We’ve previously discussed reasons for canning, canning and nutrition, and canning and safety. Now that you are sold on the benefits of canning, and are sure it can be done safely, you are ready to get started. But wait, do you have everything you need? Is the box of canning supplies in your basement complete?
Here is a list of all the supplies you need to can, plus a few extras that are extremely helpful:
- Jars and lids
The first thing you will need to get is canning jars. In America, common brands include Ball and Kerr, but any brand will do. Jars in other parts of the world may be different, but will work in a similar manner. Look for solidly built, wide mouth jars. Be aware that jars come in different sizes. Half pint, pint, and quart are the most common. Different sizes tend to be used for different types of recipes, i.e. pint jars are common for jams and quarts are common for pickles or soups.
Most canning lids contain two parts: screw bands and flat lids that have a built-in gasket. The screw bands can actually be removed for storage after the canning is complete (this helps prevent rusting during storage). Then, they can be used again in the future. Although some people reuse their lids, we recommend against it. They are cheap and the risk of a seal failing (and spoiling your food or making you sick) outweighs any money you may save by reusing gaskets. However, if a jar does fail to seal, don’t throw it away- you can put it in the refrigerator and eat it first.
For people who want to reuse their lids from year to year, we recommend purchasing reusable canning lids. These lids actually come with separate rubber gasket rings rather than a thin attached gasket. They will cost roughly two to three times more than regular lids, but you can start saving money after a few years.
- Water bath or pressure canner
Water bath canning can be done in any large pot, as long as the jars fit and can be submerged in water. However, you will also need to add a canning rack to the bottom of the pot. This is to keep the jars off of the bottom of the canner and allow the water to completely surround the jars and evenly heat the food inside.
You can also buy water bath canners that have been specifically designed to accommodate jars and a canning rack. Some are even sold as canning kits, which include other useful tools such as a jar lifter and wide mouth funnel (we will discuss these in detail below).
If you are planning on canning low acid foods you will need to invest in a pressure canner. A pressure canner is different from a pressure cooker. Most pressure cookers are not safe for canning use. If you can use your pressure cooker for canning, the instruction manual will say so. Pressure cookers are often too small for canning anyway.
The great thing about a pressure canner—besides being able to can low acid foods—is that it can also be used as a water bath canner or a pressure cooker. It is a piece of cookware that gives you a lot of options.
Note: If you don’t know the difference between water bath canning and pressure canning you can refer to our article on canning and safety or go directly to our pages on water bath canning or pressure canning.
- Canning utensils
You could probably get by without these tools, but they are strongly recommended. They will make your canning much easier and safer. The tools themselves are cheap; if you don’t invest in them, expect to pay with burnt fingers and broken or poorly sealed jars. Each utensil can be bought separately, but it is usually cheaper to buy them as part of a home canning kit.
- Jar lifter—This is a large tongs that is designed for lifting jars in or out of boiling water. Remember, the jars can be quite heavy; using tongs that are designed for something else is a sure way to hurt yourself or break something.
- Magnetic lid lifter—Essentially a magnet on a stick. Sometimes it is called a lid wand. It is used to pluck canning lids out of boiling water (where they are sterilized). You could pick them up with tongs, but the lid lifter makes it easier to seat the lids on the jar without contaminating them.
- Wide mouth canning funnel—This kind of funnel will make filling your jars so much easier. Also, the funnel will help keep your counters, and more importantly, the lips of your jars clean (so they seal properly).
- Bubble freer—This is a simple instrument that normally comes with canning kits. It is used when canning to pop any large bubbles that form inside the jar when you fill it with food. You could just as easily use a butter knife or a skewer.
- A stack of kitchen towels—these won’t be included in your canning kit, but you probably have a bunch of them already. Cotton towels that are easy to wash work best (they will get dirty). Use them as hot pads or to wipe up spills and drips. Lay some out on your counters to catch spills and insulate the counter surface. Some counter surfaces (especially granite or tile) tend to be cold and can actually cause a hot jar to crack due to temperature differences—the towels help prevent this.
- Good canning book, information, processing times, recipes
A good canning book will give you some fail-safe recipes and a detailed explanation of canning methods and processes. You can put a tab on the pages for processing times and have it nearby for a quick reference. If you don’t have a book, this information can be easily found online. Just make sure the website you are using has quality information. Two good places to start are the USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation (http://nchfp.uga.edu) or Ball’s website, freshpreserving.com.
Before you start canning you will want to have your recipe picked out and ready to reference. You should also have looked up the processing time, as it varies by altitude and food type. It’s no fun to go rummaging through the cupboards when things are boiling over.
- Thickening agents
Although these are technically ingredients, we felt like listing them here because they are a common element of many recipes. However, many people do not realize they are required until they start looking at recipes. Both are used to thicken or gel the liquid in your recipe. Recipes that do not require thickening agents will simply leave these ingredients out.
Cornstarch is often used to thicken the liquid in cans. However, cornstarch tends to break down after it has been heated. It also does not thicken high acid solutions well. Clear Jel is the answer to these problems. It is a modified cornstarch that is excellent for canning. Unlike normal cornstarch, Clear Jel retains its thickening powers after it has been heated and also works in acidic environments. If you compare a can that contains regular cornstarch with a can that contains Clear Jel, you will see a clear difference in thickness and consistency.
Pectin is a naturally occurring heteropolysaccharide found in the cell walls of plants. It is found in particularly high amounts in apples and citrus plants (which is where the pectin you buy at a store is sourced). Pectin is used to set (or gel) fruit and fruit juices and make them spreadable. Pectin also allows you to use less sugar than other recipes (sugar also helps jams set). Several manufacturers make pectins for full or low sugar recipes. Low-ester pectins (also called low methoxyl pectins) use calcium ions in water to form gel and therefore require less sugar.
- Quality food
Of course nobody is planning on canning marbles or erasers, food is the most important part. We only mention this obvious fact to say that food quality matters. In canning, make it your goal to use the freshest ingredients possible. This will not only improve the way your foods look and taste, but their nutritional content as well. You can read more about this in our article on Canning and Nutrition.
That completes our list of essential canning supplies. We hope you are able to get started soon. We know you will enjoy the food and learn a useful new skill. Good luck!