Jar Canning and Preservation 101

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Food preservation has a long and varied history, including drying, smoking, and fermenting. Canning or jarring foods has also been popular for a long time, though early methods involved suspending foods in vinegar and alcohol, which did not always produce reliable and safe results. Nicolas Appert was a French chef in the 1800s who is credited with the discovery of the packing, heating, and sealing techniques that are still in use today for canning foods. When John L. Mason invented his reusable jars with screw-on lids in 1858, canning became a popular activity in the United States.

Mechanics of Canning

Canning typically involves filling clean glass jars with prepared foods, applying a flat lid and ring to each jar, and submerging the filled jars in boiling water for the correct length of time based on the contents of the jars. After removing the glass jars from the water, the air inside cools and contracts, sucking the lid down to form an airtight seal. Foods high in acidity that are preserved following these steps should keep safely for at least one year.

  • Home canning waned when full service grocery stores began offering processed foods in cans.
  • Canning became popular once again in the past few years when consumers wanted to save money and avoid processed foods.

Equipment Needed

Home canning requires specific supplies, including a wide-mouth funnel, measuring spoons and cups, and a jar lifter. A jar lifter enables you to remove the glass jars from the hot water bath without burning your hands.

  • To cook preserves prior to canning, invest in a large non-reactive Dutch oven.
  • Use a deep stockpot and a rack for the hot water bath.

The Canning Process

The canning process involves several steps, which are not overly difficult. It is important to follow the steps carefully, however. Use a reputable source for all canning recipes, and follow them to the letter.

  • Examine the jars, lids, and rings to ensure that they are in good shape. Wash these items.
  • Fill a small saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Place the jar lids into the simmering water.
  • Fill the stockpot with water and heat it. Place the jars inside to sterilize them.
  • Prepare the produce while the water heats. Once the produce is ready, remove each jar from the stockpot and fill it. Follow the recipe to ensure that you're leaving the proper amount of head space.
  • Wipe each jar rim with a damp paper towel, apply a lid, and screw on the ring firmly.
  • Place the filled jars on the rack in the stockpot. Return the water to a boil and start timing the process according to the recipe.
  • Remove the jars from the water bath promptly when the time elapses. Place them onto a towel to cool.
  • Check the seals after the jars cool. The centers of the lids should become concave; if you push on them, they shouldn't pop up. Remove the bands and double-check all of the lids to ensure that they sealed completely.
  • Store the jars in a cool, dark location for up to one year.
  • If you have jars that did not seal, refrigerate them and use them first.

Troubleshooting Help

Jars may not seal for several reasons. If you have problems with sealing, you may need to make a few adjustments to your process.

  • Always ensure that the jar rims are clean and free of debris.
  • Boil the lids in water for the length of time recommended by the jar manufacturer.
  • Make sure the food is sufficiently hot before packing it into the jars.
  • If the food level seems to go down in the jars, this is normal. As long as the jars seal effectively, the canned food should be safe. Try to remove all air bubbles from the food when packing it to prevent this from occurring.

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