Home Canning Guide

Discover the basics of the boiling water bath method and the pressure canner method in this home canning guide.


Unlike during the era of "The Farmer’s Wife" magazine, it is recommended that all canned foods be processed after packing in jars to eliminate any risk of contamination with molds and bacteria.

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The spiced peaches and icebox pickles, dilly beans and tomatoes in every shape and form, the blackberry jam and hot pepper jelly—it’s summer, and a whole world of summers past, in a jar. Pack the pantry the way Grandma did, and put away the sweetest fruits and preserves, the most tender savory vegetables, the taste of the sunny day and the scent of the crisp harvest air, with more than 250 blue-ribbon canning and preserving recipes culled from The Farmer’s Wife magazine. Along with instructions for canning and preserving fruits and vegetables from your garden or the farmer’s market, The Farmer’s Wife Canning and Preserving Cookbook (Voyageur Press, 2009), like an old family friend, offers recipes for using the tomato sauce, raspberry jam, peaches, and other tasty fruits and vegetables that you’ve “put by.” The following excerpt, from the section “Read This First: How to Get Started,” covers the basics of home canning. 

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: The Farmer’s Wife Canning and Preserving Cookbook.

More from The Farmer’s Wife Canning and Preserving Cookbook:

Kansas Preserves with Sorghum Syrup Recipe
Tomato Marmalade Recipe
Corn Soufflé Recipe  

Some 250 recipes and procedures for preserving a variety of fruits and vegetables, in a whole host of ways, appear in The Farmer’s Wife: Canning and Preserving Cookbook. To ensure success and safety in preserving them, it is important to understand a bit about how preserving works and why.

Some of the preserved foods in this book, such as jams, jellies, and other sweet spreads, lend themselves to preservation because they are made up of high-acid foods (fruits) cooked with high concentrations of sugar. Some of them, such as chutneys and certain pickles, are combinations of high-acid and low-acid foods (which include meats, all vegetables, and sometimes tomatoes) that are preserved by precise additions of sugar, salt, and/or vinegar. Still others—fruits and vegetables canned without sugar, salt, or vinegar—are rendered free of potential toxins and therefore safe to eat by processing for prescribed periods of time at high temperatures.

In fact, these days, unlike during the era of The Farmer’s Wife, it is recommended that all canned foods be processed after packing in jars to eliminate any risk of contamination with molds and bacteria. There are two ways to do this, and nowadays, they are the only ways recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and food safety experts:

The boiling water bath, in which jars of food are immersed in water in a boiling water canner or large stockpot and the water brought to a boil for a prescribed time, and the pressure canner, which heats water to a number of degrees above boiling. These two methods are not created equal, and it is important to be aware of the differences between them and when it is appropriate to use one or the other.

A note about sterilizing and processing times given in this book:

They are for altitudes of 0 to 1,000 feet only. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, you must consult your local extension service to ascertain the correct processing time for your altitude. Failure to make adjustments for altitude will result in products that are potentially unsafe to eat.

The boiling water bath, as indicated by its name, processes food at the temperature of boiling water. It is recommended only for high-acid foods, which include all fruit products, all pickled products, and sometimes, tomatoes. The tomato, once considered a high-acid food, is now known to be inconsistent in its acidity levels. This is why it is recommended that lemon juice be added to certain tomato products.

The pressure canner processes foods at a higher temperature than the boiling water canner and is required for everything else: namely, all vegetables that are not pickled, anything that contains meat, poultry, or seafood, and sometimes, tomatoes.

In order to can fruit and vegetable products using either of these methods, you will need some specialized equipment and some other items that can readily be found around the house. All canning equipment must be scrupulously clean and, in some instances, sterilized, so be sure you are clear about these methods.

The USDA has published a set of guidelines that list methods and processing times for certain products.  Invariably, these are products that have been tested by experts in land-grant universities. The methods and times should be followed exactly to minimize any risk of food-borne illness. For example, if a tested method for canning tomatoes calls for you to wash them, remove their cores, then plunge them in boiling water in order to remove their skins, this set of instructions is as critical to ensuring the safety of the tomatoes as the instructions that call for you to add a tablespoon of bottled lemon juice to each pint jar and for you to process the filled jars for forty minutes in a boiling water bath. Any deviation will result in a product that is potentially unsafe for long-term storage.

Every attempt has been made here to conform to these standards in all applicable recipes. If you have any questions whatsoever about a method or processing time, however, consult the USDA-supported website for the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), the USDA’s excellent “Complete Guide to Home Canning,” or contact a food safety expert at your local cooperative extension service.

Obviously, it would take an untold number of centuries to test every canning recipe ever created, and certainly not every recipe that ever appeared in The Farmer’s Wife has been tested for safety. Nevertheless, many excellent and untested recipes have been included in this book. Pickles, relishes, chutneys, and other such products that have not yet been evaluated in a lab for safety can still be enjoyed for short-term use: that is, they may be cooked up, packed in jars, and stored in the refrigerator to be consumed within a week or two. These recipes appear in a gray box and are marked with a snowflake icon. Other recipes may be preserved by freezing. Only tested recipes should be canned. In this way, the myriad delicious recipes devised by The Farmer’s Wife may continue to be enjoyed by contemporary cooks. The recipes are especially useful in cooking up small batches of produce from the home garden and farmers’ market, when full canner loads would have been unfeasible to begin with.

Whatever your needs—for small or large batches of jams or jellies, pickles, or condiments—The Farmer’s Wife offers something for everyone.

This excerpt has been reprinted with  permission from The Farmer’s Wife Canning and Preserving Cookbook, edited by Lela Nargi and published by Voyageur Press, 2009. Buy this book from our store: The Farmer’s Wife Canning and Preserving Cookbook.