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Canning 101: Step-By-Step Directions & Recipes To Get Started

Posted by on Jun 3, 2012 in Food & Recipes, For Beginners, For Your Home | 0 comments

Canning 101: Step-By-Step Directions & Recipes To Get Started

It’s June and my local farm just opened their pick your own strawberry fields. For me, this signals the start of canning season.

Preserving locally grown food is an easy way to save the taste of summer for the dead of winter when we would otherwise be eating a mix of frozen vegetables and bland fruits shipped from hundreds of miles away. It’s also environmentally friendly because the food travels a short distance (for me, it’s five miles from the farm to  my house) and you can reuse the same jars year after year.

There are also some health concerns around eating canned foods that can be avoided when you do your own canning. A recent study found that canned foods such as peaches, soup and pasta, can expose people to dangerous levels of BPA. To avoid ingesting BPA from canned foods, you can do your own canning or buy canned food in glass jars or safe plastics (numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5).

To start canning you need a few tools which are often available in the seasonal or produce section of your grocery store and you need to understand the simple but very important steps to properly sterilizing and sealing your jars.


If you’re planning to make preserves, jams and butters, you will be canning highly acidic fruits and can use hot water baths to seal your jars. This means you do not have to buy a pressure canner which is the only safe way to can vegetables, meat, poultry and fish.

To can fruit, you will need:

  • A large stock pot. The pot should allow you to completely submerge the jars and still have room for  at least an inch of water on top of them.
  • A smaller pot for boiling jar lids and bands.
  • A canning basket or rack that can withstand the boiling temperatures and keep your jars from resting directly on the bottom of the pot.
  • Canning utensils – including a funnel, jar lifter, lid lifter and headspace tool. I have a Ball utensil set which includes everything you need.
  • A kitchen timer.
  • A clean cloth.
  • A ladle.
  • Canning jars. For jams and butters, I usually fill some 4 oz. and some 8 oz. jars. I use plain jars for myself and quilted jars for the food I plan to give as gifts, because they look a little nicer.
  • Band and lids which come with new jars. If you’re reusing jars, you will always need to use a new lid but bands can be reused.
  • Fruit and vegetable wash (optional).

Buying Fruit or Vegetables

Choose foods that are at their peak and full of flavor. Also choose foods that are in good condition, which means there are no bad spots or mold.

If you have a garden, you can harvest your food from your own backyard. That’s the least expensive way to do it. You can also get your food from local farms. I like to get involved in the process so I usually go to pick your own fields. Or you can buy from the grocery store, but that is often the most expensive option.

Wash your food well before turning it into a canned good. I usually use a fruit and vegetable wash for a little extra cleaning power. This is especially important if you obtain your fruit from the grocery store since it may have been dipped in wax to add shine.

Choosing a Recipe

Choose a recipe from a current canning guide, book or trustworthy web site. Why is this important? Different foods require different processing times and techniques and safety guidelines have changed over the years. So you should always start with a good recipe.

Below are a few of my favorite recipes. However, I find the amount of sugar in nearly all canning recipes excessive so I start with 25% of the recommended sugar and add more to taste.

Strawberry preserves – Process the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Apple butter – The key to good apple butter is to use cooking apples, which means tart apples like Granny Smiths. I made a few changes to this recipe – I used a food processor because I didn’t have a food mill and rather than boiling the apples in a pot, which requires constant stirring for a few hours, I put the apples in a crock pot on low and let it sit for several hours. Unfortunately, I didn’t record the timing but you should let it cook until the butter is the consistency you’re looking for.

The Canning Process

These are the steps for hot-packed jars, which means that the food, jars and water are hot.

  1. Prepare the food according to the recipe.
  2. Sterilize your canning jars by running the jars through the sterilize cycle in your dishwasher, placing the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes, or heating the jars to 200° F in the oven. I find heating the jars in the oven easiest.
  3. Sterilize your lids and bands by boiling them in hot water for five minutes.
  4. Ladle your food into the sterilized jars and slide the headspace tool along the inside of the jar to remove bubbles. After that’s done you may have to add a little more food in order to leave the appropriate amount of room, called headspace, at the top. The air left at the top helps ensure you get a tight seal. Usually, 1/8 inch to 1 inch of headspace  is required depending on the recipe. Your headspace tool should have the most commonly used measurements on it.
  5.  Wipe the rim of the jar clean with a cloth.
  6. Lift the lid and band from the boiling water with your lid lifter and place them on the jar. Turn the band until it’s snug but don’t force it too much. You want air to be able to escape.
  7. Lower the jars into the stock pot using your canning basket, making sure there’s at least one inch of  water on top of the jars. Add water if you need to.
  8. Process according to the directions. For preserves and butters you’ll often process the jars for 10-15 minutes. For canning peaches, the processing time is about 20 minutes. While the jars are in the hot water bath you may hear the lids popping – this is normal and means they’re sealing. Some lids may pop in the water bath and others afterward.
  9. Remove the jars from the hot water bath when the processing time is up and let the jars cool for 24 hours on a towel, pot holder, or cooling rack.
  10. After 24 hours have passed, check to make sure the jars have sealed properly by pushing down on the top. If you don’t hear a pop (which you’ll hear with new lids), your canning was a success!
  11. Tighten the bands – again no need to force them too much – and label the jars with the contents and the date. Store the jars in a dark cool place. They should last for a year or two.


  • If your last jar is not completely full, refrigerate it and enjoy right away.
  • Most of the jams and butters I’ve made will last a month or more in the refrigerator after they’ve been opened.
  • Most canning recipes are written for people living at an altitude of less than 1,000 feet. If you live above that range, you will likely need to adjust your processing time. Here’s a helpful cheat sheet.

Nicole’s 2¢


I followed Kim’s instructions to can for the first time and they worked perfectly.

The only problem I had was that my canning rack was a little too big for my processing pot. Since I was in a pinch, I laid Christmas cookie cutters on the bottom of the pot too keep the jars from touching it. It’s a little hacky, but it works!

To avoid finding yourself in a similar situation, I recommend doing a dry run to make sure everything fits together and works the way it should.


Update 9/30/12

I just learned that while recipes for pumpkin butter had been approved in the past, after additional research the National Center for Home Food Preservation no longer considers it safe to can pumpkin butter at home. The recipe I had linked to earlier can still be made and used immediately or frozen. While I’ve never had a problem with canned pumpkin butter since I used canned pumpkin puree, I can no longer recommend the recipe for canning.


Kim is an eco enthusiast who tries to make small changes that will add up and make a difference.

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