Canning 101.....Do I Need A Recipe?

     Not every canning recipe you find out there in blogland is necessarily safe.  A safe recipe for water bath canning is all about the pH of the total amount of ingredients in the recipe.  Water bath canning is only safe if all the ingredients together comprise a pH of 4.6 or lower.  If the pH is 4.6 or higher, you need to use a pressure canner.  If your ingredients are acid enough (low pH) they will not support the growth of Clostridium botulinum that causes Botulism.

     So how do you know what the pH of your recipe is?  The best way to be safe is to use a tested recipe.  All the recipes in the Ball Blue Book guide to preserving and the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving have been tested by their kitchen.  They know what the pH is. I'm sure there are more tested recipes out there -- probably from your extension offices, but, there aren't all that many.  Why?  It's expensive testing. (It's my understanding we are talking something way beyond dipping in a piece of litmus paper.)

     Now, there's lots of canning book recipes out there, but the recipes are not tested.  In general, those recipes will probably be fine.  If someone is writing a book about canning, hopefully they know what they are talking about.  But here's where I have a real hard time when I'm blog reading -- someones grandma's recipe that they've "added" to.  First of all, grandma's recipe could very well not be safe to start with, and then adding more ingredients (especially vegetables) could be making it all the more alkaline.

      Here's an example.  Say you start with a tested salsa recipe (or your grandma's recipe).  This is a recipe with plenty of vinegar in it and is just under that 4.6 pH.....but, it's safe to water bath can.  Your taste for hot peppers however makes you add in another cup of peppers, and you saw on someones blog that a great way to use up some of your zucchini is in salsa, so you add another cup of zucchini.  All of a sudden, you have a recipe over 4.6 pH that is not safe to water bath can.

Here's some pH values:

pH 3.0 - 4.0   ......apples, berries, cherries, lemons, oranges, peaches,  pears (Asian pears are
                            the exception), and pickles

pH 4.0 - 5.0   ......tomatoes with added acid (tomatoes are tricky, they will have their own post)

pH 5.0 - 6.0   ......carrots, beans, onions, peppers, potatoes, squash, and most meats

pH 6.0 - 7.0   ......corn, mushrooms, peas, and chicken

The Ball Blue Book is updated every little bit.
Mine is from 2009....time to maybe get a new one this year.

I use both books a lot.
....and I haven't even touched everything you can can.
Oh the possibilities!

Check out the rest of the Canning 101 series:

Canning 101.....Here's the Rest of the Tools
Canning 101 -- Tools Of The Trade
Canning 101.....Who Cares About Headspace
Canning 101 -- Why 2-Piece Lids?


Linked To: Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop #45
Linked To: Homestead Barn Hop # 50


Unknown said...

I've never tried canning meat but I have eaten some that is really tasty. Have you canned meats?

Rae said...

Great post! I'm a naturally paranoid person, so I don't mess with recipes that aren't in something like a Ball book. I have that second book, and it's great, though I think there's WAY too much sugar in most of the jams/jellies. :) Do you know if reducing the sugar will hurt the ph?

Carolyn said...

That's some interesting information. I haven't really water bath canned anything "exotic", so I think I've been pretty safe, but I can see how it could get unsafe pretty quickly.

Lisa Lynn said...

A very good reminder. My motto is "When in doubt, pressure can."

dr momi said...

Ronda.....I do can meats! (Chicken, venison, salmon) Talk about a quick and yummy supper. The only way to do it safely is in the pressure canner though. Absolutey NO meats get water bath canned.

Rae.....I know what you mean about too much sugar! Reducing the sugar will not be a problem with the pH (the fruits are plenty acid enough)but there will be a problem if you still use regular pectin in the recipe. The jelly/jam will not set. If you are going to use less sugar, use a Low sugar pectin -- it should be right along side the regular pectin in the store. I follow the recipes for low sugar that comes in that box.

Carolyn can get unsafe VERY fast.

Lisa Lynn.....Very good motto!! The salsa that all the extra vegetables got added into could easily be pressure canned!

Jill said...

Great post. I always use my Ball and Kerr canning books. They are the only things I will trust as I'm not as savvy about it all like you. :)

Chatty Crone said...

If I canned and I don't I would need a recipe! sandie

Roxey Lucey said...

You are way smarter than I realized... ha ha sis. That's some heavy duty things to think about...if you can. Which I may start up again, in which I will be asking you for help at every move! Maybe I'll take a class too.

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

My husband won't can anything not in the Ball books. Good post! It never hurts to be safe.

Clint Baker said...

You are so right. My neighbor water baths everything. He says, "How do you think they did it before pressure cookers". I said they pickled it, lol!

Nancy C said...

The Ball Blue Book is my bible when it comes to canning. Great post! :)

Candy C. said...

I don't have a pressure canner yet (on my wish list) so when I made some salsa with corn and black beans in it last fall I froze it. I was surprised how well it kept, I had never frozen salsa before! :)

Old Time Cindy said...

I do can. I enjoy the hot water bath the most. I use the old Ball books and pamphlets from years ago.

Unknown said...

Again, I'll follow your lead on this. Thanks!

Mary Ann said...

This whole series has been very good, and good reminders. My mom pressure-canned, but put the fear of heaven into my sister and me so that we were afraid to. One of our purchases planned this spring is a pressure canner... so we'll be feeling our way slowly, and with the BBB.

dr momi said...

I've been out of town everyone ....sorry I'm so slow getting back! excellent way to go!

Chatty could start right now :-)

Roxey Lucey....pick my brain anytime!

Kathy....good thing!

Clint....yes they did water bath can in the old days. But we now know that the botulism spores are not killed at 212 degrees. Why risk it!(and they pickled a lot of things!)

Nancy Claeys....can't go wrong with the Ball Blue Book. and thanks!

Candy C. ....freezing instead of pressure canning is a great way to preserve.

Cindy....I used an old Ball Book recipe for one of my canned goods at the fair a couple years ago -- it got disqualified because my processing times were wrong! The new book was different. I didn't know it changed that often. You might want to look into updating....but so glad you're using it!'re putting the pressure on me :-)

Mary Ann....there's so many old time stories about pressure canners out there. With the new canners and recipes now, I think things are so much safer. Once you get going, you're going to love it.

Rain said...

Great post!! My friend does everything by water bath-vegies not meat-I cringe--she says her mom always did. I tried to tell her they've been lucky....but sometimes you just can't tell people! Love my BLUE BOOK!! Love your blog!!~~Rain

Ocean Breezes and Country Sneezes said...

I have these two book on canning, plus two others. I use them all the time. I'm going to look into the rest of the Canning 101 series!

Thank you for the great information!