Boiling Water Bath Canning


Before you begin, gather the necessary equipment. To can using the boiling water bath method, you will need a canner, canning rack, jars, lids, funnel, jar lifter, sauce or stock pans, and possibly a candy thermometer. See Canning Equipment for details.

Follow these basic steps to make home canning simple and safe:

  1. Follow the sterilization instructions/li>
  2. Fill your boiling water bath canner two-thirds full with water and bring to a boil. You want enough water so that when you submerge the jars, the water level remains 2 inches (5 cm) above the lids. Adding vinegar (2 tablespoons [28 ml] or a good splash) helps if you have hard water. Minerals in hard water tend to form a cloudy surface on your jars. Vinegar helps keep the minerals in the water and off your jars.
  3. Prepare your canning recipe, using only recipes meant for home canning. Fill your sterilized jars with the food, leaving the recommended amount of headspace. Use a nonreactive kitchen utensil, such as narrow rubber spatula or a bamboo skewer, to remove air bubbles. Air bubbles can cause uneven heating during processing and may impair the jar’s ability to seal. Using a clean dish towel or paper towel, wipe the rims of the jars. This removes any spilled liquid or food, which can also prevent the jar from sealing. Place a dome lid on top of the jar and secure with a jar ring, screwing on so it’s secure but not tight.
  4. Submerge the jars into the canner with boiling water. Water should be 2 inches (5 cm) above the tops of the jars. ALWAYS place jars on a rack. If you don’t have the rack made specifically for your canner, use a steamer basket or some other method to elevate the jars off the bottom of the canner. Jars that come into contact with direct heat through the bottom of the canning pot can crack and break.
  5. Place the lid on the canning pot. Once the water returns to a boil, begin timing. Process for the number of minutes specified by the recipe, adjusting for altitude if necessary.
  6. Once the processing time has elapsed, use the jar lifter to remove the jars from the boiling water. Place them on a dish towel on your countertop and let them rest until cooled. After 24 hours, test the seals by pressing slightly on the center of the dome lid. If the lid makes a hollow popping sound and moves up and down, it isn’t sealed. When this happens, refrigerate the jar and eat the contents within 2 weeks. Make sure to label canned foods with the recipe name and date the item was canned. Store in a cool, dry place. Eat within a year.


Altitude matters for cooking in general and home canning in particular. Altitude affects the cooking temperature, so take a moment to look up your altitude (also called elevation) online and follow the canning instructions accordingly.

If you live in an area with an altitude above 1,000 feet (305 m), increase processing time by 2 minutes for every 1,000 (305 m) additional feet above sea level when using the boiling water bath method.

For pressure canning, you will need to increase the pressure settings for areas in higher altitudes.

Boiling Water Bath Canning Using Pomona’s Pectin

Vintage glass bottles in wire basket in metal tub

A number of the recipes in this book for jams and jellies use Pomona’s pectin. (For a full book of such recipes, see Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin, 2nd edition, Fair Winds Press 2013.) For such recipes, prepare your equipment and have your recipe and ingredients on hand. Next, you’ll want to make your calcium water (or confirm that you have enough left over from a previous batch). After that, you’ll prepare your fruit and other ingredients before you hit the stove for the actual jamming part of the process.

Preparing Your Calcium Water

Black and white photo of jars on a shelf with blur

Every box of Pomona’s Pectin contains a packet of tan pectin powder and a smaller packet of white calcium powder. The two ingredients work hand-in-hand, as the calcium activates the jelling power of the pectin.

Before making jam, use the calcium powder to make your calcium water, which you’ll need for every recipe. Simply combine ½ teaspoon (1.5 g) of calcium powder and ½ cup (120 ml) of water in a small, clear jar with a lid. This makes enough calcium water for many batches of jam, so you won’t have to do this step every time you make jam.

You can store extra calcium water in the refrigerator and use as needed, shaking before use. Refrigerated calcium water will keep for a number of months. Always examine your calcium water when you take it out of the refrigerator (before shaking it)—white sediment at the bottom of the jar is normal, but if you see any mold, scum, or discoloration, discard it and make more. Before preparing your Calcium Water things you need to know about curing and smoking.

Preparing Your Fruit

If you’re using fresh fruit, it should be as fresh as possible. Perhaps it goes without saying, but avoid any fruit that is overripe or diseased. Wash it thoroughly and then remove and discard any bruised or damaged sections. Next, prepare the fruit as directed by your recipe (peeling, pitting, chopping, and so on). If you’re using frozen or canned fruit, you can obviously skip all of this—simply defrost frozen fruit or drain canned fruit (unless your recipe says otherwise), and you’re good to go. How you prepare your fruit from this point on will depend in large part on whether you’re making a jam, jelly, preserve, conserve, or marmalade.

If you’re making a jam, conserve, or marmalade, mashing the fruit is typical, though some recipes will call for chopping or dicing. For preserves, you’ll want to leave the fruits whole if they are small, such as strawberries or raspberries. If your fruits are large, such as apples or peaches, cut them into uniform pieces. Some recipes require cooking the fruit during the preparation phase, while others require only mashing or chopping raw fruit. Preparation procedures will vary based on the type of fruit, type of jelled product, and the individual recipe, so be sure to refer to your recipe for specifics.


Row of tomato sauce jars on a checkered cloth

All of the recipes in this book call for ripe fruit. However, fruits can be ripe to varying degrees, and some recipes are best made with fruit of a specific level of ripeness. In this book, if a recipe calls for a “fully ripe pear,” for example, you’ll want to use a pear that is ripe enough and soft enough to mash. On the other hand, if a recipe calls for a “ripe, firm pear,” you’ll want a pear that is ripe but still firm enough that you can cut the pear up and cook it as called for without it turning to mush. If a recipe simply calls for “ripe” fruit, any degree of ripeness is fine.

Preparing your fruit for jelly is a little different, as you’ll be extracting and using the juice of the fruit, not the fruit itself. If you’re using either commercially available juice for jelly or juice that you’ve already made in another manner (with a juicer, for example), you can, of course, skip all of the juice-making steps. If you’re starting with whole fruit, however, you’ll need to prepare it and juice it. First, wash your fruit and chop it up if it’s large, and then, if you prefer or if the recipe calls for it, peel, core, and de-stem the fruit. You don’t really need the additional pectin found in the skin and cores because you will be adding pectin. It’s more work to remove the peels and cores, of course, but I much prefer to do so, as it allows me to use the leftover fruit pulp for something else. There’s not much I can do with the pulp after jelly making if I didn’t remove the peels and cores ahead of time, other than compost it. Ripe is the important thing so you must know about smoking meat.

To extract juice from most fruits, you’ll first need to cook the prepared fruit lightly with a small amount of water to make it soft enough for the juices to start flowing. Hard fruit such as apples may need as much as 1 cup (235 ml) of water per pound (455 g) of fruit, while soft, ripe fruit will need less. Juicy berries can simply be crushed to get the juices flowing. If you do choose to cook them, ⅛ cup (28 ml) of water per pound (455 g) should be plenty—and sometimes you’ll need even less. Knowing exactly how much water to cook fruit with can be a little tricky because, depending on the type of fruit and the degree of ripeness, natural juiciness will vary. Ideally, you want to add just enough water so the fruit will yield the required amount of juice for your recipe. The more water you add to the fruit, the more diluted your juice (and the jelly you make from it) will be, yet adding some amount of water is essential for most fruits. Although it’s never an exact science, the recipes in this book specify water quantities and cooking times that will yield pretty close to the correct quantity of juice for your jelly, so always refer to your recipe.

After you’ve cooked your fruit (if necessary) to make it soft, mash it and transfer it to a damp jelly bag or layered cheesecloth. (For more on using jelly bags and cheesecloth, see here.) Hang the bag over a bowl and allow the juice to drip into the bowl until the dripping stops—at least two hours and often longer.

If you are making a jelly with flowers or herbs, you’ll steep the flowers or herbs in hot water or another hot liquid and then strain them with a jelly bag, cheesecloth, or a fine mesh strainer, discarding the flowers and herbs and reserving the infused liquid. As always, remember to refer to your recipe for specific ingredient prep requirements.

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