Most people learning to can begin with water bath canning. The equipment isinexpensive. You can find it a all major department stores and the process is pretty fool proof. You fill the canner with enough water to cover your filled jars, put in the jars, cover and bring to a boil. Don’t forget to account for the volume of water displace by the jars when you fill the canner with water. You want the water to cover the jars by an inch or so. If you start with too much water, it will spill all over the place when you add the jars and make a terrible mess. Process for the appropriate amount of time and remove the jars to cool. As the food cools down, you will hear a satisfying little “ping” that will tell you the bump in the middle of the lid has depressed and the jar is sealed. Pressure canning is necessary for low acid foods like meat and vegetable but water bath works for high acid foods such as fruit, fruit spreads and pickles. A good canning book will give you the specifics of which food needs which method and how long to process each one.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind. In pressure canning, the jars need not be sterile as the pressure raises the internal temperature of the food above the boiling point and all bacteria will be killed during the processing. In water bath canning the jars should be placed upside down in a pan of simmering water until you are ready to fill them. I run my jars through the sanitizing option on my dishwasher and keep the door closed to hold in the heat. Jar lids should be hot when you put hem on as the rubber seal on will then mold better to the jar so hold them in a pan of barely simmering water until the last minute. Follow instructions about head space. Too little will allow food to boil over and the seal will likely not hold. After processing, let food sit until cool then check the seal. If the lid is not depressed, refrigerate and use in the next 24 hours. Some people would suggest that you can reprocess but I wouldn’t. There will likely be a real loss of quality.
Obviously, I can’t provide detailed canning instructions in a blog but I do have some other random thoughts about the whole canning process that mostly come from mistakes made. All of the little details like cleaning off the jar rims with a camp cloth after you put in the food and removing air bubbles with a wood skewer are important. A speck of grease or food will prevent a good seal. If food is not submerged in water, broth, brine or syrup, it will discolor. It won’t hurt you but who wants to eat grey peas? Even though a jar is sealed when you store it you still need to check the contents for any off smell, mold or other signs of spoilage when you use it. I have had the occasional jar lose it’s seal. If you find spoiled food, dispose of it where kid and animals can not get into it, wash and sterilize the jar. Wash your hands really well after handling spoiled food. Remove the jar rings after the jars have cooled. Rings can rust right on to jars and be impossible to remove. Always use approved canning jars. Regular jars are not designed to withstand the heat of home canning. You must use new lids every time. I mark mine with a black slash (I use an indelible marker) so I won’t mix up new and used lids. When you are finished canning, wipe out the interior of the pan with a dry cloth and set the inner basket out to dry. Both are prone to rust if put away damp. Store all home canned produce in a cool, dry, dark place.
This may sound like a silly thing to say but use the food. It is easy to forget what you have stored or to feel funny the first few times you eat home canned meat or tomato sauce but you will get over the squeamishness. I store like items together in big cabinet in the basement. I make a point of visiting every day and bring up at least one jar of fruit and one of pickles, jams, vegetables or meat every time. I keep a good inventory so I know what I had too much of and what I was short on for the following year.
I know I will post this and then remember something important so let me remind you to get a good book for detailed instructions and find a mentor to work with you. I have eaten home canned food for years without a problem but in past years, before people had access to good information, there were many cases of food poisoning. You can avoid the worry by following the directions and being diligent about hygiene.
Another random thought. A full canner is heavy. I remove the jars, let the water cool unless I am doing multiple loads and then use the water for my plants. One of the downsides to water bath canning is the amount of water it uses. It also takes a lot of energy to boil that much water so it makes sense to run through several canning loads in one session and to use the left over water for another purpose. Once food is canned, it is good for a year, even in the absence of grid power.