Water bath canning is a fantastic and incredibly easy way to get into preserving and packaging your own food. I consider it the ‘gateway’ to pressure canning as it is less intimidating and like I said, incredibly easy! It requires less ‘specialized’ equipment than pressure canning does, too. Chances are pretty good that you have a pot large enough to use right now! In this article, we will unravel the mystery of water bath canning: How it works (the science of it), why it works (the process), and a list of things you can safely water-bath can.
The point to canning food is to kill off any bacteria and seal the food in an airtight environment. This makes the food shelf stable (no refrigeration!) and safe to eat months later. Both water bath and pressure canning serve this purpose and some may ask, “What’s the difference?” It all comes down to how acidic the food is that will determine which method of canning you use. The more acidic the food, the less chance there is for bacterial growth when heat is applied. Some vegetables and fruits naturally have enough acidity while others (like cucumbers when making pickles) need to have it added. An article on Mother Earth News sums it up nicely:
Low-acid foods have pH values higher than 4.6. They include red meats, seafood, poultry, milk, and all fresh vegetables except for most tomatoes. Most mixtures of low-acid and acid foods also have pH values above 4.6 unless their recipes include enough lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar to make them acid foods. Acid foods have a pH of 4.6 or lower. They include fruits, pickles, sauerkraut, jams, jellies, marmalades, and fruit butters.
Yes, tomatoes do have a lot of acid in them but not quite enough. Simply adding some lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar will take it over the line and make them safe to water bath can up jars of tasty food!
The Equipment and Process
There are dozens, if not hundreds of “how to” guides out there on the process. What I present below is the barest bones in the hopes that it will help push the fence-riders into trying it! When you think about it, you are boiling jars. When put into that perspective, it suddenly doesn’t seem as intimidating!
The food you will be canning, prepared and ready
Clean towel to wipe rims
There are variations on the process and length of time you will keep the jars in the boiling water but the idea behind it all is the same.
- Sterilize jars and keep them warm until ready
- Heat lids in hot (just under boiling) water to soften the seal
- Lay out everything you need so you can work efficiently without having to rush
- Begin filling jars, making sure to wipe the rims clean before placing the lid and band
- Make sure you only ‘finger tighten’ the jars. If it is too tight, it won’t seal right. Same results if it is too loose.
- Place the filled jars in the water and let it boil for the recommended time on the recipe. A few minutes extra to be safe should not harm the food in any way!
- Once the time is up, remove the jars from the water. Allow the jars to cool down, undisturbed, for 12 hours. Listen for the ping!!
Yes, there is more detail to some of these steps, but this is the bare bones process for water bath canning jars. I encourage you to check out this article from our friends over at Simply Canning that will give you more details. I cannot recommend this site enough! I go there often to learn new things about canning, get recipes, and make sure I am doing things the right way.
List of Food You Can Safely Water-Bath Can
Most Jams and Jellies
Tomatoes (with a form of acid added such as citric acid, lemon juice, or vinegar)
Anything Pickled (You can learn how to pickle in a single afternoon!)
Vegetable Stock (There is some debate about this. It is up to you to decide which is right for your family)
Peaches, apples, and other various fruits
It is my sincere wish that if you are reading this, trying to learn and decide if you want to take the plunge, DO IT!! My intent on this article is to show people that this is not rocket science or brain surgery. It is safe, extremely easy, will end up saving you money, and FUN! Hearing those pings of the jars sealing makes me giggle. Every. Single. Time. 🙂
I welcome ANY questions you may have regarding water bath canning, pressure canning, dehydrating, vacuum sealing, and freezing food. You can leave a comment/question below or send it to my Facebook page and I will answer!