Tuesday Kitchen Lessons: Canning Basics

I’ve posted quite a few canning recipes on here thus far (check the Recipe Box page for links), but I recently got asked to do a super basic canning tutorial for beginners. I thought that was a great idea, so here goes!

I think the most important canning tools that you’ll need to purchase are a jar funnel and a jar grabber. Besides your pots and your jars, these are the bare essentials.

Canning Basics | Oysters & Pearls

You can do without them, but they are crazy cheap and will make your life so much easier, so I don’t recommend canning without them. You can literally buy both of these items at most Dollar Generals, and definitely at WalMart. Or just search for either of them on Amazon. Just make sure you get them before you start.

Besides these two items, you’ll need a Hugh Jass “canning pot,” which is the pot in which you will boil water to sterilize jars, as well as the pot in which you will process the filled jars when you’re done. You’ll need at least a 20 quart pot for this, and a wire wrack inside it is not a necessity, although it may be helpful. I have never used one! But a lot of canning kits come with one. I purchased my canning pot on sale at TJMaxx way back when, and I have ended up using it for so many other things, too. It’s awesome!

You’ll also usually need another pot, which can vary depending on what you’re doing. If you are making jam or jelly or pumpkin butter, you will want a wide and heavy bottomed pot. The more of the surface of the pot touching your stove, the better. For other things, like canning whole tomatoes, you can use any old pot. I usually use a smaller pot to boil water for skinning tomatoes, just so it doesn’t take as long to get it boiling. Use what you’ve got!

To can anything and everything, you will want to sterilize your jars first. If you’re doing a lot at once, it’s easiest (and my preferred method) to sterilize jars, lids, and bands in your dishwasher. You may even have a “sterilize” setting. I’ve been doing a lot of small batch canning this summer though, so it’s easier to just sterilize my jars in boiling water. Bring your Hugh Jass canning pot full of water to a boil. Once it’s boiling, use your jar grabber to carefully and slowly place the jars into the boiling water.

Using a Jar Lifter in Canning | Oysters & Pearls

Cover the pot back up with the lid and boil for 10 minutes to sterilize them, making sure the jars are covered by at least an inch of water. To remove, carefully and slowly lift the jars out of the boiling water with the jar grabber and turn them upside down. Be really careful! Boiling water on your toes or arms is no fun, and this part can be kind of awkward.

Removing Jars from Sterilizing Pot | Oysters & Pearls

(Thanks to Wheat for those pictures!)

Place the hot jars on a dish towel spread out on the counter and forget about them for now. To sterilize jar lids and bands, I put them in my Le Creuset, just because I always have it out on the stove. You can use a bowl, another pot, whatever. Bring some water to a boil in a tea kettle (what I do) or in a glass measuring cup in the microwave, and pour the boiling water over the lids and bands. I cover them back up to keep them warm, and set aside.

Sterilizing Jar Lids & Bands | Oysters & Pearls

The following pictures are a mashup from canning tomatoes and pumpkin butter, the two things I have put up most recently. Note: pumpkin butter cannot be processed and/or shelf stable. You would skip the processing step and freeze them, as I noted in my pumpkin butter post. Just a friendly reminder! :)

To fill the jars, I spread out a dish towel next to the pot that contains whatever it is I’m canning. Line your still-warm (or hot) jars up on the dish towel. Place your jar funnel into one of the jars, and use a soup ladle to fill it, leaving about a half inch of “headspace.” Headspace is just the term for the space between the jelly/jam/etc. and the top edge of the jar. You always want to make sure you leave about a half inch.

Using a Canning Funnel  |  Oysters & Pearls

You can pull the jar funnel out and check the amount of head space, then put it back in and add more if you need to. In the picture below, I added too much pumpkin butter and had to scoop some back out.

Using a Canning Funnel |  Oysters & Pearls

After you’ve filled your jars, wipe the rims off with a damp paper towel and make sure there is no dust/debris/food on the rims. That can keep a jar from sealing. Using a dish towel to hold your jars tightly (because they will still be HOT), tighten down your bands over your lids. Just in case I skipped over this, jar lids are the flat part, and the band is the round part the screws down over it. A lot of people reuse jar lids over and over, but my grandmother taught me to only use them once. That being said, sometimes I will reuse them once more if I didn’t write on them and the rubber on the seal still looks good. Just make doubly sure to sanitize them well.

Tightening Lids for Processing | Oysters & Pearls

Once you’ve tightened all the lids down, use your jar grabber to lift the jars and carefully place them into your (still boiling) Hugh Jass canning pot. Again, make sure the jars are covered by at least an inch of water. Cover, and boil for the recommended amount of time. This part of the canning is calling “processing.” That time will vary depending on what it is you’re canning. Jams are usually 10 minutes, jellies often require more processing time. Pickles are usually 10 minutes, too. Just be sure to read your recipe, as this part is crucial to kill any bacteria that may have made it inside the jars.

If you’ve read about canning, you’ve probably read about botulism. Botulism is a bacterial intoxication caused from ingesting the bacteria. It is a paralytic, and sometimes fatal, illness which is incurable. Scary stuff! That being said, just be really careful about following recipes, and you’ll be fine. When in doubt, check the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation guidelines. It’s always a good idea to double check their guideliness for processing times anyway.

Anywho, so once you’ve processed the jars for the amount of time called for on the recipe, use your jar grabber to lift them out of the boiling water and place them on a dish towel spread out across the counter. Then, leave them alone! As the jars cool, they will seal and make a popping or pinging sound to let you know they have. After an hour or so, run your fingers across the jar lids, and any that haven’t popped or sealed will probably do so then. If for some reason any jars don’t seal, refrigerate them immediately. You may have had some debris on the rim of the jar or something that kept it from sealing.

I also want to warn you that during processing, any jars that have flaws may shatter. It hasn’t happened to me in a while (knock on wood) but I just wanted to warn you that it could happen, and that it probably isn’t your fault. Just be careful cleaning up the glass in the pot.

So, here’s a complete list of everything you’ll need to get started canning:

– Hugh Jass (at least 20 quart) pot
– other variously sized pots
– soup ladle
– jar funnel
– jar grabber
– canning jars, lids, & bands
– dish towels

That’s basically all the basics! Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions you’d like to ask and I’ll be happy to answer them. Otherwise, go forth and can!


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