It’s time to dispel the idea that canning takes lots of ingredients and mountains of odd equipment useful for only one purpose. Here are the basics you need to be ready for preserving all season long.
Ingredients: Besides the specific seasonal produce and spices that you might buy for individual recipes, keep on hand one quart each of white and cider vinegar, a large box of kosher or pickling salt, a few lemons, and at least one 5-pound bag of sugar.
Jars: Keep six to 12 canning jars in half-pint, pint and quart sizes. Most recipes will use two, three or four jars. Make sure you have all the proper lids for them.
Large stockpot: Sealing jars for shelf stability requires nothing more than a 10- or 12-quart, tall, covered stockpot. Perhaps you have an old crab pot or another deep, covered pot in a closet, unused and unappreciated. (Look around at flea markets and yard sales, too.) To prepare to can, fill the pot about two-thirds of the way with water. It takes awhile to get this much water boiling, so I automatically start every canning session by filling and heating the canning kettle. Once it boils, I turn off the heat until ready to can.
Footed rack: This goes in the bottom of the pot to cushion the jars from rattling when the water is boiling hard. All sizes of stainless-steel cake racks are available at hardware stores; just measure across the inside of the pot. If that’s too much bother, use a folded dish towel on the bottom of the pot, but be prepared for the spectral floating towel.
Jar lifter: The most valuable of the small tools that make canning easier are these rubberized wide tongs that keep the jar from slipping when going in or out of boiling water. The tongs fits precisely over the top of the jar for a solid, safe grip.
Jar funnel: Plastic or stainless steel, this affordable funnel has a wide opening, sized to fit inside a canning jar. Not necessary, but so useful. No more spills!
Lid lifter: Like a pencil with a magnet on one end, it’s endlessly useful for grabbing flat lids from boiling water.
Bubbler: Run this flat plastic palette knife along the inside of the jar to remove air bubbles that burble up during canning and can force food under the lid, interfering with the seal. A plastic knife will also do the job. Do not use metal as it might chip, ding or otherwise weaken the glass.
Dutch oven: Preferably enamel over cast iron or stainless steel, nonreactive, 5 quarts and heavy. It’s the best choice for cooking jams, pickles and other condiments before canning.