What Is Water Canning?

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People ask me all the time, “What is a water bath canner?” Well, they are easy to find. You can buy a water bath canner at many places like Orchard Nursery, Ace Hardware or Target. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money and store a water bath canner (they can quite large) you can use a big pot with a lid and a cake cooler at the bottom. A water bath canner is a way of processing high-acid foods like fruits and pickled vegetables for long term storage. High-acid food is packed into clean sterile glass jars with metal bands and new lids, and the jars are boiled in water for a prescribed amount of time (hence the name water bath). Successful water bath canning is composed of two simple stages: killing elements that cause spoilage of foods ( enzymes, mold, yeasts, and bacteria) and establishing a sealed container where new elements cannot be introduced. These conditions, along with high acidity of the food within the jar, ensure that harmful microorganisms do not develop and foods are safe to store on the shelf for an extended period of time. Because spoilers, including Clostridium and botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism, cannot develop in a high-acid environment, foods that have pH of 4.5 or lower are safe for water bath canning.

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Half Full

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I received another great question from a student. Their question was, “When I’m canning and I only have enough food left to fill half of a jar, do I process that jar that is only filled up half way?” The answer is no. Every recipe has a head space recommendation which needs to be carefully followed. As a general rule, leave 1 inch of head space for low-acid foods like vegetables and meats (when you are pressure canning); leave 1/2 inch head space for high-acid foods like fruits, tomatoes, pickles, and relishes; 1/4 inch head space for jams and jellies. Care must be taken when filling jars to the correct head space. To much air can turn food a dark color and may cause it to begin to mold. To much food in a jar can cause the jar to break in the water bath during processing. If you have a jar that is only half full, put it in the refrigerator and eat it first.

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