Thursday, June 4, 2015

Food Preservation: Canning Equipment

Described below are the basic pieces of equipment you will need to begin canning. In later posts I will explain exactly how to use them all, but I thought that I ought to do an introduction and explanation of the things you will need to acquire in order to get started, before I make a post on how to do the actual canning.

Canning Jars - Modern canning jars come in a wide range of sizes ranging from 2 oz to a half gallon. There are two different mouth sizes, which are called regular mouth and wide mouth. They are self-sealing, which means that the lids will adhere themselves to the jars after processing for a set period of time. Processing can be done either in a boiling water bath, or inside a pressure canner, depending upon what foods you are canning.

Canning Rings - Canning rings are screw-on rings designed to hold the lid in place while processing. They hold the lid firmly in place until a vacuum is achieved and the lid adheres itself to the jar. After the jars are sealed, the ring may be removed for storage.

Canning Lids - Canning lids have a heat-activated adhesive around the edge which allows them to adhere to the edge of the jar mouth after processing. Once the jars are removed from the heat, after processing, a vacuum is formed which seats the lid onto the jar. Once the jar has cooled, a tight seal is formed and you can remove your ring for storage. You should be able to pick up your jar by the lid without it falling off, that is how strongly it adheres.

Pressure Canner - A pressure canner is a device used to can foods. It works by using the pressure to increase the temperature at which the foods are being processed. This heat kills bacteria better than the boiling water method, and also cuts processing times much shorter.

At the top of the lid there is a pressure escape stem which a weight fits over. This is how you control how many pounds of pressure are inside the vessel.

The weight comes apart and each of the pieces represents 5 pounds of pressure. Add just the base and it's 5 pounds of pressure. Add to that a ring and it is 10 pounds. The completed weight with both rings is 15 pounds of pressure.

The lid of the canner locks onto the pot by twisting after you have lined up the indicator arrows and dropped the lid into place.

Inside the lid you can see the gasket which seals in the steam and, therefore, the pressure. The nub on the lid toward the top of the photo is a pressure indicator button. Once the pressure inside reaches a certain level, a button on the top of the lid pops up. You should never attempt to open a canner while it is at pressure.

Inside the pot is a rack on which your canning jars rest. The rack keeps the jars away from the direct heat of the burner, and ensures that the boiling water at the bottom of the canner doesn't upset the jars while they are processing.

Always keep the user manual for your pressure canner on hand, and review it each time you use your canner. Working with pressure vessels can be dangerous and it never hurts to double check that you are doing everything right. There are instructions for the canner, instructions for canning (i.e. processing times, head space allowances, etc.) and even some good canning and pressure cooking recipes in here.

Canning Pot & Rack - Although pressure canning is viewed as the safest method of canning, as far as killing bacteria and avoiding food-born illness, boiling water canning is safe for certain foods and under certain conditions. If you wish you can purchase a large pot, like the one pictured at right, and a canning rack that fits inside. Sorry I don't have a picture of the rack, but I typically just use my pressure canner for my boiling water processing as well. Just don't lock the lid on, and it works fine!

Lid Lifter - A lid lifter is basically just a magnet on a handle. It is used to lift canning lids out of the hot water, and place them onto jars without your fingers contaminating the lids.

Canning Tongs - Canning tongs are used to lift and lower jars into and out of boiling water. Canning jars are very hot, even before they have been processed, so please always use your canning tongs to avoid injury.

Head Space Tool - The head space tool pulls double duty. The stair-stepped end is used to measure head space. (The amount of space between the food being canned and the rim of the jar.) The flat handle can be used to coax air bubbles out of the food before you process. Both are important in achieving the correct seal, no leakage, no explosions, and the correct shelf life.

Canning Funnel - A canning funnel is a specially designed funnel made to fit canning jars. Its opening is wide enough to allow the foods being canned to pass through easily. Canning without a funnel would be a huge mess. I think I would end up with more on the counter top than in the jars.