how to can stuff (high acid)

So enough of you have asked that here I am doing a wee canning tutorial. And wow, it took a few weeks get it up…canning is a lot of work but then documenting the process is a beast unto itself. It really is easy I swear and not at all scary. Our country tends to be extra freaky about worst case scenario stuff and while botulism is real, it is rare if you preserve correctly. And it’s not hard to preserve correctly. So weeeeeeeee! here we go.

There are two main categories of canning: low acid and high acid. High acid foods (pH of 4.6 or less) include fruits, tomatoes, salsas, pickles, relishes, chutneys, etc. These foods contain enough acid where botulism spores cannot grow and they can be safely canned with the boiling-water canner. Low acid foods (more than 4.6) include unpickled veggies and meats. If you can low acid items, you need a pressure cooker to reach high temperatures and kill those nasty spores.

I am only going to talk about the canning of high acid foods in a boiling-water canner, using my peach butter recipe as my example.

Things you need:
Ball Blue Book of Preserving
canning tongs
regular ole tongs
boiling-water canner
soup pot
jars, rings and lids (jars and rings can totally be old. doesn’t matter a lick)
canning funnel (I lived without this for years until santa put one in my sock last year. Thanks, santa, for making this girl’s life way easier.)
ascorbic acid (vitamin c) to preserve color (optional)
clean dish towel
hot pad
immersion blender or blender or food processor

Get good produce. The flavor will be much better with good food. I preserve local food either from my garden or a farmer. It’s been recently picked and not refrigerated and I get warm and fuzzy feeling about supporting my neighbors. If you must purchase produce from a non-local source, taste it and get delicious stuff that’s in season!

Set aside a three hour chunk where you will have a clean kitchen and time to concentrate. You can multi-task later, when you are a canning expert. It’s not like it requires so much attention that you need to wait until your kids are napping (although, especially for the first time, it might be nice) but just don’t go starting this process while you are preparing dinner for 12 or you are tired or have a strict time line for when you must be done. Lots of swears is what you will likely wind up with.

You may also divide into two days with day one involving fruit preparation and day two involving the canning. This is nice. You could do steps 3-4 one afternoon, enjoy a martini and 5-8 the following morning.

Prepare your fruit. Look at the Ball Book for what to do, the instructions in there are super simple and easy. For example, with peaches, they need to be blanched, peeled and pitted. My set up for this involves: a soup pot on the stove with about three-four inches of boiling water; a big bowl half-full of ice water; another big bowl 3/4 full of cold water with a teaspoon of ascorbic acid mixed in.

I place about six peaches in the boiling water for about 45 seconds and then remove with kitchen tongs and place in ice water bowl. The goal here is to cook just the skin do it is loosened over the still-firm peach flesh and then it just flies off the fruit. Using a sharp little knife, I peel the fruit. It comes off in a snap, often just using my thumb.

Then, halve the peaches, pitch the pit and place perfect peach halves in the ascorbic acid water. Keep it up until you are all done!

left to right: cool water with ascorbic acid, ice water, bowls for pits and skins (chickens love the skins!), boiling water

peaches boiled for a minute (blanched) and then removed with tongs

and then placed in ice water bath

and then peeled, halved and pits removed

and then placed in ascorbic acid-water mixture

Strain the prepared fruit and place in soup pot and cook on low, stirring pretty regularly. For the peach butter, I cook until the peaches have softened a bit and then I puree with an immersion blender. Add sugar, spices etc. One large soup pot will hold 20 pounds of peaches and I add two cups of sugar. I cook until thick and mounds up on a teaspoon. It takes about a two hours. Remember, when your food cools, it will be less runny than when hot. One way to test the mounding-ness on a spoon is to place a spoonful in the freezer for a minute.

the water seen in this photo is the peach juice that we will cook off, not the water the peach halves were soaking in (that was strained off before placing in pot)

I find it easiest to have the jars on the right burner and the fruit on the left burner. My counter is on the left as well.

About 15 minutes before the fruit is finished, fill the boiling-water canner with jars, lids and rings and enough water to cover your jars with one-two inches of water. Bring to a boil. When boiling, turn heat off and gather both sets of tongs, ladle, funnel, towel and hot pad.

jars, lids and rings in boiling-water canner

Remove a jar from hot water with canning tongs and place on counter next to pot of fruit with the funnel in place. Ladle out the hot fruit into the hot jar leaving appropriate head space. For my butter, it is 1/4 inch which is pretty standard for jams, butters, jellies and whatnot. The recipe you use will tell you how much space to leave.

remove jar from hot water, place funnel and ladle in hot butter

1/4″ head space

remove a lid and ring with tongs and tighten on jar

Be sure the rim of jar is squeaky clean. Wipe with damp towel if necessary. Remove a ring and lid with regular tongs, place on jar and tighten. This is when you will need to hot pad cause the jar will be too hot to grab onto. Set aside and repeat.

When finished filling jars, return boiling-water canner water to a boil. Carefully add jars full of bounty to pot using the canning tongs. I don’t use a rack even though I think you are supposed to. I just put my jars into the boiling-water canner and have never had a problem. Don’t stack your jars. You might have to do a few batches.

I usually take all the photos myself, often balancing my camera on a pile of corn or something and then running into place. But many of these were taken by my lovely husband.

Boil for the amount of time the recipe calls for. For my peach butter, it is 10 minutes but I have to increase the cook time because of the elevation in Montana. I cook for 20 minutes. Here is a guide for cook time using a boiling-water canner:

1001-3000 ft, increase cook time 5 mins
3001-6000 ft, increase cook time 10 mins
6001-8000 ft, increase cook time 15 mins
8001-10000ft, increase cook time 20 mins

Remove from boiling-water canner and set somewhere that can handle a very hot object. Leave undisturbed overnight. You will hear the pingy pops of the jars sealing and grin with giddiness.

Label and date. I always think I’ll remember and I never do. Canned food is best when used in one year but it is a myth that it ‘goes bad’ at that time. The quality just weakens. Some tips for storage and consumption from this site:

  • Store them in a cool, clean dry place where temperatures are below 85 degrees. A range of 60-70 degrees is even better.
  • Low-acid canned foods may be stored in a cupboard for as long as two to five years. For top quality use before one year.
  • Use high-acid foods within 12 to 18 months. Foods stored longer will still be safe to eat if the cans show no signs of spoilage or damage,but the foods may have deteriorated in color, flavor and nutritive value.

It is seriously so so easy and satisfying. Do it!

24 Responses to how to can stuff (high acid)

  1. Kelly says:

    I’m impressed and inspired! Just like you inspired me to cloth diaper which I love with a capital L!! Thanks for setting me up on the right track (even though I had about 46 questions for u in the beginning) and continue to do so with your cool canning!!!

  2. Kelly says:

    PS My fav picture is of the first one of Bug!!! DELISH!!

  3. Chiot's Run says:

    True, canning is very simple and jams/jellies are a great place to start.

    I don’t boil my jars in water, I find it annoying to fish them out of the boiling water. I put a rack in another stock pot and pile my jars in them, add a little water and I steam my jars to sterilize them. I warm the lid separately.

    It’s interesting how we’ve all developed our way of doing things, probably influenced by people like grandma’s & mom’s we’ve seen doing it along the way.

  4. j.j. says:

    great tutorial!

  5. Pam says:

    WOW Ole! What a feat of both literary and culinary prowess. Well done! And if that last picture doesn’t sell it (“Whole Family Gonna Say Yummy!”) I don’t know what does…

  6. Jean says:

    Yes, very nicely done, Nicole. Even I could do it following those directions and great photos.

    Would kiss that little Peach for me?

  7. April says:

    great tutorial! i did some peaches yesterday, and could just sit and admire the finished jars on the counter. they’re pretty stinkin’ cute! maybe next year i’ll try makin’ me some butter.

    way to inspire! remember that post you did about canning and connecting with women and kitchens of times past? i’m so with ya on that!

  8. TRB Holt says:

    You done good Sweetie….you make me proud! You are so right about the pingy pops. I always say, “ahhh music”!

    Margot, the butter looks yummy, maybe because it is displayed on the sweetest face I know, (my new backgound).

    Nici, I love the photo with your tummy….that’s my #2 granddaughter in there!…she probably love the sweet peachy steam too!

    xoxo, Mom/Gram

  9. Sage says:

    Oh this has totally inspired me to give it another go…. I usually am the swearing and cursing canner type. But seriously, I think I need to make your amazing peach butter, and I have almost all the necessary instruments, so going to give it a try. You are looking so beautiful and I am getting really excited for you and this newest adventure. Hope you are feeling well and thanks for the great tutorial…

  10. I just licked my computer screen.

    Thank you for taking time to put this up.. and a million thank you’s for using your peach butter for the example.
    WOoo HOoo! Love the photos too.. you and your little bump canning away.. and Margot with her hand on her hip in the doorway.. cute!

  11. dana says:

    i just learned how to can this weekend…peach butter, applesauce, dilled green tomatoes. i didn’t have jars in boiling water, but i did let them soak in hot soapy water. i did put seals in hot hot water on stove, and, of course, i submerged the finished products in boiling water for the 10 to 20 minutes required. they all made the popping … Read Moresealing noise as they were cooling. hope i don’t kill anyone. you would think that the processing piece would take care of all possible bacteria. in short – my jars were clean, but not boiled – is this going to be a problem? canning is so rewarding, and the product is an art all of its own.

  12. dana says:

    the PROCESS and finished product is an art all of its own.

  13. You’ll be fine. My mom washes her jars in the dishwasher and then leaves them in there, all warm, until she fills. Some people just steam the jars. There are so many ways to do it! yay you! xo

  14. Connie says:

    love canning! I can NEVER make enough Salsa to make it through the year, so I’ve started making it hotter and hotter to get the weaklings to quit asking for my Salsa and hog it all!!! (kinda mean, huh?)

  15. persephone says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. persephone says:

    Whoa! I’m now watching the air bubbles get sucked up and to the top (and out I suppose) as the vaccum seal-age action happens!

    I made pepper jelly (I’ve made a batch using freezer jam pectin once before because I wussed out) and am a little bummed that all the peppery bits will be concentrated at the top :( I’m tempted to shake/swirl them around a bit while they set, but I think I’ve heard that’s not kosher in the canning world?

  17. FinnyKnits says:

    Nice work, doll – that peach butter looks awesome (never done peaches – I don’t have a good local source) and you’re doing a service to all those who have been afraid to can before.

    It’s easy – Dig says so!

  18. Kate says:

    Your peach butter looks delicious! Thanks for providing a great post about home canning. Just one thing though: the USDA guidelines for safe home canning recommend that you use a rack in the bottom of your boiling water bath. This allows the hot water to circulate completely around the jars, enabling complete heat penetration of the product. Without it, you risk not thoroughly heating your product and killing the microbes, bacteria, etc. It would be a shame for any of that lovely butter to go to waste! :)

  19. Melissa says:

    dude, awesome tutorial and i had a brief fantasy of getting all the gear and going for it before i had a moment of clarity. i know you say it’s easy but i think i just don’t can. I’d like to . . .

    I am getting crafty-er and nesty-er, so we’ll see. But all the gear-getting is a big step and I don’t need more ways to procrastinate things I really need to do (like study for my licensing exam).

    Maybe you could do another giveaway? Wink wink?

  20. Kelle says:

    hardest thing here will be finding good produce…and making sure this is actually one of those things i will follow through on and not have a cabinet full of canning gear i blew a bunch of money on to make one batch of peach butter. although your peach butter is worth it for one batch.
    hey…it’s tuesday night. (sniff sniff)…i smell nuggets in the oven. will they be cooked by coffee time tomorrow? :o) oh poop…you’re a few hours behind.

  21. Kelle says:

    p.s. dude. just found out a certain somebody will be snoozing in your guest room. i’m so jealous. xoxo

  22. Kate, huh. Well I’m still alive…although I suppose I’d better look into a rack just to be safe. Thanks.

    Melissa, really, canning could be your necessary break from studying…

    Kelle, do it. All that stuff is not expensive. Nuggets done and set to post in time for your coffee. wink.

  23. Kate says:

    No, it’s not that it’s going to kill you, it just may lead to more spoliage of your product. The way I see it, if you’re going to go to all that trouble, then you should do everything you can to ensure a great product!

  24. Judi023 says:

    Exactly! canning is delicious, I like it very much, try yourself!…..

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