Copyright 2012 The Hillbilly Bride. All Rights Reserved.
Canning 101: The Basic Supplies
Published by The Hillbilly Bride on 7/31/2012
Two years ago I knew next to nothing about canning. My mom did quite a bit of canning when I was growing up, but I didn't pay much attention. About the time I started thinking about delving into it, my local county extension office hosted a canning class. I couldn't ignore the timing and signed up for the class. The class itself seemed to consist of mostly coffee breaks - with a little canning instruction thrown in! I would have chalked the whole thing up to four wasted hours, if not for one thing. The Book.
I came away from the class with a great book, So Easy to Preserve. This book covers all things that are food preservation. Canning, freezing, drying, pickling, jellymaking. It has become my food preservation bible - it has everything! I have yet to find any food that it does not cover. There are plenty of other canning and food preservation books out there, but this is the one I swear by.
Once the how-to was taken care of, it was time to start gathering supplies. The supplies can really start to add up when you first start canning! You may have to get creative if your budget doesn't allow you to go out and spend a few hundred dollars in one fell swoop. Often you can find used canning supplies on Craigslist. Maybe you have a neighbor that used to can that would be happy to pass along their supplies. So, what do you need?
Jars are somewhat obvious, aren't they? But a basic supply list would seem pretty incomplete if I didn't mention them! The size of your family and how much you use of a certain food at one time should determine the size of jars you use for canning. I use primarily quart-sized wide-mouth jars. The nice thing about jars is that you can re-use them over and over again if you take care of them properly. Never use any type of metal utensil in your jars, as the metal can cause tiny fractures in the glass that can cause the jars to fail in time. You don't want a jar to explode in your canner. Trust me.
The Lids & Rings
Standard metal lids and rings are easy to find and relatively inexpensive. The wax ring on the lid is what creates the seal in the canning process. The ring secures the lid to the jar. Keep in mind that you don't need as many rings as you may think. Once you have completed processing and your jars have sealed, the ring can be removed and re-used over and over again. The wax ring on the lid is only intended for a single use, although I have reused my lids once or twice. A relatively new product on the canning scene is Tattler, reusable lids and wax rings. Tattler lids still require using metal bands for processing. While more expensive than traditional metal lids up-front, over time they can save a lot of money.
What type of canner you choose will depend on what type of foods you are planning to preserve. A good canning reference, like So Easy to Preserve, will make it easy to figure out which type of processing your food requires. Typically, high acid foods can be processed in a water bath canner and a pressure canner should be used for low acid foods. (Steam canners can still be found, but are not recommended for long-term food storage.) If you know that you will eventually want to have a pressure canner, skip purchasing the water bath canner - you can do water bath processing in the pressure canner and there is no need to buy and store two different kinds.
While I do have some other canning gadgets that make my life easier, for this list of basic supplies I will stick to the only ones that I feel are "must haves":
Jar Lifter - Tongs just aren't enough when you are dealing with a huge pot of boiling water and scalding hot jars! The jars are slippery and really difficult to handle safely without a jar lifter. Lid Lifter - Speaking of boiling water and scalding items, those lids and rings are not easy to fish out of a simmering pot of water with tongs. Or fingers. A lid lifter has a magnetic disk that makes it a breeze to get your lids from the simmering water to your jar with no "ouch!" moments. Funnel - Because no one likes to splash hot tomato sauce or pickling brine all over the counter. Bubble Remover - remember what I said about not using metal in a glass jar? A plastic bubble remover in your arsenal will remove the tempation to just use a butter knife. Some lid lifters double as a bubble remover. Some bubble removers double as a head space measuring tool. You can find sets with all of the above-mentioned accessories online or in your local store. Some of the sets include a ring tightener/wrench. If you buy a set with a tightener, do yourself a favor: throw it away! The worst thing you can do is overtighten your rings and this little gadget makes that all too easy to do. Better to use a rag and finger-tighten your rings.
Once you have your supplies and plenty of fresh fruit or veggies, you'll be ready to start enjoying them all year long. There is nothing like opening a jar in the middle of winter to bring a little summertime happiness to your table!