Water Bath Canning: Bulking up your pantry

For many of us, water bath canning is the first step up the ladder of food self-sufficiency. Let’s start with a shout-out to the prepper’s bible, the University of Georgia’s “So Easy to Preserve.”  This practical resource covers everything you need to know about water bath canning, pressure canning, pickling, fermenting, dehydrating and more in a straight forward style. It’s well laid out. You can find what you’re looking for immediately. But it’s more than a how-to. It describes what foods work well with various kinds of processing, why some preps improve quality of some foods (blanching certain vegetables for instance). Every home should have a copy.


There are thousands of internet canning videos. Most are just doing what this book or your local Cooperative Extension says to do. Nothing wrong with that. But there are lots of videos where the people are doing things that go against tried and true recipes. Some are flat dangerous. When in doubt listen to the Cooperative Extension or the people who make canning jars. Here’s a nice little how-to on water bath canning by your friends at Ball. https://www.ballmasonjars.com/water-bath-canning.html

Notes on Water Bath Canning:,

 Easy, satisfying, you don’t need a pressure cooker, you can put up a lot of food in a short time, food lasts a couple years, frees up freezer space, no plastic, jars and rings are reuseable (lids are one-time use). Jams, jellies, and marmalade make good Christmas gifts. No doubt jars take up the same amount of space whether they’re full or empty so fill ’em up. Even if you don’t  fill them with food you’ll find plenty of uses for them.

The water bath ensemble. Canning cranberry sauce.

Water bath canning is for acidic foods [Low acid foods like fish, poultry, meats and vegetables are for pressure canning. We talk about those in other articles.] For water bath canning, we usually think of  berries but there are lots of recipes out there of esoteric fare like spruce tip jelly or onion garlic jam, both pair well with wild game. That’s part of the fun of home canning. You won’t find such treats at the supermarket.

Helpful tools shown in photo above:
At 12 o’clock: Canning Jars: 
Disruptions in the food chain mean canning supplies sell out nation-wide. That happened during the Covid epidemic in 2020. It’s a good idea to buy a few extra cases while they’re available. When you buy cases the jars come with lids and rings. For water bath canning, we usually go with 1/2 pint or pint jars but jars come in sizes from 4 ounce to half-gallon. The mouths are standardized and marked either ‘regular’ (small mouth) or wide-mouth. That is, the mouth of a 4 ounce regular jar is the same size as a quart regular jar. A half pint wide-mouth jar uses the same size lid as a pint or quart wide-mouth jar. I started with regular mouth jars and have gradually shifted to wide-mouth because they’re easier to fill and to get food out of.

Larger jars, like quarts often take longer canning times and for some foods shouldn’t be used at all. Water bath canning times will also increase with altitude. Check the recipe for what you’re canning.

For canning, and storage in boxes, it’s easier to have jars the same height. That way you don’t have one tall jar sticking up unbalancing the canner rack, or that keeps the box lid from closing. (You want to store glass jars in boxes, or a dark room, since light exposure isn’t good for long term food storage.

At 1 o’clock: Stock Pot: You want something  holds enough jars to make it worth while. I like the stock pot because it’s more versatile in the kitchen than the big enameled canning pots. Your pot wants to be tall enough to have 1 or 2 inches of water over the top tier of jars.

At 3 o’clock: Racks:  are setting on in front of the stock pot. Those are to keep the jars from getting bounced around when water begins to boil. If you don’t have racks, you can use a tea towel.

At 4 o’clock: Jar lids and rings: The green square boxes are jar lids. As noted you should only use lids once. Screw them on ‘finger tight’ which is to say, don’t reef them down as hard as you can but not too loose, either. If the lid is on too tight air in the jar can’t vent. It can crack the jar or compromise the seal. Some people on the internet say they use lids multiple times. That’s a bad idea because the rubber inside the lid moulds itself to the lip of the jar, especially with pressure canning. Best to stock up on lids but, if we have a true years-long food crisis, you may consider saving water bath canning lids for more water bath canning if you have no other option.

At 5 o’clock: ruler: whether you’re water bath canning or pressure canning, you need to leave some head space between the food and jar lid. Typically it’s between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch for acidic foods like jelly or preserves, and an inch for low acid foods like meats, fish, poultry. Again, follow the recipe. Air is compressible, expands as it heats up, contracts as it cools. The air space in canning jars keeps food from boiling up between the mouth and lid which can compromise the seal. When canning’s done remaining air in the jar cools down, condenses, and forms the vacuum that keeps food from spoiling. Head space is usually the same regardless of jar size. That is, if it’s half an inch for a pint jar, it’s still half an inch for a half pint jar.

At 6 o’clock: wooden spoon and a ladle: Ladle for putting hot food into jars, then you want something wood or plastic to slide down the sides of jars to get the air bubbles out. You won’t get out all the air bubbles out but get what you can since air bubbles in the food essentially increases the head space. I usually use a chop stick. They say don’t use a knife because it can scratch the inside of the jar.

At 7 o’clock: Jar lifter: So you don’t burn your fingers moving hot jars. (the rings that were finger tight when you put them in the canner usually feel more loose. Don’t tighten them after they come out of the canner.)

At 8 o’clock: canning funnel: especially good for small mouth jars, but also helps with filling wide mouth. Keeps food off the jar rim. Even so, after your jars are filled, swab around the rim with a damp tea towel to make sure there’s no food on the rim that would compromise the seal.

At 9 o’clock: pan to warm jar lids in water: You don’t need to do this. I do because that’s the way I was taught but, on newer lids it’s not necessary.

At 10-11 o’clock: more jar stuff: With glass you want to avoid large pressure differentials. For water bath canning you can do hot pack or cold pack which  are just what they sound like. If you ladle very hot jelly into room temperature jars they may crack, so you want to pre-heat the jars in water. Some internet people warm jars in the oven, I’ve done it myself, but that was before I read dry heat from an oven is not good for jars. Likewise, if you’re doing cold pack, you don’t want to stick cold jars into almost boiling water.

Don’t set hot jars right out of the on the counter. That temperature difference can crack the jars, or possibly even a granite counter top. In which case you would be in the dog house. So set hot jars on a towel.

Times for water bath canning are shorter than pressure canning. Usually 10-15 minutes for jelly in a water bath once the water starts to boil vs 100 minutes in for salmon in a pressure canner.

When jars are cool you can take the rings off and store them. The vacuum will hold the lids on.

Don’t store jars on top of each other. In the unlikely event food in a jar should spoil, jars on top of it could hold the lid down such that you wouldn’t notice.


Canning blueberries.