If you are just starting out or need to brush up on the basics, this post's for you.
Hot Water Bath canning is fairly simple and requires just a few supplies. You will need...
jars with new lids & rings (pints and half pints can be used for most recipes)
a jar lifter
large stock pot with a rack to keep jars off the base of the pot
I use a cheap-o tamale steamer, I think it was $15 at Fiesta. If you'd rather not invest in a pot just for canning you can purchase a rack for the jars or improvise. I have even heard of folks using a dishtowel in a pinch. The goal here is to keep your jars at least 1/2" from the bottom to keep them heated evenly.
Other items used should be pretty common in most kitchens, measuring cups, dishcloths, non-reactive cookware, knives, food processor or blender, etc.
Now for the method. First things first, read your recipe from start to finish, read it again if you have any doubts! This will eliminate last minute steps while your jam is bubbling (or burning!) away. Most recipes will give you a yield so you know how many and what size jars to prep (always grab an extra as yields can vary). They will also list the processing time, or the number of minutes the jars should sit submerged in boiling water. Here is a breakdown of basic steps from start to finish:
1. Read recipe, locate and gather all ingredients.
2. Prep ingredients, peel, pit or chop
3. Inspect and prep jars, be sure they are free of cracks and chips. Lids should be new although rings may be reused.
4. Sterilize jars in boiling water canner or in hot water & capful of bleach in your sink
5. Prepare recipe, following instructions for cook times
6. Ladle into hot jars to recommended headspace, wipe rims clean and screw lids on fingertip tight (basically turn with your fingertips until you meet resistance) this may take a while to get a feel for it. You will want to make sure the lids are not on too tight as this will prevent them from venting.
7. Lower jars into boiling water bath, you may need to add water to ensure they are covered by at least 2".
8. Cover and bring to boil. Start your timer and process them for the recommended amount of time on the recipe.
9. Carefully remove jars from water and place onto a dishtowel. You may hear some pops, thats good! Give them enough space between each other for air to circulate but do not place them in a draft.
10. Allow to sit undisturbed 24 hrs. then test for a seal. Fill a new jar with water and screw on a lid. Tap the top with a spoon and observe the sound, this is what you don't want. Tap your jars, they should have a metallic sound a bit more high pitched than the water jar. You can also remove the rings and lift the jar with your fingertips, holding it by the lid alone. If properly sealed it will support the weight of the product.
If you encounter any that have not sealed, stick them in the fridge and use immediately or process again with a new lid.
10. Label and store in a cool, dark pantry or cabinet.
So thats it, not too difficult right? If you'd like to learn more check your local library or Amazon for the following titles:
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving - by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine. Methods for how to preserve just about anything, also covers pressure canning.
Preserving - by Oded Schwartz. I stumbled upon this book at my local library, I love the international recipes and techniques in this book.
The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest: 150 Recipes for Freezing, Canning, Drying and Pickling Fruits and Vegetables - by Carol Costenbader. Provides a wide variety of recipes for different types of preserving, I especially like some of the freezer recipes in this book.
The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving: Over 300 Recipes to Use Year Round - by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. Another great resourse with a ton of recipes.
Putting Up - by Steve Dowdney. Great resource, book has monthly recipes for canning year round. Focus is on southern recipes.