Getting Started with Water Bath Canning

What is Water Bath Canning?

Water bath canning is a way to preserve high-acidicity foods through a natural process. By following this USDA-approved method, you can pickle things like peppers, onions, and olives. You can store jams and jellies through the winter, or can tomato sauce, salsa, kimchee, and saurkraut. Learn these simple steps to see how this method works.

By storing produce from your garden in airtight glass jars and using hot water pressure, bacteria is prevented and produce is preserved without additives. Follow these four steps to master the art of water bath canning, also known as hot water canning.

How to Preserve Your Garden Harvest

Many hobby gardeners have a surplus of produce each harvest season—whether its banana peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, cucumbers, pears, peaches or cabbage. There are many ways to preserve your garden and stretch its yield throughout the winter months.

One of the most popular methods to preserve a garden is through canning. Although this water bath method is for foods with high acidity: like tomatoes or pickles, there are a number of foods to consider preserving through pickling processes and fermenting processes.

Another popular way to preserve a garden harvest is through drying herbs. Much like herb seasoning found at the store, preserving herbs from your garden by drying them out and then bottling them is a great way to enjoy garden fresh flavor year-round.

Other options include dehydrating and freezing. If you’re a sucker for sweet potato chips, learn to make your own from home. Not only are homemade dehydrated veggies going to extend your harvest’s shelf life, they are much, much tastier than store bought.

Lastly, consider freezing some veggies. One of our favorite ways to preserve the overflow of squash and tomatoes in our summer garden is to make a big batch of ratatouille and freeze it in several servings to space out our enjoyment of it over the coming months. This is also a great way to stretch pumpkins and acorn squash—through puréed soup stored in the freezer.

Ingredients You’ll Need to Get Started

Cutting board of veggies, knife, mustard seed

For the most flavor-packed canned goods, it’s all about the ingredients. We suggest creating a savory brine that can be used for a number of vegetables and is easily customized for particular foods. Some key ingredients for dressing up your pickle process are:

Garlic – Garlic cloves add a punchy kick to virtually any savory canned good.

Canning Salt – Canning salt is essential for bringing out the flavor of whatever it is your fermenting.

Mustard Seeds – Mustard seeds are a traditional canning staple, and for good reason. They add texture and sweet heat by enhancing the flavor of vegetables.

Red Pepper Flakes – If you like things on the spicier side, throw in a generous helping of red pepper flakes. If we’re honest, they also look pretty.

Peppercorn – Once again, spice is nice. Whole peppercorns add an intense peppery note to fermented foods.

Bay Leaves – Bay leaves add an herby, aromatic element to savory brines.

Jalapeño – If you have an abundance of jalapeñoes in you garden, instead of canning them individually, consider saving a few as a spicy flare for a variety of pickled veggies.

Step 1: Prep Your Ingredients

fresh ingredients on cutting board tomato, garlic, dill, banana pepper, cucumber

Now that you’ve learned the basics of making a brine for fermentation, it’s time to prep your ingredients.

First things first, chop up anything you would like to ferment as bite-sized pieces or smaller garnishes. Depending on the variety, chopping peppers up into thin slices can make a nice topping over grain bowls, pizzas, and sandwiches. Otherwise, pickling whole peppers or okra can work beautifully and also double as a thoughtful gift.

Step 2: Sterilize Your Jars

soapy mason jar against sink of soap

Although it can be tempting to skip this step, whether your jars are old or new, sterilizing them is an important part of the canning process. This is a crucial part of safe canning practices. To begin, rinse jars thoroughly with hot soapy water to remove any residue or dust particles. Using hot water will help the jars not break once put into the pot to sterilize.

Then, to sterilize your jars, simply place them in an elevated position in a boiling pot of water for at least ten minutes. The high-heat of the water naturally sterilizes the jars and prepares them for the canning process.

Step 3: Stir Up a Flavor-Packed Brine

canning ingredients, mustard seed, red pepper flakes, vinegar on cutting board

When creating a base brine recipe, vinegar is going to be your best friend. If you want your fermented veggies to be on the sweet side, use apple cider vinegar. For asian cuisine, try rice vinegar.

The ratio should be about 1 cup water to one cup vinegar. Salt and sugar help balance out the flavor, so add at least a few tablespoons of each. (Contrarily, if you steer clear of refined sugars, add honey to your mixture.)

Get started with this brine recipe for 3–4 jars of pickled veggies:

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2–4 tablespoons canning salt
  • 2 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 8–10 whole garlic cloves
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 6–8 tablespoons mustard seed
  • 1 jalapeno or chili pepper for added spice
  • 2-3 sprigs of dill for pickles
water bath canning juice in pyrex jar with bay leaf and spices

Once you have all of your ingredients, bring them to a boil over the stove. While the vinegar solution is heating up, prep each of your canning jars to be filled. If you haven’ t already, fill each jar with the vegetable to be canned, as well as any other flavor enhancing ingredients like garlic cloves, chili peppers, jalapeños, or dill.

Once the brine is boiling, stir the solution for a brief moment to let the spices dissolve and dispell their flavor. Turn the burner off and grab a ladel or pouring spout. It’s time to start water bath canning!

Step 4: Pour and Seal

canning materials being poured in jars of veggies
canned peppers with bay leaves and spices

Once the vinegar-based brine reaches a boil, immediately pour the mixture into each of your jars, leaving just about 1/2 inch of head space at the top. The heat of the mixture is important to the canning process, so move quickly.

Step 5: Water Bath Time: Boil Your Cans

three mason jars being canned in a cream pot

The final step in the water bath canning process: boil your jars to bacteria-resistant perfection. You can either use a water bath canner or simply place your jars on top of a strainer in a large pot. The goal is to separate your jars from the base of the boiling pot and to keep the jars in tact throughout the process.

Next, fill the pot with enough water to cover one to two inches above the jars. Bring the pot to a boil. A boil should be maintained for the entire processing time. Depending on what you are canning, you’ll leave each jar on until it is ready. We suggest using Ball’s recipe list for home canning to learn the best processing time for each canned good.

canned banana peppers held up to sunset

Tips for Water Bath Canning

What foods can be water bath canned?

Water bath canning is for high acidity foods. Try this method with pickles, relishes, salsas, tomato sauces, chutney, jam, jelly, pie filling, and condiments.

How do I know if my water bath canning is working?

After allowing your canned goods to sit for 12–24 hours, test their seal. Simply press down on the center of the lid. If it springs up, it isn’t properly sealed. If it is firm, it is sealed.

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