Canning 101: Specialized Supplies

Welcome back to Canning 101! In this post, we are going to cover only the specialized items you will need to purchase (with the exception of jars and specific ingredients which will be covered in different posts).

Canning supplies are not that hard to come by, for the most part aren’t crazy expensive, and many needed items you probably already have in your kitchen.  First, let me show you a picture of the canning section in our local grocery store.  It contains everything you need for canning with the exception of an actually canner.

No matter what kind of canning you are going to be doing, there are some supplies you will need that are basic canning supplies.  These items are a canning funnel, and a jar lifter – these two items are almost always sold in a kit together with a magnetic wand lifter and an air bubble remover/head space measurer (I know thats a lot of stuff, I’ll talk about each individually in a moment).  Almost anywhere that sells canning supplies is going to have a kit contianing these for items.  The box (from Ball) looks like this.

and the items inside look like this (well, after they’ve been used a bit and beaten up on at least)

 In the top of that picture, is a weird clamp looking pair of tong things – that’s a jar lifter.  You hold the black handles and use the insulated blue part to pick up hot jars to put them into and out of a canner.  Next, on the bottom row, left to right is a canning funnel which is used to put whatever you’re canning into the jar without spilling it EVERYWHERE, then an air bubble remover and head space measurer The bottom half to the tool is used to gently move around the inside of a jar after the foodstuffs are placed inside to remove any trapped air, the top part that looks like stairs is actually a handy measurer set up in 1/4 inch increments to gauge how much head space (the open area in the top of your jar between the top of your foodstuffs and the bottom of the lid) which is very important (and we’ll talk about it more later).  This, along with the magnetic wand (which is the last item in that row) are both optional, but since they come with the kit, you’ll have them anyway.  I personally prefer to use a rubber spatula to release air bubbles depending on what I’m canning, and you could use a pair of standard kitchen tongs to pick up lids and bands rather than the wand – personally I use the wand I find it easier.  These are they only specialty unsettles you will need for canning, and can be purchased easily and inexpensively.

The other specialty item you will need, obviously, is a canner.  There are two types of canning, one is called water bath canning, which is really easy to do, and can actually be done in any large stockpot that is taller than the jars you are canning as long as you have a canning rack.  The other is pressure canning which requires a pressure canner specifically.  For us, personally, we chose to purchase a pressure canner since we knew some of the things we wanted to can would require that method, and since you can use a pressure canner to do water bath canning as well we didn’t need to buy two canners (space is a high commodity in our kitchen! and canners take up a lot of it.)  If you don’t plan to do pressure canning, then just get a water bath canner they are cheeper and not nearly as heavy.

Let me give a brief description of both canners and techniques.

Hot Water Bath Canning:

A hot water bath canner just looks like a huge stock pot and essentially thats what it is and if you already have something like it, you could use it just fine.  For hot water bath canning you fully submerge your jars in hot water (cover with an inch or two of water above the lid) bring the water to a boil for a specific amount of time, then remove the jars from the hot water and allow to cool for 12 – 24 hours without disruption.  In any canner (water bath or pressure) you’ll have a rack on the bottom of the pan to prevent the jars from sitting directly on the bottom of the pan to both prevent breakage of the jars as well as to better provide water movement around the jars.  In a water bath canner the jar often looks something like this:

where as in a pressure canner it’s more of a flat metal disk with holes in it.

Pressure Canning:

A pressure canner and pressure cooker are essentially the same thing, just as a large stock pot and a water bath canner are essentially the same thing – the difference in both cases is that a canner will come with a rack in it when you buy it and just the pot will not.  A pressure canner has a locking lid and weighted pressure system just like a pressure cooker.  You put on weights which bring the pressure up inside the pot to specific points.  When you use a pressure canner, you only put a couple inches of water on the bottom rather than covering the jars fully with water, but in both cases you bring the water to a boil and process for a specific amount of time, a pressure canner also adds that because of the pressure built up inside the canner, the temperatures reach higher points allowing foods to be processed that would be more prone to bacteria and spoilage in a standard water bath.  Foods that have a low acidity level (vegetables, meats etc.) have to be pressurized during the canning process where as foods with a high acidity level (fruits and therefor jams and jellies) can be safely canned in a water bath.  Tomatoes, being the special fruit/veggie that they are can be safely canned using either method but when canning them using only a water bath, it’s become a practice to add a small amount of lemon juice to the batch to bring the acidity level up just slightly.  Any food can be canned using the pressurized method, but it isn’t always necessary, only some foods can safely be canned using a water bath method.

With the exception of jars and ingredients, this is the limit of the specialized canning items you should need to buy, almost anything further you most likely already have in your home.

I hope that helps bring clarity to the issue of the canner itself, which I know can be confusing.  Next up, we are going to talk about the other items you’ll need but probably already have on hand and jars, lids, and bands.

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