Monday, August 15, 2011

Canning 101: The Basic Materials

Okay, before we start getting too in depth with the recipes I just wanted to go through a basic list of tools that will not only make your life easier, they are pretty much essential to the whole "canning" process.  Now mind you this is on top of your canning jars (which I consider a no brainer ;).

Seen above are your two basic tools that I will do NOTHING without.  That and a good pair of spring loaded tongs (to pick up lids and bands from boiling water).  The weird looking contraption is a jar lifter or "canning tongs" I've seen them called.  These are extra wide, specially shaped and have rubber on the part that slips around the jar lid and will stay put so you don't have to worry about dropping a jar full of boiling, whatever, all over yourself and ending up in the burn ward.  Trust me I've done canning with regular tongs and canning tongs...just trust me and get the canning tongs so you don't burn yourself or totally screw up your kitchen.

Next up is the object next to it.  This is a canning funnel.  This fits right down into the jar opening of a canning jar and will allow you to fill up a jar without getting stuff on the rim of your jar, which needs to happen if you want a good seal to can with.  This is another object I will not be without.  How much so?  I own three...just in case I lose one or two.  A nifty part of the canning funnel too is that if you fill up to the bottom of the canning funnel you're pretty much assured a 1/2 inch headspace (the space between the lid and the top of what you're putting into the canning jar).

The other thing you're going to need is a deep pot that will reach the top of the jars you are using plus about 2 inches and something to stick into the bottom of the pot to make sure the jars don't touch the bottom of the pan (helps to avoid overheating the jars and nasty breakage as a result). Even a rolled up dish towel will do in a pinch, but I also found that disposable pie tins (about 3 of them) stacked together with a bunch of holes punched through them to make sure that the water will circulate will work pretty good in place of an actual canning rack.

Now to can soups, stews, any meat products and any vegetables (okay pretty much EVERYTHING but tomato sauce and salsa and fruit products) you're going to need one of these bad boys:  A pressure canner.  My mother-in-law will wow you for hours on how she put one of these suckers on lay away at Wal-Mart years ago for each married couple in the family and only ended up paying like 8.00 a piece for them because they went on like 90% off clearance in the month from her first payment to the next.  Now most people AREN'T going to be that lucky, but has the one I have above (Presto 1781 23-Quart Aluminum Pressure Cooker/Canner) for 81.54 which actually beats the prices I've seen elsewhere.  The boiling water bath canning kit on Amazon seems like it's reasonably priced (Granite Ware 9-Piece Enamel-on-Steel Canning Kit) at 47.28, but I don't know...if I was going to invest I'd just get the pressure canner and get a Back to Basics 286 5-Piece Home Canning Kit and you'd be good to do everything for under 100.00.  But, that's just me :).

Here's one thing that you should know going in that I never did learn until I made the mistake though.  NEVER can anything dairy related.  I found out that the FDA says the odds of spoilage are too high in an average kitchen to encompass dairy products and in a lot of cases you wouldn't know spoilage was involved with dairy until someone got sick.  You need an actual vacuum canner to can dairy safely. 

So, let's get down to the nitty gritty and get to sharing recipes next :).  I'm really looking forward to it as only a true "canning nerd" like me can ;).


Stephanie said...

Oh thank you for posting this. Thus far I have learned everything through trial and error (yep I used regular tongs and the pour/eye method) With more spoiled and broken jars I have decided this year to learn more. Therefore, I got the starter set with the special tongs, funnel, and am looking for a great pressure cooker. ($412.00 at Wal-Mart right now, I'm hoping this is a typo) and you pointed out one I was looking into. Thanks for such a great post!

Alaskan Bargain Hunter said...

*Laugh* don't feel bad. I've learned everything through trial and error too for the most part. I ended up having more than a few calls to grandma asking her how in the heck to do things throughout the years to try and get this stuff down.

And 412.00 for a canner??? Holy cow!!! You can get a top of the line model on for like 199.00! American Standard (duh I think that's the name) are the top of the line model to use from what I understand and EVERYONE who owns one swears by them. I'll probably upgrade to that once something on my current canner goes by the weigh-side (like the rubber gasket).

Life in My Land said...

I got my pressure cooker a few years ago from Fred's. I waited until around Sept/Oct and they went on clearance and I was able to use a 40% off to get a $100 pressure cooker for about $35. Don't know if these will be marked down this year but it's something to keep your eyes out for later in the fall. Even if it's too late to use this year, it's worth putting away. I use my canner about 5 times a summer and have never had even one broken jar and only 3 or 4 of hundreds of cans that have not seeled. I do have the basic set of tools like you showed and always follow the manufacturers directions to the letter and never open before the cans are fairly cool. I love it. Thanks for the post.