Home Canning for Beginners

2013 Canning Season: Applesauce, Apple Pie Filling, Peaches, Pickles,
Tomatoes, Spaghetti Sauce, Salsa, Red Pepper Relish, Pumpkin Cake

If you've never done any canning before but you've been thinking about giving it a try, I'm here to tell you that it's easier than you might think.  I always wanted to try canning, but for one reason or another, I never did. I had never even watched anyone can before, so it was a bit of a mystery for me.  I felt a little intimated by it, thinking that I wouldn't do it right, that the jars wouldn't seal, that it wouldn't turn out good, or worst of all that I'd give my family and friends food poisoning.  Finally, last year, I canned for the first time. Last year I was a beginner, but this year I am an experienced canner. (That's how it is.  If you've never done it, you're a beginner.  If you have, you're experienced.)

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that canning is easier than I thought it would be.  It does take a lot of time, but it wasn't really hard, and it turned out great!  You can read my blog post about my first canning experience, which I titled "I Can Can."

2012 Canning Season:  Tomatoes, Tomato Sauce, Salsa,
Red Pepper Relish, Peaches, Applesauce, Pumpkin Cake

I enjoyed the canning experience so much that this year I expanded my repertoire. Not only that, but I planted a garden for the first time, and many of the vegetables and herbs that I used for canning were heirlooms I had grown from seed in my Kitchen Garden.

2013 Canning Season:  Tomatoes, Pasta Sauce, Salsa, Red Pepper Relish,
Dill Pickles, Sweet Pickles, Peaches, Applesauce, Apple Pie Filling, Pumpkin Cake
Before I started canning for the first time, I did a lot of reading on the topic.  It seemed like a lot to learn, and it felt like I'd never remember everything.  After that first experience, this is what I realized:

1.  There are a few basic but important rules to follow that apply across the board.
2.  It is important to follow tested and up-to-date recipes.
3.  It's easy but does take a lot of time.
4.  It is very satisfying and rewarding.

Equipment and Supplies

The first thing I would recommend that you do is to purchase a reliable canning guidebook with recipes.  I purchased the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.  It costs around $9.00, and I found it to be very thorough with all of the information I needed to get started.

You'll also need some basic canning equipment and supplies. It's easiest to get started with a hot water canner for canning acidic foods like tomatoes, fruits such as applesauce or peaches, and recipes that use vinegar such as salsa or pickles. A covered water canner with a rack comes in granite ware or stainless steel, ranging from $20 to $100. I have a 21-quart granite ware canner that holds seven 1-quart jars.

You'll also need a canning kit. I bought the Ball 4-Piece Canning Utensil Kit that includes a jar funnel and jar tongs, a spatula and a magnetic lid lifter (about $8 for the kit).  In addition, you'll need some other utensils, such as a long-handled wooden spoon, a ladle, measuring cups and spoons, and of course some canning jars (about $10 for a dozen quart-size jars).

Canning Foods with a Hot Water Canner 

The Hot Water Canner Process is for acidic foods like tomatoes, fruits, and recipes with vinegar. For non-acidic foods (meats, vegetables and stews you will need a pressure canner) Follow the recipes and instructions in the canning guidebook to hot-water process the food you are preserving. It's important to use tested recipes to make sure your jars will seal properly, free of molds and bacteria that could spoil your food.  You could be tempted to use an old book that your mother or grandmother used, but it is recommended you purchase an up-to-date guide.  Recipes and procedures have been updated over the years in keeping with changing food sources and growing practices.

Does that all sound overwhelming or scary to you?  It did to me. I was nervous about it the first time, but if you follow the basic processing rules and tested recipes, your canned goods will turn out super, and you will be so excited!  To give you an idea of how it's done, here are the basic processing directions, but do be sure to get a trustworthy guide to follow.

1. Wash the canning jars, lids and bands in hot soapy water.

2. Place the jars on the rack in the hot water canner.  Fill with enough warm water to cover the jars. Place the lid on and bring the water to a light boil; turn down the heat and simmer for at least 10 minutes. (Note: you don't want to place the cool jars into boiling water or they might crack.) Keep the jars in the simmering water until ready to fill. (Another way to heat the jars is to run them through a hot dishwasher and keep the door closed to keep them hot until ready to use.

3. In a small sauce pan, bring some water to a simmer (180° F.) Place the lids in the simmering water for at least 10 minutes.  (Don't bring the water to a boil as the higher heat can damage the seal.)

4.  When ready to fill the jars, remove one jar at a time from the canner, pouring out the water inside the jar.  Using the jar funnel and a ladle, fill the jar with hot food to within 1/4", 1/2", or 1" of the top rim.  The recipe for the food you are canning will tell you how far to fill the jars.  The amount of head space left for each kind of food is important for proper sealing.  Follow the recipe precisely.  The spatula that comes with your canning kit has a measuring guide on the wider end.

5. Slide the plastic spatula along the inside walls of the jar to release air bubbles. Don't use a metal knife as it could scratch and damage your jars.

6. Lift off the funnel and wipe the rim of the jar with a clean, damp paper towel or cloth to remove any drippings which could interfere with the seal.

7. Place the lid and band on the jar and tighten just until you feel resistance.  Don't twist the lid on too tightly.

8.  Using the jar tongs, place the filled jar back into the simmering water.  Keep the empty jars in the canner and lift and fill them one at a time, immediately putting them back in the hot water.  Keeping the jars hot prevents them from cracking. Add some boiling water if necessary to cover the jars completely.

9. Put the lid on the canner and bring the water to a boil.  Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to low and simmer for the prescribed amount of time in your recipe.

10.  Lift the processed jars with the jar tongs and place them 2" apart on a towel. As the jars cool, you'll hear a "ping" as they seal.  Leave the jars sit undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours.  To check the seals, press down lightly on the center of the lid. If the lid doesn't "give" it is properly sealed.  You can double-check it by removing the band and gently trying to lift the lid. If it doesn't life, it is sealed. If any jars didn't seal, refrigerate them and use them soon.  Your sealed food can be stored on a pantry shelf for a year.

Hot Water Canner Recipes

Apple Pie Filling
Red Pepper Relish
Tomato Sauce

Pressure Canner Recipes

Spaghetti Sauce

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  1. Good Job! There is no more satisfying sound than the lids popping as they seal! I remember one time many years ago, my father-in-law had an abundance of green beans. I picked them-enough to completely fill our bathtub and snapped and canned all of them. We ate beans for a long time! I still love them, but don't grow enough to can in our little yard, just enough for me and my husband to eat. Most of my canning nowadays is jellies and preserves. That's what I give for Christmas gifts and make plenty for us. Thanks for your great blog!

    1. Thank you so much! I appreciate your affirmation. Wow! That is a lot of beans! I am really enjoying canning and enjoy giving it as gifts too! Thanks for coming by and commenting. ~Katie

  2. I am so impressed by the fact that the garden you planted was your first garden! Wow!
    Thank you for posting this Canning for Beginners. I was really encouraged to try it this next year.

    Janet.... mamachildress

    1. Thank you so much Janet. I enjoy your blog. Do you have a facebook page? ~Katie

  3. Wow, that's an impressive amount of canning, and it looks so beautiful. Next year I'm hoping to get into canning a lot more too, so far I've just done jams and jellies. I'll remember to come back and check out your recipes since they all look so good. :)

    1. Hi Lesa. Thanks for coming by and leaving a word of encouragement! I feel like I've got the canning "bug!" I'm wondering what I'll try new next year! ~Katie

  4. This is a beautiful. thorough, and encouraging post. I can't wait to see what you do next!

  5. What a GREAT harvest you had. All those jars are simply beautiful.

  6. Gorgeous! Don't forget to remove your rings, though. We shouldn't store our canned goods with the rings on, it gives a false impression of seal, can cause mold to grow between the ring and jar (eventually popping seal) and other issues.

    1. Thank you for that reminder Kathie. I did read that you should remove the rings when storing the jars, both for the reason you mentioned and also because storing the rings separately (clean, dry and covered) prevents them from rusting and extends their life. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I appreciate it! ~Katie