Canning basics 4: Jars and lids
Food may be canned in glass jars or metal containers. Metal containers can be used only once. They require special sealing equipment and are much more costly than jars.
Regular and wide-mouth, Mason-type, threaded, home-canning jars with self-sealing lids are the best choice. They are available in ½ pint, pint, 1½ pint, quart, and ½ gallon sizes. The standard jar mouth opening is about 2⅜ inches. Wide-mouth jars have openings of about 3 inches, making them more easily filled and emptied. To be certain of adequate processing, it is important to use only the size(s) of jar listed in the recommended method. With careful use and handling, Mason jars may be reused many times, requiring only new lids each time. When lids are used properly, jar seals and vacuums are excellent. Mason jars designed for use in home canning ensure a safe product and no breakage during processing.
Before reuse, wash empty jars in hot water with detergent and rinse well by hand, or wash in a dish-washer. Unrinsed detergents may cause unnatural flavors and colors. These washing methods do not sterilize jars. Scale or hard-water films on jars are easily removed by soaking jars several hours in a solution containing 1 cup of vinegar (5 percent) per gallon of water.
Sterilization of empty jars
All jams, jellies, and pickled products processed 10 minutes or less should be filled into sterile empty jars. To sterilize empty jars, put them right side up on the rack in a boiling-water canner. Fill the canner and jars with hot (not boiling) water to 1 inch above the tops of the jars. Boil 11 minutes when at Minnesota altitudes. At higher elevations, boil 1 additional minute for each additional 1,000 feet elevation. Remove and drain hot sterilized jars one at a time. Save the hot water for processing filled jars. Fill jars with food, add lids, and tighten screw bands.
Empty jars used for vegetables, meats, and fruits to be processed in a pressure canner need not be presterilized. It is also unnecessary to presterilize jars for fruits, tomatoes, and pickled or fermented foods that will be processed 10 minutes or longer in a boiling-water canner.
Lid selection, preparation, and use
The common self-sealing lid consists of a flat metal lid held in place by a metal screw band during processing. The flat lid is crimped around its bottom edge to form a trough, which is filled with a colored gasket compound. When jars are processed, the lid gasket softens and flows slightly to cover the jar-sealing surface, yet allows air to escape from the jar. The gasket then forms an airtight seal as the jar cools. Gaskets in unused lids work well for at least five years from date of manufacture.
Place lids in a saucepan with water. Heat to a simmer to soften the sealing compound. Follow directions on lid packaging to prepare lids.
The gasket compound in older unused lids may fail to seal on jars. Buy only the quantity of lids you will use in a year. To insure a good seal, carefully follow the manufacturer's directions in preparing lids for use. Examine all metal lids carefully. Do not use old, dented, or deformed lids, or lids with gaps or other defects in the sealing gasket.
After filling jars with food, release air bubbles by inserting a flat plastic (not metal) spatula between the food and the jar. Slowly turn the jar and move the spatula up and down to allow air bubbles to escape. Adjust the headspace and then clean the jar rim (sealing surface) with a dampened paper towel. Place the lid, gasket down, onto the cleaned jar-sealing surface. Uncleaned jar-sealing surfaces may cause seal failures.
Fit the metal screw band over the flat lid. Follow the manufacturer's guidelines enclosed with or on the box for tightening the jar lids properly.
Do not retighten lids after processing jars. As jars cool, the contents in the jar contract, pulling the self-sealing lid firmly against the jar to form a high vacuum. If rings are too loose, liquid may escape from jars during processing, and seals may fail. If rings are too tight, air cannot vent during processing, and food will discolor during storage. Overtightening also may cause lids to buckle and jars to break, especially with raw-packed, pressure-processed food.
Screw bands are not needed on stored jars. They can be removed easily after jars are cooled. When removed, washed, dried, and stored in a dry area, screw bands may be used many times. If left on stored jars, they become difficult to remove, often rust, and may not work properly again.