Spring is here and with spring comes an abundance of fruits and vegetables that are just perfect for pickling and preserving. If you are new to canning, I want to share my list of essential canning tools to get you started. I keep all of these items together in one place in the kitchen, so that when I lose my senses and buy ten pounds of asparagus from the farmer’s market or pick ten pounds of strawberries, I have the resources necessary to pickle and preserve. I’ve never regretted preserving; in fact, recently, we made pancakes for breakfast and I realized I still had a jar of lavender strawberry sauce (the recipe is from Food in Jars) stashed in the cupboard. We were still about a month out from fresh local strawberries, so it was wonderful to have strawberries from the prior year that tasted about as fresh as when I picked them. I had a moment of extreme foodie bliss – the strawberry preserves were summer canned in a jar and perfect over my pancakes.
So here are my essential canning tools. With a small investment, you will be preserving and pickling like a pro in no time at all.
Check out my blog post about the must-have books in the home canning library. You can easily get started canning with just one book – my suggestion is to start with either Food in Jars or Canning for a New Generation. Both are excellent resources for how to safely preserve foods.
I only do water bath canning. I’d love a pressure canner, but don’t have the room right now to store one. The one critical piece of equipment for water bath canning is a stockpot large enough to hold at least six pint jars. I don’t can anything in quarts – I did pickles in quart jars my first year canning in Oregon and quickly realized that a) my stockpot could only hold 3 jars without boiling over and b) the odds that hubby and I would eat a quart of pickles in a reasonable time frame were pretty remote – it’s a lot of pickles. Since then, I only use pint, ½ pint and ¼ pint jars. I have two stockpots – a large one and a medium sized one: the large one gets used for the water bath and the medium sized one gets used for larger patch preserves. If I’m in a hurry and only prepping one thing, I might use the medium sized for the water bath canning process. It’s not necessary to have two, especially if you are planning to only do small batch preserving and you have limited space to store kitchen items.
This is my absolute favorite piece of canning equipment – my absolute I can’t live without. Which is why you can enter my giveaway for your very own! (See details at the end of this post). One of the things I discovered about my large stockpot is that it wasn’t quite large enough for a canning rack. In water bath canning, it’s important to get water circulating all around your jars, including underneath them. So – what to do? I started out by using a kitchen hack of putting lids at the bottom of the stockpot and placing jars on top of the lids. This works just fine, but the lids will rust pretty quickly. A friend introduced me to this silicon trivet, and I’ve never looked back. This spreads out so you can give your jars plenty of breathing room and still have them lifted off the bottom of the pot. One tip about working with this – always keep at least one jar in the pot so that the trivet doesn’t retract. It’s no fun having to spread the trivet back out when your water is already boiling.
A jar funnel is a great tool for ensuring that preserves and pickles are neatly canned. It’s really important in canning to ensure that the top of your jar is clean. A jar funnel helps with this by making sure that more of the preserves or brine go into your jar – not on your jar. I also find I use my jar funnel when I use my jars for smoothies, salads, etc. for my lunch.
A jar lifter is the go-to tool for removing very hot jars from the hot water canning bath. Long tongs are wonderful for placing jars into a hot water canning bath, as well as removing them to fill them. They are also great for grabbing canning rings out of hot water. A magnetic lid lifter is a nifty tool for pulling jar lids out of hot water. It’s also a great tool for those times when you drop something small and magnetic on the floor (like a nail) and have to grab it before the dog does. Not that I would know from experience or anything. (Yes – in this entirely hypothetical scenario, I would thoroughly sanitize my lid lifter before using it again to can).
A soup ladle is invaluable for transferring hot liquids into jars. Not to mention, if you don’t have a soup ladle, how do you ladle out your soup? Personally, I adore the Loch Ness Monster soup ladles on the right just because they are cute. I use the more practical soup ladle on the left to can, though.
This one is probably pretty obvious, but to have beautifully canned foods, you definitely need a good supply of jars, rings, and lids. I use Ball products, mostly out of brand loyalty and the fact that they are pretty ubiquitous. I love the quarter pint size jars for really small batches of preserves. I find that the smaller the jar, the easier it is to use up what’s inside the jar, especially in a two-person household. One tip that I find it’s easier to say than do is this: keep your canning jars separate from jars that you use for other purposes. If you’ve read Fix Me a Little Lunch for any amount of time, you know that I often use jars for my lunch. Those jars get a lot of heavy use; they get frozen, they get bashed around in my work bag, and they get dinged with silverware. All of this weakens the jar and can lead to spectacular canning failure when the jar’s bottom bottoms out in the hot water bath. Trust me; this is one way to learn very quickly exactly what my curse word repertoire is. I’ve lost at least two jars of pickled asparagus this way (heartbreaking), some diced tomatoes, and a couple of jars of preserves. In addition to losing the very produce I’m trying to preserve, this kind of failure also means stopping, cleaning out the hot water bath canning set up, and having to start all over again. It’s not fun. So keep your canning jars stored separately from your everyday use jars.
One other note about jars, rings and lids. You can reuse rings, as long as they are rust free. Lids need to be repurposed or recycled. Always use a new lid, as you don’t want to risk your cans not sealing.