Small Investment, Big Return
By now you have planned and maybe even planted your garden in the hopes of preserving the harvest in months to come. Even if you don’t have room for a garden you can still preserve fruits and vegetables purchased from the grocer. This week I got a killer deal on asparagus!
Start looking for sales to arrive as soon as harvests get into full swing. In the meantime, garage sale season has begun and before the rush of summer activities, you can begin to look for canning equipment at bargain prices.
Where should you begin? Most items suitable for canning can already be found in your kitchen. Next, look at garage sales and then follow our recommendations. For under $50 you can have the tools to preserve your own food.
Water Bath Canner
If you’re a beginner start with water bath canning, it’s the easiest. Water bath canners are the least expensive, and they are great to have around for other cooking purposes. You can find these at any place that sells canning supplies (hardware stores, big box houseware, grocery stores, etc). However, I would ask friends and neighbors (especially the older generation who may be hanging up their canning aprons). I found both of my canners at thrift stores and garage sales. A water bath canner will cost you around $20 new, and considerably less if purchased used.
If you happen to find a large pot with a lid, but the wire rack is long gone, you can still use it for canning. The purpose of the rack is to aid with water circulation around the jars. You can make your own from aluminum foil or canning jar rings so don’t pass up a deal on a large pot for lack of a rack.
I have an obscene about of canning jars that I moved 2300 miles from Oregon to Texas. My obsession became apparent when we were unloading the truck and I had to stack the boxes in one place. My family thinks I’m nuts, but those jars are handy to have and I’ve purchased them (or been given them) for next to nothing. It was too much money to replace them so they made the trip. Around my house, these jars are not only used for canning but food storage as well. A 12 pack of new lids and bands will run you around $3.50 at Amazon.
For food preservation, you have to use CANNING JARS! Not just any jar will work. This is another one to look for at garage sales, or ask people who are moving and not as dedicated as I am. They will usually just give them away. Look for Mason, Ball or Kerr brands on them to ensure quality and inspect the jars for air bubbles, cracks, or nicks around the lid. Leave these behind or recycle them. Imperfections can cause jars to break, burst, or not seal during processing. Be sure to get a variety of sizes and save the really old once for decorations, they are not longer viable for canning purposes.
Jars come in quart, pint, and half-pint sizes. Avoid the 2-quart jars for canning, they typically don’t fit into the pot and therefore don’t seal well. There are also wide mouth (big opening) and small mouth (smaller opening) jars. I have a personal preference to wide mouth jars since I can fit my hand inside them to clean them.
Related Post: Home Canning is Making a Comeback
If purchased new, you can expect to pay:
- $8 for 12-pint size jars (16 oz)
- 5 for 12 – 1/2 pint size jars (8 oz)
- $7 for 12 – 1/4 pint size jars (4 oz)
- 4 for 12-quart size jars (32 oz)
- $22 for 6-gallon size jars (64 oz)
Think about what you’re going to be canning and fit the food, portion sizes, and use to your jar. For example, a quart of canned carrots is a bit much if you use it for a side dish at dinner for 2, however if you have a family of 8 with a carrot fetish it works. This is a great way to do portion control and avoid wasting food. A quart of soup feeds 2 people and maybe a leftover for work the next day. Also, consider how long it takes to use what you’re canning. Our family doesn’t eat applesauce often so a quart of applesauce goes bad in the fridge where a pint of applesauce would have been just right.
I stockpile lids! You need to match the lid to the mouth of your jar. I always buy double what I need. You never know when there will be a run on lids at the store. My mom has run out of lids in the middle of canning and found the entire city was sold out! Panic! You will need to lids, the screw on lid and the flat part. If your screw lids (bands) get really rusty I recommend replacing them, mainly because they get difficult to open. There are reusable canning lids (Tattler), I’ve been dying to try them but just haven’t yet. It’s on my list for this summer so expect a review soon.
Traditional lids come in two pieces, the lid, and the metal band. The bands can be reused until they rust. The lid is a one-time thing when used for canning purposes. The rubber gasket used for sealing will not safely seal the jar again. I do reuse mine for regular food storage and use my FoodSaver attachment to seal them. Tattler makes reusable lids, but I have so many of the regular kind that I have not tried them.
Small Items Make the Difference
The process of canning can be hot and tiring, but also rewarding. These little kitchen items can make a big difference to speed your preparations along. They will not be expensive to purchase and many are already in your kitchen.
Canning Tongs – These safely grab your hot jars so you can move them in and out of the canner. Thay also work well to transfer hot jars from the dishwasher after you’ve sterilized them.
Wide Mouth Funnel – This little item makes filling your jars less messy and WAY easier. I also use Mason jars for daily storage and the wide mouth funnel is great for easy filling. Mine is always within easy reach.
Rubber Spatula – Used around the inside of a filled jar to release trapped air bubbles. You probably have a few in your kitchen right now.
Strainer, peeler, cutting board and knife – Kitchen gadgets to have on hand for processing day.
Dish towels – I lay mine out to catch spills when filling, to act as a hot pad, to lay over the jars once they come out of the canner, and to soak up water from jars after processing. It saves on kitchen clean up later.
Should You Spring for a Pressure Canner?
If you know you’re going to be pressure canning either this year or next, skip the water bath canner for the pressure canner, it can do both. It will save money and space. You can find used pressure canners, but purchase new if you have the money. This is truly an instrument that needs to be in good condition or you could be in trouble. A new pressure canner is completely safe and if you are careful and concise then there is nothing to fear. It will cost around $
You can have an older pressure canner tested by your local extension office if you happen to score a used one. Instructions state they shouldn’t be used on a flat top stove, so be sure you can use it. I’ll admit, I’ve used a flat top stove and it worked fine, but read these canning recommendations from NCHFP before you do it yourself.
Related Post: Afraid of Your Pressure Canner? Do this practice test.
If you are going to get serious about canning, a good recipe and processing guideline book is just as important as any other equipment. There are tons of canning books out there, these are the ones on my shelf and I use them regularly.
- The Organic Canner by Daisy Luther (read my review)
- Put ’em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton
- Keeping the Harvest by Nancy Chioffi
- Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Ball Canning
- The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving Ellie Topp
The bottom line is this – keep on the lookout for used equipment at garage sales and purchase the other items you will need. You can reasonably get into water bath canning for less than $50 and the supplies will last for years to come. What will you be canning first?
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