Monday, August 15, 2011
Canning 101: The Basic Materials
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 Amazon.com 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 ;).