How to Can with a Water Bath Canner

If you are new to canning, I can’t think of anything easier to learn on than applesauce! It’s frugal (if you buy the apples in season), versatile (great as a side to any meal), and very forgiving.

Homemade pearsauce follows the same technique. I happened to have some over-ripe pears hanging around when I photographed this tutorial, so that is what you’ll see in the photos. However, if you are using apples, simply follow the same steps.

In my opinion, water bath canning is the best way to learn how to can. It’s slightly less intimidating than pressure canning, and water bath canners can often be found at yard sales or thrift stores.

When you are ready to try your hand at pressure canning, be sure to check out the How to Use a Pressure Canner series. It will give you all the info you need to can low-acid foods, without blowing anything up…

And don’t forget my Six Tips for No-Stress Canning. I still follow these tips every time I pull out one of my canners.

Let’s do this!

Homemade Applesauce Recipe

  • Apples — The quantity is up to you. I like to use sweeter fruit so I don’t have to add additional sugar-  but if your apples are on the sour side, then you can always play around with added sweeteners such as honey or sucanat.  
  • Cinnamon to taste — optional (where to buy)

It depends on how much prep time your food requires, but I recommend filling your canner with water right away and get it boiling as soon as possible. Make sure you place the lid on top of the canner, as that will greatly reduce the amount of time it takes it to boil.

When canning with the water bath technique, the jars first must be sterilized. I like to sterilize my jars right in the canner. You can also run them through a cycle in the dishwasher, but my dishwasher always seems to be full… According to the Ball Blue Book, they need to be heated for at least 10 minutes, completely submerged. Keep the jars in the hot water until you are ready to fill them– it’s important that they stay hot right up until the food is placed inside.

Gather all of your supplies and have them ready. Take inventory of your rings and lids, making sure you have matching sets of each. I also like to have a kitchen towel ready that I can place the hot jars on. I have a canning funnel, magnetic lid lifter, and jar tongs. They aren’t absolutely necessary, but if you plan to can a lot, then they are worth spending a couple extra bucks on.

Fill a small saucepan with water and add your lids. They need to be heated to a simmer, but not a full boil. All you are doing is heating up the sealing compound so it’s pliable and sticky. You don’t have to put this on the stove until a bit later, but it’s best to have it ready.

Prep your fruit. If you are using pears, quarter them, core them, and remove any bad spots. No need to remove the peels, they’ll disappear into the sauce.

If you are using apples, you can peel them if you like, but it’s not necessary. I’ve made several batches, peels and all, and we don’t mind it a bit. It saves a bunch of work as well. You will want to core them and slice them more thinly than the pears so they don’t take forever to cook down.

Or, if you have a food mill, you can run the fruit through that to save you some work.

(Psst. Don’t forget to save the peelings and scraps for the goats/chickens/pigs/compost pile. They will love you forever.)  

Throw all of your prepped fruit into a large pot. Add just enough water to keep them from sticking to the pan. (Not too much, or your sauce will be on the runny side…)  Cook the apples or pears until they are soft. It doesn’t take long. If you like, you can add cinnamon or other spices at this point, although I  usually prefer to wait to spice it until I serve it.

The next step depends on your preference. If you like thick, chunky sauce, use a fork or potato masher to mash the cooked fruit in the pot until it reaches the desired consistency.  If you prefer your sauce smooth, then use a hand blender (one of my favorite kitchen tools!), to puree everything right in the pot. (If you don’t have a hand blender, use a food processor instead.)

Bring the mashed/pureed sauce to a boil.

While you are waiting, remove the hot jars from the canner and place on the waiting towel. Also, now is a good time to bring those lids to a gentle simmer.

Carefully ladle the sauce into the hot jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace.

1/2″ headspace means that the sauce will fill the jar only to the bottom of the “lip.” It’s very important to pay attention to headspace when you’re canning. It allows for expansion/contraction, and sometimes the jars will not seal if the headspace is incorrect.

Wipe the rims with a damp cloth to remove any spilled sauce that might prevent the lid from sealing.

Use your handy dandy lid lifter to place the heated lids in the center of the jar.

Then, screw on the rings- finger tight only!

Lower them into the canner, making sure that the lids are covered with 1-2 inches of water. (You can add more water to the pot if you come up short.)  Process pints and quarts for 20 minutes at a vigorous boil.

Keep in mind that you may have to adjust your processing time according to your altitude. We are over 6,000 feet, so I added an additional 10 minutes, which made my total processing time 30 minutes.   Remember: Don’t start timing until the water has returned to a boil.  

After their time in the water bath is complete, pull them out and allow to cool. You should start hearing that happy “pop!” of a sealed lid. I love that sound…

Homemade applesauce makes an awesome side dish, a nutritious snack, is perfect for adding to baked goods, and is also an ideal baby food.

To me, the best part of canning (besides the eating, of course!) is lining up all of your finished jars on the counter and being able to admire them for a day or two before storing them in the pantry. It’s such a satisfying feeling for a food nerd like me…

Ready for more canning adventures?

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  1. Jackie says

    I will definitely be trying this! I have a few apples that probably won't be eaten in time, and I have been dying to try canning. I don't have all of the equipment needed yet, though. What would you say is the most important? Which are the must-haves? Thanks so much for the play by play!!

  2. Jill says

    Hi Jackie!
    Of course, the most important part of canning is a big pot that will hold your jars plus boiling water. An actual water bath canner is the best, but a large stock pot would work in a pinch if you are using pint sized jars.

    A funnel saves on cleanup time, but it's not totally necessary if you are careful with your ladle.

    I have to say, I LOVE my jar tongs. But, I canned all summer without them. I improvised with some BBQ tongs (not highly recommended, but I survived!) and lots of oven mitts, which ended up being wet by the end of the session.

    And, the magnetic lid lifter is just a luxury, not a necessity.

    So, if I had to only purchase one thing, it would definitely be the canner itself (and they usually come with the rack, which is super handy)

    Happy canning and let me know how it goes for you!!

  3. Miz Helen says

    Hi Jill,
    Great canning tutorial. Your applesauce looks really good. I would like to invite you to bring a dish to my Full Plate Thursday. Thank you for sharing and you have a great week!

  4. Christy says

    What a wonderful tutorial – totally takes the mystery out of caning applesauce. Thank you for sharing this with us at the Hearth and Soul Hop!

  5. Claudia says

    Thanks for the canning tutorial. I have yet to do that. Make jam, chutneys, etc., but just haven't canned anything. Now I want to give it a try. We often have extra fruit, and I end up making wine with it, freezing or drying it, but this would be another good option.

  6. Miz Helen says

    Hi Jill,
    I am so excited that you brought your wonderful Applesauce to Full Plate Thursday, there won't be a jar left at the end of the day. Thank you so much for coming today and please come back!

  7. Sense of Home says

    I love homemade applesauce and have several jars in my pantry so I can enjoy it all winter. Very nice tutorial.


  8. jennoreilly says

    This is a great tutorial, I had a vacuum jar sealer up until this year when it broke and I was contemplating moving to this system instead. Thanks!

  9. says

    This is the best canning tutorial I’ve seen!! THANK YOU sooo much for sharing it! I have always wanted to try canning & just received a pressure cooker canning set as a wedding gift. My husband is also finishing up shelves to hold all my jars :) I want to begin this week!

    Question ~ do all the jars in the batch need to be processed at the same time or can I do 4 at a time?

    • Jill says

      No, they don’t have to all be processed at the same time. Just make sure that the jars/filling are still very hot when you do put them in the canner. I like processing as many as possible all at the same time, since it takes so dang long for the water to boil! But if you are using a smaller pot or something, you can do it in batches.

    • Jill says

      If you have a jar that doesn’t seal, you can just stick that particular one in the fridge and eat it right away (usually within a week). If you have a whole batch that doesn’t seal, there is always the option of reprocessing the entire batch– but of course, you’ll want to figure out what went wrong initially before you do that. :)

  10. Dorie says

    I’m pretty new at canning, but I know the basics. I have canned apple sauce before and never had a problem. My most recent batch of 10 quarts…all got moldy! I did everything listed above. Boiled everything, processed for 25 minutes and every jar sealed! They are all stored in a dry dark-ish spot. Any idea why they all got moldy? I’m at a lose…and it make me nervous to try anything else! Please help

    • Jill says

      Hmmm.. I’ve never had that happen before Dorie. Did you sterilize your jars before putting the sauce inside? Can’t imagine why that would have happened- especially if they all sealed.

    • Sherry says

      One reason I can think of for the mold is if you removed the bands too soon. I like to leave my canning out on the counter a few days before removing the bands, washing and giving them a final check for sealing before storing.

  11. says

    Thanks for this tutorial, I bought a pressure canner today and have been reading my Ball Blue book. I have apples so I may try your recipe for my first canning adventure :)

  12. Taylor says

    Hello Jill,
    Question. When your about to ladle in your applesauce for instance do you have to dry the jar before? Like you take it out of the water still warm then dry it? Then ladle in the mixture? If you don’t dry them could that cause mold possibly ? Also do you have to scrape the sides to take out air pockets/ bubbles. I keep reading that from other places but I don’t know if its necessary? Thank Jill :)

    • says

      Hi Taylor!
      No, there is no need to dry the jars after they come out of the boiling water. Wet is just fine.
      And yes, it probably is a good idea to scrape the sides to remove air bubbles– although sometimes I forget. 😉

  13. Kristin Newsom says

    I only dipped my jars n boiling water…I did not keep them in the water 10 minutes. Should I dump them out, reboil for 10 minutes, refill with the dumped out apple sauce and reprocess for 20 mins?

    • says

      Well, if they jars were plenty clean to start with, I *personally* wouldn’t dump them out (although, the Ball Blue Book would probably say differently.) 😉

  14. Rachelle says

    Just a thought to share, if you peel your friut save the peels in a gallon zip bag and freeze it. Later when you have time you can simmer the peels in water and turn it into juice. I have canned for 29 years and applesauce is one of my favorite things to can! I Ilike putting mine into wide mouth 1/2 pints. It is the perfect size for me to sit down and pop open and eat for breakfast.
    Thanks for all the neat work you do on your site.
    Just a random after thought, I like to work with apples after the first freeze of the year as it brings the sweetness level up in the apples.

    • Julie says

      how bout making apple jelly out of the peels…my Motherinlaw used to do that…we would make apple pies…and she would boil the peels and add pectin and sugar and make jelly….mmmmmm!!! can you help us out and put a recipe for this on here or on fb as well???

  15. missy says

    Help I have my applesauce and canned it but some of the jars look like they have a small amount of liquid slightly darker at the bottom. So I opened one mixed it up tasted it and it seams fine.

  16. Emily Bowker says

    Hi Jill,
    I never canned before in my life, but I’ve been reading, hearing the benefits of canning, I would like to try it with the very simple ones like you said apples or pears. How long do they last in the pantry?

  17. Gail says

    Jill, a canning question. Is it normal for liquid to escape from a jar during the canning process. My jars always seem to lose liquid and the water caner (pressure) is tainted with the liquid. I tighten the rings hand tight, and clean the rims. My son-in-law has the same problem, what are we doing wrong, or is this normal. The jars seal fine, just doesn’t look all that pretty.
    Thank you,

  18. Rebekah A. says

    Thanks for the walk through! When I make applesauce, I don’t cook the apples first. Can I still can them? I only know of canning with cooked foods so I wanted to be sure. Thanks!

    • says

      Since this recipe calls for using a water bath canner, you’ll need to cook the applesauce before placing it in the jars to ensure that it’s safe.

  19. Granny Jacque says

    What do you think about putting the canning jars right side up in the oven on a cookie sheet at 225 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes to sterilize them instead of in boiling water? Less mess!

    Wearing a pair of heavy duty dishwashing rubber gloves allows you to handle very hot jars and boiling lids if you do so quickly. I have used the gloves when canning my jams and jellies for years. They are such a time saver, too!

  20. Dawn Kearns says

    I’ve wanted to try canning for awhile and this seems like a good way to start. I have a glass cooktop and have read pressure canning might damage the glass. Any thoughts on whether or hot water bath canning is safe for glass cooktops? Thoughts on pressure canning on glass cooktops? Thank you.

  21. says

    Our pear orchards have just come into season, so this post came at the perfect time! Looks like I will be making some pear-sauce this weekend! Love your blog!! x

  22. Natalie says

    Hi, I’m new to this but I was wondering where you store your jars (pantry or freezer) and how long they last. Thanks!!