Canning Basics


Home canning or preserving can be a very rewarding task. Once you know the basics it’s pretty easy and very safe if you follow the recommendations and don’t take short cuts.

It may seem like lots of work to start with but come winter, and around here they come soon and last forever, opening a jar of home canned goods is a nice reminder of the summer past and a comfort to know the food you prepared is wholesome and nutritious for your family.



Pizza sauce and a jar lifter

Canning jars are made by several manufactures here in the US. The most popular are the Ball, American Harvest and Kerr brands. They can be found at any local hardware store, farm store or even the grocery or department stores.

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Pints and Quarts are the most popular, but don’t rule out other sizes as they make nice gifts. There is also the option of regular mouth or wide mouth styles. Regular mouth are smaller in diameter at the top while the wide mouth are wider. To me I prefer the wide mouth, they are easier to pack food into.

Years back all sorts of glass jars were saved to use for canning, but sadly today the USDA doesn’t recommend it. Don’t toss theses jars out they can be used for other things as well.

Before using your jars each time you will need to first inspect them for cracks, deep scratches and nicks. Any that you find can’t be used safely for canning but will have other uses for storing things like leftovers or dry goods, so don’t toss them out unless badly damaged. Chipped jars will not seal and cracked or deeply scratched jars may burst in the canner making a mess you won’t want to clean up.


Lids and Bands

Today’s jars here in the US are all a 2 piece system- a flat metal part known as a lid and a screw top band to secure the lid down. You can reuse the bands if they are not bent or rusty. Don’t reuse the lids for canning , the USDA tell us they will not seal properly and your food will spoil and make you sick. 

You can however reuse the lids if you are just going to store dry goods or leftovers in the jars. I put an X on them with a marker so I know they have been canned with, if they don’t already have writing on the top. I like to write on the lids the contents of the jar after they have cooled from the canner. That’s me though, others use a label on the side of the jar, I don’t because I hate labels, they are a pain to me to get back off the jar when washing them.

If I intend to give the jar as a gift I make a little tag, punch a hole in the corner and use a string to tie it to the jar just under where the band screws down. Or I make a round label to fit the lid and cover up all the writing. Either way works nicely.


all ready to move to the pantry

Bands and lids come in 2 sizes just like the jars, regular and wide mouth. When you purchase new lids be sure you have enough plus a few extra of the size you need. More than once I have opened a new package of lids and found one or two that are damaged. Either they are missing part of the metal when they were stamped out or the rubber on the inside is badly nicked or missing. CHECK THE LIDS before putting them on your jars.


Sterilize your jars and lids

You will want to wash your jars, lids and bands in hot soapy water then rinse them well.

Next set them in a deep pot and fill it with water the jars too, to cover them by at least 1″ above the top of them. Set the pot to boil and continue to boil for about 10 minutes. This is know as sterilizing your jars. You can also do this in the dishwasher if you have one. Wash only the jars when sterilizing them and not with other dirty dishes. Leave them where they are until you are ready to fill them with what every you are going to can in them.

The lids should be placed in a small pan of boiling water and left there until you are ready to use it. They make a nifty tool with a magnet on the end to fish them out of the hot water one at a time. A good investment, but me I just quickly grab one and get burnt every time.

If your jars are going to be processed for 10 minutes or more there is no need to sterilize your jars, but they do need to be clean.

canning1The canner

There are many brands of canners on the market. Both the water bath canners and pressure canners. But if you are starting out I would suggest using a water bath canner until you get comfortable with how the whole process works then move on the investment of a pressure canner.

Water Bath Canners

A water bath canner is basically a large enamel coated pot, very deep to hold the jars while processing them. There are racks made to lift the jars in and out of the boiling water. But any large pot will work as long as you can cover the jars with at least 2″ of water above the top of the jars and the water won’t boil out all over your stove. It will also need a cover.

If you don’t have a rack, that’s okay too, you can use a round cooling rack or even a folded towel on the bottom. This will keep the jars from banging on the bottom of the pot and cracking them.

A 23 quart water bath canner can hold 7 jars at a time. You will be limited to what you can process in a water bath canner. Jams, jellies, tomatoes, pickles, some fruits and relish. Basically high acid food. You can not can veggies, meats, stews, broth or simular items in the water bath canner, you must use a pressure canner. 


Pressure Canners

Now, while it is true that all foods can be processed in a pressure canner, and this will save considerable time because they come to a boil quicker, can hold more jars and processing times can also be quicker.

 Some might not want to or have the means to purchase such an expensive piece of equipment as a pressure canner.   Not that there is any thing to be afraid of or worry about with a pressure canner as long as you follow the instructions. They are very easy and versatile. A good investment for the homestead. You can also cook entire meals in them.

If you do decide to purchase a pressure canner don’t skimp on the size or quality. Buy the best and largest you can afford. The All American Pressure Canner is about the best I have found and have been recommended to me by many seasoned home canners and homesteaders alike. They will last a life time if taken care of.


A water bath canner with lifting rack


Your cooking pot

This should be another large deep pot with a fitting cover. Again enamel coated or stainless steel. Aluminum will react with many foods. You also want this pot plenty deep enough so the contents won’t boil over onto your stove top. I use a double bottom stainless steel stock pot.


Other equipment

Lots of clean dry kitchen towels to wipe up spills and used damp to wipe the rim and sides of jars before adding the lids and bands. Also for setting your processed jars on when they come out of the canner to cool.

A wide mouth funnel is a good thing to have. It helps get the food into the jars without making such a mess. I have seen these in both plastic and metal. Mine is plastic and after just a few short years of use it it’s starting to crack. So I would suggest to start our right with a nice metal one.

A ladle, large slotted stainless steel spoon, and large wooden spoon. For stirring and filling your jars.

A jar lifter, this is a sepecial tool with rubber on the ends to lift the jars in and out of the canner.

A kitchen knife. For removing air bubbles from the jars before putting on the lids and bands. Simply slide it into the jar to where the air bubbles are. They also make a special spatular for this task, but I never have tried one.

Good sized pieces of cheese cloth for straining jellies.

There are probably other gadgets out there for canning, but these are the basics to start with and all that I use here.

 Where to store the jars


Beautiful carrot relish ready to give away. Can you see the tag in the back?

A cool, dry and dark place is ideal. I remove the bands and store the jars in the pantry & stack them 2 high. One disadvantage to the way I label my jars is there is no writing on the side of the jar to tell me what is in it, but a quick look at the top and I know. If I am going to store them 2 high I use a piece of cardboard on top of the first layer of jars. This keeps them from banging together and provides a stable base for the top layer to sit on.

Storing them in the jar box is another good way, and you will know where to put all the empty jars.


Where to find the recipes

Well, I would recommend you make the investment and purchase the Ball Blue Book or the Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning and Freezing.There are many great books available but this is the one I have. Or go to one of the trusted canning site and print out the recipe and put them in a 3 ring binder.

There are also many sites on the Internet:

USDA Canning Publications be sure to check out the publications link for more info.

Complete Guide to Home Canning (PDF)

Pick Your Own website– has tons of info and recipes there.

Ball Website– great info and recipes

A word of caution, before deciding on a recipe you find on the Internet, check one of the trusted guides, many recipes I have seen are not suitable for canning for one reason or another. Use good judgement and only UADA recipes until you have a good knowledge about canning and processing times. Generally speaking most foods can be canned safely if you use the processing time for the ingredient that will require the longest processing time. This will broaden you recipes and give you courage to use your own. But first start with trusted recipes, there are plenty of them.

ball jars

Antique blue Ball jars to hold dry goods in


Posted on August 19, 2009, in Food Storage, Homesteading, In the House, Planning, Time Management and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I Karen, I am not near the level of production to look at canning on a large scale and did my first few this year in our Summer. The tip about cardboard between the layers is a great one, that will stay with me for down the track … I might even employ it for the ever increasing stash of empty jars I am saving !

  2. Dorothy McLeod

    I just recently found your website and am really enjoying it. Just have one question about your seed mats. What did you use to cover the seeds? It looks like paper but not sure. Keep up the good work.
    Dorothy McLeod
    Campbell River British Columbia

  3. glad i was able to read your article. It was very informative and detailed. The way you outlined your article was great. Easy to read and one can learn a lot from it. Thanks! This could really be helpful to canning enthusiasts like me.

  4. Debbie Richards Savannah,ga

    Oh, gosh….you have re enspired me to can again! I so miss my tomatoes most of all. I brought my old water bath canner down here with me even. I inherited it from my granny after she taught me;) No telling how old it is! But still works perfectly.;) I think I will surprise my family with some tomatoes and greenbeans 😉 Our favorite bean is the Kentucky Wonders. I cook them in Seasoned ham pieces and then the last hr. slice an onion over the top to preserve that flavor too. SO good;)

  5. Debbie Richards Savannah,ga

    BTW, I have those same blue antique jars too, with the ceramic lids even. I use mine for canisters. I cannot tell you how many people have wanted them! I had 4 and think one of 2 youngest, both most likely, broke the smallest lol. All I know is we went out of town and came home to “I don’t Knoooooow”? What blue jars????? lol.KIDS

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