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What you need to get started canning

by Dec 15, 2015General0 comments

We have a fabulous guest post today for you from our friend Jenny over at A Domestic Wildflower! If you want to try your hand at canning, this is a must read! Take it away, Jenny:

blog photo me in front of tin shed (3)

Hi, I am Jenny from www.adomesticwildflower.com where I share canning tutorials & tips, sewing projects, and other rustic and old fashioned DIY projects. This post will explain everything you need to get started canning so you can feel inspired, encouraged, and capable. I watched my mom and grandma can as a child and then didn’t get into canning for myself until I was pregnant with my first child. Some women nest by cleaning; I nested by canning. I fell in love with the process and product and I love sharing it with others.

The first thing you need to begin canning is a canning pot. These are often the black with white speckled enamel pots that are really large and are frequently sold with a wire rack inside. You don’t have to have a huge pot like this, and if you are a single person or a small family (read: not canning to feed a small army) a pasta pot will work just fine. In fact, I’d use whatever pot you can borrow or already own until you make your first batch or two before you make the investment. A large pot takes up a lot of cupboard space and in my tiny house, that is pretty important. The pot will need to be taller than the tallest jar you plan on processing (that means sticking inside the pot, upright) by at least 3 inches. I have a pasta pot that is shorter than the standard quart jar, so I just can pints in it. The beauty of a smaller pot is a shorter time for the water to boil, which can be very helpful indeed. Your pot doesn’t need a lid, though the water will come to a boil faster if you do.

In the pot you will need either a rack made of wire or a silicone trivet. Both keep the bottom of the jars off the bottom of the pot. This is not an optional piece of equipment. A jar will break inside the pot, much to your dismay, almost guaranteed, if you don’t.

You need a small or medium sized saucepan that will hold the 4-8 lids and rings where they will warm in simmering water while the more exciting action of cooking the preserve and processing happens in the bigger pots. Use whatever you have in the way of an extra saucepan. It doesn’t need to be fancy.

You need a preserving pan. This is the pot/pan you will cook the fruit or vegetable in before you pour it into the hot jars. It can be similar to the waterbath pot, but it would likely be a pan you already own that is heavier bottomed (less chance of scorching your jam or salsa) and can have lower sides.

You need canning jars. You don’t want glass mayonnaise jars that look very similar that are often found in garage sales, nor do you want a reused store-bought pasta sauce jar. You need canning jars that are specifically created to withstand the heat of water bath canning. They don’t need to be new either. Jars can be reused over and over for years. You should check the rims and the jars themselves carefully for cracks or chips. There’s nothing quite like the disappointment of filling a jar with delicious, hot jam, putting it in the water bath of boiling water, only to see the bottom fall out of the jar and your effort and fruit wasted.

One thing that I love about canning jars, lids, and rings is that they come in two mouth sizes: regular and wide. That’s it. The opening of any regular canning jar will fit every regular lid and regular ring and the same goes for the wide. They are NOT like the plastic sandwich container lids that are the bane of every homemaker’s cupboard, only fitting one particular bottom.

It doesn’t matter which opening you choose. It is a matter of personal preference and if you are just getting started, I’d buy what is most readily available or easy to borrow or purchase for cheap.

The size of the jar depends on the type of preserve you plan on making. I like wide mouth pints for everything. A pint jar holds 2 cups, and that is about enough pasta sauce for 2 suppers, not so much jam that it would go bad before my family eats it, and can double as a drinking class.

You need rings. They can be used but they should not be rusted. Save the rusted ones for a cute home decor project but get rust-free, dent-free, clean rings. New jars come with lids and rings but are often found/sold separately too.

You need NEW lids. The seal that is created from the lid on the rubber flange is only good (read: safe) for one trip through the canning pot. After that, they are useful for storing dry goods, crayons, etc, but not for canning.

One problem you might encounter is that if you buy a flat of new, in the box jars with lids and rings on them, the heat and pressure of shipping and storage may have sealed the lids and thus leave them unusable for waterbath canning. It’s a bummer but it has happened to me several times. It is much better to be safe than sorry, so buy new lids if this happens to you.

You need tools to put the hot food into the hot jars. A utensil kit may seem unnecessary but I will tell you that they are very valuable. A kit usually contains a funnel, a magnetized lid lifter, and a tong-like jar lifter. A funnel is necessary for pouring your boiling hot food into the very hot jar. A splash or drip on the rim of the jar could prevent the jar from sealing which would mean you’d need to eat that jar up soon and store in the fridge.

You need a way to get the hot jars out of the boiling water and back in the boiling water and there have been times that for whatever silly reason I couldn’t find my jar lifter when I needed to and I tried to improvise by wrapping rubber bands around some tongs and while it sort of worked, it was slippery and dangerous and can attest to the fact that a boiling water burn is no joke. I haven’t misplaced my lifter since.

The magnetized lid lifter isn’t necessary but it is a very handy tool. You need a way to get the hot lids out of the hot water and onto the jars in a quick fashion and this little lifter does exactly that. I store mine with my jar lifter and they make the hot, fun work of canning faster and safer.

A ladle is very, very handy and while I wouldn’t say it is an absolute necessity, if you don’t have one you need a long handled spoon. A ladle eliminates a lot of spilling, in my experience, and results in more food ending up in the jar and less on the floor.

You need a canning book. A recipe card from Great Aunt Sally is a good start, but you need an up to date canning book published by a reputable source. The first couple chapters in any good canning book outlines in great detail, with photographs, safe water bath canning practice. By reading those chapters, you will have a clear idea of why canning is a safe way of preserving food and what you need to do to ensure canning success. If you get the ‘safe’ part right (which is very simple to do!) the worst case scenario is jam that is too thin and is better used as syrup. Seriously, that’s the worst thing that could happen; that the yummy thing you were hoping to make isn’t as amazing as you hoped. Isn’t that the risk we all run while cooking a new recipe for supper? Get a book. Here’s the one I’d recommend.

Canning safety is the biggest reason I hear people say is preventing them from trying it. Because of this fear, I did some research and created a free PDF listing the pH values of foods a person would potentially want to can and wrote a post about acid & canning here. The post explains that by canning food that is high enough in acid, you create an environment that is too acidic for spoilers (bugs that make you sick) to live. Period. Please head to my post to grab your free PDF and stick it inside the front cover of the above mentioned book. That way you’ll feel confident that the delicious food you are putting up will be safe.

So if you have read the above list and are wondering what the heck you need all this stuff out on your stove for, here’s the basic process in canning. You put jars in the big pot and fill with water and bring it to a boil. You have the lids and rings in the saucepan simmering on the stove also. In the third pot you cook your jam or salsa or whatever your heart desires to preserve. When the food is boiling (and you have followed all the directions in the recipe) you remove the hot jars one by one and dump the water back into the pot. The hot food is then ladled into the hot jars. The hot lids and rings get screwed on and you quickly put the hot, food-filled jars back in the boiling water and let them sit in the boiling water for a recipe-specified time. The last step in removing the hot jars carefully and setting them on a towel on the countertop. Hot food into hot jars into hot water and back out again. That’s it!

The last thing you need can’t be purchased. You need a mentor. Someone who loves canning will tell you what you need to know and encourage you, which I find is the most important thing in getting started. Find someone who has canned before and ask them how they did it, what they made, the tools they liked or didn’t and why, and any lessons they learned the hard way. I love teaching others how to can because canning seems to have this strange mystique about it where folks on the outside see canners as tackling food chemistry and taming lions at the same time. Once I show someone how to can, the general comment is, “Oh, that’s not that hard.” Nope. It isn’t hard at all. True, the boiling water is hot, and if you have a kitchen the size of a tissue box like me, it can be a cramped and sweaty afternoon at the stove but the results are so worth it and it can be a really fun thing to do with a friend. I have very fond memories of peeling slippery, slimy tomatoes with my dear friend as fast as we could, sitting together at my kitchen table, and trying to can them at lightning speed before my new baby woke up. We sipped cold beer and chatted in low tones, reaffirming one another that it was indeed a good idea to buy soooooo many pounds of tomatoes with so little time and room to process them. We got almost done before the baby woke up, had a great time together, and she left with pints upon pints of tomato sauce and headed home for a shower. If that isn’t good clean grown up fun, I don’t know what is.

I hope you find this guide is not only comprehensive but encouraging. Get a couple pots and some jars, get a book, and get started.

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If you loved this post and want to learn more, head to www.thedomesticwildflower.com/shop to grab the extended ebook version!