Tag Archives | canning tools

Giveaway: Big Mouth Flat Pack Funnels

Big Mouth Funnels

In my years as a canner, I’ve tried nearly every available wide mouth funnel on the market. I own nearly a dozen different models made in materials ranging from plastic, to tempered glass, to stainless steel. One thing all these funnels have in common is that they’re bulky (much of my collection lives in a wicker basket in the living room, because there’s no room for them in the kitchen).

Big Mouth Funnels

Happily, Robin Bristow, a designer based in Australia, has recently developed a funnel designed to fit in kitchens with even the most limited cabinet space. Called the Big Mouth Funnel, this tool comes in two sizes and packs absolutely flat for easy storage.

Big Mouth Funnels

The small size is perfect for filling salt shakers, pepper mills, and spice jars, while the larger size can handle all manner of hefty jars. I’m planning on using one for trips to Whole Foods when I’m buying from the bulk section. I’ve often taken conventional wide mouth funnels with me to help dispense from bin to jar, but having a flat pack funnel in my kit will make the job even easier.

Big Mouth Funnels

I will say that I’m a little wary of using these funnels when filled up hot jars with jam or chutney just off the boil. They make no claims that they’re heatproof and so I plan to continue to use my traditional funnels for anything that is piping hot. Even setting them aside for those tasks, I can see them becoming invaluable over time.

Thanks to Robin and Big Mouth Funnels, I have ten pairs of flat pack funnels to give away! Here’s how to enter.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and share a kitchen or canning tool that you wish you could reinvent or redesign.
  2. Comments will close at 5 pm east coast time on Saturday, October 5, 2013. Winners will be chosen at random (using random.org) and will be posted on Sunday, October 6, 2013.
  3. Giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left on the blog, I cannot accept submissions via email.
Disclosure: Big Mouth Funnel sent me a set of their funnels to try and is also providing the ten for this giveaway. My opinions remain my own. 

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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Holiday Giving: Kitchen Tools for Canners

In my years of canning, one of the things I’ve found is that most of my favorite canning tools weren’t made specifically for canning. They are simply kitchen utensils that are well made, sturdy and just happen to serve a useful role in my preserving practice. From the bottom left corner and moving clockwise, here are some of my current favorites.

  • This six-piece set of stacking measuring cups by RSVP is fantastic. They are made from solid stainless steel and have a nice heft in the hand. I use the one-cup measure to portion jam into half-pint jars and the half-cup one fits neatly into my larger storage jars.
  • I’ve long been a fan of a serrated edge peeler. It’s particularly handy during marmalade season because it allows you peel off the outer zest from citrus without taking any of the pith along with you. What makes this particular peeler so nice is that it had dual blades, one smooth and one serrated. Makes for less clutter in a crowded utensil drawer. The one pictured above is from Williams-Sonoma. Kuhn Rikon also makes a version.
  • Thermapen is simply the best instant read thermometers out there. I’ve bought two in recent years and just love them for minding the temperature of my jams, jellies and curds. They’re pricy, but worth the money (and make sure to check the end of this post for a Thermapen giveaway!).
  • I first found this potato masher at a Tuesday Morning and it has supplanted all my other mashers. What makes it so awesome is that the tines are bladed. They’re not sharp, but they have just enough edge to make it perfect for breaking down cooking fruit. It’s a fantastic tool.
  • A good, fully encased silicone spatula. The one pictured above is from GIR and is quite nice. However, it also costs $22.50, which is more than most people want to spend on a spatula (disclosure! this one was sent to me for review purposes). For a more sensibly priced version (under six bucks), check out this one from Orka. According to Amazon, I bought mine in 2009 and it’s still going strong.
  • A good paring knife. I like the ones made by Kuhn Rikon, but couldn’t find one in the kitchen when preparing to take this picture. The most important thing is that it feels good in the hand and holds an edge.

  • If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, you’ll know that I am crazy for my 4th burner pot. Also made by Kuhn Rikon (they don’t know I exist, I just like their products), this skinny pot has a spout, a heat-proof handle and is fitted with a rack. This means that it works as a small batch canning pot, a pot for heating pickling liquids and syrups for canning whole fruit and even as a tea kettle in a pinch. On Thanksgiving, I used it to heat up the gravy. It is a genius piece of equipment and I love it so much that I own two.
  • I bought this Cuisinart stainless steel wok at Macy’s last summer on a whim. It was on sale and I had a feeling that it might be a handy size and shape for making small batches of jam. And I was right. The flared sides encourage evaporation and it holds a bit more jam than a 12-inch skillet. It’s lighter than ideal for a true wok, but is quite nice for jams, jellies and chutneys (and it just costs right around $30, which makes it highly affordable).
  • Finally, flour sack towels. I finally got smart and started buying them in colors instead of in white. No matter how much I bleached them, the white ones just never get clean. The deeply colored ones don’t show the stains as much. Amazing the difference these little choices make in my quality of life.

As promised, I have an orange Thermapen to give away to one of you nice folks. Here’s how to throw your hat in the ring for chance at it.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me about your current favorite kitchen tool.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm on Friday, November 30, 2012. Winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog over the weekend.
  3. Giveaway open to everyone (the shipping is on me, no matter where you live).
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post. I do not accept submissions via email.
Disclosure: Thermapen is providing the thermometer for this giveaway. GIR sent me one of their spatulas for review. Neither company paid to be included in this post. No one else mentioned here knows that I exist or that I’m writing about them.

New Canning Tools From Progressive International + Giveaway

new canning kit

When I teach canning classes, one of the first things I tell my students is that they don’t need a whole lot of special equipment to start canning. And truly, I believe it. During my first, tentative canning steps, I used tongs to move my jars in and out of the water bath and, horror of horrors, didn’t even use a rack in the bottom of my canning pot. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.

lifter, lid wand and funnel

However, as so often happens when one specializes in something, my arsenal of canning tools has grown since those early days. Currently, it includes multiple wide mouth funnels, jar lifters, canning racks and variety of pots. Still, despite all the stuff, I mostly use the same wide mouth funnel and a jar lifter over and over again.

canning rack

Recently, my collection of equipment grew to include the new canning line from Progressive International. They’ve reworked some of the classic tools in an attempt to make them more useful and durable. The line includes jar lifter, wide mouth funnel with headspace markings, lid wand, reversible canning rack (one side holds four quart jars, the other secures seven pints, half pints and quarter pints) and scoop designed to easily get your products out of the bottom of the pot.

funnel

So far, I’ve found these to be perfectly useful canning tools. I like the lid wand and the funnel with its headspace markings is fun (and useful for beginning canners who are just starting to figure out how to estimate headspace). I don’t love the jar lifter because I feel like I have to apply a lot of pressure in order get a secure grip.

The canning rack is terrific, particularly if you’re like me and use a stock pot as your standard canning pot (though I’m still in love with my trivet as canning rack). It fits snugly in my preferred canning pot and I do like the security it offers the jars.

canning ladle

The canning ladle embodies a neat idea. It’s been developed to both easily get all the jam out of the pot while also delivering the exact amount to fill a half pint jar. Sadly, I didn’t find that it was that easy to maneuver and I still needed to use a rubber scraper to get the last bits of jam. I think I’ll continue to use my eight ounce measuring cup (like the largest in this set) and get the pretty much the same result.

Thanks to Progressive International, I have a set of these tools to give away to a Food in Jars reader. Here’s what to do if you want a chance to win.

  1. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post and tell use what one tool makes your canning process easier.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm eastern time on Friday, April 13, 2012. Winner will be chosen at random (using random.org) and will be posted to the blog on Saturday, April 14, 2012.
  3. Giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian readers.
  4. One entry/comment per person, please.
Disclosure: Progressive gave me two sets of these canning tools; one to keep and one for this giveaway. My opinions remain entirely my own. 

Find Food in Jars at OpenSky

One of the challenges I faced when I first started canning more seriously was finding the right tools to do the job well. Though the act of putting food in jars has been growing in popularity, most urban grocery stores don’t make a practice of carrying canning supplies, particularly year round (and I’m a firm believer in the idea that there are food preservation projects to be done every month of the year). And my very favorite wide-mouth half-pint jars? Impossible to find in stores, even on a trip out to Lancaster County, a mecca for home preservation enthusiasts.

Of course, there’s always the internet. However, I’ve found that it’s way too easy to buy a stinker of a product when you’re purchasing sight unseen and without trusted recommendations (I don’t know about you, but I read reviews obsessively). So awhile back, I began to look for a way to gather all my favorite canning tools, supplies and books up into a single place, to make it easy for you guys to get the good stuff, no trial and error required. And happily, I’ve found that place in OpenSky.

You may have heard about OpenSky already from some of your (other) favorite bloggers. Ruhlman recently announced his shop and Nick at Macheesmo opened up last month. Essentially, the goal at OpenSky is to give people that old-time shopping experience, in which buyers can engage with trusted shopkeepers and make purchases in confidence, knowing that they are being pointed to the very best products.

Right now, my shop has just over a dozen items in stock. But I promise you, the selection will grow. I’m working with OpenSky to get those wide-mouth half-pints in stock, as well as the quilted 12-ounce jars, as they’re just perfect for pickled asparagus (and oh happy day, asparagus season is coming!).

instant read thermometer

One thing I do have in stock right now is this instant read thermometer/timer from Taylor. Scott and I got ours as a wedding gift, and it is now one of my most used kitchen tools. It is magnetized so that it can live on the refrigerator and thermometer probe cord is nice and long. The thing I most adore about this gadget is the fact that it has a temperature alarm. This means that when you’re making a batch of jelly or marmalade, you can set the alarm to ring when the pot reaches 220 degrees.

While I don’t recommend turning your back on a boiling pot of jelly, this does mean that you can do quick clean-up tasks while the pot works toward set-temperature without fear of overcooking (in this case, it’s best to use a really big pot, so that you’re not worried about boiling over). I also rely on this guy when making yogurt (and I’ll be featuring that technique soon).

Really, I can’t speak highly enough about this thermometer, particular if you’re a fan of making summer jams without added pectin.

I’ll occasionally be letting you all know when I post new items in the shop. I hope you all find this useful!

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