Perhaps a better “what” question to start this post off is: WHAT are the different ways to preserve food? The method chosen will determine WHAT instruments are needed. Because there are many methods of food preservation I will address this question then move into what is needed, specifically to can food with a boiling water canner.
PRESERVING IN ALCOHOL: Alcohol is a very useful ingredient in food preservation because it kills harmful bacteria. Less sugar is needed when alcohol is included into recipes. Depending on potency of alcohol, the taste may be very strong and undesirable, especially for children. Try a recipe that includes a mix of alcohol, sugar, and spices (like spiced port plum jam) to fully appreciate this preserving method.
DRYING: This method can be done in either a dehydrator or the oven. It is safer and more effective to buy a dehydrator if you plan on drying food on a regular basis. This is something that Grey and I have not ventured to much into. We have dried cherries in the oven…but these needed to be stored in the refrigerator because they did not get dry enough to store on the shelf.
FREEZING: This is one of the simplest canning methods. Fruit just needs to be prepared (peeled,pitted, etc.) and thrown into a freezer bag. We regularly peel and freeze bananas before they are about to go bad so we can use them in recipes later or just to eat as a snack!
PRESSURE CANNING: A pressure canner looks like a large regular pot on the stove, but includes a locking lid. Cans are put into the pressure canner, steam builds up, and heats jars to 240 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the only way to can low-acid foods like green beans (without pickling or brining), and various types of meat.
BOILING-WATER CANNING: This is exactly what it sounds like. A big pot with boiling water in it. Jars are put into the boiling water for a specific amount of time and heated to boiling point, 212 degrees farenheit. This is mainly used for high acid foods such as fruits and pickles. This is the method that I mainly use to preserve food, and will concentrate on what utensils are needed to can in a boiling water canner, for the rest of this post.
Most instruments that are required to preserve food are basic and can be found in most kitchens. There are, however, special instruments that make the life of a canner much easier. I’ll start with the regular kitchen utensils.
Measuring Cups: Measuring cups are essential to produce your favorite pickled vegetables, jams, jellies, and canned food. Please note that not all measuring cups are created equal! Dry ingredients should be measured in metal or plastic cups that can be filled and leveled off with the back of a butter knife. Liquids should be measured in a cup that can be seen through like glass or plastic.
Measuring spoons: Any standard measuring spoon set that has the tablespoon, teaspoon, ½ teaspoon, and ¼ teaspoon measurements work just fine. However, I’ve noticed that dry ingredients like sugar or salt stick to plastic measuring spoons, therefore I prefer metal spoons.
Dish Towels: Always good to have handy when dealing with large amounts of liquid, and food products.
Paper Towels: Normally, I prefer to use dish towels in the kitchen (because they cut the cost of having to continually buy paper towels) but for canning, I keep at least one roll in the house. Paper towels are cleaner and less fibrous which is perfect for wiping the rims of jars before adjusting the lids.
Cooling Rack: This is a must have when the hot jars come out of the boiling water canner. It plays an important rule in the “how canning works” portion of this series.
Colander: Every recipe that I have come across calls for fruits and veggies to be washed before beginning the process…so this is pretty self-explanatory. A Colander is great, as well, because it can be used as a sieve by lining it with cheesecloth.
Ladle: The ladle that I own has a special spout on one side for pouring liquids, this is not necessary, but it is helpful because canning has a great deal of liquid transferring involved.
Timer: A very useful tool to keep track of cooking and processing times. Most ovens are equipped with a timer (this is what I use.)
SPECIAL CANNING INSTRUMENTS: These tools are not usually found in the standard kitchen unless there is a resident canner.
Jar Funnel: These funnels are wider at the base, and are used to fill the jars with less spills and contact with the jar rims.
Jar tongs: These tongs are designed to wrap around the cylindrical shape of the jar, making it easier to lift the jars out of the boiling water canner.
Magnetic lid lifter: This is not necessary (I didn’t use one for my entire first canning season) but it is extremely useful. There is a magnet on the end of a small wand that attracts metal items like rings and lids, making retrieving them from the boiling water canner easier.
Lots of the items listed above are conveniently already in the standard kitchen and are non-disposable (besides the paper towels.) If you are overwhelmed by the amount of utensils that are needed to can, keep in mind: after they are invested in once, the cost of making home-canned food is reduced because they can be used again and again.
Have a fantastic day.