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If you’ve always wanted to get started canning–either pressure canning or water bath canning–then perhaps you’ve been hesitant because you’re not sure what you actually need. I can completely understand that.
Jumping into this means of food preservation isn’t cheap when you’re first starting out. The last thing you want to do is spend a pretty-penny on some equipment just to find out it’s not enough. Even worse is paying for a large canning “set” only to find out you don’t even need all the things in it.
Let me help you out. If you want to begin this year and you’re not quite sure what is needed to start off with, then read-on my friend. I let you know just what’s needed, and share with you what I use.
Although it shouldn’t scare you, you must understand the vital importance of proper technique when preserving food by water bath and pressure canning. Without proper technique, an individual can ingest improperly preserved food and suffer from severe sickness, or even death without even having tasted anything wrong with their food.
If, however, you are using properly cleaned equipment and employing good technique, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
Now, there are a million websites out there with tips and tricks–but you can’t take the chance you’ll do it wrong. Take a class at your local extension office, and follow recommended guidelines. I follow guidelines included in the Ball Blue Book. If you can’t take a local class, take a look into classes by Melissa K. Norris. (See my review of this class here.)
Reputable Well-Researched Recipes
Not everything you make can be canned. Just because you may purchase something from the store in aluminum cans does not mean your home equipment has the means to do it properly.
Pumpkin pie filling is one such thing. I’ve seen multiple recipes around the internet giving canning instructions, yet there has been no evidence that it can be properly done at home.
Make sure when you find recipes that they are from reputable sources.
Water Bath Canner
Many fruits that meet a certain acidity standard can be safely water bathed. You can use a large pot with a lid as long as there is a barrier on the bottom of your pot that keeps all the jars off the floor of the pot and the pot is large enough to have 2 inches of water over the top of the jars, and hold a rolling boil with a lid on.
But, it’s very likely that if you’re reading an article telling you what you need to water bath, then it’s going to be much more comfortable to just get a specific water bath canner that comes with a canning rack.
For foods that are not safe for water bath, such as meats and vegetables, you’re going to need a pressure canner. Pressure canners can run a couple hundred dollars, but they don’t need to. If you are just starting out, I’d suggest the Presto Pressure Canner–I’ve used one for as long as I can remember, and I do a ton of pressure canning. It’s never let me down.
Now I need to take a moment to address a small issue. Lately, pressure cooking is all the rage. You must know that not all pressure canners are safe for pressure cooking. If you want to try pressure cooking on down the line, either purchase a separate pressure cooker, or make sure your model specifically states it is safe for pressure cooking.
You’ve got to get those jars in and out of hot water. A jar lifter is a must. I highly suggest getting a kit that has a lifter in it already. Here’s the kit I use.
You could probably move very slowly and carefully and do your canning without a funnel. It’s the one thing I’m going to say isn’t mandatory, but I wouldn’t ever do without it. Truthfully, I actually use two funnels every time I can. It saves so much time and mess.
Again, the funnel I use comes in the same canning kit listed above.
A wand with a magnet on it is used to lift your metal lids out of the hot water you just used to heat them with right before placing them atop your glass jars. It’s also used to pull your bands out of that same hot water for use.
A magnetic wand is also included in the canning kit.
Plastic Stick And Measuring Device
A plastic stick or spatula is used once you’ve put your food in your jars. Placing this stick in the jar and moving it around releases any air bubbles stuck between food. After releasing air bubbles, you’ll then need to re-measure your air space with a measuring device, and possibly readjust air space.
You can use a separate plastic stick and measuring device, or a specific tool that can be used as both. The plastic stick/measuring device I use is also including in the aforementioned canning kit.
Clean Wash Cloth
To avoid missed seals, you’ll need to wipe the rims of your glass jars before placing lids on them. Have a clean wash cloth that you can dampen and use for cleaning purposes.
Although missed seals can result from a number of reasons, not having a rim 100% clean is probably the biggest culprit in my experience.
You never want to pull hot jars out and place them directly on a hard surface. Having a clean towel on your solid surface is the safest place for your jars to go once you pull them out for cooling.
Obviously, you need a heat source for canning. I use an indoor oven during cooler weather and a triple burner Camp Chef outside during the summer months.
What you want to keep in mind before you give this a go is that if you have a glass top surface you plan to use, you have to have a special canner. Many canners cannot be used on a glass top. Be sure to check the Users Guide of your canner before you attempt canning on a glass surface.
According to guidelines set forth in the United States, only special canning jars are appropriate for canning. You can’t use the glass jars that come filled with food you’d buy in the grocery stores.
That being said, I know that many others in different countries reuse not only the glass jars, but their caps too. Be sure if you are going this route you absolutely know what you are doing and are sure of the temperament of the bottles you are using. It would be awful to have glass bottles exploding inside your canner.
Rings/Bands And Lids
Special rings (also called bands) keep lids attached during the canning process until the lids are vacuumed down into place.
Rings can be used over and over as long as they are not dented, rusted, or otherwise damaged.
Lids must be replaced each and every time you use them. The exception to this are reusable Tattler lids.
Tattler lids come with an additional rubber ring that must be placed under the lid for a proper seal. When these lids are carefully removed, they can be used over and over and over.
I am still using the original Tattler lids that I bought years ago when I first decided to try them out. Since I do a ton of canning every year, they have easily paid for themselves and saved me money I would have been paying out for hundreds of new regular lids each year.
If you plan to do a lot of canning and stick with it (or if you are a prepper), then you will definitely want a stash of Tattler lids. If you can get them when they are $1 or less per lid, I’d say you’re paying a good price.
If you have hard water, then your jars are going to have that white film on them each time you can. You can fix this either by cleaning it off of every bottle each time you can with them, or by putting vinegar in your canning water.
Pouring vinegar in is much easier and saves a lot of time. It stinks initially, but once your pour your water out the smell goes away. I’ve never had the smell linger on the bottles.
Lastly, you’ll need water inside your canner. Some recipe instructions assume you already know this and leave it off. I promise, you’ll always need water.
Check your manufacture’s guidelines on your canner for how much to use.
My water bath canner suggests enough water to cover all jars with at least two inches of water. My pressure canner suggests 2-3 inches of water in the bottom of the canner.
While this list may seem lengthy, most of these items are available in kits, or are already found in your kitchen. Always make sure you have everything you need before you start, and if possible have someone who’s done this before with you for your first few times.
Relax, and enjoy this self sufficiency skill that is sure to have your family eating healthier, more organic foods that you can be proud to serve.
Looking For A Good Beginner’s Project?
Not all canning recipes are created equally. It can be tempting to start with Grandma’s chili recipe, or that coveted antique jelly recipe.
While these recipes are rewarding, they often take multiple steps, additional skills, and more equipment.
When you are just starting, I highly suggest doing the simplest of recipes first so that you’ll get the hang of the process as well as not burn yourself out on a lengthy recipe–which can take a day or more to finish.
Here are my top choices for beginners:
Water Bathing: Rhubarb Juice
Pressure Canning: Green Or Purple Beans
Good luck, and enjoy!