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Canning 101: Getting Started

Let’s begin at the beginning.  You’ve been hearing about this canning craze for a while and are ready to begin preserving your own fruits and veggies.  How do you know what you’ll need?   Do you have what you need already?  Are there tools you can live without and tools that you just have to have?  Well, since you asked, I’ll tell you. 

First off, the utensils.  The basic utensils can usually be found in “canning kits” that are often a better value than purchasing each one individually.  In the picture below (from left to right) is a wide-mouth funnel, a digital timer, jar opener, a de-bubbler with magnetic end, and jar lifter. 

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The funnel is used to fill your jars without spilling (too much) on the surrounding counter and the jar rims.  A timer is needed to time the processing once your jars are in the canner.  If your stove/oven has a timer you can use that one instead, but I like one that I clip to me so I can keep track of the time.  The plastic knife thingy with the magnet on top is actually a very important tool.  It’s used after you’ve filled your jars to remove bubbles from the bottom or middle of the food you’re preserving.  My mom used a butter knife for this, but that’s actually not recommended as nicking the inside of the jars with a metal knife over time increases the likelihood the jar will crack or break in the canner.  The wand has the added advantage of the magnetic end, which is very handy when fishing the sterilized rings and lids out of simmering water.  Another critical tool, which is usually not included in “canning kits,” is a ladle (but you most likely have one of these already).  No matter what food you’re preserving, you’ll most likely be using a ladle to put it in the jar. 

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Next are the actual canners.  A water-bath canner can really be any large stockpot with a tight-fitting lid.  It must have a rack at the bottom so the jars don’t rest on the bottom of the canner (more likely to break that way).  I got this particular canner at the Goodwill for $2.99 and I see them at other thrift shops, too, for under $5 some even including the rack.  A water-bath canner doesn’t need to be this large, just large enough to cover your jars with water by 1-2 inches.  Sometimes when I’m preserving just half-pint jars I’ll use a smaller stock pot I normally use for soup, but works fine as a canner with a trivet on the bottom. 

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A pressure canner is a little more complex and I have a ginormous one.  It holds 23 quarts, which may seem excessive, but when I pressure can I don’t fool around.  I’d rather process a whole bunch at once than do it a little at a time since it takes longer than water-bath canning.  Depending on your needs, you may opt for a smaller one.  It has a dial gauge, but I prefer using the weighted gauge (sold separately) as the weighted gauge never needs calibrating like the dial gauge does.  I’ll explain more about how water-bath and pressure canning in later posts, so if some of what I’m discussing seems like Greek that’s okay.  If you keep coming around my blog, It’ll all become clear and just in time for strawberry season!

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The final tool is one I never would have thought of on my own. It was recommended by one of the knowledgeable Master Food Preserver volunteers.  A notebook.  I have found it extremely useful to write down the recipe, any notes on what went wrong or would have been helpful to do differently and the yield (how many of what size jars).  It’s a good idea to have that info so later on when you open the jars and find out that the recipe worked or didn’t work.  You have a chance to replicate it, improve it, or avoid it altogether if you know what you did in the first place. 

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If you have all these things already, great, if not, now you have a reason to shop!  In my next post, I’ll cover some useful resources for learning how to water-bath can. 

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