If you are just now thinking about joining the trend in our communities to can food this summer, start by checking your equipment and supplies. Proper equipment in good condition is required for safe, high quality home canned food.
A pressure canner is essential for canning low-acid vegetables, meats, fish, and poultry. Two basic types are available. One has a dial gauge to indicate the pressure inside the canner; the other has a metal weighted gauge. Dial gauges must be tested for accuracy before each canning season. For information on testing a dial gauge, call your county Extension agent or a local hardware store. Check the rubber gasket if your canner has one; it should be flexible and soft, not brittle, sticky or cracked. Also make sure any small pipes or ventports with openings are clean and open all the way through.
A boiling water canner is needed for canning other foods such as fruits, pickles, jellies and jams. The canner should be deep enough to allow at least one to two inches of water to boil over the tops of the jars.
Both types of canners should have a rack in the bottom to keep jars off the bottom of the canner.
Inventory your jars and decide if you need to buy new jars this year. Inspect those you have for nicks, cracks or chips, especially around the top sealing edge. Nicks can prevent lids from sealing. Very old jars can weaken with age and repeated use; they break under pressure and heat. Consider investing in new jars if you need to, and watch for specials at the stores. New jars are a better investment over time than buying used jars at yard sales or flea markets.
Mason-type jars specifically designed for home canning are best. Jars that use two-piece self-sealing metal lids are the recommended container in USDA guidelines. A "must" every canning season is new flat lids. Used lids should be thrown away. The screw bands are re-usable if they are not bent, dented or rusted.
A final must is reliable, up-to-date canning instructions. Publications and information are available at your county Extension office, or on this website for the National Center for Home Food Preservation. The most recently revised edition of the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning is dated 2009; all recommendations in this book are current. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service also sells So Easy to Preserve, a comprehensive book with information on all types of home food preservation. The order form for the book can be printed from www.soeasytopreserve.com. Directions for payment and mailing or faxing orders are on that order form.
Be sure to look at the instructions for what you want to can well before you are ready to prepare the food. You may need time to purchase some ingredients and small equipment that are necessary to prepare food exactly as the directions indicate. There are a few products in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, for example, that use a starch only available through mail order for most locations.
Planning ahead can save you time, money, and frustration with home canning. Make it a happy, successful canning season by getting prepared before your harvest is ready.
Prepared by Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D., Extension Food Safety Specialist, The University of Georgia. March 2011.