Complete Guide to Home Canning for Beginners

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Are you all set up to preserve your garden harvest? Ready to try your hand at home canning this year? Does water bath canning vs pressure canning confuse you? The Farmer’s Market, grocery stores and our own garden are bursting with fresh, nutritious foods! 

Since all these delicious foods are seasonally available and my family wants to eat them year round, I’m taking the time to do some canning for winter.

If you’re a beginning canner, this post explains everything you need to know about the canning process. Some of my favorite canning recipes are included, too.

jars of water bath and pressure canned fruits and vegetables on pantry shelves

Complete Guide to Canning for Beginners

Do you love fresh-picked corn on the cob?  What about strawberry jam smeared on buttery, fresh-baked biscuits in the middle of winter?  Hate how winter strawberries are hollow? Have you noticed your food bill going up?

Canning your own fruits and veggies gets rid of all those issues!  It is easy and affordable to can once you know what you’re doing. Use the money you’d spend on winter produce on things you don’t have the space to grow like wheat, rice, coffee, and wine. 😉

Supply List for Safe Canning Recipes

Canning supplies can be hard to find in canning season. I always recommend you get prepared well in advance so you aren’t fighting with anyone over that last box of Mason jars.

You don’t need anything fancy for home canning recipes, but there are some very helpful tools that make the process safer and easier.

  • Large stockpot or water bath canner with a fitted lid (Water bath canning only)
  • Pressure canner (for pressure canning only)
  • Canning rack to elevate jars off the bottom of the pot. I highly recommend a rack that hooks onto the canner rather than just a flat trivet.
  • Canning jars, preferably with new lids and bands
  • Jar lifter for safely handling hot jars
  • Canning funnel to prevent spills when filling jars
  • Ladle for transferring hot liquids into jars
  • Clean kitchen towels for wiping jar rims and spills
  • Magnetic lid lifter (optional but helpful for handling lids without touching them)
  • Timer for processing times
  • Recipes and canning guidelines from trusted sources

Water Bath Canning vs Pressure Canning

There are two ways to preserve food with canning – water bath and pressure. It is easy to get overwhelmed with these options and just the idea of canning in general. Don’t worry though! It’s simpler than you might think to have fresh picked corn in the middle of winter.

glass jars with lids in water bath canner

Pros and Cons of Water Bath Canning

Water bath canning preserves high-acid foods like fruits, jams, jellies, and pickles. This is the simplest way to start canning. All you need is a large pot, some canning jars, and a few basic utensils. I think most beginner canners start with water bath canning recipes.

It’s relatively easy to whip up smaller batches of preserves on a weekend. A water bath also maintains the vibrant colors and textures of your fruits and veggies. Your jars look as good as they will taste.

Despite its simple advantages, water bath canning does have limitations. As I mentioned above, it’s only suitable for high-acid foods such as tomatoes.

Water bath canning also requires attention to detail for processing times and temperatures. It relies on boiling water to seal and protect your food. Always follow tested recipes and guidelines to ensure food safety.

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pressure canner on counter with jars of vegetables

Pros and Cons of Pressure Canning

Pressure canning opens up a world of possibilities for preserving low-acid foods like red meats, poultry, and most vegetables. The biggest danger in home canning is botulism. Pressure canning kills the Clostridium botulinum spores, giving you a pantry of safe jarred food.

Pressure canning is incredibly versatile because you can preserve low acid foods.

Unlike water bath canning, pressure canning requires a specialized pressure canner, which can be a bit pricey upfront. This is NOT the same thing as a pressure cooker!

The process process involves precise temperature and pressure adjustments. It also requires attention to safety protocols to prevent accidents and foodborne illness. Take the time to thoroughly educate yourself on how to use your pressure canner as well as the actual canning methods.

Pressure canning offers versatility, shelf stability, and food safety, but there is a learning curve. Start simple and small and then go from there.

sterilized canning jars with lids and bands on counter

Can I Pressure Can Everything?

While pressure canning is a versatile method for preserving a wide range of foods, not everything should be pressure canned. It isn’t so much a safety issue as it is a quality issue.

Foods like pickles, jams, or jellies would not withstand the pressure canning process. You’d be left with a jar of goo or worse.

Because water bath canning is perfect for some foods, there are also not recommendations or guidelines for pressure canning them. Never try to estimate what is safe. Always follow the recommendations. If in doubt, consult the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Does Altitude Affect Canning Times?

Yes, altitude can significantly affect the canning process. As altitude increases, atmospheric pressure decreases, which lowers the boiling point of water. If you live in a higher altitude, you will need a longer amount of time for processing in a water bath canner.

If you are pressure canning at a high altitude, you will need to adjust the pressure (not the processing time). Always consult altitude-specific guidelines regardless of the types of canning you are doing. Follow these guidelines to maintain safety and quality in your home preserves.

What fruit and veggies do you enjoy canning for winter?  Or, is this the first time you will can your summer harvest?

jars of canned beans, carrots, tomatoes with sealed lids on white counter

Can I Use a Water Bath Recipe for a Pressure Canning Recipe?

No. Stick to recipes specifically designed for the method you intend to use to ensure safety and quality.

How to Prevent Botulism in Canning

Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by Clostridium botulinum. You cannot see, taste, or smell botulism in improperly canned foods. If canned goods are not processed properly, they are in danger of growing this bacteria.

It’s crucial to follow proper canning procedures such as pressure canning low-acid foods, ensuring jars are sealed, and using the recommended time and pressure for processing. Use recipes from reputable sources.

How Long do Canned Goods Last?

Properly preserved goods an last for 1-2 years or even longer when stored in a cool, dark place. Always check for signs of spoilage before consuming. If you aren’t sure, throw it out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Can I Substitute Citric Acid with Vinegar or Lemon Juice?

Yes, vinegar or lemon juice can generally be used as substitutes for citric acid in water bath canning recipes, as they provide the necessary acidity. However, it’s essential to follow tested recipes and guidelines for accurate substitution ratios.

What are the Benefits of Canning Food?

The biggest benefit of canning your own food is enjoying all that summer freshness in the winter. How about fresh tasting strawberry jam or tender, juicy sweet corn? Plus, you won’t have to worry about expensive or out of season produce that simply doesn’t have the flavor or nutrition you want.

There are a few more benefits too.  No more wasted food and quicker meals.  Since canned food is precooked by the canning process, you really only heat things up at dinner time. You choose the jar sizes and can in jars sized right to feed your family. 

One thing I really enjoy is knowing that when those winter storms hit I have a pantry full of fresh and delicious food for my family. No worrying about freezers thawing when I’m out of town either. Everything is safely canned and on my shelves through even the darkest of storms.

More Ways to Preserve Food for Your Family

Canning Recipes To Preserve The Summer Harvest

These delicious recipes will help you put your garden bounty by - so you can enjoy it all year long. Many of the recipes are family secrets! We hope you enjoy this list of canning ideas!


About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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