Never canned before?  Starting up again after the long winter?  Here are some steps to keep in mind before filling up those jars.

1. Review procedure and equipment needed for your recipe before buying or picking produce. Double check- does your recipe require and overnight soak?  Do you need clear gel (which you usually have to special order) or some other unusual ingredient?  Choose a time when you can work with few or no interruptions.  Make sure you have the jars and lids you need before you start.  You don’t want to have a big batch of pickles going and find you don’t have enough lids.  (Don’t ask me how I know… Ha!)

2. Wash canning jars in hot sudsy water; rinse well. Cover with boiling water until ready to fill. I use my large roasting pan to keep my jars toasty while preparing the recipe.  Jars used in recipes in which food is processed for less than 10 minutes must be sterilized by immersion in boiling water for 10 minutes. Prepare lids and screw bands according to manufacturer’s directions.

3. Fill canner with water; start heating.  Cover with a lid to spead things along.

4. Prepare only as much food as needed to fill the maximum number of jars your canner will hold at one time. Work quickly, keeping work area clean.

5. Place drained, hot jars on cloth towels to prevent slippage while filling.  Fill jars, leaving recommended headspace  in the recipe (space between top of food and jar rim) to promote sealing.

6. Add the boiling liquid to jar, keeping specified headspace.  Release trapped air bubbles in jar by gently working a nonmetallic utensil around the jar’s sides. Add more of the hot liquid if needed to maintain headspace.

7. Wipe jar rim with clean, damp cloth.  Food on the jar rim prevents a perfect seal, so get those a good swipe.

8. Position prepared lid and screw band, tightening according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Set each jar into the canner rack as it is filled; jars should not touch.

9. Cover canner; process as directed.

10. Remove jars; set on towels on a cooling rack, leaving at least 1 inch between jars.  Be sure to keep the cooling jars in an area where they are not in a draft and can remain undisturbed for several hours.  I leave mine to cool overnight.

11. After jars are completely cooled (12 to 24 hours), press center of each lid. If dip in lid holds, the jar is sealed. If lid pops up and down, jar isn’t sealed. Unsealed jars can be refrigerated and used within 2 or 3 days, frozen (allow 1-1/2-inch headspace), or reprocessed within 24 hours. To reprocess, use a clean jar and a new lid; process for the full length of time. Mark label and use any recanned jars first. If the jars have lost liquid but are still sealed, the contents are safe. However, any food that is not covered by liquid will discolor. Use these jars first.

12. Wipe jars and lids to remove any food residue. You don’t want to store a sticky jar!  Remove, wash, and dry screw bands; store for future use. Label jars with contents and date; include a batch number if doing more than one canner load per day. (If one jar spoils, you can easily identify any others from that canner load.) Store jars in a cool (50 to 70 degrees F), dry, dark place. I store mine on shelves in my basement.  Use within one year.