It’s canning season! Of course, you can pretty much always “put up” a jar of something, but this time of year my canners always get an extra-heavy workout.
If you’re new to canning your own food (or if it’s just been a while), you may not know what you really need on hand to get the job done. It’s good to know what’s necessary and what’s extra so you don’t end up spending too much. It’s also good to double check that you have everything you need before you begin- because no one wants to stick an entire batch of hot-and-ready preserves back in the fridge because they didn’t have enough new lids to seal the jars. (Nope, I’ve never done that.)
What do you really need to can your own food at home? (This post contains affiliate links.)
1) Water Bath Canner– Water bath canning is for high-acid foods only. It does not get hot enough to safely preserve low-acid foods. (More on that in #2.) That being said, you can do a lot in a water bath canner- jams, jellies, preserves, tomatoes, sauces, salsa, fruits, pickled veggies, etc. It’s also the least expensive method to get started.
A water bath canner is basically a giant pot that will accommodate up to seven quart jars (or more smaller jars). It includes a rack to lower the jars in and out of boiling water, and keeps them off the bottom of the pot to protect them from breakage. While I’ve had friends who’ve fudged canning in a large stockpot with a towel on the bottom, the real canner and rack is definitely more convenient.
2) Pressure Canner
The beautiful thing about pressure canners is that you can preserve almost anything in them. They can double as a water bath canner when needed, but they are able to build up enough pressure and heat to safely can low-acid vegetables, stocks, meats and poultry at home. (Side note: It is super exciting to can your own soups- like turkey soup right after Thanksgiving- and be able to create your own nourishing shelf-stable convenience meals to pop open on a winter day. Totally worth it.)
I use the Presto brand because it works well and is one of the more affordable home pressure canners. It does use a rubber gasket to seal, where as the All American pressure canners have a metal to metal seal- so there’s no parts to replace. It’s also almost three times as expensive- so I haven’t felt the need to switch to that just yet! Just Plain Marie explains in this post why she “broke up” with her Presto and decided to switch to an All American Pressure Canner instead.
Important: A pressure cooker is not the same thing as a pressure canner. If you buy a pressure cooker, get ready for soups, rice, and tender meat, but don’t expect to preserve your food in it. However, a pressure canner can be used as a pressure cooker. Got it?
You don’t need a water bath canner and a pressure canner- it just depends on what you want to can!
3) Mason Jars. I know several people with mad skill and canning experience who make a variety of glass jars work for canning. Me? I’m not that brave. I like to use the product that I know will work! Mason jars withstand high temperatures, and can be sterilized and reused easily.
While it may seem like an investment to buy jars at close to a dollar a piece, they really will last you indefinitely if you care for them well. I would recommend just buying what you need for your first project- a pack of 12 half-pint jars, for example- and then adding to your jar collection gradually as you do more. I started with only 6 quarts of tomatoes my first time- about 4 years ago. By last year, I was up to over 120 jars of food! The investment was easy to make when it was gradual.
(Mason jars come in varying sizes and can either have regular-mouth or wide-mouth openings. Check your recipe to see which kind you should buy. Over time you will learn which sizes you prefer for different preservation projects.)
I included a link above to purchase mason jars, but you should really look locally first. They’re about twice the price online because of shipping costs. Grocery stores, hardware stores, farm stores, and even places like Walmart carry them. (What can I say? Canning is getting trendy again!)
4) Lids & rings. Your first set of new jars comes with its own lids and rings. The rings can be reused as long as they are not rusted or bent. The lids, however, need to be replaced each time you can something new. You can buy lids with rings, or just lids alone. Make sure that you’re buying the right sized lid to go with your jars (regular vs. wide mouthed).
5) Canning Tool Set– Not absolutely necessary, but highly helpful. I canned for over a year without one of these kits, trying not to spill as I ladled boiling liquid into hot jars, and using regular kitchen tongs to precariously extract the rounded-edge jars from the steaming canner. Needless to say, the use of a funnel and tongs meant for picking up extremely hot glass made things a lot simpler and safer. I highly recommend you purchase a set. (You can also get a water bath canner and the canning kit together if you want a deal.)
Bottom line- if you have a canner, jars and lids, and food to put in them, you are good to go. Make sure that you’re following tested and approved canning recipes (like in this book) for safety.
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Years ago, my mother and grandmother canned in anything the kids would fit on. Which was most any jar. Nowadays, the lids don’t fit. I’ve always suspected that it was because they wanted us to purchase the jars. The food in the other jars had to be canned to sit on the store shelves so they work. I’ll keep on using them if the lids fit and I need a jar. Right now, I use them mostly for vacuum sealing.
So interesting how practices change, right?