July 26, 2015

My Top 5 Must-Have Products for the Canning Season

It's harvest season here on the farm. Our garden is putting out a record number of beets and cucumbers and I am working everyday to keep up with them! Soon it will be the tomatoes and beans turn. We can only eat so many fresh, which means we need to turn to ways to preserve them. While I do freeze some of it, over the last 3 years, I have shifted over to canning our harvest. To anyone who has never experienced it, canning can seem like a frightening venture. But I have learned that with the right equipment, it is actually a very straight forward process that will fill your pantry and cellar with great rewards!

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1. Water Bath Canner

When we made the decision to start growing a harvest for preservation, the first thing we purchased was a Water Bath Canner. I knew that more of our harvest was going to be used for high acid canning products, which meant I needed the Water Bath version first. 

Okay. Crash course lesson. If it has vinegar or a high acid content, it can be processed in a water bath canner--things like pickled products, salsa, and some tomato sauces. If it is something without much acid base (beans, corn, carrots, tomatoes, etc) you have to use a pressure canner instead.

I purchased my canner at Wal-Mart, and interestingly enough, it is identical to the one I grew up seeing my mom use. This is a great inexpensive beginning tool for successful canning! If you know you aren't ever going to do anything but pickles and salsa right now, it's all the canner you need.

2. Pressure Canner

Last year, we experimented with tomatoes and beans, which meant that I needed to go ahead and invest in a pressure canner. I wanted one that would last me for the long haul, so I invested in a solid cast aluminum one from All American. And yes, it's made in the USA which is a great bonus. This one is heavy duty, and it's so easy to use. Simply open the box, read the SUPER detailed directions and go for it.

Pressure canners can also be used for just pressure cooking--making it multi-purpose! Now that I own both types of canners, I can preserve any harvest. I look forward to trying it out on dry beans this year, and of course my tomato sauces. This is a 21.5 quart which is a great size for the amount of canning that I do, but they have smaller and larger volume ones available. 

3. Reusable Canning Lids

I was introduced to these gems a few years ago, then I forgot I had purchased any. One day I found them and I have been using them ever since. They are totally safe for canning (BPA free), AND once you invest in a batch you don't have to throw them out upon opening each jar. Simply toss the lid and rubber ring into a bag to use next canning season.

I highly recommend getting enough for the regular AND wide mouth jars--I purchased 24 of each to get started. They are so easy and yes, they seal well! I like that I know they won't rust like some of the metal ones do. They are so much cheaper in the long run than having to buy new boxes of the metal lids. And if you need to, you can replace the rubber ring at some point. I am going to buy myself another dozen more of each size since I have been using them so much. If you haven't tried them yet, snag a box and just give it a try. They are ideal for high acidic foods like salsa and pickles.

Something else I like, if you get a jar that doesn't seal, you can simply take off the lid and ring, wash them really well, and re-do the process. No throwing any lids away. I usually have 2-4 jars that won't seal...but when I re-process them, I usually get them all sealed the second time.

4. Canning Tools

I wouldn't be able to do my canning half so well if I didn't have a LARGE collection of jars of various sizes, my jar tongs, my magnetic lid grabber, my jar rack, my jar funnel, and my little blue headspace measure. Each of these things plays a vital role in my canning process and I'm lost if I can't find even one of them. Fortunately, you get the Utensil Set when you buy a water bath canner these days--but if you don't have them, you can still buy them individually for less then $10.

5. Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving

This is my best friend during canning season. it gives me a play by play on how to can just about any item I could grow AND it is chock full of canning recipes! I use it heavily every single year and am so glad I purchased it two years ago. I have my favorite pages marked and reach for it as soon as the harvest begins.

This year I've made pickles using a recipe from here, and will be doing beets and hopefully relish. I also used it last year when I was canning my beans.

Interestingly enough, compared to my grandmas from years past, it hasn't changed very much through the years! You can find it at most any store that carries canning supplies (I bought mine at Kroger), but you can also find the Ball's Blue Book online.

I hope this gives you a starting place on the things that are useful for setting up your canning supplies. The great thing about canning is that once you set yourself up, there really isn't much additional expense...especially if you go with the reusable lids!
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