The following is from my humble experiences in canning the excesses from my gardens, and from purchased items, and one time when I had a freezer failure and could not save stuff otherwise.
A couple of points to start with, which I find to be VERY important.
1. Get a good canning book. The Ball canning book comes to mind.
Assemble your materials, have everything ready before canning time is at hand. (GET A GOOD BOOK) tongs, a jar lifter (big rubber coated tongs), pot holders, a big measuring cup or such, a ladle for hot stuff, rubber gloves, clean towels, paper towels, a clear area in which to work.
Of course jars and lids.
And the canner, and also a large pot for hot water, needed from time to time.
Set out and inspect your lids. Yeah I know they are new, but inspect the seal anyway. May save a failure later.
Inspect and clean if necessary, the canner seal, check the freedom of the pressure relief valve, and if it has one, the pressure guage tube for any obstruction. Errors in these components could result in a catastrophe including scalding or worse. If it is right, use it, if it is doubtful, or wrong, STOP!! You have a pressure vessel there make sure the safety stuff works.
Correct the problem before continuing.
Have a small vessel of water, with enough room for the lids for the first batch of jars. Don't try to cook them! Just enough heat to keep the seal nice and soft. A very low simmer is quite enough. Start heating this a few minutes before you are ready to fill the jars. Once it simmers a few minutes, if you are going to start using the lids right away, the heat can be turned off.
Heat up a large pot of water for topping off the canner later. It doesn't need to stay boiling if you do not have room, but the warmer it is, the better time you will make in heating up the canner to the correct pressure/temp.
If you are going to can a soup, stew, or other more complex item, have it timed to be at peak readiness when you are ready to begin filling jars. It should of course be hot. Use a ladle, and the wide mouth funnel to easily fill the jars.
There are two kinds of canning, hot pack, and cold pack. Mostly meats and poultry will be cold pack, and vegetables and soups will be hot pack. Fruits can be either way depending upon exactly what is being done. Consult the book!
Vegetables and fruits should already be washed, peeled, or whatever preps you prefer, and placed in a container so they are easy to handle from container to jar. Check the recommendations in the book...
Meats should already be cleaned, cut, etc consult the book for details....
Put some water in the canner to preheat the canner. Don't forget the jar
rack. If you do not have a jar rack, a wash cloth,or dish cloth on the
bottom will cushion against jars bouncing on the bottom as the water boils,
which could break a jar. The book will advise you to cover the jars with
water once in the canner. It is hard to figure how much that will be, at
least for the first few times. Be careful until you get the feel for it, as
it is hard to get the water back out from around the jars if there is too
much. A large pot of boiling water at hand will be a big help later, to
add more if necessary.
A turkey baster will remove excess water if the last jar threatens to overflow the canner, but it is better to have to add a little than mess with that route.
Start the canner heating, and wipe and inspect the cover seal again.
On the rare very old style, with the wrap around clamp and big wing nut, carefully inspect the entire circumference of the clamp for any signs of cracks. I have one of these, and only use the canner for a big pot. The lid and clamp leave me a little suspicious, so they are out of service.
Inspect all jars carefully. Discard any with any chips or cracks anywhere. Be especially careful of the sealing rim. Run your finger around it and feel for any kind of chip etc that would be a problem for the seal.
Wash all jars in hot soapy water, whether new or used. Rinse very will, again use hot water. Everything should stay hot throughout the process.
For jars used in pressure canning, it is not necessary to scald or sterilize them, as they will really get a sterilization once in the canner. For jars used in hot water bath canning, or cooler methods, such as putting up jelly, it is best that they be scalded in a pot of boiling water for a short time.
Always, always use canning jars, not something left over from an item bought in a store. The risk is not worth it. Odd jars can burst, or not seal etc.
Have good stout tongs, rubber gloves, pot holders, towels, etc etc already laid out for handling hot jars, lids, etc.
As much as room will permit, lay out a production line, from right to left or the other way around, that leads from the pot of stuff to be canned, across the various functions and ends up in the canner.
Follow the recommendations in your canning book for various items to be canned. It will refer to how full to fill the jar, whether to add liquids, seasonings, etc, and how long to process each type of food, whether in pints or quarts.
If you rely on memory, consider that what you are doing is gambling against serious food poisoning, or loss of your food, rather than reading the book. Not a wise gamble IMHO. Check the book for times and temps etc. for each item.
If you intend to can regularly, gather several wide mouth funnels for filling the jars. If you only have one, it will hide at the first day of canning season.
Fill jars according to what you are processing. (yep, you guessed it check the book) correct headspace is important to a good finished product, as is the quantity of liquid, or no liquid added in some cases.
(nope I didn't slip up, jars have headspace too, not just firearms)
With a clean cloth, or stout paper towel dipped in hot water (a little from the lid pan will do) wipe around the sealing surface of the rim, to get off any bit of product that might have spilled there while filling.
Use tongs, get a lid from the the lid pot, and put it on the filled jar.
Put on a ring. Tighten it, but do not try to twist off the top of the jar, you are only making sure the lid will be nice and snug on the jar top during processing. Hot air and gasses must escape from the jar past the lid during processing in order to prepare for forming a vacuum during cooling.
The canner should be on the stove, with some water already simmering in it, and the jar rack in place. Note how much water you have in it. Place all jars, usually around 8 quarts, in the canner. You can fill the next canning run to that level before adding jars, and only need to add a little to cover the lids.
Follow the instructions in the book for the canner about securing the lid, setting any valves, jigglers etc. Turn up the heat to moderate. A little time spent now will save a poor canning run later. If you heat the canner too quickly, it is really a pain trying to regulate the pressure later. Do NOT wander off, but watch the pressure indicators. It is said, in every canner book I have read, that a 'wandering' pressure will result in an insecure canning run. The correct temperature might not have been maintained for the correct amount of time. It is important to try to get up to temperature, or pressure (directly related), and stay within a very small margin while there.
My experienct has been with two types of canners over the years. There are variations. One uses a 'jiggler', or weighted device, which sets on an open tube on the lid. With this you heat until there is steam coming steadily from the tube. At first there will be spurts and spits as free air is forced from within. When the steam is steady, turn the heat down a little, and maintain steady steam. When this happens, set the jiggler on the tube. Be ready to adjust the heat to the point where the jiggler is actually just jiggling. It is weighted to provide just enough escape of steam to maintain the pressure required. This can take a little fiddling. Do NOT start canning time until everything is purring along smoothly.
Those with guages are done basically the same, except you have a guage to watch the actual pressure, and adjust it accordingly.
Check on the canner periodically, do not wander way off somewhere for long.
When the required time is up (of course you are using an audible timer or something right?), turn off the heat. If you need to move the canner, place it on a towel or something that will not be a cool or cold shock to it.
Leave it alone!!! Do not mess with it!!! Verboten!!! Got it??
It will cool at it's own pace. This is where you are making a good vacuum seal, and it will not do well if bothered.
This is the time many people make a mistake in trying to save time by quick cooling. You can quick cool in a sink of water for foods that have been pressure COOKED, but absolutely NOT for jars that have been pressure CANNED.
When it is cool enough to open, the safety valve should drop down, since there is not enough pressure left to keep it up. ONLY at this point, remove the jiggler carefully, watch out for steam. Tongs are nice for this too.
Most guages, for any purpose, are not accurate except in the center third or so of their operation. For this reason, if the safety valve is not down, do not trust the guage being at '0' as a sign it is good to open the lid.
Gently tap the safety valve 'gently' please. If it happens to be gunked to
it's seal, (this can happen), it will drop down and stay down, or if there
is still steam it will spit at you and reseat. Wait for it to tell you it
is ok to open the lid.
Obviously do not poke this with your finger.
Now it should be safe to open the canner. When doing so, tilt the lid AWAY from your face, you can still get a little steam bath. If you are wearing glasses, you will get fogged over too. Place the lid carefully in a safe place.
Prepare a clean dry towel nearby. Remove a jar with the tongs and using a pot holder at the bottom, tilt it over to get rid of the puddle of really hot water sitting on the top. Be careful!! Then sit the jar over on the towel gently.
Twist down the ring again. It will be anywhere from slightly loose to moderately loose. Snug it. Repeat this for each jar. Now you want the lid to be held tight until the cooling is completed.
Leave space for circulation between the jars.
Commence either cleanup, or preparing another batch.
The cooling jars should NOT be in the path of a fan or air conditioner. They need to do their cooling slowly.
When they are cooled you will hear a sound that is the sound of success to the ears of cannering folks. 'ping' 'plink' etc, as the vacuum finally pulls the center of the lid down and locks it in.
When the jars are cool, I use a light small paring knife blade to gently bounce on the lids. The 'ting, ting,ting' lets me know the seal was good. Now and then there will be one with a seal, but not a really good one. It stands out with a dull 'plonk' and the knife blade tends to NOT bounce. That will go into the fridge and soon be eaten. Two or three batches of jars will tune your ear to the sound of a good seal.
While all books say you can take off the ring at this point, many people do not, for the simple reason it provides a better protection against a bump on the edge of the seal. Either way is acceptable. I have found that if you prefer to leave the rings on for storage, they should be taken off, and throroughly dried first, to prevent rust from forming inside the ring. If rust does form, it will show up when the ring is removed in the future. At that point, toss the ring, as the rust could prevent you from getting as good a seal as you think when using it on another canning session. Only re-use quality items in home canning.
Canned things should be stored preferrably in the dark or subdued light, and in a cool area. I usually put much of mine back in the jar cases. It stacks much more safely that way.
A good dry run on your first time or two will help a LOT in setting things up to make best use of your space. A good adventure is to can a batch of water. It can either be kept, or dumped, but it will let you get the feel of the whole operation without risking perfectly good food. Everything goes exactly the same as if it were a big mess of chicken, or peas or whatever.
I have been in some kitchens where I needed to bring in the dining table with newspapers covered by towels in order to have working room because of tiny counter space. Whatever is solid, and works.
Needless to say, watch out for burns, scalds and slipping on a spill. You are dealing with a pretty good volume of dangerously hot liquids and foods, and a pressure vessel.
Above all, take your time, be clean, be safe, and enjoy....
Don't let this scare you off. If you have average discipline, and prepare properly, it is a breeze, and a nice row of canned goods that will keep for years is certainly satisfying, and a sense of some pride too.
Oh yeah Get a Book!! This is one task where the general plan of "if all
else fails I will read the book" is NOT the way to go. Read first with this!
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