Canning high-acid vegetables, like tomatoes, using the hot water bath method is easy, fast and very safe.
Early autumn is a time of year that my wife JoAnn and I look forward to: canning time. JoAnn loves to can peaches, pears, peppers, and especially tomatoes. Those bright red harbingers of great sauces fill our garden baskets for a few precious weeks and a flurry of canning makes winter a bit easier to face; we have summer in jars.
First, of course, you’ll need to make the sauce, and you probably already have a favorite recipe. If you’re in search of one, try this Fresh Tomato Purée (video).
|1. Wash the jars thoroughly before you start. With canning, cleanliness is critical.|
Preparing the jars
Start the process by checking the jars for any chips around the top edge of the rim where the jar and lid meet. Anything less than a smooth rim will cause the seal to fail. Wash the jars with dish soap and water. Be sure to rinse the jars thoroughly.
Bring a canner full of water to a rapid boil then dip the jars into the water for about 10 seconds to sterlize the jars. Place the hot jars inverted on a clean cotton dish towel.
We sterilize as many jars as we plan to use during the canning session. Once the water in the canner has been used for sealing the jars it isn’t clean enough to use for sterilizing jars.
|2. Sterilize the jars by submerging them in a canner full of boiling water for about 10 seconds. A canning jar lifter with PVC coated jaws makes the process easy and safe.||3. Place the jars inverted on a clean cotton towel to keep any contaminants out.|
Filling the jars
Working quickly is the key to good canning results. Heating the sauce before filling the jars will make the process go quicker and lessens the chance of the jars heat-cracking when lowered into the hot water bath. We try to start filling the jars while they’re still warm from the sterilizing process. We use a canning funnel that has a fill mark molded into the neck. About a 1/4in. to 1/2in. head space (empty space between the top of the sauce and the rim of the jar) is necessary to keep the sauce from expanding out of the jar during the hot water bath, ruining the seal.
|4. Heat the sauce before filling the jars. JoAnn is using a canning funnel for speed and accuracy.||5.The raised rib just above the sauce is the fill mark.|
Lids and rings
Sterilize the lids by tossing them into a pan of boiling water for a minute. Make sure you have enough rings handy. If they’ve been used before check the inside edge of the ring, where it meets the lid, for dents or corrosion that could compromise a good seal.
Before placing the lid on the jar, wipe the rim of the jar clean with a wet paper towel, sauce on the rim will result in a failed seal between the lid and jar.
|6. One minute in boiling water will sterilize the lids.||7. A wet paper towel will wipe any sauce cleanly off the rim assuring a good seal with the lid.|
|8. A pair of tongs make retrieving the lids easy. Magnetic lifters are available.||9. Place the lid on the jar first, then carefully place a ring over the lid and tighten firmly.|
|The water bath
Water bath canners are inexpensive, long-lasting, and easy to use. A jar rack makes the process much safer and a whole lot easier. The rack will hold seven quart jars above the water for easy loading, and the handles make it easy to lower the jars into and out of the hot water.
|10. The jar rack makes loading the canner easy.|
|11. Place the rack in it’s high positioin in the canner. The water should be just shy of boiling hot.||12. Load the jars in pairs, loading in opposing positions to balance the rack and keep it from inadvertantly tipping.||13. The loaded rack is ready to be lowered into the hot water.|
|14. Slowly lower the jars into the water.||15. The jars should be covered by at least one inch of water.||16. Cover the canner, turn up the heat and when the water stars boiling set the timer for 30 minutes. Adjust the burner heat to keep the water at a low boil.|
When the timer sounds turn off the burner and lift the jar rack to the high position. It’s a good idea to get the jars out of the canner immediately. Use the jar lifter to remove the jars placing them on a cloth. I also immediately wipe the standing water off the lid. As the jars cool a vacuum forms under the lid pulling the center of the lid down causing an audible click or snap, a good sound as this assures a good seal has formed. After the jars have cooled check to make sure the lids have sealed. The lid will be depressed in the center and a light tap will result in a dull thud. If the lid isn’t sealed you can simply put the jar in the fridge and either use it in the next few weeks or add it to the next batch of canning tomato sauce.
I use a fine point marker to date the jars on the lid making it easy to keep track of my pantry inventory; oldest dates used first.
Store your canned goods in a dry, cool, dark place. Properly stored tomatoes will keep for at least a couple of years and I’ve had some that got lost in the pantry that were still fine after several years.
|17. Lift the jar rack to its high position, this makes taking the jars out easier and safer.||18. Lift the jars out of the water with the jar lifter placed below the jar’s lid rim.|
|19. Fresh from the canner. As the jars cool the lids will seal with an audible click or snap. Don’t worry, that’s the sound you want to hear.||20. Tap the lids to make sure they are sealed. A dull-sounding tap means a good seal.|
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