Friday, June 26, 2009

Basic Canning Equipment

I originally posted this last year, but thought it would be helpful to post again for those who are new to preserving. For those of you who are new to preserving, feel free to ask any questions. I will do my best to answer. For those of you who are experienced canners, feel free to leave a comment about your favorite canning gadget, or canning tip.

Where I live a backyard garden is a common thing, but even here, I've noticed many new gardens go in this spring. Many existing gardens have also been expanded. Pressed by rising fuel prices and the rising food prices that are following, people are stretching their grocery dollars by raising some of their own food.

My garden is just starting to produce, and soon it will be time to break out the canning equipment to put away some of that harvest for the winter. I know many of you have expressed an interest in canning. I am no expert. The real experts are the folks at the USDA, but I am happy to try and help. Let's start with the basics.

There are three very basic items you need to begin canning. You need jars with sealing lids, a large pot for processing, and canning tables that tell you how long to process the jars.

Jars with Sealing Lids
You can find jars in a variety of sizes. The most common used are quart and pint jars. I find quart jars to be the most useful for my large family. I use pint jars mostly for hot peppers and pickles, though it is nice to have some pints of tomato sauce too.

Jars also come in wide mouth or regular. In my opinion, wide mouth are much easier to work with. They also are easier to clean, but they are more expensive.

Some people use recycled jars from spaghetti sauce or other items they have purchased at the store. I personally do not do this, and it is not recommended by the experts. I believe the logic behind this is that Mason jars are made to last the stresses of canning repeatedly. Jars used in the food industry may or may not be made as strong. Yet, I know people do can with them.

The most common type of lid is actually a two part lid. It is a lid with a ring. You have to buy new lids every year, but the rings can be used over and over. They are easy to use. There are other types of sealing systems using reusable rubber rings. I've never canned with those before, so I can't offer too much information on those.

Processing Pot
When you are canning there are two ways to process the jars. You can simply cover them with boiling water and boil for the recommended amount of time. The other way is to use a pressure canner. It is not recommended that low acid foods, like beans, be processed using the boiling water method. All foods can be canned in a pressure canner. I use both methods.

When canning with boiling water any heavy pot that is large enough to fill with enough water to cover your jars can be used. A water bath canner with a rack is much more convenient to use. They really aren't very expensive. I think a canner is a worthwhile purchase if you are planning to do a lot of canning that can be done without pressure canning.

Canning Tables
You need a resource to consult for how long to process your jars. If you buy a new canner, chances are there will be instructions with timing tables included. One of my older cookbooks also has tables. There are whole cookbooks devoted to canning. The most famous is probably the Ball Blue Book. Though a canning cookbook isn't necessary, it is nice to have as a resource. Besides basic instruction and time tables, it gives you recipes for different items. It can help when you are at a loss for what to do with the excess your garden is producing. Of course all canning tables are created based on the guidelines put out by the USDA. Their advice is available for free online.

These are the bare basics of equipment you need to begin canning. There are lots of tools and gadgets designed to make things easier. Before you run out and buy any equipment and gadgets, check around for used supplies. There are lots of people with shelves and boxes full of jars that they don't ever plan to use. Let family member know you are looking for canning equipment. Check on Cragislist. Ask on Freecycle. Look at yard sales. You may find all you need for free or a fraction of the cost of new.

I hope that was helpful for those who are new to canning. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to help if I can.


  1. There is so much good information here. I wondered if you woulf like to use Mr Linky on my site to link this to Buddy's Friday so the readers can visit here to see your post. Great post.


  2. I tried to do some homemade salsa. It tastes really good but boy is it watery! What I really want to do is learn to make pickles. The problem is I've had awesome homemade pickles and I've had really hideous homemade pickles so I'm scared about how to pick out a good recipe!

  3. Wendy,
    Homemade salsa is just runny. I don't know of any fix for that except if you make a chunky salsa you can drain some of the liquid off before serving. We just eat as is. :)

    I've only made quick pickles. I'd really love to try brining them sometime. Do you want dill or sweet? I've tried several recipes and I think my favorite were made with a Kosher Dill Mix I bought at Wal-Mart. Wish I could remember the brand name for you, but the mix came in a green and white pouch. My pickles tend to be soft. Still working on perfecting that. They still taste wonderful in a sandwich though. :)

  4. I just canned a whole bunch of strawberry jam. I have a jar grabber, which I find is very very helpful. Also, a lid lifter thingy with a magnet on the end, helps to get the lids out of the hot water. And you should have an elevated canning rack for your canner. It's not good for the glass to be on the bottom of the pan.

  5. Yes I forgot to mention that. A rack is necessary. If you buying pan specifically made for canning it should come with a rack. If you are just using a large pot you can purchase a rack or made do with a cooling rack or something like that that will fit in your pot.

  6. Your article was posted @ THC this week.

    Thanks. Abi

  7. It's strange how different canning in the US is compared to Europe/Belgium...

    Pressure canning is unknown here and large pressure canners/cookers, let's say above 8l, are impossible to find. That's why I bought an All American Canner #930 in the US, some months ago.

    I strongly disagree with popular prejudice here, that American gear is mostly junk. My canner is a very, very, very well made piece of equipment, designed to last for decades!

    Even the jars differ: most jars here are from the German brand "Weck". I remember my mother using American Mason jars somewhere in the 1960's, but since then, I haven't seen one. There's a European brand making some kind of a Mason jar, but these are very expensive.

    Alltough Weck jars, lids and sealing rings are very good for hot water bath canning, they don't handle high temperature/pressure that well: the rubber sealing ring is pushed out between the jar rim and the lid during pressure build up in some 2 out of 10 jars. So I'm looking to buy some Mason jars in the US.

    Some pictures on canning around here (I'll add some more when I find the time to do so):


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