Because I was so intimidated by canning, before I ever tried it on my own, I took a class at the Workshop in San Francisco. Totally not necessary, but it made me feel more comfortable. Included in the class fee was a starter kit of the canning essentials. It was great to have as a novice canner totally intimidated by the whole deal.
I can in three different places, depending on what I’m canning and when: tiny studio kitchen, my dad’s large beautiful kitchen, and a friend’s apartment that is somewhere in between. My canning accouterments are spread between these three locations, and from the many times I have forgotten an implement in one place or the other, I have learned what is essential for the canning process and what can be fudged. There is surprisingly little you need to go out and buy, aside from the jars and what you’re going to put in them.
Here’s what you need to have to begin canning, and some ghetto-rigs to get around buying new kitchen uni-taskers:
- *Canning jars* with *new lids* and *rings* (previously used jars and rings are OK, just check for chips in the glass and rust on the rings)
- *A large pot* You should be able to cover jars with water by a few inches. You can just use a big stock pot, no need to go out and buy a canner unless you’ve got aspirations for big canning projects.
- *Jar lifter* This is the one thing you really should buy if you’re going to can – I do not recommend trying to use kitchen tongs, you’re dealing with a large pot of boiling water! You can pick one up in a hardware store, or ask around to see if someone has one lying in a junk drawer somewhere (my dad had one, and I don’t remember my mother ever canning).
- *Buffer* (Martine-coined term) You need to put something between the bottom of your pot and the jars to let the water circulate and prevent the jars from breaking. If you have a canner you can use a canning rack (which I use for big batches). I use this silicone trivet (great recommendation from Food in Jars), but you can also create a layer of bands from jars at the bottom of a pot. In a pinch, I’ve used a few folded kitchen towels.
- *Bubble popper and measurer* You can use a wooden chopstick instead to stir out the bubbles in your product. If you need to measure head space, you can mark it on the chopstick using a ruler and a sharpie.
- *Standard kitchen stuff* Knives, measuring cups, timer, towels, etc; one large pot for cooking jam and one small pot/pan for heating lids (not pictured)
I know it sounds like a lot, but it’s really not. With the exception of the jar lifter, you should have everything else already in your kitchen. Here’s my stove and counter set-up when I’m canning. I fully admit that this picture is obviously staged – it’s clean (no jam splashes and dirty dishes crowding the counter), the pots are empty and the lid should not be on the ceramic pot. I’ll update with a real-life picture next time I can; it will be a funny comparison.
Here’s a few things that are nice to have and make canning a little easier:
- Canner with a canning rack: Not necessary unless you’ve got a lot to can. You can use a large pot and a buffer, as described above.
- Funnel: If you don’t have one, heat a glass measuring cup (to prevent breakage) by filling it with hot water; empty and ladle hot jam into the measuring cup and pour into the jars.
- Tongs: If you’re filling jars with solid items like pickles or onions.
- Lid wand: If I don’t have one handy, I use a ladle to pull out the lids.
- Candy thermometer: For gauging if jam will set. You can also check if your jam will set by using a cold plate or the observing how the jam drips off the spoon (the method I use). They aren’t scientific, but they work for me (Runny jam doesn’t bother me).
- Plate check: Put a few plates in the freezer before you start making jam. When you think the jam is done, put a dollop of jam on the plate and wait a few minutes. If it is firm-ish and not runny, it’s done.
- Drip check: Give the jam a good stir and lift up your spoon. Observe the jam as it drizzles off the spoon. If it runs of in drops, it’s not done. But if the drops of jam come together before dropping off the spoon, it will set.
If you really want to throw yourself into canning, you can buy a starter kit for around $15 at hardware and kitchen stores that includes a jar lifter, funnel, lid wand (and usually two additional useless items, a jar opener and tongs).
Is there anything I’ve forgotten or do you have a rad canning trick? Let me know in the comments.