I love making homemade preserves, but home canning can come with a few challenges without the right tools or equipment. Here's a run down of canning kits that will get you started on your journey to making more homemade jam!
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Common canning problems
#1 a pot big enough to seal/process the jars in
I have a pot large enough to make a decent-sized batch of jam in. But, if I'm making a batch of jam (yielding 5 or 6 jars of jam), my one big pot has jam in it, so it is obviously unavailable for heating a large amount of water and processing the jars. Over the years, I have tried using my smaller pots for this step, splitting the jars among them, but really, it's a mess (and sometimes, I can only fit 1 to 2 jars per pot). The small pots overflow because in order to have the jars immersed in the hot water bath, the pots have to be filled to the rim, and boiling. My "typical setup" just doesn't work well.
#2 a rack to fit the bottom of the pot
I don't like the jars of jam to be rattling directly on the bottom of the pot for the processing step. It honestly makes me nervous. Every year, I come up with a different, creative solution to this problem. One time, I lined the bottom with blue kitchen towels. Apparently the towel dye was more attached to the boiling water than the towel (oops!), so my towels lost most of their lovely blue hue. Another time, I used extra jar lid rings to line the bottom of the pot, creating a DIY rack of sorts. This also worked, but this trick assumes that you have extra lids lying around, which is rare, at best.
With these problems in mind, I asked Bernardin if I could test out their Home Canning Starter Kit. It's basically a larger more complete tool kit for canning. You can order this full canning kit on Amazon.
Home Canning Starter Kit from Bernardin
A starter canning kit comes with all the tools you need to make homemade jams and preserves and is the solution to the above-mentioned problems. The tools are not absolutely necessary but they will make your life a lot easier. The fact is that he canning process is so much less stressful with a canning kit and the right tools. Here's what you get in a standard home canning kit like the Bernardin kit on Amazon:
1. Set of 4 decorative 250 mL mason jars—I remember my mom using this exact style of jars when she made preserves when I was younger. In fact, I used one of those diamond-patterned jars in an art project as a child, and I transformed the jar into a stained glass votive candle holder. I much prefer this style of jar to those with embossed fruits.
2. Jar lifter with rubberized grip so that you can lift jars out of the canning water bath without them slipping.
3. Instructional DVD to get you started with your kit
4. Giant canning pot with lid so you can process a batch of home preserves (especially useful if you only have one big pot at home!)
5. & 6. Magnetic lid lifter and air bubble remover/headspace gauge
7. Non-reactive wide-mouth funnel so that you can cleanly transfer preserves to the jars without making a mess
8. Pectin, which is helpful in many cases for achieving better-set jams, especially from fruits with less pectin
9. Canning rack that fits perfectly into the canning pot, with handles so that you can easily drop down the lot of jars into the canning pot.
This kit is great, not only for those starting out with home canning, but also for those who already make preserves, wanting to simplify the process. The starter kit has all the helpful (and I'd say even essential) tools from that handy canning tool kit, and a giant pot and rack, which definitely solve my two major home canning problems. The only important thing to note about the kit is the pot is HUGE, meaning it takes a long time to boil such a large volume of water (almost an hour on my stove to boil enough water for processing the jars). This is not the pot size you'd use if you want to seal two small jars of jam. This is better for processing a batch of 5 or 6 jars, and larger jars even.
With this home canning kit, you can easily make three fruit marmalade, your plum jam recipe, an unusual rhubarb jam (no pectin), spicy jalapeño jam, and even spiced apple jam. Your life will be so much easier!
If you don't want to invest in the full starter canning kit, your other option is the smaller kit. Actually, I think it's the most useful kit I've ever purchased, which is why I wanted to share it with you. I am in love with this tool kit because it's simple but takes all the worries and the headaches out of canning and preserving. Here's what you get with the smaller kit:
- Wide-mouth funnel: This funnel is designed to fit most mason jars, allowing you to cleanly divvy up your homemade jams and pickles, without making a mess. The funnel is made from a non-reactive plastic (unlike older canning funnels which were made of metal, and sometimes even aluminum) so it won't mess with the flavour or the quality of your preserves.
- Bubble remover/headspace gauge: Air bubbles are a big no-no in canning, and this plastic stirrer is great for helping you swirl and push out any of those pesky air pockets that might have formed as you filled your jars. The opposite end is a handy measuring tool allowing you to properly verify the headspace over your preserves to make sure you have enough, but not too much air space in your jars.
- Magnetic wand: I think this might be my favourite part of the kit because I used to have a hell of a time trying to get the sterilized snap lids out of their water bath without scratching the seal strip with my tongs (or even worse, a fork). It's important not to scratch that seal strip on the underside of the snap lids, and this magnetic wand allows you to literally pick up the lids, one at a time, easily and without any risk of scratching. Plus, magnets are cool.
- Jar lifter: When I first started making jams at home, by far the worst, most daunting part of the process was trying to get the sterilized, processed, boiling hot jars out of the big pot of water. My tongs are too flimsy and slippery for this task, so often times, I used to have to plunge my hands, protected by a pair of kitchen gloves, into the hot water bath trying to get the jars out. It was ridiculously dangerous. Let me tell you, the jar lifter is a much more appropriate tool for this task.
If you just want the tools, try the smaller canning tool kit, which is very simple, but each piece serves a purpose and I can vouch for how useful this kit is and how much easier it makes life to have it on hand.
You can easily purchase the canning starter kit (Amazon), as well as the smaller tool kit I featured previously (Amazon), and mason jars (Amazon). They are all well worth it. Good luck and happy canning!
Disclosure: Bernardin sent me the home canning starter kit to try out. I chose to feature it.