Tag Archives | canning equipment

A Handy Way to Store Your Canning Rings and Lids

bag of canning gear

Here in Portland, it is raspberry season. I couldn’t resist picking up a half flat of gorgeous berries on Saturday at the Beaverton Farmers Market. When I got home, I asked my mom to pull out her canning stuff so that I could make a quick batch of jam. She ducked into the garage and came back in with her shiny stainless steel stock pot and a plastic comforter bag filled with canning jar rings (as well as couple boxes of new lids).

canning rings close up

Using a stock pot and blossom trivet as a canning pot is a trick I taught her, but using an old blanket or comforter bag to corral canning gear was entirely new to me and I was stunned by the simple brilliance of it. At home, I use a pair of two gallon zip top bags to keep my rings in check. However, they’ve always been an imperfect solution because the zippers eventually fail and they’re just not quite big enough. The comforter bag has a real zipper, the plastic is sturdier, it holds a ton, and it does a good job of keeping the dust and dirt out.

If you have one of these bags floating around your house, consider doing like my mom and using it to store your gear.

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New to Canning? Start Here: Equipment

canning pots

For months now, I’ve had it in my head to do a series here on the blog that would give new canners everything they needed to know to get started. A collection of posts that would detail necessary equipment, the boiling water bath process, best safety practices, good starter recipes, tips for successful jam making, and hints on how to make flavorful, texturally pleasing pickles.

As is the case with so many ideas, it’s taken me a while to bring it from concept to execution, but my plan is to start this series now and continue for the next six to eight weeks. As we move along, if you feel like there’s something that belongs in a canning primer that I’m missing, do get in touch and let me know.

trivet canning rack

One of the misconceptions about canning is the belief that you must have a dedicated canning pot in order to can. This is not true. All you need is a pot that is tall enough to hold a rack, your jars, an inch of water above the jars and an additional inch or so of space where the water can boil.

Most often, I use this 12 quart stock pot made buy Cuisinart (in the picture above, it’s the one on the left). For batches that only make three or four jars, I use the yellow stock pot in the middle of the photo (made by Dansk, that one was an eBay find). And for when I only have two or three half pints to process, I use a 4th burner pot.

Any time you turn a stock pot into a canning pot, you need to find a small rack to drop into the bottom. I’ve used round cake cooling racks, kitchen towels, a layer of old canning jar rings, dedicated racks like this one from Progressive International (it’s quite good). However, my favorite is this silicone trivet. It folds up for easy storage, never rusts, and because it’s flexible, it works in a fairly wide array of pots.

Obviously, you don’t need to have all three of these pots when you’re starting out. The idea is simply to show that nearly any tall pot can serve as a canner and that if you’re only canning a few jars, you can use a smaller pot, should you have one in your kitchen arsenal.

jam pans

Once you have your canning pot figured out, you need a pot in which to cook your product. For jams, jellies, tomato products, chutneys, and other products that need to be cooked down, I typically opt for a roomy Dutch oven. I really like the my nine quart Le Creuset that’s pictured above for its ability to conduct heat.

I also regularly use an 8 quart stainless steel All-Clad Dutch oven, particularly when I’m cooking something that I know has a tendency to burn (my tomato jam springs to mind). You can always scrub a burnt spot off stainless steel. It’s harder to do without ruining the finish on an enameled pan. I also recently added a Sur La Table 8 quart pan to the set of cookware I take to canning classes and I like it. It’s not quite as low and wide as the All-Clad model (a plus when trying to encourage evaporation), but is of equal tri-ply quality for about $100 less.

I also use a stainless steel skillet for a lot of my very small batches. The one I have is from that crazily high rated set of tri-ply cookware made by Tramontina that only Walmart* appears to sell. It’s also a third of the price of a comparable All-Clad model. Sur La Table makes a nice one that falls in the middle of the price range. Because these small batches quickly over very high heat, you want something that will perform well under those conditions and I’ve found that any heavy, low, wide stainless skillet will do.

For heating pickle brines, I always turn to the 4th burner pot pictured above. Because it’s got both the spout and the handle, it makes it a breeze to pour the brine into the jars.

favorite canning utensils

Finally, we come to the small tools. You’ll need a knife and a cutting board, but I figure most of you have those, so they’re not pictured here. A heatproof tool for stirring and scraping is always good and that silicone one on the left end is my favorite because it can go in the dishwasher (have five of them, to ensure that at least one is always clean).

A wide mouth funnel is always useful for getting your products into jars without a huge mess. I like the stainless steel ones just a little bit better than the plastic, but use both regularly. A jar lifter is a handy tool to have and I’ve found that the one made by Progressive International is my favorite (it’s got a stronger magnet than most, which makes retrieving lids a bit easier).

Jar lifters are designed to give you a secure grip on the jars as you move them in and out of the water. Though the jar lifter has been redesigned repeatedly over the last few years, I find that I still like the classic model the best (even if the rubber on the grips does have a tendency to peel away over time).

Finally, you want a good tool to move your product from the pot and into the jars. For years, I used an 8-ounce measuring cup to do this job (since it’s the same size as a half pint, you knew that with each scoop, you were getting enough to fill a jar). However, since getting this canning ladle from Progressive International last year, I find that I turn to it for almost every batch. Like my measuring cup, it’s sized to hold one cup,  really does a good job of getting those tricky last drops out of the bottom of the pot, and has a little hook that allows you rest it on the pot between scoops so that it doesn’t slide away and make a mess. If they made it in stainless steel, it would be the most perfect ladle ever.

bubbling the relish

Other tools that I like.

  • Potato mashers! They help break down large chunks without pureeing like an immersion blender does. I like this one and this one.
  • Skinny silicone spatulas! They are the perfect tool for easing air bubbles out of pickles and whole canned fruit because they can slip in without doing a lot of damage.
  • Paper towels or reusable cloth towels, like these from Athena Creates. I use these for wiping jar rims, cleaning up spills, and generally controlling the mess of canning.

As you’ve read through this post, you’ve probably noticed that a number of the things I call for are items that already exist in your kitchen. And if you don’t have exactly what I’m recommending, chances are you have something similar. Truly, it’s a kitchen task that many are already equipped to do.

Finally, remember that this post details just my opinions. You may have or discover favorites that aren’t mentioned here anywhere. Such is the way of life.

*I know Walmart isn’t for everyone (and they aren’t typically for me), but this particular line of cookware is of amazingly high quality and is ridiculously affordable.

Disclosure: This post is liberally peppered with affiliate links. If you follow those links and subsequently make a purchase, I get a few cents. Additionally, the Progressive International tools I mentioned above were received last year for review and giveaway. The opinions expressed here are the result of a year+ of regular use. No one asked me to update my thoughts or include them in this post, I wrote about them because they’ve proven to be useful. 
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Finding Equipment: Greensgrow Farms in Philadelphia

greensgrow canning cabinet

I was recently out at Greensgrow, an urban farm in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood and got a chance to take a peek at their canning cabinet. They have just about everything a home canner could want (and at competitive prices, too).

Greensgrow
2501 E. Cumberland Street
Philadelphia, PA 19125

If you have a local shop or market with a good selection of preserving tools and equipment, take a picture and send it over along with the store’s information and I’ll feature it here!

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Canning 101: The Tools of the Trade

canning pot

Recently, I got an email from a reader, asking that I tell her what she needed in terms of tools in order to get canning. I realized that though I’ve been writing this site for more than a year and a half, I’d never managed to outline my favorite canning equipment.

What you’ll notice is nearly everything pictured here is dual purpose. Most of pots, pans and other tools I use for canning are simply the tools of my kitchen that just happened to get pressed into service on a regular basis for food preservation.

canning rack

First thing you need is a nice, roomy stock pot. You want something that can hold at least 12 quarts and is tall enough to allow the jars to be fully submerged with some space left at the top for bubbling water. You also need a rack to elevate the jars just slightly off the bottom of the pot. I like this old cake cooling rack that once belonged to my grandmother, but any low profile, round rack will do.

small pot

One thing you learn quickly when you start to can is that you need to simmer your lids in a small pan of water prior to placing them on the jars. This ensures that you’ll get a good, solid seal. Any little pan will do.

jam pot

Next you need a pot in which to cook your jams, chutneys, pickle-brines and more. I go back and forth between several sizes of enameled cast iron pots and…

8 quart all-clad

This 8-quart All-Clad pot. Honestly, this is my favorite pot at the moment (as you can tell by the fact that it was actually in use when it came time to take this photo. If you’re curious, it’s holding an apple-pumpkin butter that I’ll be posting about soon). It’s nice and wide and can be vigorously scrubbed if you happen to burn something in it. My husband would like it to be known that he bought this lovely pot for me after much obsessing on my part.

kitchen tools

It’s always nice to have a generous assortment of measuring cups, measuring spoons, sharp knives and a microplane grater.

funnels and lifters

These are really the only specialty canning tools I think are necessary. Wide mouth funnels are really helpful (and once you have them in your kitchen, you’ll start to use them for other things. At least I do). A jar lifter is nice to help prevent burns and a magnetic lid wand is quite handy.

skimmers and spatulas

A little mesh skimmer is nice when you’re making a super-foamy jam. I got that one three years ago at a giant Asian grocery store in South Philadelphia for less than two bucks. It has proven its price many times over. I’m also a big fan of these newer, coated silicone spatulas. There’s nowhere that mildew or mold can develop because the coating covers the entire thing. Next to it is a very thin scraper that is absolutely brilliant when it comes to removing air bubbles from pickles and preserved fruit.

jars

Jars. But you probably knew that already. They don’t have to be brand new, although the lids should be.

towels

A stack of clean towels and a couple of hot pads keep things clean, dry and burn-free. All good things.

quince

Finally, you need your main ingredient. I’ve been playing with quince quite a lot lately and will have two (that’s right, two!) recipes that use them in the coming days.

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Canning Equipment Basics

My favorite canning pot

One of the great things about canning is that you don’t need a whole lot of special equipment in order to do it. Yes, you can buy specialty pots, with lifting racks and the capacity for six or seven jars, but when you’re just getting started, you can get by with nothing more than a large pot, some standard kitchen tongs and your jars.

The pot you see above has been my go-to canning pot for the last few years. I bought it at a thrift store in college for $2. The lid was missing a handle so my dad made one for me with a scrap of wood he had in the garage. This pot easily holds five wide-mouth pint jars or six half pints, which is often as much as I make in a single batch of jam or pickles. The primary thing you need in your canning pot is depth, you want to be able to comfortably submerge your filled jars so that water comes within a half-inch of the top of the jar.

The next thing you need is a sturdy pair of tongs. You use these to move the sterilized jars out of the water, put the filled jars into the water bath and then remove them again after the hot water bath is finished. It’s important that your tongs are strong and dependable, as you’ll be moving hot stuff with them. If using tongs worries you (you do need to be intentional in your grip when you use tongs to move hot, filled jars), many stores also sell specialty jar lifters. I have one of these lifters, and while I appreciate the very sturdy hold it gives me, it’s a bulky, single-use tool. I find that I return to the tongs more than I do the lifter.

Beyond those two most basic tools, there are a few things you can have that make the filling of jars easier. The first is a wide-mouth funnel. This channels your jam, marmalade or tomato sauce into the jars and keeps it off your countertops. Then, depending on what I’m canning, I’ll either use a ladle (stainless steel is preferable, because it doesn’t retain flavors) or a two-cup Pyrex measuring cup to fill the jars.

The main message I want to communicate here is that to get started in home canning, you really don’t need a ton of fancy equipment. If you do a few batches of jam and determine that it’s something you really enjoy, by all means, buy the big canning pot with the rack (and if you plan on canning more than 6-8 quarts of tomatoes this summer, I would recommend it). However, you can do a lot with a deep stock or roasting pot, a pair of tongs and some jars (you can reuse the jars and rings over and over again, but you will need to buy new lids each time, they are the only single-use part of the process).

That’s it. Go forth and can!

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Juice Jar Sources

Quattro Stagioni bottle (left), Weck jars (right)

Quattro Stagioni bottle (left), Weck jars (right)

I was planning on making and writing about pickled asparagus tonight, but at my company’s first softball practice of the season, I got beamed on the forehead and so decided to pursue a less ambition post for the evening.

Sylvie from Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener left a comment a couple of days ago, asking about canning jars for juice. While I’ve never canning juice myself, given my obsession for canning jars, I can’t help but take note when I see jars that would work for juice.

The first is from an Italian company called Quattro Stagioni. They make a variety of different canning jars (and it’s their jars we’ll be using in my classes over the summer) that come in liter measures, including these handy one liter juice jars. They’re a little pricier than your standard Ball/Kerr jars, but they’re a nice shape and you can buy replacement lids for them. You can buy them individually at The Container Store or you can buy them in cases of six or twelve at Village Kitchen.

Another good option for juice canning are jars from the European company Weck. They make the most lovely looking jars, all graceful lines and elongated silhouettes. They use a system of rubber gaskets, glass lids and metal clips in order to seal, much like the bailing wire canning jars that were popular in days past (the USDA doesn’t recommend that style of canning jar these days, but you can still buy replacement gaskets for them if you want to give that canning method a try). Weck Jars are quite popular in Europe, but are hard to come by stateside. I have a few that I ordered through Lehman’s, but I use them with plastic snap-on lids for food storage, because of their wide mouths and fridge-friendly shapes. You can also order them through the U.S. Weck distributor, but they don’t offer online ordering, only via fax or phone.

Sylvie, I hope that was helpful! If anyone else has any canning jar sourcing questions, let me know and I’d be happy to offer what I know and dig up information on anything I don’t.

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