Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Canning Basics: Water Bath Canning

making homemade strawberry jam

     Canning. It is one of those skills that just sounds like it would be hard and complicated to do. Especially if you don't know how it works. However canning is actually very simple, and you don't even need that much equipment to start canning.

     Today I am just going to go over the basics of water bath canning. Water bath canning is perhaps the easiest form of canning because all you need are your jars, the lids, and the rubber rings that help create a seal. These can be found at many different stores, such as a walmart and are pretty cheap to buy. The jars are usually around ten dollars, depending of course on what size you, buy and usually come in sets of six or tweleve. It may differ depending on the store, but that is a good estimate of how much those will cost.
     Lids can be bought seperately, and come with the rubber rings. Those are usually only a couple of dollars. Check your jars first before you buy lids to go with them however, because most jars will come with their own lids. You can buy the lids seperately because if you want to reuse your jars to can something else you will need the new lids, because lids cannot be reused.
     Now for water bath canning you need two other pieces of equipment, a large pot and a rack. The idea behind the rack is to keep your jars in place in the middle of the water, allowing the boiling water to circulate completely around your jars, this way the contents are heated up evenly. Without a rack a jar that sits on the bottom of your pot could result in burning on the bottom of your jar.
     An alternate option to buying a pot and a canning rack is to get a large pot and put a small cooling rack, laying flat, into your pot. I have heard of this being done, but never tried it, so I can vouch for how well it works. The jars may not stay up upright very well due to the movement of the boiling water. However if anyone does try to do some canning that way, let me know how it goes!
     So now that you have your equipment you need to get your recipe and the ingredients for that. I have provided an easy strawberry jam recipe down at the bottom of the post if you would like one to try out. The recipe uses a lot of sugar to thicken and make the jelly. Other recipes might call for an ingredient called pectin which replaces much of this sugar to help solidify the jelly or jam. This should be easily found in the same aisle as the canning products.
     Now to start your canning you want to get all your recipe ingredients together. Then, before you make your recipe, set up your large pot and get the water boiling. Do this first because, before you can do any canning, you need to sterilize your jars. I made this mistake the first time I did canning, and found myself rushing at the end to try and get the jars sterilized. The result was that the jam boiled too long and when my jam cooled it turned to be candy rather than jam.
     So once your jars are steralized you want to cook your recipe. Once its finished your going to ladle your jam into the jars and wipe off the rim so there isn't any jam in between your lid and your jar. This could cause the jar to not seal during the canning process.
     After the jar is clean you want to put down your rubber ring and the lid to your jar, and then screw it on. Screw the lid on until it stops moving, but don't force it. The lid should be tight but not so tight as to make it impossible to unscrew.
     At this point you'll take your jars and put them in the canning rack and into your boiling water. Some recipes will call for five minutes in the boiling water, others will say ten. I generally do mine for ten just to be safe.
     Once the time is up, take the jars out of the water, and place them on dry towel, and dry them off. Don't place them directly on your counter. The first reason because the jars will be hot and this could damage the counter. The second reason however, is because if your counter is cool, it may be cool enough that the contrasting temperatures can actually make your jars crack.
     Let the cans sit. As they cool off the middle of the tops of your jars should pop inwards indicating that the jar is sealed. This should happen within a few minutes most of the time but give the jars at least ten minutes. After this point if the top of the jar has not popped inwards you have two options.
     The first option is to put your jar back into the water bath and reboil it. Then take it out again and see if the lid pops that time. I would suggest only trying this once because if you put it into the water bath many times it will keep cooking your jam and that may result in sugar candy, similar to my first jam, rather than what your trying to make.
     The second option you can do is the easier option. You simply take the jars and use them as you would a jar that has been already opened. So put them in the fridge and eat the contents of those jars first, before you move on to the jars that did seal.
     For all of your jars, whether they have sealed or not, let them cool on the counter for at least a few hours, though overnight is better, and then simply store the sealed jars in a cupboard until your ready to use them, and store opened jars in the refrigerator.
     So there you have it. That is how the water bath canning process is done. This method is good for canning all sorts of different items such as fruits, tomatoes, and pickles. However it should be noted that the water bath canning process is specifically for canning things that are acidic like fruit. Non acidic items that are being canned, such as a vegetable or meat either need acid added to the canning recipe to prevent the food from spoiling, or those items need to be canned using the pressure canning method.
     Hope you've enjoyed the quick rundown on how to can using the water bath method and if anyone out there gives the strawberry jam recipe a try, or any other recipe for that matter let us know! Tell us how it goes and post some pictures if you can. We'd love to here from you.

Strawberry Jam

-13 c fresh strawberries, slightly mashed
-6 c sugar
-1/2 c lemon juice

*I have also heard of a cup of sugar and a tbsp of lemon juice per cup of strawberries*

Wash and mash strawberries. Add sugar. At this point you can leave the strawberries for an hour or two if you'd like to let some of the juices get drawn out.

Add lemon juice.

Put a plate in the freezer so it is cold for later.

Put in a pot and turn the heat up to medium high. Let the mixture come to a rolling boil. It will bubble and foam. You can skim the foam off. Let it boil for ten minutes.

At this point your mixture will be runny. Take your plate out of the freezer and put a tsp or so of your jam in a line on the plate. Run your finger through the middle of the jam. If the jam does not come back together than it has jelled, and your jam is finished. If the jam does flow back together it is not finished yet, and you need to cook it a little longer and then try the test again.

At this point you can bottle your jam.

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