It's canning season! Food preservation is one of my favorite activities in the summer and sometimes in the winter when I make jelly from the juice I froze in the summer.
Column by Carrie Johnson, Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Family Resource Management Specialist
For more information about needed equipment you can read the short information sheet Canning Equipment at iGrow.org.
Because canning is a hobby of mine, I have had all the necessary supplies for years and didn't think much about the cost of getting started until a recent trip to Kansas.
I was already on the road, to visit my sister and her family when my nieces called to ask me if I would help them make jam and jelly to exhibit in 4-H at their County Fair.
Since I didn't pack any of my canning supplies, once I got to Kansas, it was time to take the girls shopping. I figured that this way, after they learn the basics they could continue to preserve food in future years.
When we returned home with the supplies and I turned the receipt into my sister, she was a little more than surprised to learn the cost of canning equipment.
This made me realize that I should spend some time breaking down the cost of equipment for those new to canning so they can better understand the investment they will need to make.
Canning supplies can be purchased at grocery stores, some hardware stores, other retailers where kitchen items can be found, and online retailers.
What you plan to preserve will determine the type of canner you need to purchase. If you are canning low-acid foods, like vegetables and meat, you will need a pressure canner. When it comes to pressure canners, there are two options: you can buy a weighted gauge or dial gauge canner. Either one will do the job.
A pressure canner will run you anywhere from $65 to $100. I have used both types and opted to go with a weighted gauge. Since I have such a large family, I decided to spend a little more and bought a double stack pressure canner. This way, I can process twice the number of jars at the same time. There is also a "Cadillac" canner that operates without a gasket and has both a weight and a dial gauge on the lid. These canners sell for up to $250.
If you purchase one at a garage/rummage sale, check the gasket. If a new one is needed they can be purchased for $10-$15. Before you purchase a second had one, be sure that the lid or the pan is not warped. You can test this by securing the lid on and taking it off again without extra effort. Also, if you do decide to go with a dial gauge canner have the dial checked annually to make sure it is still correct.
If you are canning acid or acidified foods (jams, jellies, salsa, fruit) you will need a hot water bath canner. These are relatively inexpensive.
You can buy one for about $20. Again, I bought a larger one that cost about $45 in order to process more jars than the average canner.
Jars & Lids
Jars are another item that has an upfront investment. You need to make sure you are purchasing mason-type jars with two piece lids. Commercial jars have a narrower sealing surface and are tempered less than Mason jars, and may be weakened by repeated contact with metal spoons or knives used in dispensing mayonnaise or salad dressing. Seemingly insignificant scratches in glass may cause cracking and breakage while processing jars in a canner. Two piece lids are recommended in home food preservation because they allow for a vacuum seal (take all the air out) without the use of machines.
The cost will depend on the size of jar you purchase. For a dozen jars plan on spending between $7 and $15. Jars are reusable and should last for many years. Just double-check that there are no chips on the rim before use. Again, you can purchase these second hand, just check them for cracks and chips. Wash the jars before use. If the jars are processed for at least 10 minutes, they do not need to be sterilized.
As for lids, you can reuse the rings year after year; however, you will need to buy new flats every year. These are relatively inexpensive costing only about $2 to $3 dollars for a dozen.
Extra utensils make canning a little easier, such as a jar lifter, magnetic lid lifter, head-space measurer/bubble freer and funnel.
These can be purchase separately for a few dollars apiece, or you can get a starter kit. I bought my nieces one for around $7.