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» Water Bath Canning

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Two years ago I started tinkering with the idea of canning my own goods. I’ve been making sauces and marinades, soups and dressings for people during the holidays for several seasons, but was getting baffled in how to ship it and keep the food safe. So when I saw a beautiful stainless steel pressure cooker I fell in love (buying it was also a way to commit myself fully to learning how to can properly).

The beauty of canning lies in the fact that if you loose power, you don’t loose all your efforts, unlike freezing. Better still, I know everything that goes into my food and can prepare items that fit each member of my family’s specific tastes. Even beyond that, canning does save money. If you buy smart and work in bulk it’s very easy to save $1.00 a pint on, say, single-serve chili including the cost of the jar.

Hot water canning is less expensive at the outset than pressure canning because the pressure canner costs significantly more. Most department stores have nice canning kits for $20 or less. Sometimes you can get lucky and find them at second hand stores or yard sales for much, much less. As with pressure canning, your jars are wholly reusable but the lids may not be. If the lid has dents or bends, it won’t seal so it’s often worth the money to get new lids to avoid processing jars that don’t seal (and thereby waste the energy).

Hot water canning is very easy. You want to begin with sterile jars and lids. Make sure the jars are at room temperature so that you don’t accidentally crack the glass with hot substances being added therein. Once filled (per the instructions for the food you’re canning), you put on the lids, the rings, and give the food a nice hot bath. Processing times vary depending on the type of food you’re canning AND your altitude. Many first time canners forget this very important second point. The average instructions online and in cookbooks are for homes at 1000 feet above sea water (or less). Processing time increases by five minutes after this for up to 3,000 feet, and five more minutes for every 3,000 feet thereafter. Another common mistake is not putting enough water in the hot water bath. Jars must be covered by more than one inch to seal properly.

After processing your jars for the correct amount of time, take them out of the pot and place them on a towel to cool. Give them plenty of room to breath. By the next morning you can check each one by pushing your finger down at the center point of the lid to make sure it doesn’t give or “pop” (any jars that do this have not processed properly). Now, don’t despair. You can either refrigerate these goods and use them soon, or freeze them. Most people don’t recommend re-canning only because it increases the chance of introducing germs.

Finally, don’t forget to label the finished product including the date so that you can watch for potential shelf life issues (these too are typically provided in recipes).

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