As I was growing up, I remember mountains of produce and days spent processing enough food to keep our family of 8 through the winter. Mom didn’t have air conditioning or even a ceiling fan. It was hot work and long days. Both my mom and my grandmother kept their canned goods stashed in a dark, cool corner of the basement, away from the wood stove. Mom told me that her mom used to do all her canning on the wood cook stove. Every fall they’d butcher and can up a mess of pork and chicken, along with the garden produce during the season (no freezers or refrigerators available back then). Mom was a little girl during the Great Depression and WWII. Before she passed we talked about the “ration points” mentioned in the poster above – she still had some tucked away in a bureau.
At the moment we’re not facing rationing, but food prices are expected to continue to increase. Home canning allows you to preserve almost any food in season, and even to can entire meals that are ready to go straight from the jar. Once your jars are sealed, all you need is a cool, dark space to stash your bounty. Below I cover some basic canning equipment that you can buy online or in most hardware stores. You may also be able to find some of it used.
Basic Equipment Needed for Canning
Starting at top left in the above photo and working clockwise.
Water Bath Canner - Water bath canners are used for canning high acid foods (having a pH of 4.6 or lower). Fruits, most soft spreads, tomatoes, pickles and other high acid foods can be safely processed in this canner. Different commercial options are available, but you can also use any large pot, as long as you have enough room in the pot to cover the jars with at least one inch of water. You must not allow jars to sit directly on the bottom of the pot, or they will be more likely to break. One option is to make a “rack” of canning rings in the bottom of the pot. IMO, real canners are fairly inexpensive and well worth the investment if you plan to do any amount of canning. You can use your pressure canner for water bath canning – just leave the vent open.
Jelly Strainer Bag – The white baggie thing in the middle of the photo is a jelly strainer bag. I love this thing. Not only to I use it for straining jellies, I also use it for straining stocks and herbal infusions.
Pressure Canner/Steam Pressure Canner – A steam pressure canner is required for all low-acid foods, such as veggies, meat, soups and stews. I don’t recommend canning things like bread, pumpkin butter or chocolate syrup at home. Botulism can be deadly. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say, “Well I know so-and-so who has done it this way for years and they never got sick”, I could retire early. All it takes is one jar of food gone bad. What’s your family’s health worth to you? You should get your canner tested every 3-5 years at a local extension office to make sure it is holding pressure properly.
Kitchen Scale – Kitchen scales are a necessity when you get into recipes like salsas or sauces, but they also come in handy for gauging how many jars you’ll need for the amount of produce you have, for knowing how much syrup to make to cover your fruit or for measuring sugar for jams and jellies. The one I have used to be my grandmother’s. It’s been around a while (okay, it’s much older than my kids), but it still works just fine.
Canning Ladle – A big, stainless steel ladle that holds at least 1 1/2 to two cups of product will allow you to fill jars much faster than a standard kitchen ladle.
Chopstick or thin non-metal spatula – You need some sort of long, thin object to run around the outside of jars to remove air bubbles. We have chopsticks on hand, so I just use one of those. Don’t use a knife or other metal object, as you may scratch the inside of the jar and damage it.
Kitchen tongs or a magnetic jar lid lifter – Again, since I have kitchen tongs on hand, I just use those, but magnetic jar lid lifters can also be used. You want to hold your lids in nice hot water (not boiling) to get them ready to seal. It’s a little hot to stick your fingers into.
Jar lifter – Another must have – canning jars get wicked hot, so you really need a proper jar lifter to move them about.
Jar Funnel – A good jar funnel will make it MUCH easier to fill jars, even wide mouth ones. Big ladle, big funnel, and you’re done filling in half the time.
Food strainer - useful for making sauces. Mine get used most for marinara sauce and apple sauce.
Apple Peeler/Corer/slicer – I use this more for dehydrating, but if you’re interested in canning apple pie filling, this would be handy. (Norpro Apple Master)
What Foods Are Easiest to Can?
Full sugar jams and jellies are probably the easiest foods to start with, because they process for only short amounts of time in a water bath canner and are really hard to screw up. Low sugar versions are only a bit trickier. Plain tomatoes or tomato juice is also very simple, as are fruits and fruit juices.
Do I Really Need a Pressure Canner?
If you want to can vegetables, meat or meals – YES. I pressure can more green beans than anything else out of my garden. They’re my boys’ favorite veggie.
Is It Hard to Use a Pressure Canner?
Not really. It takes more patience than anything else. With a water bath canner, you lower jars into boiling water and start your timer. With a pressure canner, you must let the canner exhaust steam for ten minutes. Then you put the pressure regular in place.
See the little round black thing on the right? That’s the pressure regulator. once the regulator is on, you wait for the pressure to build. Once the pressure gets high enough, there’s a little button (the air vent/cover lock) that pops up to stop steam from venting (at least on my canner).
Once the button sets in place, you wait for the pressure to build some more, until you reach processing pressure. Then you hold itat pressure for the required amount of time. Then you turn off the heat and let the pressure drop to zero on it’s own (the little button will also pop back down). When the button is up, you can’t open the lid. This helps prevent you from doing something stupid by either burning yourself and/or busting all your jars. Complicated – no, time consuming – yes. Mom told me it’s a lot faster than when gramma had to water bath can everything for a really, really long time.
Will My Pressure Canner Explode?
Not very likely, unless you use some plastique. It may be possible with older canners, which have been damaged or were improperly forged, but recently made steam pressure canners are pretty tough. Mine is equipped with a locking mechanism, others bolt shut.
You can’t operate the canner unless it’s locked tightly, and that is some pretty thick metal. It also has a little overpressure plug that will blow if the pressure gets too high.
General Canning Tips
- Get your jars, lids and all your equipment prepped before you start preparing your product.
- Work from one direction to the other – from right to left or left to right, depending on how your stove is set up. Don’t cross back and forth – it gets messy.
- Keep everything hot. You’ll remember this tip very quickly if you lower a cold jar into boiling water, or ladle hot syrup into a cold jar. Jars break rather impressively and make a huge mess.
- Always check and double check the edges of your jars and your lids. Any imperfection along the edge of a jar, and it is unlikely to seal properly.
- Keep everything clean. You’ll have drips and spills, sure, but remember this is food prep, so try to keep your work space clear of outside contaminants such as hair or dirt.
For additional information on canning and other home food preservation methods, see “New to Food Preserving – Start Here“. Also, “The Natural Canning Resource Book” answers nearly every question I’ve ever had about canning.
Canning and Preserving Recipes
Preserving Strawberries Four Ways – Freezing, Drying, Fruit Leather and Kombucha
Jams and Jellies
View other posts in this series here.