Basic Skills: Tools & Toys
Home canning doesn't need to be complicated or expensive. While there are a lot of goodies on the market for home canners, we really only need a very few items:
A large pot with a well fitting lid. We can process a single jar or a full canner load of 7 quarts depending on our goals and what foods we have on hand to preserve so we need a pot that matches our goals. For 1-4 jars at a time, a stock pot will do the job if it is deep enough to hold the jars and at least an extra inch of water. For high-efficiency canning it makes sense to invest in a full sized water bath canning kit.
Some sort of rack to place in the bottom. Canning pot kits have a very nice rack included but if you are using a stock pot, you may need to be more creative. The basic goal is to avoid direct contact between the very hot bottom of the pot and the fairly fragile glass jars. There are several ways to do this. Many books recommend placing a folded tea towel in the pot, but I must say this has never worked for me. The towel tends to float as soon as the water starts to heat up. If your pot is tall enough, you can use a round cake pan, or a rosette of standard jar rings if you have extras. As a last resort, you can use aluminum foil, folded up so that you have 6 layers, and pressed into the bottom of the pot.
A jar-lifter. This piece is essential--there is simply no better way to get jars in and out of boiling water. I feel that buying the whole kit is kind of a waste of money, the only other piece I use is the jar funnel and the ones included in a kit are very small and cheaply made. It makes sense to buy a jar-lifter and a large metal jar funnel--the rest are toys, rather than tools.
A number of approved jars, rings and new lids. Jars come in a variety of sizes and shapes and can be purchased new or at garage sales and thrift stores. There are so many jars on the used market, in fact, that it makes sense to limit purchases of used jars to only the ones that have a brand name pressed into the glass--unbranded jars may or may not be approved for home canning and are not worth buying used. Most jars are clear glass but the colored antique jars are fine for canning also as long as the top rim is completely intact and free of any chips.
Either "regular" or "wide mouth" jars are fine for most applications. Rings can be purchased by the dozen and are completely reusable. Most home canners will find that 1 dozen of each size is plenty. The exception is when we give gifts of home canned goods--always include a ring or the recipient will not be able to hold the lid in place once the jar is opened.
The flat lids must be new each time we process a jar but it makes since to keep used lids on hand as well--they can be reused to seal jars that are simply placed into the fridge or freezer without processing. Lids are sold by the dozen and should not be stored for more than a couple of years as the rubber seal will lose its elasticity over time and may lead to seal failure if they are too old.