There are two types of canners:
The water bath canner is used to can high-acid foods: jellies, jams, preserves,
tomatoes, relishes, and pickles. Lehman's carries a large, nice water-bath
canner, but if you have a large, deep pot and use a canning rack (available
where canning supplies are sold), you don't need a special water-bath canner.
The pressure canner is used to can low-acid foods, like vegetables. Low-acid
foods must be processed at 240 to 250 degrees Farenheit. Since boiling water
only reaches 212 degrees Farenheit, you need a pressure canner to raise this
temperature when processing low-acid foods.
I recommend you try canning high-acid foods first, so you don't have to spend
money on a pressure canner. If you decide canning is for you, then you'll need a
good pressure canner. I recommend you invest in a new one, since with used ones
you can't determine in what condition they are. Pressure canning is safe as long
as you follow the manufacturer's instructions and watch the canner's pressure
gauge every once in a while.
It is important to use standard canning jars only. These are especially for
canning, made of tempered glass and have threaded mouths, and these are the only
safe jars. You can buy these at many chain grocery stores, or at kitchen supply
stores that carry canning supplies.
These jars can be reused over and over, provided they're crack and chip free, so
they pay for themselves in the long run. Make sure to inspect the jars
thoroughly and discard any that have cracks or chips, as they may burst inside
Lids and Rings
You can buy canning lids and rings wherever canning supplies are sold. The rings
can be reused, as long as they don't get rusty. The lids are for a one-time-only
use, as the sealing compound on the underside border loses its ability to seal
after one use. Some people do reuse the lids, but I don't believe that's safe.
Remember to always follow the manufacturer's instructions for preparing the lids
and rings for use.
Note: never use metal utensils to touch the hot jars, as they may crack.
Jar Funnel - This is a plastic funnel, available where canning supplies
are sold. It makes filling your jars a snap! Not an absolutely necessary item,
but very handy.
Spatula - Use a plastic or wooden spatula to run down the sides of the
canning jar. This releases air bubbles and lets you pack the contents more
Jar Lifter Tongs - This is a very handy utensil! It helps you lift the
very hot jars from the canner without burning your hands. A definite must have.
Basic Kitchen Items: Wooden spoons, slotted (non-metallic!) spoons,
measuring cups and spoons, knives (don't touch the jars with them), pots, pans,
saucepans, strainer/colander, tongs, kitchen scale, timer.
Hot Pack vs. Raw Pack
The hot-pack method for filling jars is used when the food you're canning is
firm and can withstand cooking in hot water, juice, or syrup. This method allows
for better, tighter packing of the food in the jars, and, in the case of the
water-bath method, it lets you process the food in less time. There is no
difference, time-wise, if you use the pressure-canner method.
The raw-pack method is used for more delicate foods, that would tend to break up
with cooking (such as peaches). In this case, you'd place the food in the jars
raw, packing it down firmly without crushing, and then adding boiling water,
juice, or syrup, to cover the food (making sure you leave about an inch of head
space between the top of the liquid and the rim of the jar). When using the
raw-pack method, don't put the jars into boiling water, or they may break. I
usually keep the canners at low heat, and gently lower the jars before
increasing the heat to high.
The information given on these pages refers to altitudes of between 0 and 1,000
feet above sea level. Over that, the air is thinner, and this affects the
temperature at which water boils. I suggest that if you live above 1,000 feet,
you consult an altitude chart, found in most canning books, to adjust the proper
pressure and canning times accordingly.