Before You Begin
First, you will need the hardware to get the job done. For beginners, such as myself, I recommend a Granite Ware 11 1/2 Quart pot with rack. If you're not lucky enough to have a Grandma who will buy you one for Christmas, you can obtain one at Walmart, or online here-Amazon.com, for a small price. Along with the pot I HIGHLY recommend you purchase some version of the "home canning kit" which includes a jar lifter, a magnetic lid lifter, a funnel and a small spatula. Finally, you will need Pint-size jars. You will find a variety of shapes made by Ball or Mason, but do not use old store-bought jars! They are not meant for home canning!
Bad things can happen when canning is improperly done, ranging from wasted food to paralysis from botulism. But don't let that scare you away from canning! These instances are very rare and quite avoidable. First, you must know the difference between something just merely being clean and SANITIZED. When we wash dishes by hand they are clean. When we sanitize we subject our jars, lids and rings, for at least ten minutes, to an environment in which bacteria cannot survive. There are three ways of doing this:
1. Wash jars and rings in hot soapy water, then place in a 200 degree oven for at least ten minutes, or until ready for use.
2. Place the jars and rings in the rack and submerge in boiling water for ten minutes, then place in a 200 degree oven until ready for use.
3. Put jars and rings through one cycle in the dishwasher, hold in a 200 degree oven until ready for use.
Because the lids have a rubber seal that is activated by heat they must be sanitized in simmering(not boiling!) water until ready for use. I do this by putting them in a tiny sauce pot on a burner set to the lowest setting possible. Lids can only be used one time! In order to reuse your jars you must purchase a pack of fresh lids.
Now you've got your jars, lids and rings sanitized, you've followed your recipe and have a delicious fruit or vegetable that is ready to be canned.
Lets Get Canning!
There are two ways to can, hot or cold. Foods like jams and sauces will be hot-packed, or packed in the jars while the food is hot. Things like whole fruits and pickled vegetables will most likely be cold-packed (also known as raw-packed), or packed into the jars while cold, and covered in either a simple syrup or a brine.
Your recipe may call for "thin", "medium" or "heavy" simple syrup. This terminology refers to how much sugar is in the liquid you use to cover your fruit.
Thin- 2 Cups sugar: 4 Cups water, Yeilds 5 Cups
Medium- 3 Cups sugar: 4 Cups water, Yeilds 5 1/2 Cups
Heavy- 4 1/2 Cups sugar: 4 Cups water, Yeilds 6 1/2 cups
Brine comes in many different flavors, but usually contains an acid and salt. Keep all foods covered whenever possible to avoid contamination, especially if you have a pet who sheds!
This is actually pretty easy... Remove the jars from the oven to a clean counter-top. If you're doing a pretty big batch, only remove seven at a time (this is how many your rack will hold at once). I like to put them in the rack at this point, so they may be easily lifted after being filled. If you are cold-packing, fill jars with the fruit or vegetable . Ladle in hot liquid through a funnel to about 3/4 inch from the rim of the jar. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp cloth. Pick-up lids out of simmering water and place on the jars. Screw on rings until snug, but not very tight. The rings are not part of the seal, they simply hold the lid in place during the canning process.
Follow the recipe guidelines according to how long the jars should be processed, that is, left in the boiling water. If the recipe does not say, or if you are creating your own concoction, use this general rule: 10 minutes up to 1,000 feet altitude, add five minutes for each additional 1,000 feet. Turn off heat, lift the rack and let it rest at the top of the pot. Using your canning tongs, remove each can individually and place on a wooden surface in a non-drafty spot. I use my big cutting board, covered in a towel, for easier clean-up just in case a jar should bust. After a couple hours, check the seals. If any lids pop up and down (like an opened bottle of snapple) refrigerate immediately. Leave the sealed jars to cool for twenty-four hours, remove rings, label and date and store in a cool, dark place.
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor!
Different foods have different expiration times, but friends and relatives will rarely let your canned goods last that long, often begging for your heavenly creations- this, for me, is the best part of the job!