Canning is a wonderful way to create a long term store of healthy, cost effective food for your family. The whole process goes much more smoothly with a little bit of organization. . . so today I want to show you how I get prepared for a canning session.
This is the process I go through before I start doing any food preparation or cooking. I use the same process for both pressure canning and boiling water bath canning. Trust me, you don’t want to get half way through the process and have your food boiling away and then realize you don’t have enough jars, or that you forgot to start warming your canning kettle and the water will take 30 minutes to heat up.
Canning starts with your jars. Although I wash my jars and my rings before I store them away, I always start out a canning session by re-washing my jars. Factory fresh jars especially need to be washed as they still have residue from the manufacturing process on them. Many folks like to run theirs through the dishwasher, which is great if you are going to be using a lot of jars, but for most batches I just wash them by hand. (I don’t wash the rings unless they seem unusually dirty since they went away clean and never actually touch any food)
My favorite cleaning implement is this cool “Power Puff” bottle washing brush. I bought mine at Walmart. I scrub the inside then give the rim and the outside a quick once over with the brush. I rinse them all and line them up in the drainboard until I’m ready to put them in the water.
Next I clean the lids. Remember–you must use new lids each time you can (although you can reuse the jars and the lids many, many times). The lids also have residue on them from the manufacturing process. Just give them a quick wash. I like to lay mine out sort of overlapping so they are easy to pick up. If you leave them stacked like they are in the box, then try to pry them apart with soapy fingers, well, it just makes things more difficult then they need to be. I wash all the lids one by one, laying them out overlapping again, then I rinse them individually.
When they are all clean, I stack the lids alternating them as I show in the picture below. This is so that they are easier to grab out of the pot when you are ready to use them. If you stack them all the same way they nestle together, you wind up pick up two and then when you go to pry them apart the boiling hot water stuck between them spurts out. Sort of inconvenient, so it’s just easier to alternate them.
The lids go into a small pan of water (enough to cover them) and are set on my back burner on low. They stay on low until I’m ready to use them, which ensures that the gaskets get all nice and softened up. There is no need to heat or sterilize your canning rings since they do not touch any food. If it makes you feel better to do so though, knock yourself out–it won’t harm anything.
Now it’s time to turn my attention to my canner. When I’m boiling water bath canning I use a large stock pot that I purchased. It’s deep enough to do boiling water bath canning for quart jars with the recommended 1-2 inches of water over them, and we use it outside with our turkey fryer burner to boil our maple syrup in the spring. You may use one of those speckled “canning” pots. It doesn’t really matter what kind of pot you use as long as you can rig some sort of rack on the bottom to allow water to circulate under the jars, and that you can have 1-2 inches of water over your jars at a full boil without overflowing.
I fill my boiling water bath canner with water high enough to cover my jars by 1 inch then move it to the stove. Next I pour in a “glug” of vinegar. Yeah, it’s not exact. If I measured I’m guessing it would be close to two tablespoons or so. The vinegar helps to prevent any hard water residue–that’s the white powder a lot of folks get on their jars–from sticking your canning jars.
This is what a jar looks like when I forget to add the vinegar. We have VERY hard water with lots of calcium in it. You can see from where I swiped my finger across it that it isn’t hard to remove–but it’s just nicer when you use the vinegar.
I then lower my jars into the water so that they will heat up as the water heats up. You always want to have your jars as hot as you can when you put them into the canner for the final processing–the thermal shock of a cold jar going into a hot canner could cause the glass to crack along any weak points (manufacturing defects, weak spots/scratches cause by scraping the inside of the jar with metal spoons/forks/knives, or minute cracks from knocking or dropping jars). Preheating them in the canner is a great way to do this. Folks using the dishwasher method for cleaning will just leave the jars in there with the door closed to keep them hot.
Preheating the boiling water bath canner full of water is also necessary because once your canning jars are filled with product it is best to place them into water that is already at a boil. No matter how hot your product is, the process of filling the jars will cool it below boiling and then the water in your canner will have to overcome that temperature difference and bring EVERYTHING up to the same boiling temperature of 212 (at 1000 ft elevation or less). If you water is already cooler then boiling it will take that much longer to get everything back up to a boil where you can start your timing for canning.
If I am pressure canning the only difference is that I will only put in the amount of water that is called for in my pressure canner’s directions–for mine that is about 1 t0 1 1/2 inches. Then I’ll place the jars on the rack in the bottom of the canner. If I’m doing 2 layers, I’ll put the second rack on and fill it with jars as well, then I put the lid on (cracked open a bit). The steam that is created by the water will warm up the jars. Where I will actually boil the water when preparing for Boiling Water Bath canning, I will just simmer the water to preheat the pressure canner. You are using so much less water that I’m worried it would all boil off!
So now I’ve got the pot with the lids simmering, and I’ve got my canner warming up with the jars inside. That uses 2 of my 4 burners.
For one of the remaining burners (usually the rear one behind the canner) I put on a teakettle full of water to heat. When it comes to a boil I will turn it down to a simmer. That gives me extra hot water available to either top off my canner (for any liquid that has boiled off while I was warming things) or to fill jars that might need extra liquid.
This leaves the front left burner available for cooking whatever I need to for my canning–either actually cooking the food or creating a syrup/brine for raw packed food.
Here’s what my stovetop looks like when I’m ready to start with my recipe. I did move the kettle a bit to the right just so you could see it in the photograph.
When the stovetop is set up I make sure I have a clean canning funnel, some washcloths and towels (for setting jars on or wiping rims), the jar grabbers and my nifty jar lid magnet (although you can use tongs).
Now I’m finally ready to start reading my recipe and canning! It took me a while to get this whole thing down to a routine, but now I find that if I take a few minutes to complete all these steps before I start my canning session goes quickly and smoothly. I hope you can gain some ideas and tips for your own canning from this process!
note: If you are pressure canning remember to check the amount of water in the bottom of your canner before you start adding the filled jars back into it–you are probably at less then the required amount due to the preheating and will need to top it off.