13 October 2007

The process of water bath preserving

Before you start your preserving session, wash all your jars and lids and run your fingers around the rims to check for chips or cracks. Check the lids for dents, rust or holes. Never use damaged jars or lids.

I only sterilise the jars and lids if I'm not going to process them in a water bath. Sometimes I know something won't last a long time, so after it's cooked, I place it in a sterilized jar and store it for a few weeks in the fridge. If the jars will be filled and sterilized in a water bath, they need to be warm/hot when the hot food is placed in them to prevent cracking.

Always use new rubber rings and soak them before using them. It makes them easier to put on the jar.

Now you are ready to deal with the contents of the jars. This can be either a recipe like jam or chutney that you cook and pour, boiling hot, into the jar, or fruit that you add syrup to, or vegetables (pickles) that you add spiced vinegar to.

If you're cooking jam, make it according to your recipe and using your wide mouth funnel, pack the jars to within about 7mm (¼ inch) of the jar top. This is called headspace and is the space you allow for the content to expand, when boiling, without bursting out of the jar. If you're using FV jars, put the rubber ring, lid and clip on. If you're using screw on lids, screw them on fairly tightly, but not too tight.

If you're packing fruit or pickles, pack your jars firmly and neatly, using a packing stick or wooden spoon handle to remove any air bubbles. Air in the jar will cause mould to form when the jar is being stored. When the jar is packed, pour syrup, fruit juice or water over the fruit and the spiced vinegar over the pickles to within about 8mm (¼ inch) of the jar top.

Wipe the jars to make sure no jam or syrup is on the jars. Place the jars into your processor/pot. If you can cover the jars by 1 or 2 inches or so of water, do so.

Bring the processor/pot slowly up to the boil - this will take 45 to 60 minutes. When it's slowly boiling, hold it at a slow boil for another 45 minutes for small jars, for 1 hour for large jars and for 90 minutes for very large jars. When the time is up, using your canning tongs, remove the jars to sit on a tea towel on the bench to cool slowly for 24 hours. The prolonged heat will form a vacuum in the jars and you'll notice the lids will be slightly inverted, or the poptop will be inverted.

When the jars are cool, check that all poptops on the lids are inverted, remove clips from the FV jars and make sure all the jars are sealed. If you're unsure, or it there has been a spillage, put that jar in the fridge as use it as soon as you can. All the jars must have a perfect seal to be stored in a cupboard.

Don't be tempted to display your jars on an open shelf. They will lose their colour. If you want long term storage, the jars should be stored in a cool dark cupboard. They will keep well for about a year without losing their nutrition.

Light - 1 cup sugar to 3 cups of water makes 3½ cups of syrup
Medium - 1 cup sugar to 2 cups of water makes 2 cups of syrup
Heavy - 1 cup sugar to one cup of water makes 1¾ cups of syrup

Add the above quantities to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Allow to cool. You could also use fruit juice, honey, molasses or golden syrup instead of sugar but it will add another flavour to your fruit. Fruit may also be preserved in plain water but it won't keep as well as that preserved in a sweet liquid.

Artificial sweeteners are not recommended for preserving as they develop a bitter taste over time.

Please note, good quality vinegar need to be used for preserving, with an acetic acid content of at least 5%. The following vinegars are all good to use: brown malt, white malt, balsamic, white wine, red wine or apple cider.

1½ cups vinegar
¾ cup water
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon peppercorns
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon pure salt (sea salt or kosher salt)
2 bay leaves

Place all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain off the chunky bits before using.

Will make up approximately 3½ kg or 7½lbs of relish

2 kg (4½ lb) ripe tomatoes
1 kg (2.2lb) chopped onions
3 chopped capsicums (peppers)
3 sticks celery very finely chopped or you could use 2 zucchini
2 green apples, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon pure salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper or chilli powder
650 grams (1½lb) brown sugar
900 mls (1½ pints) vinegar

Place all in a steel saucepan and mix. Slowly bring to the boil with the lid off and allow to simmer until it thickens up. Stir frequently to prevent sticking on the bottom of the pan.


1 litre (1 quart) vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
6 whole cloves
4 small pieces of fresh ginger - slightly crushed OR ½ teaspoon powdered ginger
4 bay leaves

Place all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain off the chunky bits before using.

I'll type up some recipes for jam and sauce later.


  1. I really enjoy canning. I'm 25 and it's something I want to pass down to my daughter. I watched my Grandmother go to the local produce markets and then come home and can but my mother never did. I enjoy it when I walk out to my garden and walk back into the kitchen with my harvest knowing that I'll enjoy the beautiful colors of my treasure for months to come.
    It's a dyeing art that I wish more woman participated in.
    I remember one morning in the fall of '04 and my other Grandmother called me. She heard I was canning and wanted to know if I fell out of bed and hit my head on a rock!

  2. Rhonda Jean - do you use Aldi vinegar for pickling? I know it's super cheap but is it of a good enough quality? I used it last year for my beetroot, and my cucumber pickles and it seems to have been fine. Any thoughts? Oh - and exciting news - my m'i'l is letting me use her FV unit for the summer. It belongs to a friend of hers who doesn't use it anymore so I am rubbing my hands together waiting for all the precious fruit bargains to come my way. Lisa J

  3. I have been canning our home grown and some purchased produce for 30 years now. I love to go down to our cold room in the winter and look at all the beautiful full jars of fruits, vegetable, salsa, pickles and jam. I am excited that my new daughter-in-law and my oldest daughter are now both interested in canning.
    I have been able to pick up canning jars at yard sales, thrift stores and even the recycling depot.
    Just a comment on the processing times that you mentioned Rhonda Jean, the book that I am using (which is newer) recommends placing the jars into already boiling water. The times for most of the fruits that I do in quart jars is 25 minutes at a full boil. Tomatoes require 90 minutes in the same size jar, but I use the pressure canner as it is only 15 minutes. I use a product called Pomona's fruit pectin (available in Canada & US, I don't know about Australia) for jams that won't jell well in a short cooking time. It is wonderful as you can use apple juice, honey, sugar or other types of sweeteners in far lesser amounts than the traditional pectins call for. We don't like our jam very sweet so this works well for us. These jams must be processed in a water canner for 5-10 minutes for the small jars depending on your altitude.

  4. Thank you for the tomato relish recipe, Rhonda Jean! I was hoping you would publish it :) Can't wait to try it next season... Love, Q

  5. Hi there
    Thank you so much for posting you tomatoe relish recipe - can you plase tell me do you take the skins of the tomatoes before making the relish with them??

  6. Hi I'm a little confused as I keep reading different things in different websites/books but I knew someone here will have something to help me!

    I've begun making jams... so far strawberry using fresh fruit. I sterilised my jars in the oven first, then filled them. I just used basic screw top lids. Do I need to put them in a water bath... I did them last night and never did the water bath as it never said to on the recipe I followed but maybe it was taken forgranted that i should?

    Do you HAVE to do it?
    If so, can I do them today instead?
    Any tips greatfully recieved.~

    Thanks x

  7. I would love some advice.... I have just inherited a lot of FV jars and a very old stop top FV water bath processing pot. I do not have the current book to go with the equipment, only one that was published in the 50s. That book recommends filling the jars to the top (to avoid air bubbles) and then only 3/4 submerging them during cooking. This is different to the ball jar method, where you leave a 1/2" inch gap at the top of the jar then fully submerge the jars by 1 " during cooking. I am asking the questions because it seems that the ball jar method cooking time is significantly faster. Do you submerge your FV jars and leave a gap at the top? Thanks so much for your advice, Fleur

  8. Fleur, I fully submerge my jars. The amount of headspace differs according to the type of food. You need a small amount of space so the lid doesn't lift off or dislodge when the food is boiling hot.

  9. Great Blog! I do a lot of preserving, and water bathing is by far the best method to make things last longer:) I was lucky enough to get an as new electric Vacola Kit of ebay...I'm hoping to also get myself a pressure canning kit at some point as well. I'm actually going to bottle and vacola apricot chutney and lemon cordial tonight:)


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