Don’t you hate all the preamble before online recipes? Me too! So let’s get right to the home canning guide!
What you’ll need:
- Home canning equipment, like this Granite Ware 8-piece canning set. It has all the necessary tools and boasts that it will “last a lifetime.” I’ll let you know how that ends up in about 50 years.
- Jars and two-piece lids. Most grocery stores sell 12-packs of mason jars with rings and lids. Keep in mind, the rings can be reused, but the lids are only good for one seal and should be recycled afterward.
- Ingredients based on a recipe of your choosing. Opt for organic and homegrown when possible. I like to over-buy because frankly I’m terrible at judging how much produce I have on hand and I’d rather not make a second trip to the grocery store for things like vinegar, sugar and canning salt.
How to boil water (no, really):
With ingredients in hand, fill the canner about a quarter full with water and put on high heat. The canner holds about 21 quarts of water, which takes a long time to get boiling. I find boiling smaller batches of water in a separate saucepan and adding those into the canner speeds up the process. The canner will need to be about 3/4 full with boiling water to process the jars.
Quick Tip: Use one of these small batches of boiling water to sterilize your rings and lids.
While the canner is heating up, mix together the vinegar, water, salt and sugar to make a brine and bring that to a boil, stirring occasionally. As the brine is heating up, wash and prepare the produce. Trim the ends off the green beans and cut them to a length 1/2 inch shorter than the jar. I like to peel the garlic cloves by flattening them with the flat side of a knife. This make the papery skin fall right off and opens the clove up to release more flavor. Save the trimmed bits for the compost pile.
Packing the jars
I just made five quarts of pickled green beans or “Dilly Beans” using this recipe, so we’re going to use those as an example but I’m calling mine “Sammy Beans.” Another perk of home canning is creating and naming your own recipes.
- With the produce prepped, pack the jars with beans, garlic, dill, peppercorns, mustard seed and peppers, tweaking the recipe as you see fit. Lay the jars horizontally to pack them tightly, The ingredients will shrink during the canning process, so squeeze in everything you can.
- With the jars packed, ladle-in the hot brine to within a 1/4 inch of the top of the jars. This 1/4 inch is called the headspace, which differs for each canning recipe. Have the jars on a cutting board or dry towel while filling with brine to avoid damaging the surface you are working on.
- Now, using the bubble remover or a similar tool, work the edges of each jar to release bubbles. This will lower the brine level, so you’ll need to top the jars off to regain proper headspace.
- With the jars filled, wipe the rims of the jars with a wet paper towel or napkin. Any little mustard seed or pepper flake on the rim will ruin the seal and take away the satisfaction of a well-deserved “pop.”
- Once the rims are clean, place the lids on top and finger-tighten the rings on. There is no need to use your Hulk-strength to tighten the rings, as the lids need to be able to release air during the canning process.
Interested in growing your own produce? Check out our Gardening Archives for gardening advice!
Time for a bath
With the lids on, the jars are ready to take a bath. Hopefully by this time you’ve managed to bring the water in the canner to a boil. If not, I suggest enjoying a Seattle-made beer as you wait.
If the canner is boiling, lower in the jars using the jar rack. The Granite Ware canner I recommended holds seven quart jars at a time. If you have a makeshift set up, make sure the jars are NOT sitting directly on the bottom of the canner because the boiling water causes them to rattle and move around, which can break the jars.
When the jars are lowered, the temperature of the water will likely drop below boiling. The canning water should be an inch above the top of the jars. Add water if necessary, and wait until the water returns to a boil, then set a timer for 10 minutes. This is the “processing time,” which will vary from recipe to recipe. After 10 minutes, use the jar lifter to bring the jars out of the canner and set them on a cutting board or layer of dry towels.
Quick Tip: Keep the canning water boiling, or at least warm, in case some of the jars don’t seal.
The music of home canning
Space the jars at least an inch apart to let them cool evenly. Within a few minutes, the lids will start popping to indicated they are properly sealed. This is the most satisfying part of home canning, if not life as a whole. Give the jars a half hour or so to seal. If some of them don’t pop, which happens nearly every time in my experience, remove the lids and try again from the rim-wiping step while the jars are still warm.
The most common reasons for a failed seal are messy rims, over-tightened rings and improper headspace. Trust me, I have plenty of experience with failed seals, but I’m usually able to get a good seal on the second try. If one or two just won’t seal, store them in the fridge AFTER they’ve cooled.
According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the sealed jars can store in a cool, dry, dark place like a pantry or garage for up to a year. Most home canning recipes recommend letting the product sit for 2 or 3 weeks before opening.
Canning equipment, except for jar lids, can be used over and over, making it a relatively cheap process. The jars can get a little spendy if you aren’t able to recoup them, so don’t be afraid to ask for them back!
Here’s the best part. If you are a twenty-something that doesn’t have a signature Thanksgiving or holiday dish, bring canned goods! For as easy as the process is (it gets easier with every batch), people are simply amazed by the final product, especially if you use homegrown produce.