Storing home canned food: metal rings off or on?

Home canning requires jars, lids, and rings (metal screw bands).  You place the food in the jar, position the metal lid on with the gasket side down, screw on the ring, and then process your jars.  After you remove the jars from the canner, some of the lids will already have formed a vacuum seal and others will make a popping sound as the vacuum forms a few minutes later as they cool down.  You then leave them alone for 12-24 hours, at which point they are ready to store.

So the burning question is: do you store the jars with the rings off or on or does it even matter?  My mother stored them both ways, as I often have, too.  I always thought this was because most people end up with more jars and lids than rings (jars initially come with lids and rings if you buy them new; after that you just buy replacement lids, unless you buy the jars used, in which case they will usually come with no lids or rings).

However, I’ve read on several sites that you should always store home canned goods with the rings off.  For example, Jennifer at Self-Reliant School advises:

Remove the rings. If the rings stay on and the lid fails (becomes unsealed) while the ring is on, the lid may reseal itself. However, bacteria has already invaded the jar and the food should not be eaten; with the ring left on there is no way you will know about the resealing. If the rings are off the lid has no pressure to reseal itself so if the lid seal fails then you’ll know and you can throw that jar out.

I thought about that for awhile, and I wondered if a lid could really re-form a vacuum seal just from the pressure of a ring.  I looked on the websites of the major manufacturers, but I couldn’t find any specific recommendations about this.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation says to store jars with the rings off:

If lids are tightly vacuum sealed on cooled jars, remove screw bands, wash the lid and jar to remove food residue; then rinse and dry jars. Label and date the jars and store them in a clean, cool, dark, dry place. For best quality, store between 50 and 70 °F. Can no more food than you will use within a year.

Do not taste food from a jar with an unsealed lid or food that shows signs of spoilage. You can more easily detect some types of spoilage in jars stored without screw bands.

So according to the government experts, you should store them with the rings off, but only because it is easier to detect a failed seal, not because a failed lid can reseal itself.  But I still wasn’t sure about that, so I decided to contact the Ball-Kerr company directly to see what they had to say.  Here is their reply to me:

Hi Sunshine,

Thank you for contacting us- hopefully we can help set the record straight regarding our suggested methods of storing your jars.

Although many of our consumers do choose to store their jars with the bands on, we don’t recommend doing so for two reasons. The first relates to the mechanism of the two-piece lid. The two-piece lid, initially marketed by the Kerr brand in 1915, is recommended for use due to the ease of determining seal quality. When spoilage occurs, gas builds up in the jar- the resulting pressure will cause the lid to come unsealed or pop.

Since the lid seals via an integrated gasket on the rim of the jar and the band grips the jar from a position below the rim, leaving the band on can indeed hold the lid to the jar when it shouldn’t be and make it appear sealed although spoilage has occurred. Earlier one-piece lids sealed on the bead or the shoulder of the jar –below the threads and rim- and thus couldn’t indicate a comprimised seal.

The second reason we don’t recommend storing your jars with the bands on is that it can, in some cases, impact the lifespan of your bands. Moisture that may be caught between the band and jar can cause the bands to corrode prematurely.

We hope this information helps! Please let us know if you need clarification.

Sincerely,

The Consumer Affairs Team

So there you have it: store your jars with the rings off so that if the lid seal fails, you’ll know it right away.  But if you store them with the rings on, when you take the ring off, just check that the lid is still vacuum-sealed onto the jar; if it is, then the seal has not failed because it cannot reform once it fails (but still check the contents of any jar with a visual inspection and a sniff whenever you open a new one).

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My now-ringless jars in the basement pantry

Preserving the Harvest: Quick Sweet Pickles

 

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I’m an insomniac and a night owl, which is why I was still finishing up making the jars of pickles you see above at 2:00 a.m. before going to bed.

I found a recipe for Quick Sweet Pickles on the National Center for Home Food Preservation site, but I changed the original recipe, so I’m posting what I did here:

  • Enough pickle cucumbers to fill 7 quart jars when sliced
  • 2/3 cup canning or pickling salt
  • 9-1/2 cups sugar
  • 7-1/2 cups vinegar (5 percent)
  • 4 tsp celery seed
  • 2 tbsp whole allspice
  • 4 tbsp mustard seed
  • 1 tbsp black pepper corns
  1. Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16-inch off ends and discard.  Slice into rounds. Place in bowl and sprinkle with 2/3 cup salt. Cover with 2 inches of crushed or cubed ice. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours. Add more ice as needed. Drain well.
  2. Combine sugar, vinegar, celery seed, allspice, mustard seed, and peppercorns in a large kettle. Heat to boiling.
  3. Fill jars, with cucumber slices leaving 1/2-inch headspace.
  4. Ladle in hot pickling syrup, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.
  5. Adjust lids and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water-bath canner.
  6. After processing and cooling, jars should be stored 4 to 5 weeks to develop ideal flavor.

I didn’t take any pictures this time, but I do want to remind anyone who is interested in home canning that the Ball Jars website Fresh Preserving has a ton of useful information on it.  Of course, they want to push their own products, too, but their Canning FAQs section is useful no matter what brand of jars you use.  Just today, I learned something new from their site: I don’t have to heat the lids, and I don’t need to sterilize the jars for any recipe that will be processed for at least ten minutes!  I did not know that; my mother always sterilized her jars and heated her lids.  But here is what Ball now says:

Why don’t I have to preheat my lids?

After extensive testing by our Quality Assurance Team, we determined that it is no longer necessary to pre-warm lids before use. If you desire, it is still safe to simmer your lids before use, however, you should never boil them. Our recommendation for over 40 years has always been to simmer (180°F), not boil (212°F), the lids.

When was this change made?

Believe it or not, in 1969! At that time we switched our sealing gasket from being latex-based to Plastisol. Latex required pre-heating to soften it prior to canning in order to create an effective seal. The Plastisol does not require preheating, but doing so will not damage it.

What about sterilizing the jars?

Pre-sterilizing jars and lids is not necessary in the home canning process. If you are following a recipe that processes in your canner for 10 minutes or more, the sterilization will occur during that time.

There is is always something new to learn!

Complete Guide to Home Canning: useful, thorough, and free!

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Occasionally the government does something rather useful.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation is one of those useful things resulting from a partnership between the county extension at the University of Georgia and the United States Department of Agriculture.  If you go on their website, you can find the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning, a free 196-page document broken into downloadable “guides”.  Here are the topics covered:

Guide 01: Principles of Home Canning
Guide 02: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Fruit and Fruit Products
Guide 03: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products
Guide 04: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Vegetables and Vegetable Products
Guide 05: Preparing and Canning Poultry, Red Meats, and Seafood
Guide 06: Preparing and Canning Fermented Food and Pickled Vegetables
Guide 07: Preparing and Canning Jams and Jellies

If you are new to canning, read Guide 1.  It’s only about 35 easy-to-read pages long but it covers all the basics in a simple fashion.  I used a recipe for pickles from one of the guides and it was very easy to follow.   The recipes aren’t gourmet but they are straightforward, and they base their processing suggestions on research into the temperatures and times needed to safely kill all microorganisms for various foods.

Preserving the harvest: making and canning mock “apple” pie filling using your overgrown zucchini.

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Psst…hey you, you wanna buy a zucchini?  I can get you a great deal on half a ton! 😉

My zucchini vines overfloweth…image

Now I like zucchini and will happily eat it sauteed with garlic, onions, and tomatoes every night.  Unfortunately, no one else in this house cares for zucchini…or at least they think they don’t care for it.  What the younger people here do not know, and what the older ones only learned after admitting they liked what they were eating, is that they actually love zucchini desserts.  A devious mama who wants her little ones to eat zucchini simply makes mock apple pie, mock apple crumble, mock apple strudel, or zucchini chocolate cake and stays mum about the switcheroo.

I found a recipe for canned zucchini pie filling and decided it was perfect for dealing with a half dozen monster-sized overgrown zucchini.  Example:
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I made some minor adjustments to the recipe, most importantly by increasing the processing time and pressure.  Here is what I did…

Ingredients

24 c of peeled, seeded, and sliced zucchini
2 c lemon juice
3 c white sugar
1 1/2 c brown sugar, firmly packed
4 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp caradom
3/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp ginger
1 Tbsp vanilla

Directions

  • Wash and peel zucchini. Cut in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and then cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick; try to make them look like apple slices.

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Here is a tip my mother taught me for when you are measuring many cups of something into a pot or bowl.  Start by making a little dish of “markers”; I put 24 slices of zucchini into this dish and then each time I dumped a cup into the stock pot, I added one “marker” slice.  That way when I ran out of slices, I knew I had put in the right number of cups.  This is helpful if you are constantly being interrupted by children wanting lunch, puppies needing to go outside, or teenagers asking if you will drive them out to Clear Lake, and you lose mental count of how many cups you’ve added.

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  • Place zucchini into a stock pot, add the lemon juice and bring to a boil, then simmer 15 – 20 minutes until a greenish color but not quite transparent.
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  • Mix together remaining dry ingredients in a bowl while the zucchini is cooking:
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  • Add dry ingredients and vanilla to cooked zucchini; cook for about 5-7 minutes until it thickens somewhat.
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  • Ladle into hot quart-size canning jars and then wipe off jars and rims.  Put on lids and rings.
  • Process in a pressure canner at 6 pounds of pressure for 10 minutes.

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  • Use as you would homemade apple pie filling.
The woman who originally posted the recipe didn’t mention how much it would yield, but I got 5 quarts out of it.  A quart contains four cups, which is enough filling to make a 9-inch pie, so this will make five pies for us next winter.
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This is the first time I’ve made this particular recipe, so I tasted some of the filling before I canned it, and I’m telling you, it tastes almost exactly like apples.  Don’t tell anyone it’s zucchini and they’ll never know!  It’s less goopy than store-bought filling, so I might thicken it with a tablespoon of flour sprinkled over it when I dump it into the pie crust.
Check out the Self-Reliance Blog for more recipes making mock fruit fillings from zucchini:
I think I’m going to try her mock lemon pie filling next, after I have my eldest daughter make a chocolate zucchini cake to bring out to the lake with her friends tomorrow.  Naturally I will tell her to refer to it simply as a chocolate cake…