I have been preserving food at home for some 30 years now and have collected many books on the subject over the years. The boiling water bath method is the one constant through all the information and opinions on the right way to preserve. No matter what country I was in or what group I was working with, the science of home preserving all comes down to food safety. The boiling water bath was the safest method when it was developed over 200 years ago, and it is still the safest method today.
I learned about the boiling water bath when living in Pennsylvania, a state heavily influenced by the large Amish population that lives there. Below I share the steps to ensure that your preserves are safe to eat years into the future, though I recommended always rotating your stock.
Boiling Water Bath method
It is important to note that only high-acid foods can be preserved with the boiling water bath method. This includes most jams, jellies, fruit in syrup, and pickles.
With so many great high-acid recipes to choose from, it’s easy to get started. You don’t need any specialized equipment, and the process is simple. You can even recycle the jars. All you need is a recipe and for safety’s sake, new lids.
This is the basic equipment needed for boiling water Bbath preserving.
- Large Pot
- Something to put in the bottom of the pot, such as a round cake cooling rack
- Jar Lifter
- Lid Lifter
- Stainless steel funnel
You will need a large pot to use as your boiling water bath. This pot must be big enough to stand several jars in and then fill with water until the jars are completely submerged.
As you will be standing glass jars in this pot, you need to create a space between the jars and the bottom of the pot. You can use a round cake rack or the removable bottom of a spring-form cake tin to do this. It does not need to be much of a space, but enough so that the glass jars are not sitting directly on the bottom of the pot.
You will need jars. These can be re-used from the jars you purchased food in from the grocery store. If you do not have any at home, ask a neighbour if they have any jars. They end up in the rubbish most of the time, so people will be quite willing to give them to you.
You will need lids for the jars. It is not advisable to use lids that have been used before. If you look at the inside of the lid, you will see a ring made up of a rubbery substance. This is what makes the seal. This substance is affected by the acids in the original jar contents and in the recipe you are processing and can become degraded with multiple uses. Lids are only to be used once to ensure you get a good seal. My new lids are what you need. You will also need a jar lifter, some clean towels and a wide-mouth funnel.
Prepare a batch of one of the preserves/sauces from the examples in my Blog, my book, Sugar-Free Home Preserving, or a recipe from another publication if you have one. Remember you will be eating this, so a little taste test along the way is recommended.
Wash the jars you will use in hot, soapy water and then rinse well. Leave them in a sink of hot water to await being filled with your preserves. Do the same to the lids and leave them in a sink of hot water, waiting to be placed on the jars once full.
If the processing time for your recipe is less than ten minutes, the jars and lids should be sterilised in boiling water after washing.
Spread a towel out on your counter, and when you are ready to fill your jars, place the jars on the towel right by the pot of preserves. This is where you need the jar lifter to not burn your hands getting the jars out of the hot water. You also want the jars to be hot when you put the hot preserves into them. Hot liquid into cold glass can cause the glass to break, so be sure your jars are left in the hot water until you are ready to start filling the jars.
Fill each of the jars with the preserve, using a wide-mouth funnel, leaving the headspace recommended in the recipe you are using. Once the jars are full, wipe off the rims with a clean cloth. Be sure that there is no preserve on the rims of the jars, as anything that gets between the rim of the jar and the lid can stop you from getting a good seal.
Once you have cleaned off the rims of the jars, you are ready to put on the lids. Using the lid lifter, get the lids out of the hot water and place them on the jars, tightening them all the way.
Now you are ready to process the jars to get the vacuum seal to ensure freshness.
Get the large pot and place the article you have chosen into the bottom to create a space between the bottom of the pot and the jars. As mentioned before, this can be a cake rack or something similar. Then place the jars into the pot, ensuring they are not touching each other. Then using a jug, begin to fill the pot with hot water. Do not use boiling water, but do not put cold water in as the glass is hot, and once again, you do not want to risk any jars breaking due to rapid temperature change. Fill the pot till the jars are completely submerged and covered by at least 4 centimetres.
Turn the stove on and boil the pot of water with your jars in it. This should be a full rolling boil, or what John Gross describes in “Food Preserving At Home” as “briskly boiling” water.
Process the jars for the time required in the recipe and depending on the jar size. Larger jars are processed for longer.
As the jars cool down, a vacuum is created. If you use safety pop-top lids, they will pop down as the jars cool. You do not have a vacuum seal if the pop tops do not pop down.
If any of the jars do not seal, you can process them again or simply decide that this is the jar you will use right away. There are several reasons why a jar may not seal. There may have been some preserve left on the rim of the jar, or there may be a defect, such as a chip on the rim of the jar. Also, if you do not leave enough space at the top of the jar, you could prevent a vacuum from being created.
Now that your jars are cool and the vacuum seal has been created, you must label them with their contents and the date. This is important as no matter how good your seal is, you do not want to leave a jar at the back of the cupboard for years with no date. Always eat the oldest jar first. Even preserved foods that you purchase in the grocery store are dated with the use-by date.
I preserve all of my high-acid foods this way and have a pantry full of goodies. It saves me significant money on my shopping, and I have real food with no nasty artificial flavours, colours, or preservatives.
I hope that you enjoy the bounty of your harvest and that this post helps you do so.
As always, live well.