The public outcry over the food practices in our country is spurring a renewed interest in home canning...and for good reason! Canning your food at home insures nothing toxic goes into the food you and your family consumes. And it also tastes better! That's a win/win in my books.
Don't let the thought of canning intimidate you. It's not as hard as you may think. You also won't have to invest your life savings to start a home canning operation in your home. In fact, most of the equipment you need you probably already own. Here's a list of both the basic essentials as well as a few other things you might want to pick up as time goes by:
You can often find these glass canning jars at garage sales for cheap. Run your finger around the rim of the jar (when buying used) to make sure you don't feel any chips or dents. Even the slightest chip will keep your jars from sealing. Most grocery stores sell jars in various sizes by the case during the summer and fall canning seasons. (NOTE: Don't use recycled mayonnaise and other condiment jars for canning--use only mason jars created for the purpose of canning.)
Seal able Jar Lids
While you can buy the jars used and re-use them over and over, jar lids need to be new. These little metal lids have a rubbery band around them that once hot, create the seal between the lid and the jar. If you're buying new jars by the case, these lids will be included. If you're re-using old jars, the lids can be purchased separately and are inexpensive.
Jar Bands or Rings
These metal rings screw down on the jar to create a snug fit between the jar and the lid. They can be re-used and don't have to be purchased new each time. If you find your running short on rings, you can take them off totally cool jars that have already been canned and sealed. You don't have to store them with the bands screwed on. Again, if you're buying new jars by the case, the rings will be included in the package, but you can purchase them separately as well.
Boiling Water Canner
This doesn't have to be as intimidating as it sounds...you can use a big stockpot or other large, deep sauce pot you already own. I canned my own jams and jellies for YEARS before I invested in a water canner (that I found at a yard sale for $5!) The pot you use needs to be large enough to have the jars you're canning completely submerged (with about 2 inches or more of water above the jar tops) and with enough room around the jars that water can move freely).
If you're using a saucepot from your kitchen, it needs to have a properly fitting lid to go with it. You will also need to either buy a wire rack (you can buy them separately in the same section as the jars in most stores) or create a homemade solution yourself so that your jars are not sitting on the bottom of the pot unprotected.
A great homemade solution I used was placing as many jar rings side by side on the bottom of the saucepan as would fit. The jars then sat on top of the rings, creating space between the pot and the jar bottoms.
Things like measuring cups, wooden spoons (long handled ones work best), ladles, funnels, spatulas, etc.
Non-essentials (but very helpful additions):
This tongs-like simple contraption is designed especially for safe jar lifting from boiling water baths when the jars are too hot to touch. Although it's not an essential, it's hard to can without it (I've used regular kitchen tongs before, which are tricky. The wet jars tend to want to slip from your grip and dropping a glass jar full of boiling hot food is something you definitely want to avoid!)
This is a little plastic stick with a magnet on the bottom for ease of lifting your jar lids out of the warm water you've got them sitting in while you're canning. This little lifter is totally NOT essential, but very inexpensive and quite slick. I didn't have one for years, but after I got it, I wondered why I didn't spring the 2 bucks a long time ago. I love it!
Bubble Remover and Headspace Tool
If you want to be sure about the headspace you're leaving, there's no better way than measuring it with a specially designed device to get the job done. Some people swear by them, but it's never been something I've used.
This is the most expensive investment of the whole canning process, but you can pick one up for less than $75.00 and it will last forever, at least! (I have one passed down from my grandma).
Although I didn't put it in the MUST HAVE section, it is a must have if you plan on canning low-acid things like most vegetables, meats, etc. However, there are many, many recipes you to can that don't need a pressure canner, so it's not essential for all canning. My suggestion is that if you're new to canning, try your hand with the water bath method of canning first before you dive into recipes that require pressure canning.
Kerrie Hubbard lives in Portland, Oregon with 9 chickens, 1 cat and several small raised bed gardens. Her website, City Girl Farming ( http://www.citygirlfarming.com ) is an urban guide to raising and growing your own food in small spaces.