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There’s something about vegetable gardening in the fall that’s idealistic to me. Spending time outside in the cooler weather. Growing food that I’ll be able to share with friends and family during the holidays. Drinking something warm after a long day of working outside. While I’d have to say gardening is my favorite activity, making delicious recipes and preserving my harvests come at a close second. This is why I love water bath canning. Today I want to share a little bit about water bath canning basics to preserve your fall garden. Water bath canning is a way to preserve what you grow, or even what you buy at the store. If you haven’t tried water bath canning, it’s a great place to start when it comes to preserving your food. It also gives you an opportunity to create some great recipes like salsas, jams, chutneys, relish, and pickles. By preserving your food using the water bath canning method, you can store your food at room temperature up to a year. If you have a garden or homestead, you’ll eventually want to find different ways to preserve your bountiful harvests. There are also certain seasons for growing different fruit and vegetables. If you want to enjoy eating your harvest all year round, then you’ll need to find a way to preserve it. There are many ways to preserve food, and different ways are sometimes necessary depending on what you want to preserve. Some ways include pressure canning, fermenting, freezing, and drying. My personal favorite is water bath canning. I consider water bath canning to be the gateway to processing food. It’s where I started, too. Keep reading to learn what water bath canning is, what you can preserve using water bath canning, and what equipment you’ll need to get started.

What is Water Bath Canning?

First, let’s talk about what water bath canning is. Water bath canning is a way to preserve acidic food by boiling jars in water. It’s important to know that the food you preserve using this method is acidic, which we’ll discuss in more detail later. By boiling your jars, you will be raising the temperature of the food to prevent it from spoiling. How long you should keep your jars in boiling water depends on what you’re preserving and your altitude. The higher your altitude, the longer you have to boil your jars for. This creates an anaerobic state (absent of oxygen) inside a vacuum sealed jar. It will destroy mold, yeast, and enzymes that can spoil your food. Water bath canning requires you to clean, sterilize, and preheat your jars, which will prevent them from breaking when they’re filled with hot food. Once your jars are filled, air bubbles are removed, and rims are wiped clean, you can place your lids on top and screw on your bands. Use a jar lifter to place your jars upright into your water bath canner. Make sure the water covers your jars by 1-2 inches. Then place the lid of your canner on top, and bring water to a rolling boil. Then process for however long the recipe (and your location) require. Once the jars are done processing, turn off the heat and remove the lid. Let them sit for 5 minutes and then remove your jars and set them on a towel. Leave jars undisturbed until they seal. You will hear a popping noise when they do, and the lids will be sucked in slightly. Once they have cooled they will be ready for storing. Make sure to inspect your jar lids. Any that aren’t pressed down should be stored in the refrigerator for a short period of time. While this is a brief description of the water bath canning method, you’ll want to make sure to do your research ahead of time and practice safe canning methods to avoid botulism.

What Can You Preserve?

When it comes to water-bath canning, you can only use highly acidic food, or food that has been made acidic (acidulated). This is because acidic foods naturally resist bacteria, yeast, mold, and enzymes that can cause food to spoil. Examples of food you can preserve via water bath canning include fruit, jams and jellies, salsa, tomatoes, and sauces (with acidulation), pickles and relishes, chutney, pie fillings, vinegar, and other condiments. These are all either highly acidic foods or foods that are made acidic with lemon or lime juice and vinegar. There are also many foods that CANNOT be preserved via water bath canning. Any low-acid foods with a cumulative pH of 4.6 or higher need to be pressure canned. This means the food must be processed at a temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit to create an anaerobic state and destroy all of the bacteria, spores, and other toxins. The following should NOT be used for water bath canning. These require the higher temperature of pressure canning: meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, chili, soup, stew, and meat sauces. When in doubt, do extra research to understand the pH level of what you’re interested in canning.

What Equipment Do You Need?

It’s important to have the right tools for water bath canning. The following are the tools I recommend when you first start water bath canning.

1. Water Bath Canner (Pot, Lid, and Rack)

To can, you need a water bath canner. This is essentially a tall pot that you can place your jars in to boil. Your jars need to be upright when you boil them. To go along with your pot, you’ll also need a lid and a rack. The rack is placed inside the pot and is used to prevent your glass jars from sitting on the bottom of the pan where temperatures are the highest. This is a way to prevent your jars from cracking, and it can also help you lift your jars out of your pan.

2. Jars, Lids, and Bands

You’ll want glass jars to store your preserved food in, and you need a way to seal the jars to prevent air from getting in. This is where lids come into play. While you can use your glass jars over and over, you can only use a lid once for preserving. Bands are important to keep your jar lids on tight while your jars are in their water bath. After your remove, your jars and you hear them pop you can actually remove the bands if you want. Bands can be used more than once, but I find they eventually start to rust and I need to get new ones.

3. Water Bath Accessories

There are some other water bath accessories that I find very useful for canning. A jar lifter helps when removing your jars from the boiling hot water. This is really a necessity to have. The lid wand (which has a magnet on the end) is used to lift clean lids and place them on jars without touching them. A jar funnel helps to get any sort of jam, relish, chutney, or salsa into the jars without making a mess. And a narrow rubber spatula helps to make sure everything is packed in your jars without air bubbles. You may find you need other tools depending on what you’re canning like measuring cups, peelers, mashers, food mills and processors. Hopefully, you have learned more about water bath canning basics to preserve your fall garden. If you’re looking for water bath canning, feel free to check out these Canning and Preserving Recipes. I hope your fall harvest is abundant, your heart full, and your blessings many.

About The Author

Hi, I’m Candice from My Little Green Garden! I’m a small business owner and suburban homesteader. After gardening and growing my own food for years, I decided to start sharing my experiences and tips with others. I grow organically and try to live a healthy, holistic lifestyle. My Little Green Garden provides how-to tips for gardeners, recipes and canning ideas, and healthy living advice. MLGG is here to inspire you to grow your own garden, no matter the space you have or the stage you’re at! I hope we’ll be growing together soon!

Find her at My Little Green Garden

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