Sunday Food: Home Canning


Putting up jam

(Picture courtesy of Chiot’s Run photostream at

Something many of us have done at home is putting up, or canning, food for later.   Recently I had some questions that showed me some of our regular readers think it’s hard to do, which is far from the case.   Because it’s called canning, anyone who’s never done it envisions complicated machinery and processes.   Not necessary, as home canning does not involve cans at all.

Most grocery stores, and all the large grocery supply stores I’ve been in, carry equipment for putting up fresh soups, vegetables, and the like.   Glass jars and their tops are standard, and if you’ve done home canning you have always saved the jars left when you’ve finished the mayonaise, spaghetti sauce, pickles and olives, and the like.   These should be sterilized, which boiling water does quite nicely.   Add the heated contents you want to keep, as full as you can get without spilling.

You can use boiling water bath or steam canning to preserve high acid foods such as fruits, jams, jellies and pickles. The food is packed into jars, covered with lids, then placed in the canner, brought to 212 degrees (F) and held at that temperature for a certain time, effectively killing all molds and any food-spoiling bacteria that can survive in a high acid environment.

A bath in boiling water with clean covered container will provide the ‘canner’ mentioned in this instruction.


Any large metal container with a rack and a tight-fitting lid can be used as a boiling water bath canner (figure 1). The container must be deep enough for 1 to 2 inches of briskly boiling water to cover each jar. The diameter of the container must be no more than 4 inches wider than the diameter of the stove’s burner. For electric ranges, the container must have a flat bottom.

The use of a rack will prevent jars from touching the bottom of the container and will allow boiling water to circulate freely. A pressure canner can be used as a water bath canner if it is deep enough. When using a pressure canner, the lid should be used but not sealed, and the petcock (safety valve) should be open to allow steam to escape and to prevent the buildup of pressure in the canner. Wash and dry the boiling water bath canner before and after each use.

I cook a pot full of bean soup, or of stewed tomatoes from the garden, or home made applesauce or the like, fill the jar as full as it can get, apply the top securely,  and let the hot contents cool.   A seal will form, and the contents are preserved for several months.   If I want to keep something for more than about two months, or give as a gift, I fill a jar bought for that purpose to within a quarter inch of the top, heat in the canning method with boiling water, and let cool.    If you want to be really fancy, a pretty doily out of cloth can be put over the can top before the outer lid is screwed into place.

Of course, anything kept over a year is not going to retain any nutritional value, so should be used before then.

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