Friday, November 5, 2010

Water Bath Canning With No Equipment

Canned beets, grapefruit marmalade, and pickled cauliflower.
Food preservation is definitely my "thing", because it helps me buy foods cheaply when they're in season and then make them last a while in my stockpile so I can benefit from them when the prices are higher.
 Once upon a time I thought most food preservation methods were not possible for me to do; only freezing foods seemed doable. I didn't own a dehydrator, nor did I have the money to lay out to purchase one. Pickling seemed too iffy and difficult. Canning? Absolutely no extra money to spend on equipment, not to ention the recurrent expense of jars.
Eventually I got past my fear of pickling, built my own dehydrator with which to dehydrate my vegetables, but put off any hopes of canning. I didn't have the money to lay out for it. Canning was an expensive endeavor unlikely to ever happen around  here.
Then along comes blog reader Beanna83 and proved me wrong. On her say so, I discovered that I can can for free! No money needs to be laid out for canning equipment. You can preserve foods in glass jars without any bought canning equipment.

Water Bath Canning For Free

Equipment Needed
A large pot that is both wide and deep. If your pot isn't very deep, you'll only be able to can smaller jars. The height of the pot needs to be at least 3-4 inches taller than the height of your canning jars.
A second large pot that will fit your glass jars inside, even sideways or a dishwasher or even a large container that can hold your jars and can withstand heat.
Recycled commercial jars with pop top covers. Even though this isn't "recommended", as long as you make sure there is a seal (see below), you'll be fine. If you don't buy anything in jars, you can ask others who do to save their jars for you. (I've began offering an incentive that if you give me at least 4 jars, I'll give you back one filled with homemade jam.)
Hot mitts.
A ladle.
A funnel, preferably with a wide mouth.
A spoon.
A few towels.

1. Prepare food with a recipe that is suitable for canning in a water bath. Use google to find recipes for canning. These will usually be acidic. Most fruits are acidic enough, as are tomatoes. Other foods need to be canned with vinegar if you're using the water bath method (this method). This is one such example of a site with plenty of canning recipes and instructions.
2. Wash your jars and covers very well, inspecting the covers and the jars to make sure that none have any chinks or cracks or disfiguration.
3. Heat the jars. If you have a dishwasher, put your jars through a cycle and keep them warm in the dishwasher. If you don't have a dishwasher, put the jars in a pot of water and bring to a boil. You want your jars to remain hot, because if you let them cool down and then add hot food/liquid or add to a hot water bath, the jar will crack. Glass needs gradual temperature changes. Alternatively, you can put jars in a basin with warm water for a few minutes, pour off the water and add warmer water, etc... until you have a basin filled with hot water and jars.
4. Boil the jar covers in water.
5. In the meantime, lay a towel across the bottom of your giant pot, fill it with water part way, and bring to a boil.
6. Take your jars out of the hot water or dishwasher and put them on a towel. Use a ladle to remove some of the hot water and use hot mitts if necessary.
7. Fill the jars with the food with the help of a wide mouth funnel and a spoon in the method recommended in the canning recipe you're using.
8. Remove the covers from the boiling water, and with the assistance of hot mitts, place on the jar and tighten as well as you can.
9. Carefully, gently place the filled and closed jars in the giant pot of boiling water, taking care that they are standing upright on the towel and not touching each other or the sides of the pot.
10. Cover the jars with boiling water by at least 2 inches. You don't want to pour any water directly on the jars- pour the water in between the jars when adding.
11. Bring the pot of water to a rolling boil and boil for the length of time specified in the recipe.
12. Turn off the fire and ladle water out into another container. You want to ladle enough water out so you're able to grab the upper part of the jar without getting your hot mitt wet.
13. Grab the upper part of the jar with your hot mitt, remove from the pot, and place on a towel. Do the same for all the jars.
14. Leave the jars undisturbed for a few hours or overnight.
15. Check for a seal. If you're using commercial jars, most covers come with a pop top that says "Button pops up when original seal is broken" or something like that. You do not want that button popped up. If it is down, that means that your cans are sealed properly. If the cover never popped down, the seal didn't hold and you should put that jar in the refrigerator to be eaten.
16. Put the jars away in a cool, dark place.

P.S. For those who say that this isn't safe because you can't properly reseal commercial jars, you should have been here when I tried getting 3 grown men to open a jar of pickled cauliflower that had sealed too tightly. In the end, no one was able to get it open and I needed to poke a hole in the cover to release the vacuum.

Have you ever canned? Do you use purchased equipment or do it equipmentless like I do?
If you haven't canned yet, do you think you will ever try?

Linking up with Frugal Friday, Friday Foods, Fight Back Friday, Pennywise Platter Thursday, Vegetarian Foodie Friday, and Foodie Friday


  1. Hi,

    Just wondering if you still use this method and if you've ever had any problems or failures? Love you blog and find you inspirational!

    1. Yes I still use it, and I haven't had any failures! :-D

  2. How do I know which 'store bought' jars are best to use for 're/sealing' and which ones are more likely to crack or shatter?

  3. what you are writing is dangerous. Reusing store bought jars is a BAD idea.
    The jars are not the problem but reusing the lids is. You will be canning bactirum into your jars if you do not have a proper seal.
    Please dont do it. Lids are CHEAP

    And if you don't put in for those few pennies you are taking the risk of that food you have managed to pull together being wasted or killing you (or worse your kids)

    1. You can tell if there is a good seal or not. If it doesn't suck in the pop top lid, you have to either use it immediately or throw it out. If its sealed, its safe.

  4. Thank you! I want to give canning a try but don't want to buy a bunch of tools and gadgets to clutter my house and be used once a year. Love the sensible approach and the reusable materials.

  5. This was very helpful and I can't wait to try it. I have decided to purchase new lids as opposed to reusing old ones and I was wondering if I can skip boiling them and just put them on at room temperature (seeing as they are already sterile)?
    Thanks so much for your help. :)

  6. This was very helpful and I can't wait to give it a try. I decided to purchase new lids instead of reused ones but I was wondering if I can skip boiling them and just put them on the heated jars at room temperature?
    Thanks for your help! :)

    1. Always, always, always boil the lids. This is as much of a safety thing as it is a practical thing. Boiling kills any germs that might be on the lids, it also helps set up the vacuum .

    2. Actually, if you have Ball/Kerr lids that are BPA free, you should simmer them at most. Boiling can damage the sealing compound. Personally, I just wash them in hot soapy water and then use them as this is also recommended by the manufacturer. All of my jars have sealed since I stopped simmering mine. If you process at least 10min in a boiling water bath, sterilizing jars/lids is not necessary.

  7. I went to a canning work shop today in my town, and they reused the lids (some over and over again). They said its not a problem because the heat sterilisers it enough to kill any harmful bacterial.
    The heat from the actual canning also aids in the safe preservation of the goods. As long as you keep out air in the process there should not be a problem, with it being completely safe.

  8. i have wanted to try this ever since reading this entry several weeks ago and have been collecting jars from friends and family. finally today i was able to make a bunch of tomato sauce, which we use a lot, and your method worked like a dream. thanks for sharing. cant wait to try more things this way

  9. I reuse jars as well and don't use equipment. For about a year my kids and I have experimented with canning and we found it works even in the most simple form. We wash our reused jars, pour the boiling food needing to be canned into them and then turn them upside down. They have always sealed themselves. No pots, water, boiling, etc. Like applesauce we boil our apples, then puree them and pour the hot apple sauce into a jar and turn it upside down. DONE!

  10. I can jam without a hot water bath. Just sterilize the lids, clean the jars and get then really hot (putting them in a baking pan in about an inch of water in the oven works), then pour the hot jam in the jars and put the lids and rings on. Let them sit on the counter and you'll soon hear them "pop" - tada! They're sealed.

  11. I would strongly suggest that if you go out and buy just 1 piece of equipment, make it a jar lifter. It's <$10 (you can even find canning kits with a funnel and some other useful stuff for just around $10) and will help tremendously. Just 1 jar slipping out of your hot mitts can mean broken glass, steam burns, and boiling water burns. Well worth the couple dollars to be safer.

    Personally, I don't reuse lids (it's not worth the risk for me) but I don't have any problem with using a big pot instead of a canning pot, except that I would probably tie together some jar rings instead of putting a dish towel in the bottom.

  12. As a certified Master food preserver most of you are lucky you haven't killed your family yet. Truly this is a bad idea and open kettle canning has not been a safe method of preserving since the 1950's( filling with hot product and turning over). If taking a chance at killing your children doesn't bother you by all means keep this up! BTW just because a lid is still sealed does not mean what is inside is safe to eat.Botulism is undetectable and is a neurotoxin meaning if you don't die you will live the rest of your life most likely in a nursing home. Is this worth saving a $100 on not buying the proper equipment? Just because no one has got sick or dec yet does not mean the possibility is;t there with every new jar opened.You are giving very dangerous information here that you could very likely be sued for if someone gets sick!

    1. Ok, you're simply wrong. Sorry. Botulism is a problem in non acidic canned foods- which is why water bath canning is only safe for acidic things, like fruit, tomato based things, or pickles. It is not safe for things like meat, beans, etc... Those things need pressure canning to be safe. But if you're doing acidic things, it's not a problem to can this way, with reused jars and covers instead of with store bought jars. It's the same technique, same results. Botulism isnt an issue with acidic things.

  13. Sealing is the easy part; killing any microbes that might be in the jars themselves is the purpose of waterbath canning. If you have empty jars in your car on a hot day, you will hear the lids sealing and unsealing from heat/pressure changes. You won't poison yourself by NOT waterbath canning high acid goods, but you run the risk of spoilage from yeasts or molds that are sealed in the jar. Also, water bath canning removes the air from the headspace, which a) prevents microbial growth from those microbes that need oxygen to grow, and b) makes for a stronger seal. You run the risk of losing all your hard work and expensive ingredients to spoilage by skipping what is a very simple, relatively quick step.

    All this fuss and muss about ladling out the hot water in and out of the pot can easily be solved by simply using a jar lifter, which can be purchased for a few dollars at any hardware store or stores like walmart or target. The more you deviate from safe, tested methods, the more you risk injury. Not to mention the time you waste.

    As far as reusing lids and commercial jars--many people do it, and many people get away with it. Just make sure when you are inspecting jars, you look through the jar in light for small scratches that can cause fracturing when heated. Most commercial jars are made with a different process than reusable canning jars and they are intended for single use canning. The plastic coating inside the lids needs to be inspected as well for scratches that can cause rust of the metal and imperfect seals. If you have jars that are unsealing (common with reusing lids) , either you had a bad seal to begin with, or you have microbial growth that is causing gas to build up and causing pressure.

    1. This is water bath canning. Canning this way kills the microbes the same way that using bought jars does.

  14. Also, here is the best link for the most current, up to date and safe canning information. The NCHFP is a joint venture between the Universty of Georgia through the land grant university program, Cooperative Extension Agencies, and the USDA. http://nchfp.uga.edu/ In particular, read through this document if you are interested in canning so you understand the basics of the microbiology and chemistry that underpins safe canning. http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html This website as as well as the "bible" of canning, the Ball Blue Book or the Ball Complete Book of Home Food Preservation (2009/2011 editions are the most current) have lots of basic recipes that will allow you to assess the safety of recipes that are not officially tested as safe.

  15. My mom, my aunts, and everyone I know has been canning this same way for years and no one has ever gotten sick from it. I think the companies that make the canning products have more input into the safety warnings than people know, so they can make more money. This way is safe it done right. And like you said, just use common sense when you got to open it and you will know if it's bad or not.
    Thank you for posting this! People need to know that you don't have to go out and buy all new products from these companies to start canning!

  16. I found this blog very helpful, written with clear instructions on when this method can be safely used and how to do it. Thank you, Penny, keep up the good work. Just because some readers have questionable methods or opinions does not make you wrong. I think Anonymous Master Food Preserver needs their own blog.

  17. I do appreciate the blog and I have found it useful and I am using 90% of your method - I am just buying the jars - I am making baby food I have to be safe.


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