Canning 101 by Martha McMillin

#1 tip: follow the recipe exactly. You can be creative later with how you use what you put
up, but do not tinker with the recipe. It has been tested to be safe so if you are a novice
canner, please follow it.


Equipment needed

  • Use Ball Mason jars, which come in packs containing the jar, the lid and the ring. You can reuse the jars and the rings but you only use the lid once, because it provides the seal and cannot be used again. You can purchase packs of lids and rings later to replace those which are used/damaged.
  • A canning pot or a big stockpot – it should be at least 3 inches taller than the jars you will be canning.
  • A canning rack to hold the jars inside the pot (they cannot sit on the bottom of the pot)
  • A canning funnel is useful, as it makes it easier to fill the jars
  • Something to remove bubbles in the food, such a bubble remover, a plastic knife or a chopstick
  • A jar lifter makes it easier to handle getting the jars into and out of the canning pot
  1. First step: prepare your equipment:
  • Fill your pot with water approximately one inch from the top, put the lid on, and bring the water to a boil. This will take a while so go ahead and get started. If the water is boiling before you are ready to put the jars in, turn it to low and check to be sure the water is at the right level.
  • Check your jars to be sure there are no nicks or cracks. Wash the jars, lids, and rings.
  • Set out all of the equipment you need. Prepare a work space for filling the jars: I put down kitchen towels and then cover with thick layers of paper towels. Things can get messy so this prevents staining of towels. Place a kitchen towel on a tray, which will be used to hold the jars after they are removed from the pot.
  • Place the lids bottom side down in small heat proof bowl.
  • Place the jars in the water in the canning pot.

2. Second step: prepare your recipe

  • Keep watch on the water in the canning pot. If too much is boiled off, add more water to the pot. You want to be sure you have enough in it by the time you are ready to put the jars in.

3. Third step: fill or pack your jars

  • Use the canning tongs to remove the jars from the water and place on the work space you prepared. When you remove them, pour the hot water back into the canning pot but use one to pour the hot water into the bowl containing the lids. The heat will soften the sealing rings of the lids.
  • For hot pack recipes (things like jams, jellies, preserves, salsas, tomatoes), use the canning funnel to fill jars with the hot, prepared food. For cold pack recipes, pack the raw food in the jars and then pour the hot brining liquid into the jar. For both methods, follow your recipe directions as to how much headspace to leave. Headspace is the space in the jar from the top of your food or liquid and the inside of the lid. It usually is ¼ inch for jams and jellies and ½ inch for pickles, tomatoes and relishes.
  • Run your bubble remover around the inside of the jar to release air bubbles.
  • Moisten a dishrag or paper towel and run it over the rim of the jar to clean any spilled food or liquid, as this will inevitably occur when the jars are filled.
  • Lift the lid from the bowl and center it on the jar.
  • Screw the lid onto the jar until it is fingertip tight. Just a nice, sensible turn of the lid; you do not want to have it on extremely tight or too loose.

4. Fourth step: process the jars

  • Use the jar lifter to place the jars into the canning pot onto the canning rack.
  • Put the lid on the pot and bring the water back to boiling, at which point you can start the clock on your processing time. The water must be boiling the entire processing time.
  • If not, stop the clock, bring it back to a boil and then resume timing where you left off.
  • When the jars have processed for the required time, turn off the burner and let the jars cool in the canner for five minutes, then use the jar lifter to remove the jars straight out of the canner. There may be water on top but do not worry about that.
  • Place the jars onto the towel covered tray and rest undisturbed for 24 hours.
  • You will hear the seal being formed as the jars ping. After 24 hours, test for a good seal: press your finger into the middle of the lid – if it flexes, there is not a good seal and the jar should be immediately refrigerated.

5. Last step: be sure to mark your jars.

  • You can use the stickers that come with the jars but they leave an irritating residue when removed. I prefer to use a fine point Sharpie marker to write on the lid the name of what I made and the date – I also like to note the name of the farm which grew the fruit or vegetable put up.

Contact Martha at or (404) 242-9265 if you have questions about canning or interest in canning classes. She holds a certificate from the Better Process Control School from the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Department of Food Science and Technology, which is prescribed by the US Food and Drug Administration and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.