Canning it: Tools of the trade
Home preservation can and should be done inexpensively. But it can also be a super-fun way to fill your cupboards with tools and gadgets specifically designed to extend the life of food. If you are really interested in food preservation -- and you should be –- here are nine tools that can help you on your way.
- Basic canning kit: If you have ever made jam, jelly or pickles, this should be in your pantry. By far the least expensive thing on this list, a kit consists of a jar lifter, wide-mouth funnel, magnetic lid lifter and a combination head-space measurer/bubble remover. Must-haves for anyone canning food.
- Canning jars: Oh, Ball canning company, what would we do without you? Available at most grocery and hardware stores this time of year, the jar is the most vital tool in canning. Remember, the jar and ring are reusable (and if they survive long enough, collectible), but the lid needs to be replaced with every new use, so when you buy a set of jars, go ahead and get the extra lids too. You should never try canning in commercial pasta or mayonnaise jars, since they aren’t designed for reuse.
- Swing-top bale-wire bottles: The perfect thing for showing off your beautiful cordials and homemade ginger ale.
- Steam juicer: This amazing gadget, which can be ordered online from Finland, is perfect for anyone who owns a fruit tree or has an abundant garden. It makes short work of pomegranates, lemons, tomatoes and apples. Also doubles as a steamer.
- Pressure canner: Once you’ve become (understandably) obsessed with canning, you should go all the way and get a pressure canner. Sure, they’re 21 quarts' worth of enormous, but it really is the key tool in canning shelf-stable products. Follow the directions and you will have a lifetime of canning fun. They need to be treated with care and recalibrated every few years, which can be done by the L.A. County Master Food Preservers free of charge.
- Dehydrator: Make jerky, crackers, dried fruit and fruit leather. Think outside the box too. Try kale chips or pureeing salsa to make salsa leather, or how about banana mash and flaxseed crackers?
- Home smoker: When you’re really committed to smoking, it’s time to invest in a hot smoker. Stovetop versions are available at finer cooking stores. Dedicated smokers can be found at grilling stores and hardware stores. Smoke preservation works for meats, vegetables and, when using cold smoke, dairy.
- Vacuum sealer: For just under $100 you can own one of the modern marvels of home preservation. Friend to all, the vacuum sealer can be used for meat going into your freezer, for sealing food you intend to sous-vide and for protecting grains and flours. There is also a jar attachment, so you can vacuum-seal dry items using your canning jars.
- Yogurt maker: Turning milk into yogurt is one of the oldest preservation techniques. Doing it with a machine is a lot more contemporary and a lot more fun. The difference between homemade and store-bought will impress you.
Los Angeles County Master Food Preservers are food-safety specialists trained and certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension. Support for the University of California Cooperative Extension, Los Angeles County, has been provided by the Metabolic Studio, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation. The Master Food Preservers are volunteers who provide information and technical assistance to home preservationists in L.A. County. They can be found on Facebook.
-- Rachael Narins
Photo credit: Rachael Narins