First Time Canning

One of the BEST tips my mom gave me when I first got my pressure canner for my birthday 3 years ago was to do a practice run with it by canning water. Then if I missed a step in this trial run, there wouldn't be any spoiled food.
I suggest that anyone who is canning for the first time in either a water-bath (boiling water canner) or in a pressure canner does a practice run of canning water first. This will help you become familiar with the process of canning and of using YOUR canner without the added stress of spoiling food if you happen to miss a step the first time using your canner. It will also give you an idea of how long it takes and what your process is for either cold-pack method or hot-pack method. Hot pack method always shaves off a few minutes from the total amount of time compared to a cold-pack method.

This is the difference between cold-pack and hot-pack method for water:
Cold-Pack: clean and sterile bottles and lids but not hot. Fill with room temperature water and place on lids (which need to be softened in hot water per the instructions on the lid box), screw on bands and place in a canner with 140 degree water. Process.

Hot-Pack: clean and sterilize bottles - either put the bottles in a deep pan of water in the stove to keep them warm if your food isn't ready to load into the bottles OR run your dishwasher on a hot cycle and have it finish just as the food is ready to load so that you put HOT food into HOT bottles. You will need to already have water in the canner that is 180 degrees and then top it off with boiling water.

Some foods HAVE to be done with hot-pack while others may safely be done with cold-pack. As always consult your local extension office associated with the state agricultural university in your state OR your canning cookbook. The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is a great resource of recipes that are safe to can and step-by-step instructions!

Here is an excerpt from The Joy of Cooking about canning:

"Canning recipes have been formulated for sea level. At higher altitudes, the temperature of both boiling water and steam is lower. This means that, in order to can food safely, the processing time must be increased when boiling-water canning and the pressure must be increased when steam-pressure canning." (Rombauer, Irma S., Becker, Marion Rombauer, and Becker, Ethan. 75th Anniversary The Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner, 2006.)

The following is a standard guide as found in The Joy of Cooking, pg 891

Boiling-Water Canning
1,001 - 3,000 feet, add 5 minutes
3,001 - 6,000 feet, add 10 minutes

6,001 - 8,000 feet, add 15 minutes
8,001 - 10,000 feet add 20 minutes

Dial Gauge
0 - 2,000 feet: 11 pounds
2,001 - 4,000: 12 pounds
4,001 - 6,000: 13 pounds
6,001 - 8,000: 14 pounds
8,001 - 10,000: 15 pounds

Weighted Gauge
0 - 1,000 feet: 10 pounds
1,001 - 10,000 feet: 15 pounds

My suggestion for processing time to use is to use the same processing time of whatever food it is you want to can after your trial run of canning water.

For example: if I wanted to can applesauce for the first time ever tomorrow and use quart bottles, then today I would can water in quart bottles today as a trial run to make sure I knew how the entire process works.

I would fill the quart bottles with water up to 1/2-inch below the rim of the bottle (the suggested headspace the cookbook instructs me to leave), place on the lids (softened in hot water per the manufacturer's instructions), screw on the bands and then place the full quart bottles in the water canner, add additional hot water to cover the quarter bottles and then turn on the burner to high.

Once water comes to a roiling boil start the timer. Since I am at 4,000 feet altitude, I would need to add 10 minutes of processing time to 20 minutes of processing per the applesauce recipe - that means I would process my quarts of water for 30 minutes (start the timer for 30 minutes once the water gets to a roiling boil). When the timer is up, then I turn the burner off and lift the entire canner off of that burner and place it on a cold burner on the stove. Then I pull out each bottle with a bottle lifter (best idea ever for removing hot bottles from canners!) and place it on my prepared counter-top surface (I place cardboard on my counter and then put towels folded over at least once over the cardboard to protect my laminate surface from melting from the hot bottles!)

As the bottles cool the lids will make a popping sound - this is completely normal as it means the bottles are sealing. If, after the bottles have completely cooled and some of the lids haven't sealed fully (the center section of the lid will 'bounce' or pop back up when you push down on it), then if those bottles had food in them you would need to put those bottles in the fridge and eat up that food as soon as possible! But since we are canning water as part of this trial run you don't need to worry about refrigerating the bottled water since it won't go 'bad'. :D

If you have used a water-bath canner before but this is your first time using a pressure canner, then I would go through these same steps as they are the same. The only difference is the type of canner you use (you HAVE to use a pressure canner to can meats, beans and vegetables) and that the processing time remains the same across the board - the only thing that changes is the pressure you have to get the food at before you begin the processing time if you are higher than 2,000 feet altitude. So if I was going to can green beans in my pressure canner as the first real food I canned, then I would go through a trial run of canning water but following the green bean protocol so that I knew how the entire process works.

Good luck with your first time canning! I hope that this tip of going through a trial run of canning water helps relieve some of the stress that accompanies canning food for the first time!


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