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Canning 101

In The Kitchen

I began canning things back in the 1990s. I started more because I was curious than a necessity, and I instantly fell in love with the process.

Needless to say, I was nervous. Failed experiments by my parents made me wonder if it would be a waste of time. My mom had canned preserves using melted wax. She wasn't as precise on some, which led to a few jars of pretty stinky jars of ooze and others we were afraid to open. My father tried brewing beer once, and the bottles exploded in the basement.

I read all I could to try to understand where they went wrong. Without spending a lot of money, I bought the correct tools I needed to safely can jam, and with fingers crossed I ventured forward.

History of Home Canning

Home canning is part of the evolution of food preservation and was explored in the 1800s. Before, foods had been stored by drying, salting, or fermenting them. Interestingly enough, it was Napoleon wanting to feed his troops and the Civil War that pushed canning forward.

The method of using paraffin wax that my Mother used was invented as an answer to a reward Napoleon put forth to find a way to preserve foods so they could provide more nutritious food to the men fighting who were given dried meat and hard tack (a biscuit that needs to be soaked to be eaten). This today isn't considered safe. No wonder it didn't work for Mom.

Later during the Civil War, "jarring" foods were invented using glass jars with replaceable rubber rings. Many of us may use these types of jars for storing things today. You can still can food this way, but the process is a bit more complex and the supplies aren't always readily available.

Enter John Mason, William Charles Ball, and Alexander Kerr in the mid to late 1800s. Independently, these three men reinvented canning into the process we use today, and as you can tell from their last names, they are the jars we still use today.

Canning Comes Home

In 1909 and 1910, the USDA published two guides to safely canning at home, Canning Vegetables at Home and Canning Peaches on the Farm.

During the two world wars, home canning takes off because of rationing. Here is where the pressure cooker makes its debut. Because this was new technology, there were missteps causing the pressure cooker to explode, leading to the fear some people have around using them today. Let me be clear that today's pressure cookers are way safer than those originally developed. Still, be clear about reading all instructions.

If you didn't have a pressure cooker, you used a hot water bath as described in the pamphlets above. The only challenge with the hot water bath, even today, is you can only can highly acidic foods. The high acidity, along with time and temperature, helps destroy any harmful bacteria, mold, etc. If you have a garden, this is the perfect method of canning, as you can see from the list of foods that safely can with this method:

  • Fruits and fruit juices

  • Jams and jellies

  • Salsas

  • Tomatoes

  • Pickles and relishes

  • Chutneys, sauces, pie fillings

  • Vinegars

  • Condiments

Getting Started Home Canning - Hot Water Bath Method

Here's a quick tutorial on how to get started with home canning using the hot water bath method. This is not meant to be a full tutorial but an overview. Please review all safety considerations here.


The links below are affiliate links which means I earn a small commission if you purchase, but you do not incur any additional cost.

  • Glass canning jars with new lids (never used) - New lids are required because lids previously used may not seal properly. You can find canning jars at your grocery store, Target, and Walmart. You can also find them on Amazon, but I have discovered they are much more expensive.

  • Large pot for hot water. The water must be able to come 1-2 inches above the lids of the jars. Usually, a 15-20 quart stock pot will work. Don't go crazy here. You can use a relatively inexpensive pot. I use my old lobster pot, and it works fine.

  • Canning funnel. Not totally required, but it makes the job soooo much easier. I like a metal one because I can sanitize it.

  • Ladle. Again I like metal.

  • Tongs. Optional - I like to use tongs to remove empty jars from the water because it makes them easier to empty the hot water.

  • Canning jar remover. This is a special clamp that helps you lift hot jars from the water.

  • Rack for the bottom of the pot. Optional - this keeps the jars from rattling around or tipping over. You can also use a towel in the bottom of the pot.

  • You can get a simple starter kit, without the large pot, for about $20.

Steps - Again, this is a general outline. Refer to the specific steps here.

  1. Sterilize jars and all the equipment. I like to wash them in the dishwasher. Some have a sanitizing cycle. Then I remove the pot, boil water, and put all the jars into the water.

  2. While you are sterilizing your jars, prepare your fruits and vegetables. All items for canning need to be added to the sterilized jars hot, so you want to make your jam, sauce, or prepare your vegetables suitable for canning according to a recipe developed for canning.

  3. Once your jars are sterilized and hot and your fruits and vegetables are prepared, remove one jar at a time from the water. Fill with the fruits or vegetables leaving about 1/2 inch headroom at the top. The funnel is helpful for keeping things clean. Wipe the rim with a clean cloth or paper towel. Add the lid and screw to tighten.

  4. Put back in the water, and continue to fill the rest.

  5. Once all are filled, make sure you have enough water to cover the tops by 1-2 inches. If you don't have enough water in the pot, add more boiling water. Bring everything to a simmer, and cook/process for the appropriate amount of time. Each food needs a different time to process, so this is why it is important to use a recipe that is designed for canning because it will give you the processing time.

  6. While the jars are processing, cover a wooden cutting board or cooling rack large enough to hold all of the jars with about an inch of space between them with towels.

  7. When the jars are finished processing, take them out of the water bath and place them on your wooden board or cooling rack.

  8. Let them sit there for 12-24 hours to cool completely. You will hear the lids pop as they cool. This is the vacuum being created, sucking the lid inwards. Do not press on the lids during this time.

  9. After completely cooled, you can remove the outer ring if you'd like and store it in a cool, dark space.

  10. These will be good for up to 2 years but are best used within the year. Of course, if for any reason you see the lid start to expand, get rid of the product because that means it wasn't properly canned and bacteria is growing.

Canning is a very satisfying process. Knowing you can go to your pantry at any time and retrieve something you've made or share it with friends and family is a treat.

If you have a garden, canning season starts as soon as your berries and veggies are ripe. Usually, this means mid to late summer for me here in New England, but for you, it may be different.

If you want to learn more about other canning methods, Check out the Ball Mason Jar website, where you can get recipes, steps, and ideas for pressure canning, freezing, and dehydrating. I like this site because it has recipes with the canning/processing time, and each recipe is broken down into very simple steps, from preparing to the final product. If you are looking for canning products locally, it will also help you find them.


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About Me

Hi!  I'm Jen

Cooking is a passion passed down from both of my grandmothers to my mother and then to my sister and me.  

Throughout my career, I was always drawn back to food.  I've learned from experienced chefs, apprenticed with professional bakers, and tasted coffee with international experts.

Today I'm sharing those experiences with you.

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