If you wish to to can anything this year, you will need to get prepared before the produce is in your hands. The items below are listed according to what you plan on putting up. For example, freezer jam does not require all the same tools as green beans. If you are new to canning, I highly recommend starting with freezer jam as it is one of the easiest things to make and requires the smallest investment.
FREEZER JAMS AND JELLIES
1. Freezing containers: The goal is to freeze the jam in a way that allows the least amount of air to come in contact with the food. You can find containers that are specifically designed for this purpose made of plastic. Another option is to use a regular canning jar and lid.
2. Sanitizing: If your water is set to a proper temperature of at least 120 degrees, you may use the dishwasher to sanitize your containers. Another option is a large pot that allows enough water to be added so as to completely submerge the glass jars. While a jar lifter sounds frivolous, it is something you really want to invest it. They are only a few dollars and are well worth the money.
3. Pot: You need a pot that will hold the ingredients for a given batch of jam and allows room for the foam that appears on top. Some recipes allow you to cook the ingredients in a crock pot for several hours.
4. Mashing: There are several ways to mash your fruit. You can cut with a knife, which quickly become tedious. An immersion blender and potato masher can help the job along. A juicer makes quick work for jellies while a food mill really crushes the fruit.
5. Pectin: While not all recipes call for it, using pectin is the best option for beginners IMO. This is what causes your jam or jelly to set up. There are 2 types, powdered and liquid. Make sure you know if your recipe calls for a specific type before you begin.
6. Pouring: A ladle works the best and used with a canning funnel prevents spills and keeps the rims of the jar clean.
7. Timer: It does not matter what you use, but recipes are very specific in how long a jar should be processed. This varies not only due to the size of the jar, but what you are canning. Too long and your food becomes mushy, too little and you risk spoilage.
8. Storage: Jars should be stored in a cool, dry and dark space.
1. Lids: In addition to all the items above, you must have brand new lids, this is NOT an option! While you may reuse the bands as long as they are in good shape and not rusted, the lids MUST be new or you risk not only losing your food when the jar is processed, but the food will spoil on the shelf Often with the jar lifter comes with a stick that has a magnet on the end. This is used to remove the lids from a hot pot of water after they have been heated. Personally, I use a fork, but give it a try to see if you like using it. Once the jar has completely cooled, the bands may be removed for storage.
Make sure you purchase the correct sized lids! The traditional size jar has the mouth that tapers to be smaller than the body of the jar. A wide-mouthed jar is about the same size as the jar itself. The lid is the flat part that sets inside the band. It covers the mouth of the jar and has a rubber compound that seals the jar shut. The band is the separate piece that is screwed onto the jar.
2. Canner: There are specific pots designed to hold jars being processed. They include a wire rack that is placed on the bottom while the jars rest on the rack. They are also tall enough to hold the larger sized jars.
3. Cooling: Towels are needed to rest jars on while they cool down. While you never want to put hot jam into a cold jar, you don’t want to put cold fruit into a hot jar either. When a sanitized jar is resting it is placed upside down on the towel. Use towels that are smooth and not fuzzy, you don’t want the fuzz getting into your jar before being processed. Good potholders are also a must. You will also want 1 specifically to wipe the rims of your jars before you place the lids onto the rim.
4. Containers: Only use jars that were designed to can in such as Ball brand. You can use old jars however you must be very careful to examine the rims for ANY nicks. Even if it is a small nick do NOT use it for a hot water bath as it can prevent a seal with the lid and lead to spoilage.
Choose the size and type of jar according to what you are putting up. A jam or jelly is typically done in a half pint sized jar. Peaches on the other hand usually are done in a quart size and a wide mouth jar makes packing neatly a little easier.
5. Plastic Spatula: These are often sold with the funnel and are very important to get the air pockets out of the jar before sealing. They are placed against the side of the jar, and lowered to pop the air bubbles.
VEGETABLES AND MEATS
1. Cooking: A steam pressure canner is not the same as a pressure cooker used to cook a meal. In order to process vegetables and meat safely you must use a pressure canner designed for that purpose. You can use an old one, however you should take it in to be checked before using. The gaskets can become old and cracked and the pressure gauge may become inaccurate. The gauges can be tested at your local cooperative extension office and readjust them. Improperly canned food will lead to a mushy end product or spoilage.
Canning can be lots of fun and is a great way to save money on your grocery bill. However, the rules MUST be followed correctly as spoiled food is unsafe food and can put you into the hospital. There are many sites you can find old ways of canning that are no longer recommended methods to use, such as baking jars in the oven. If you ever have questions about a method, contact your local cooperative extension office and they can put you in touch with expert canners who can help you. Your best source of a recipe is the current Ball Blue Book as it only promotes those current methods proven to be safe.