Water Bath or Pressure Canning…That is the Question!

By Kitty R. Lynn

The process of preserving food in jars takes on a level of science that can sometimes deter would-be food preservers. There are so many articles about water bathing this veggie and pressure canning that veggie! Meat absolutely cannot be water bathed – it must be pressure canned. Fish needs salt but must be pressure canned. Water bath the high acid food, pressure can the low.  It’s all very overwhelming!

Let’s clear up some of those woes – first, what does each one mean?

Water bathing is the process of putting jars filled with food into a large pot designed for holding jars. This pot usually has a wire basket to hold the jars and keep them off the bottom of the pot. The pot is filled with water and the water is brought to a boil. The jars of food are placed in the boiling water for a specified amount of time (time is based on type of food in jar). The jars are removed and stored to be eaten later. I have on occasion put dinner knives at the bottom of a stock pot on top of which I place jars, in order to water bath only a few jars at a time. So the fancy water bath kettle with the wire basket is not a complete necessity, as long as the jars can be under the water completely (two inches over the top of the jars). However, I do highly recommend getting a water bath canning kettle with the wire cage for ease and safety.

Pressure canning is also done in a large pot with a metal tray at the bottom, however the water does not cover the jars. It is actually the pressurized steam that the heats the food in the jars. The temperature reached in the pressure canner is higher than the temperature of boiling water. Pressure canners now-a-days have built-in pressure release valves making the use of them much safer and easier to use. Follow the recommendations that come with the specific pressure canner you will be using.

The PH level or amount of acid in the foods being canned are what determines the method to use. High acid foods are canned with water bathing while low acid foods are canned in the pressure canner. It is advisable to follow the recommendations of the recipe you are using as to how long to water bath or pressure can. The purpose of both methods is to kill mould and bacteria that the acid may not take care of.

Always do the following checks of your canned food no matter how you can it: check to be sure the lid has not come loose, that there is no strange odor, and the food still appears the same as when you canned it. A small exception is some fruit may darken over time. Most recipes for canning now encourage the addition of some type of acidic liquid, such as vinegar or lemon juice.

While not all foods can be water bathed they all can be pressure canned. It is not as overwhelming as it seems.  A little reading or asking for information will ease your mind, and the reward of canning your own food completely overcomes the small bit of research needed to decide which method to use. Enjoy your canning experience!

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