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Canning - My Routine and Tips

As I said on the main Canning Page - I am not going to reinvent the wheel and explain the basics of canning - that is already done very well all over the web.

However, when I looked around the internet, I realized that everyone told you the process - the steps - to do pressure or waterbath canning - but they didn't talk about the questions that come up when you are just starting out.

The follow is MY routine for pressure canning - waterbath would be almost the same.  Like everyone else, I have a busy life and I have developed my routine over the years to be as quick and easy as possible - maybe it will help you as you enjoy the art of canning.

Some general comments:

Condition of Jars -  My jars are a big investment - more than the actual pressure canner.  I baby my jars - I do wash them either in the sink or in the dishwasher - but I am careful about the rims and the glass ridges around the top -those ridges are critical for a proper seal.  If a ridge gets chipped - or the edge of the jar - the jar can NOT be used for canning - pressure or waterbath - it will not seal correctly.

Jar Sterilizing - When you are pressure canning, you do NOT have to sterilize the jars first - just start with clean jars.  You are sterilizing everything in the pressure canner.  If you are waterbath canning, you can just sterilize the jars in the same really big pot of boiling water you will be using for the actual waterbath.

Tempering the Glass Jars - As long as the jars are room temperature, you can put boiling food/liquid in the jars without fear of cracking the glass.  Really old jars - or jars that have been damaged - might break, but good, healthy jars will be just fine.

Filling the Jars - I put all my jars on a large, sturdy cookie sheet to catch any drips or spills.  I have several of the thick aluminum cookie trays - the trays feel like stainless steel - have about a 1" lip - sometimes called half sheet baking trays - but they are STURDY.  I use these trays for everything - one of the best 'tools' in my kitchen. 

Protecting my kitchen surface - I have a small butcher-block top island table that works perfectly - but most people just use an area of their counter.  The jars will be VERY hot - and they may spit hot liquid - so think about your counter material and the heat.  Tile is no problem - I canned on tile counters for years formica might bubble/blister - corian is most likely fine - granite might crack - so perhaps a thin piece of plywood with a towel over it to insulate the counter from the jars ? 

I want to protect my butcher-block, so I use the following: 
  • 2 layers of old towels - cut to size and zig-zag edged on the sewing machine to prevent raveling when washed.
  • 1 layer of quilt - so 2 layers of cotton (sheeting is great!) with an insulating layer between.  I used insulbright (like you use in potholders). 
  • 1 top layer - in the photo this is a single layer of homedec weight cotton.
  • You will note that all of these layers are washable.  Sometimes I get lucky and only have to wash the top layer - but if something gets messy out of the canner (like dried beans) then everything can just go in the washer and dryer.

On to the Process . . .

Let's assume I am canning a raw-pack vegetable for this example . . .

1) Gather the correct number/size of jars for the project.  My canner will hold 7 quarts - or 16 regular mouth pints - or 14 wide mouth pints.  Put the correct number of rings in a small bowl.  Count out the correct number of seals for the project and set aside.
I typically round up the jars and rings the night before and set out on the counter.

1) Start a large pot of water boiling that will be used to cover the vegetables once in the jars.  When the pot of water is boiling, turn down and hold until you are ready to fill the jars.

2) Start another small pot of water to heat.  When boiling, turn off and put the seals in to warm up and cover.

3) Put the vegetables in the sink to soak.

4) Gather whatever else will be neccesary to prepare the vegetables - cutting board, peeler, knives, etc.

5) With the jars on a cookie sheet - prepare the vegetables and fill the jars as you go.

6) When the jars are ready, move the tray near the large pot of water.  Raise the heat on the water to bring it back to a low boil.
Take a quick break at this point - go outside and breathe - whatever.

7) When water reaches a boil - again turn it down to a low simmer and hold.

8) Prepare the pressure canner - put the 3 quarts of water in - add a splash of vinegar so the hard water will not ruin the outside of my jars.  Do not turn the heat on under the pressure canner yet.

9) Fill the jars with liquid - debubble - and top off.

10) Add the seals and rings - only screwing finger tight.

11)  Load the canner and process according to directions with canner or in the recipe.

12)  While the canner is processing, I prepare my kitchen surface where I will put the hot jars when they come out of the canner. 

13)  After the processing is completed - and the pressure valve has dropped - remove the jars promptly.  Leaving the jars in the canner for a long time will create a flat taste in the product.   Lift the jars out of the canner and over to your prepared holding area - do NOT touch the top of the lids - do NOT!!  I do, however, hold a towel in my 'other' hand - and I allow the towel to gently drape over the jar when I set it down - this will quickly wick up the excess water on the lid - but do NOT touch the top of the lid.

14) About an hour later, you can check to see if any of the jars did not seal -- place any unsealed jars in the refrigerator and plan on having them within the next day or so for a meal.  In the case of dried beans, I rinse the beans off, drain and put in the dehydrator - works like a charm!  Everything else, we eat.

15) Let everything cool - completely - overnight is fine and usually what I do, but always the jars must be completely cool - no cheating.

16) The next morning . . . . run some warm water with soap in the sink.  Remove the rings from the jars and drop the rings in the sink of soapy water.  If any rings do not want to come off easily - turn sideways and 'dip' under the running water (warm to cool) - and set aside for a minute while you work on the others.  This will soften the 'gook' inside the ring but will not compromise the seal.

Gently wash the jars - all over - don't panic, it won't compromise the seal - use only warm water and briefly rinse with warm water.  Do not submerge - just rinse quickly - and set to drain on a towel.
I prefer a sponge for this process - one of the new closed cell variety - works much better than a dishcloth for this step.

17) When you have washed all the jars, gently dry the jars and set on the counter to 'air'. 
Now you can go back and wash the rings - this will take a bit longer as, depending on what you canned, there can be some 'gook' in all those crevices - that's why you were soaking them.  Just do the best you can - rinse and lay out on towel to drain.  I then lightly dry and pyramid stack somewhere out of the way to completely air dry before putting them away for the next project.

Go take a break or do something else for about a hour - or longer. 

18) I like to put clean rings (really dry) on my jars for storage.  There is some controversy on this, but I want to protect the glass ridges around the tops of my jars from chipping - remember any chip on these ridges prevents a seal.  I only put them on LIGHTLY - I do not screw them 'down'.  I always let the jars and rings dry completely - in fact, I use rings from my supply - and let the rings from this project continue drying - so I 'cycle' the rings. 

This does mean I have an inventory of more rings, but rings are cheaper than jars - and I continually reuse the rings - although they do wear out or get dented and need to replaced, but not very often.

Canners on the other side of this discussion - the anti-ring people - say that the jar could lose it's seal and then reseal - I strongly disagree.  When you go to use that jar of food, you will need to get a can-opener  and pry the lid off the jar - it did not reseal itself that firmly.  Waterbath canning does create a slightly weaker seal, but you will still need to use a spoon or handle to break the seal on the lid.

19) Finally, I use a permanent marker to write on the top of the lid what the food is and a month/year date.  I went through the phase of printing pretty stickers, but I am too busy and the marker is permanent and easy.

Empty Jars - After a jar has been washed, I prefer to store it with a ring on for protection - again, making sure the jar and rings are thoroughly dry before storing them.
I keep a box of rings handy in a kitchen drawer - and I use from this box to put on a jar - full or empty before storage - then I add the recently washed rings to the box - that way I am always using a completely dry ring.

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