When I started canning about three years ago, I was the only one whom I knew who did it. Sure, my friends and family enjoyed the jar after jar of jam that I produced, but the actual action of canning just wasn't for them.
Now, they want me to show them how to do it. Go figure. I guess canning really has caught on (again!).
If you are interested in starting canning, you should invest in a good canning cookbook or two. The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is from the company that makes much of the canning gear out there from jars to pectin. While I don't have that book, I do have my go-to ... Preserving Summer's Bounty, which is filled with all sorts of great tidbits on how to "put up," or store, the produce of summer to eat all year round.
Beyond that, you may want a canning pot. You can use a standard stockpot, but a canning pot will make holds more jars, making the process a little more streamlined. If you will be canning low-acid foods like fruits, you will need a pressure canner.
As for tools, I was recently sent the Ball Canning Utensil Set ($12.95) to try out. For years, I have been winging it when lifting jars, using a potholder and rubber-tipped tongs. When filling, I used ladles. This set, however, comes with the real-deal tools: special jar-lifting tongs, a funnel for filling the jars without mess, a tool for measuring headspace and a magnetic tool for lifting the lids.
The jar lifter tongs were a revelation. With my former method, there was also a risk of slippage when removing jars from the water-bath while canning. But the jar lifters made the whole thing a cinch ... even when I was canning heavy quart jars of pickles. You still have to be careful when lifting (always be careful - the water is super hot and the jars get heavy!), but the lifters make the process feel more secure. That is such a good thing.
When filling jars with things like jam or relish, it can get messy. You have to be so careful when ladling the contents in ... and that's where the funnel comes in. The wider target for pouring means less spillage, and thus less wasted. When it comes to pickling though, the funnel is only moderately useful -- the thin pickling liquid generally pours in pretty easily without a funnel.
Now, the headspace measuring tool. I've always been an estimate the space kind of girl. As a result, sometimes there were variations between the space in my jars. The headspace measurer ensures that you have just the right amount of headspace every single time -- and for canning, that really matters.
Finally, the magnetic tool for lifting is intended to help you retrieve the jar lids from the pan when they've been sterilized. The only true problem with the set was this tool, for me. Since I sterilize in my large water bath canner, the water level can get very deep (particularly when I am canning quarts of pickles!). So, when I went to use the tool, I discovered that I couldn't get the magnet to reach the lids without dropping the tool in the boiling water. Fortunately it has a little opening at the top where I could slide the tongs of a fork in to retrieve the tool - and the lid. Ultimately, I wish the tool was a few inches longer.
Nonetheless, when it comes to canning, this tool set is a must. You could can without it ... but why? This makes the whole process easier -- and that's a good thing.
Ready to get canning?
Sarah W. Caron (aka scaron) is a food writer, editor and blogger who writes about family-friendly foods and raising a healthy family at Sarah's Cucina Bella.