Dear Frugal Upstate,
I am new to canning and processed cherries in quarts. While I was processing the water boiled out of the canner and even though I started out with 2″ of water I ended up with only 1/4 in. over the jars after processing. The jars are sealed. Are they safe? What is the purpose of 1 in. of water over the jars?
Thanks~~Stephanie ~ Yakima, WA.
Ahh, gardens are in full swing! It seems that more and more people are taking charge of their own food supplies and sustainability these days by both growing some of their own food and preserving it for future use. This trend really makes me happy–it means more and more people are enjoying fresh, frugal, chemical free food!
But on to the question! I wasn’t really sure on this one. I have not had that much water boil off of my hot water bath canner while processing food. So I did exactly what I would recommend any of you–I called and got an official answer from my local Cooperative Extension Office–the Cornell Cooperative Extension
! (note: You can find your local cooperative extension office at the USDA Cooperative Extension site
The ever awesome Stacie (their master canner and preserver) gave me her answer. Unfortunately it was not a good one: You have to assume that the cherries are spoiled and throw them out or compost them.
Part of the reason that the canning directions require you to have an inch to 2 inches of water over the tops of the jars is to ensure that there is enough mass to the hot water that it will bring the entire jar of food all the way through to the center up to a high enough temperature to kill off any organisms and render it safe from spoilage. (Of course the heat and steam generated inside also force the air out of the jar past the rubber gasket in the lid creating a vacuum inside, which is what keeps the now organism free food shelf stable for years.)
The recommendation is that as soon as you realized there might be any problem with a food you have canned you should immediately refrigerated it. You then either use it up fairly soon or you can re-can the food by emptying it out of the jar, bringing it back up to a full boil again and then repeating the entire process with a new hot jar, new lid, full canner of water etc.
If while canning you notice that the water is getting low you can add more boiling water to the canner to bring it up to an inch. This is a good reason to boil a full kettle of water before you start canning-that way you have it sitting there ready if you need to top off your canner, add water to the pot with your lids in it etc.
You also will want to make sure you are using a lid on your canner while the jars are boiling-if you started out with an inch of water and you have the lid on (I always have to crack mine just a bit) you shouldn’t lose 3/4 of an inch of water.
(note: I’m sure someone’s grandma would suggest that instead of throwing out the cherries you could probably just pop all the jars, boil them hard in a large pot for 10 minutes, and then use the fruit in something immediately, but I can’t give you that as advice as it is not what the officials have said. Only you can make decisions on what kind of chances you can take with your family’s health.)