Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Canning 101:The Equipment

 From jams and jellies to ketchup to homemade stocks, canning is a great way to save money and it puts you in control of what your family is eating!

I think it is always best to learn something like canning from a friend, mother or grandmother who can walk you through all the steps, plus you have the added benefit of their years of experience, but for many they do not have anyone close to them to share their knowledge.  I hope that I can share just a little of what I know and give you the confidence to give canning a try!

The first place to start learning about canning is from a good book.  I highly recommend the Ball Blue Book of Canning for anyone starting out or experience.  Not only does it have step by step directions and lots of information on safety, the recipes are tried and true!  You can normally find the Ball Blue Book in with the canning supplies at most stores.

Ball Blue Book of Canning-if you only buy one book, make it this one!

 There are a lot of other great books on canning.  Some are geared for small batches or more gourmet type foods.  Be cautious when using recipes off from the internet--check them against a reliable source for safety.  I have read a few recipes online that if followed would be food poisoning waiting to happen (from unsafe processing times or methods to just plain unsafe food handling procedures).
Assortment of canning books

While canning can save you money in the long run, it does require an initial investment in the proper equipment.  Yard sales, Craigslist, classifieds and even grandma's basement are good places to start looking for canning supplies--especially jars.  Most department stores and grocery stores carry canning supplies in the summer and fall months, also.

Jars: Jars come in an assortment of sizes. What you are canning, as well as the number of people you are serving will determine what size jar you use. The smallest jars are 1/2 C. and are great for specialty mustard, spiced honey, or small amounts of jam or jelly (ideal for singles, or gift giving). Jelly jars are 1 Cup in size are used for jams, jellies, mustard, chutney, etc... The next size up is pint, which is 2 C. These are great for jellies for bigger families, sauces, ketchup and some vegetables.  The largest jar is quart size or 4 C. It is good for tomatoes, sauces, beans, and soups.  You can also buy 1/2 gallon jars, but they are harder to find and can be quite expensive.  The 1/2 gallon jars I own are used to store spices, nuts and dried fruits.
jars from 1/2 cup size to 1 quart
jar rings

jar lids-regular and wide mouth
You also need lids and rings to fit your jars.  If you purchase new jars they will have the lids and rings, but older jars will often come without.  Jars come in two sizes-regular and wide mouth.  Regular jars are great for sauces, liquids and jellies.  Wide mouth jars are great for anything you can whole or in large chunks (potatoes, peaches, apples, etc....).  The jar rings are reusable as long as they are not bent or rusty on the inside.  Jar lids must be replaced each time you can.  The seal on the lids breaks down and won't form a good seal leaving room for bacteria to get into your foods.

Most basic canning kits include a canning funnel, jar lifter and lid lifter.
Jar lifter, canning funnel, lid lifter
The jar lifter is invaluable for lifting hot jars out of the canner!  The funnel makes filling the jar easier and less messy (hopefully).  The lid lifter is nothing more than a magnet on a long piece of plastic which helps lift the lids out of hot water to place on the jars.  While you could probably get by without these items, they make life so much easier!

Last, you need a pot for canning.  If you are water bath canning you can use an pot large enough to hold your jars and cover them with water--you do not have to have a "canner".  The benefit of a canning pot is that they are light weight, most are coated aluminum so they heat up fast, and they are sized to hold your jars, Most also come with a rack that fits in the bottom of your canner.  If you do not have a rack then you need to place a towel in the bottom of your pan to keep your jars from making direct contact with the bottom of the pan.

Assorted sizes of canners

Pressure Cookers

Pressure cookers are used for canning low acid foods like stocks, meats, dried beans and certain vegetables.  Pressure canning usually takes more time to process and can be a little intimidating the first couple of times. The biggest thing is to make sure you read the instructions that come with your pressure canner and understand how it works before you use.

1 comment:

Patti Y. said...

I didn't know that the jars cannot touch the bottom surface of the pot.  Good tip!  I don't suppose its possible to use crockpot as a canner, right?  Doesn't boil water.  Too bad.