Jammin' - Home Canning and Pickling
Guide by Joe Friday Wikified by Drimble Wedge
Welcome to the pickling, preserving, canning, dehydrating, puttin' up for the winter and oh my god will this give me botulism thread. Anything that involves the science and art of home food preservation belongs here with us in our slowly separating, darker on top and not completely covered in brine thread.
- 1 Canning 101
- 2 Notes about processing and equipment standards
- 3 General Questions and Troubleshooting
- 3.1 What is Pectin? Do I have to use it? My recipe from 1852 doesn’t include it!
- 3.2 What is the difference between water bath and pressure canning?
- 3.3 Can I process stuff with meat/dairy/low acid food in the water bath canner? My cookbook from 1947 says I can if I boil it for 5 hours!
- 3.4 My jar didn’t seal? Can I just re-process it?
- 3.5 The recipe said cooking time would be 10 minutes but it took more like 20. What happened?
- 3.6 Why do you insist that everything should be processed? I just do this crazy assed method and I’ve never gotten sick!
- 3.7 The recipe says quarts but I’m doing pints. Can I cut down on the processing time?
- 3.8 This recipe calls for 8 lbs of sugar and that seems like a lot. Can I just cut down on it?
- 4 Jelly, Jam and Soft Spread-specific Tips
- 5 Pickle-specific Tips
- 5.1 My pickle brine went cloudy. Can I still eat this stuff?
- 5.2 My pickles are floating. What gives?
- 5.3 Ok, so I bubbled the jars and stuff. However, the tops of my pickles are floating above the brine. Will they rot off and kill me?
- 5.4 My pickles are limp and soggy. How do I get that coveted crunch?
- 6 Online Resources
- 7 Books
Please note that the methods described in the following guide are suggestions that follow USDA guidelines. Methods and processing recommendations are different in different parts of the world. We'll discuss this more when it comes to processing methods, but please keep in mind we'll be following the U.S. standards which require all items to be pressure canned or water bath canned. When posting a recipe, please include processing method and time.
What supplies do you need to start canning at home? Here's a helpful list of hardware:
- Wide mouth jar funnel
- Canning jars (DO NOT save jars from the store to re-use)
- Metal rings
- One time use rubber seal metal lids
- Jar grabber
- Canner with rack
- Clean Paper towels
The equipment is fairly simple to acquire. You can use any large pot to can in as long as it has a rack that fits in it to keep the jars from touching the bottom and will allow for a full boil with jars inside. Although you don't specifically need a huge granite ware canner, it's a great thing to have.
A note about Stoves! Important!
The most basic thing you will need is a heat source, your stove. However [b]you cannot can on a flat top glass/ceramic stove![/b] Why? These stoves have heat sensors that will not allow the stovetop to get to a certain temperature and endanger the stovetop shattering. This sensor will likely fluctuate or automatically turn on and off, never allowing your huge pot of water to come to a boil and thus, not safely canning your food. Check with your stove manufacturer to see if it can handle a flat bottom canner and maintain high temperatures for long periods of time.
- "Did you hear how Eunice tried to can up her peaches in old mayonnaise jars? She ended with glass shard stew!"
- "Such a shame she didn't ask us for one or our many cases of Mason jars."
- "Well now Ethel, you know we won't have given any to her anyway, the dumb bitch!"
- Laughter "Canning in mayonnaise jars. Oh lordy! Dumber than a bag of hammers!"
Make sure to use jars that are manufactured to use for home canning. Although Grandma may have done it, don't save and re-use store bought jars. Since you don't know how or to what specifications they were manufactured, they may not be able to withstand the thermal shock or canning process. Re-using random jars is the primary reason for broken jars.
Use the disposable rubber ring lids only once. Once the seal has been used, it's done.
Most of the tools above can be purchased together in a canning starter kit. Jars only need to be tightened to finger tight so ditch the ring tightener that comes with this kit as it is pretty useless.
Always inspect your equipment. Make sure your jars are free from chips, cracks, warping or irregularity. Inspect your lids to make sure the seals aren’t cracked, the lids are straight and flat and the metal is rust free. Use rings that are rust-free and not bent. Make sure everything you use is clean. You will sanitize everything in the process of canning but run everything through the dishwasher or hand wash and thoroughly dry first.
Follow a recipe
I really can't stress enough how important it is to follow a recipe. Following a good, tested recipe assures the food had the proper pH balance which will lessen the chance of spoilage, botulism or other microbial attacks. Plus tested recipes are proven good tasting and compensate for difference in ingredients from year to year and batch to batch.
How do you tell if a recipe is good? It should come from a dependable source that has been updated or comes from a source since 1990. It should also call for the most modern, up to date methods and ingredients.
Always work in batches and resist the urge to double, triple, or halve recipes. Imprecise measurements can change the pH level of the food particularly when paring down amounts. Multiplying recipes is especially detrimental to jam and jelly. Larger quantities increase cooking time and evaporation time, resulting in products that turn rubbery and dark before getting to jelly state. Longer cooking times also increase the likelihood the jam won't set or will burn or foam up quickly and overflow while cooking.
I reckon I managed to chase the goats out so think we're good as far as bein' clean.
Sanitation is the key to canning success. Sanitary conditions ensure the products you make are safe, do not have contamination issues and taste the best. Thoroughly clean all food and inspect everything, discarding or removing soft, bad parts. Wash all your canning equipment beforehand and boil everything you will be using to can at least 10 minutes. This includes food funnel, thongs, and jars. Boiling the jars also helps prevent breaking due to thermal shock.
The exception to this is the seals. Since boiling and running them through a dishwasher cycle will ruin the can lid seals, keep your lids simmering in a separate pot. I also helps to not have to dig little lids and rings out of a huge boiling pot of water.
Notes about processing and equipment standards
- "Looks like this batch is fucked."
- "God, black mold."
- "Christ on a biscuit."
- "Guess we should have processed this in a water bath canner."
- "Better burn it in the still."
Although in this thread I will emphasize USDA recommendations, some preservation standards are less strict and processing times, recommended methods and approved equipment vary from country to county. Many recipes from the UK, Australia and Europe will not include processing times or methods, simply advising to pack and seal in hot jars which is commonly referred to as the "open kettle" method. Likewise, equipment like reusable seals and rubber ring seals are available although they do not meet USDA guidelines.
I encourage everyone to follow processing times and use USDA approved equipment as it is the safest and most fool-proof method to ensure high food safety. If you decide to use alternative methods, you do so at your own risk and will have a higher incidence of spoilage and chance of botulism. Heating your items to a temperature hot enough to kill botulism spores greatly reduces your chances of contamination. In the USA, botulism cases are very rare, but most cases come from improperly handled or preserved home canned food. No matter what, never use paraffin wax seals or dirty/unsanitary equipment and jars. You will die. Now you don't want botulism, do you?
Prepare to process
Once your jelly/jam/pickles/whatever is ready, ladle or pack everything into your boiled sterilized jars and follow the head space recommendation in your recipe. Make sure to wipe the jar rims with a clean paper towel to get any gunk off that might interfere with the seal. Place the seal without touching it on each jar then tighten the ring to finger tightness. Process according to the recipe instructions.
Cooling and storage
Depending on the density of your product, ambient room temperature, jar size and process time, your jars could be very hot for many hours after your processing is done. Use caution in handling your jars. Excessive handling while the jars are still hot can also cause the seals to fail.
Let jellies and jams stand at least 24 hours although 2 days would be best. Some recipes may take 2 days to set. After 2 days you should know for sure if it’s going to set properly. Make sure to let your jars cool in the upright position so that the jelly or jam forms a flat top.
Let pickles rest for at least 6 weeks to allow the flavors to meld. The longer they are left to cure the better they will taste when opened.
Check all your seals to make sure they created a proper vacuum. This can be done by removing the rings and picking the jar up by the seal. The seal tops should be depressed and not pop when they are good, but don’t rely on this. Check each one.
What the fuck is this? Is it dill pickle chips or bread and butter? Guess we should have labeled this before we put it away
As soon as you can, label and date your jars. You’ll be surprised how much everything looks alike months from now or when you are hungry. Make sure you clearly date everything with the month and year. This is good for stock rotation as well as being able to isolate a batch that may have not set well, had a contamination issue, etc.
Store everything in a cool dry place out of the sun with the rings off. Over time the rings can rust to the seals.
The USDA guidelines say that home canned items are good for up to 1 year although properly canned food can last much longer. After 1 year texture, flavor, color and nutrition quality may suffer. If the food changes color, leaks, fizzes, rises up in the jar, purges, has grown mold or smells off when opened, DISCARD!
General Questions and Troubleshooting
What is Pectin? Do I have to use it? My recipe from 1852 doesn’t include it!
Pectin is a naturally occurring gelling agent found in food. The pectin that you buy at the store is usually extracted from apples or citrus fruit. Many older recipes do not include this ingredient but most modern jam and jelly recipes will. Pectin cuts down on cooking time and can help your jam or jelly set more reliably.
What is the difference between water bath and pressure canning?
Water bath canning is used for high acid food which had a pH of 4.5 or below. Examples of said foods are pickles, tomatoes, jams and jellies, sweet spreads like chutneys, etc.
Pressure canners are used for low acid foods that require longer processing times and higher temperatures to be safe. Examples of these foods include cubed squash, soups that contain meat or dairy products, stock and water packed vegetables.
I had to boil the shit out of these jars for like, 10 hours and they still got moldy. Guess I should have used a cookbook printed after Hitler was dead!
Can I process stuff with meat/dairy/low acid food in the water bath canner? My cookbook from 1947 says I can if I boil it for 5 hours!
No, water bath canning doesn’t get hot enough to make those foods safe. See the USDA about that and don’t kill anyone because you’re afraid to use the pressure canner.
My jar didn’t seal? Can I just re-process it?
Don’t re-process a jar with the same seal. If you jar didn’t seal properly, refrigerate as soon as it’s cool enough to handle and use within a few weeks.
The recipe said cooking time would be 10 minutes but it took more like 20. What happened?
The ambient humidity, size of cooking vessel, natural pectin level and water content of the fruit all effect cooking time. Cooking time should be seen as approximations. Always keep an eye on your jelly and test frequently.
Why do you insist that everything should be processed? I just do this crazy assed method and I’ve never gotten sick!
I’m so glad you’re not dead! However, I’ll side with the USDA and advise that all recipes should be water bath or pressure canner processed. Sweet spreads should always be processed for a minimum of 5 minutes. Process your food!
The recipe says quarts but I’m doing pints. Can I cut down on the processing time?
No. No matter what size jar you put your product in, follow the recipe processing time.
This recipe calls for 8 lbs of sugar and that seems like a lot. Can I just cut down on it?
There are lots of low and no sugar recipes out there so I suggest you find one that had less sugar and follow it. Never change recipes on the fly since it could change the pH level or cause the jam to not set properly.
Jelly, Jam and Soft Spread-specific Tips
How to tell if your jelly is done
Runny and unset jam is the bane of every canner’s existence, especially beginners. Jam and Jelly’s set point at 220 degrees F. Take the temperature to see if it has reached that point.
There are also many jelly tests you can do. Throw a few flat saucers in the freezer and when you think your jelly is getting to the right point, drop a spoonful on it and let it sit for a minute. If it forms a skin or had a jammy texture then you’re ready. If it’s syrupy, keep going.
My favorite test is the sheet test. Take a spoon that’s been sitting in ice water and stir it in your jam. Watch the drips. If the drips glob or roll together thickly then it’s done. If the drops are runny and act more like rain, your jam needs more time.
What if I’m a lazy ass and I don’t want to skim the foam?
The foam a jelly or jam produces isn’t harmful and won’t hurt what you make. It will make it ugly though.
My jelly is like syrup. What do I do?
No fears, you can re-process your jelly. Detailed instructions are |here.
My pickle brine went cloudy. Can I still eat this stuff?
Pickle brine can go cloudy for a few reasons. If your used table salt instead of pickling salt, the iodine could have reacted with the vinegar to make it cloudy. Hard water or cucumber particulate could be floating around, as can spices. It can also be yeast. Open a jar and take a smell. Yeast contamination will smell beery or bready. Otherwise, you’re good to go.
My pickles are floating. What gives?
Fruit and vegetables often shrink when pickled, especially when processed. When preparing your pickles wear rubber gloves and pack the food in as tightly as possible without crushing the fruit or vegetables. After filling the jars with brine, tap the jars lightly on padded surface (like a counter with a tea towel) or use a chop stick to move the pickles around and remove as many air bubbles as possible. Re-fill the brine to the proper head space after removing the air bubbles. Even with expert packing, you pickles are likely to float a little.
Ok, so I bubbled the jars and stuff. However, the tops of my pickles are floating above the brine. Will they rot off and kill me?
Despite best efforts, pickles will sometimes still float to the tops of the jars and some of the tips or bits might be above the brine. The parts of the pickles that aren't fully submerged may turn a darker color, shrivel or just not taste as good. However, if you have a good seal they will be safe to eat. To help the brine saturate the food evenly, store your jars upside down for a week then right side up for a week and switch out every other week until used. As long as you have a good seal, your jars should be ok in this position although storing them upright is always the best.
My pickles are limp and soggy. How do I get that coveted crunch?
Soft or squishy pickles can be the result of a variety of factors, including very strong brine, soft fruits/vegetables, heat application and more.
First and foremost, you can make refrigerator pickles, skipping the canning process altogether. Fridge pickles will be crisp because they skip the heat processing. However, this takes up storage space and doesn't make the product shelf stable.
There are a couple of things you can do to improve pickle crunchiness in canned items:
One option is using alum to improve crispness. Alum is a very uncommon ingredient in modern grocery stores and is usually called for in older recipes. Using alum for crispness usually requires soaking for several days, thorough rinsing and additional soaking to be successful. Food grade alum is available online, and would be what you wanted to use if you absolutely had to make a recipe the "authentic" or "old fashioned" way.
You can also use pickling lime, which is calcium hydroxide, as a pre-soak to make things crisper. Most instructions will have you soaking, rinsing and repeating until the water is clear, which takes hours and multiple cycles to achieve. This is also not as readily available in modern grocery stores although it is easily ordered online.
The most available and in my opinion the best option is "pickle crisp," which you can find where canning supplies are sold or through the Ball website. Pickle crisp is calcium chloride and is a very common additive in the industrial canning process. It is easy to use (just add a small measure directly to the jar, no soaking required), has the same effects as the old soak/rinse/repeat ways and is actually less expensive per jar than the alternatives.
And as always, make sure you use firm, ripe fruits and veg for your pickles, follow instructions and don't adjust the strength of the brine and don't over-process items.
- | Food In Jars
- | Canning Across America
- | Ball Company Website
- | National Center for Home Food Preservation
- | Pick Your Own Website - A great resource for recipes, local pick your own farms and other DIY projects. Warning, in huge comic sans type and looks like it was built in 1999
- Ball Blue Book, Altrista Consumer Products
- Stocking Up, Carol Hupping
- Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine
- Put 'em Up! A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling, Sherri Brooks Vinton