Jam Sessions : Basics : Tools of the Trade

20 June 2013

Building on the canning dictionary I shared with you earlier this week, there are a few specific tools that you will probably need if you want to start canning.  Let's go through them, shall we?

A Guide to Canning Tools!
Canning Pot or Canner
 This is the tool that really makes the magic happen - it is used to sterilize the jars and also seal them....and it's really nothing more than a large pot. You can buy commercially sold canning pots, or you can just use any large, heavy duty soup pot in your kitchen. They key is just the addition of the canning rack.

Canning Rack
A shallow (usually metal) rack that elevates the jars slightly off the bottom of the canning pot. The rack keeps the jars from being in direct contact with the heat of the stove and also allows the water to circulate and ensure that it is able to evenly come in contact with all facets of the jars. You can use a rack specifically designed for canning or you can also use a round cake cooling rack that fits in your pot - both do the job!

Pressure Canner
The pressure canner is a special pot that applies pressure during the cooking process & allow the water to reach higher temperatures as a result.  Pressure canners are only necessary if you are planning to can low acid foods. 

Lid Lifter
Lids must be submerged in hot boiling water before they can be used. This process sanitizes them and also helps to soften the rubber for a better seal. This tool is designed in order to remove the lids from the boil. It is not 100% necessary, but it is helpful. It is basically a magnet on the end of a stick.  I happen to have some neat geometric magnets on my fridge that keep my fingers safe and work just as well.

Jar Funnel
A funnel with a wide a opening perfect for the opening of a mason jar. This funnel will basically help you make less of a mess. It's not necessary to use a funnel, you can also just ladle directly into jars, but you'll find there is more clean up to do on the jars before they can be sealed.

Jar Lifter/Grabber
This specially designed tool is essentially a pair of tongs with a circular grasp to pick up mason jars. It's nessisary to safely be able to remove the jars from the boiling water.

And of course there are the beloved mason jars!  Perfect for sprucing up your decor, storing spices, turning into adorable lamps, but of course for canning food!  There are lots of options for jars, so let's talk about that.

There are 3 parts of a mason jar...

Anatomy of a mason jar

Jar: The glass part. Jars are reusable as long as they have no chips or cracks in them, so it's important to inspect them before using.

Lid: The metal circle that fits on the top. Lids have a rubber band that fuses to the glass of the jar and that is what creates your seal. You should not reuse lids and replacement packages are available just about everywhere canning products are sold.

Band: The metal ring that screws around the top of the jar and holds the lid in place. Bands are reusable, but should be cleaned well after use.

There are a multitude of size options to choose from...

Common mason jar sizes

Generally, the size you use is entirely up to you.  I tend to primarily use half-pints or quarter pints for almost all of my projects, but if you have a big family you may find yourself wanting to package your goods in a larger jar.  Half gallon jars are also available and I love to have one or two around for making lemonade  but they are pretty bulking to use for my personal canning projects.

There are two sizes for the lids: regular or wide-mouth.
Wide mouth jars vs regular mouth jars

Obviously wide-mouth jars just have a larger opening at the top.  There is no special science here as to wide-mouth vs regular - it's a matter of personal preference as to which you use, but just remember that if you pick wide-mouth jars, you need to pick wide-mouth lids to match.  I pretty much exclusively use regular mouth jars and it makes it easier for me to be sure that I always have the right lids and bands on hand.

The last thing I want to talk about is pectin
Everything you need to know about pectin for home canning!

It's not really hardware, but it is a really important part of canning if you plan to make jams or jellies and it is something that not everyone is familiar with.  Pectin is a natural gelling agent that is derived from fruits like apples or citrus fruits.  Pectin is the unsung hero of jam and jelly making...it's the ingredient that really makes the magic happen.  You don't need pectin to make jam, but almost all modern jam recipes use pectin and for good reason.  Pectin allows jams to gel with less sugar being added and with significantly less cooking time.  It's a beautiful thing.

Comercial pectin is slightly sweet and doesn't have much of a flavor to it.  You can find pectin at your local grocery store usually in the baking isle with the other canning supplies.  

There are a few different types of pectin, but they all work pretty much the same way:

Powder: The most common state of pectin.  Sold in a small box or in a larger jar.
Liquid: Liquid pectin is basically powdered pectin that has already been disolved.  It is a bit messier and harder to work with in my opinion, but some people swear by it.
Lite or Low-Sugar: Pectin that cuts the typical jam recipe's sugar content down by about 40% vs regular pectin.  It makes the jam a bit better for you, but I also really appreciate the resulting flavor with the low sugar recipes -it's less in your face sweetness and allows the fruit flavor to shine through a bit more.
Freezer Jam Pectin: This is a product designed specifically for making freezer jam and no cooking is necessary to create a gel.  My understanding though is that this pectin can create runny jam more often than not. This product is not intended for traditional canning.  You can use regular pectin for freezer jam, but you can't use this freezer jam pectin for traditional hot water bath canning and it has a bad reputation for not working as well...so, you want my advice? Skip it - use regular pectin and cook your jam even if you plan to freeze it.

That's all for today!  Stay tuned tomorrow for your chance to win some of these awesome tools!

Questions?  Something I didn't cover?  Please don't hesitate to leave me a comment below!

1 comment:

  1. I'm really enjoying this series... I'm about to start canning for the first time and I'm terrified of the pressure cooker& the little weights...I've been looking for a comprehensive series for a while ;)


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