner. The jars will seal as they cool, and may take a full 24 hours to cool and finally seal.
Checking for the Seal:
To make sure that the seal has been made put your finger on the lid in the center and gently push down and see if you have any resistance or the lid pushes back. If it's solid or the "button" (some lids) is depressed then the lid is sealed. If you feel the lid bounce back or move, you need to put that jar into the fridge to eat in the next few days. Do not put an unsealed jar in your pantry. This jar is not shelf stable but the contents are still edible if you put it in the refrigerator to eat first.
Now that your jars have seal you will want to remove the ring and with a warm damp cloth clean up around the lid and threads of the jar. This will help deter rust in the rings, and exterior mold growth or any other ick on your jars. Once the jar rings are off, leave them off for storage.
Labeling is important to easily keep track of contents and creation date. Since the food in the jars will be at the optimal freshness for one year you will need to know when you canned it. A Sharpie marker works well to write on the metal lid of the jar or on a sticker label.
The best location to store your jars is dark, cool, and dry with the optimal temperature between 50 and 70 degrees. You want to store them in a place that is temperature consistent; not in direct sunlight and not near appliances that generate heat. Do not stack jars on top of each other as the weight of the top jar may break the seal of the lower jars.
Hot-water bath canning takes a few times to perfect. Each recipe will be different but the procedures of how you prepare, fill and process your jars will be the same. Always pay attention to safety, since you are working with water that is 212 degrees. No bare feet!
Take pictures or keep a canning journal so that you can remember recipes that you liked and can recreate them next year.
Now enjoy your fruit all year long!
Our canning instructions were written by Christina Ward, master food preserver for Milwaukee County.