What Will I Need?

Jars & Lids:  Your biggest expense is probably going to be the jars that you'll need.  (Luckily, jars are reusable if you take care of them, and insist that your friends return them after you give them canned goods as gifts!)  Jars can be purchased in most grocery stores - especially during the height of canning season in the summer and fall.  I have found that when I am forced to purchase jars that are new, the cheapest place to buy them is at the local farm and ranch supply.  If you live in the city, take a drive and a picnic out to a rural area and visit one of these wonderful stores.  You'll probably also be able to stop at a couple of roadside fruit and vegetable stands on the way and pick up some produce to put inside the jars when you get home!  Thrift stores are a great place to find canning jars.  Even though everybody cans here in Wyoming, the thrift stores nearly always seem to have a LOT of canning jars that they're willing to part with at a very low price.  I once bought over 300 canning jars, in various sizes, for $10.00 at the Senior Center thrift store.

Jars come in several different sizes:  jelly jar, half pint, pint, quart, and half gallon.  The ones that you'll probably use the most are the pint and quart jars.  They're good serving sizes.  Here's an picture of some of the jars:
They also come in two opening widths - regular and wide-mouth.  Regular openings are great for sauces, soups, and chilis.  The wide-mouth jars are better for large things like peach halves, or sliced tomatoes.

Jar lids can also be rather expensive.  The lids come in two parts.  A center, flat lid that has a waxy inside rim that seals to the jar edge, and a ring that screws down around the flat lid.  The rings can be reused until they become damaged or rusted, but the flat center piece can NEVER be reused because it will not develop a strong seal after the first time.  Lids can be purchased as sets, with the ring and the lid together, or just the center lids can be purchased alone.  
There are not too many ways to save money on buying your lids.  There are companies that make reusable lid sets, and I've heard good things about them, but they're kind of pricey.  But the fact that you can reuse them definitely makes the price more attractive.  I'll look in to some of these companies and try to make some recommendations in the future.  Here's an example of the wide-mouth and regular opening jars, with the boxes of the center lids set in front of them:
Pressure Canner:  If you're planning on canning low-acid vegetables and meats, then you're going to have to purchase a pressure canner.  These are available online or at most department stores.  I got my pressure canner, which retails for $140.00, for $10.00 at a garage sale.  I don't think that it had ever been used.  It didn't come with the instruction manual, but it was simple to look it up on the internet.  Never use your pressure canner without reading all of the instructions first!  Also, if you buy a used canner, you should always take it to your local ag extension office, (yes, there's probably one close to you), and have them test the gauge.  Our ag office did it for free.  If you don't have an extension office close by, you can unscrew the gauge and send it back to the manufacturer, and they will test it for a small fee plus postage.  Also, be sure to check the inner gasket on any used canner to make sure that it's not cracked or dried out.  Extra gaskets can be found at the manufacturer's website, at online stores, and at farm and ranch stores.  Here's a photo of my garage sale find:
Water Bath Canner:  For canning high-acid fruits, and pickles you will also need a water bath canner.  This is just a large, enamel kettle with a rack on the inside for the jars.  These, too, can be found at department stores and ranch stores, and I'm not sure of their retail price because I picked up both of mine at garage sales for $3.00 and $5.00, including the racks.  
Jar Puller:  This is a simple utensil that is used to lower and raise the jars the from the hot water in the canners.  Again, you can buy them all over the place, but I got mine for $1.00 at a yard sale.  As you can see, it's probably from the '70s, given the avocado colored gripper!  (I love to use vintage kitchen utensils.  I like to think about the other women who have used them, and I think that older things are much better made than this junk that is being imported from China.)

Canning Funnel & Large Strainer:  A canning funnel differs from a regular funnel in that it has a bottom that fits snugly inside the rim of the jars, and a wide-mouthed top that makes it easy to slide the food right inside.  The modern canning funnels are made of plastic, and they're very fancy.  I have an old metal one, purchased at, you guessed it, a garage sale for .50 cents.  Same with my big strainer - garage sale purchase for .25 cents.
The other things that you'll need are all things that you probably already have in your kitchen inventory.  Measuring spoons, a whisk, knives, dish towels, food processor, etc.  There are some other fancy things that you can buy that are specially made for canning, like special hot pads, and different sized sieves, and whatnot, but I get along just fine with the equipment that is listed above.

You'll also need a few special spices and additives.  When you use salt in products that you're canning, you should use canning salt because it is not iodized.  Iodized salt will cloud the liquid in your jars, discolor fruits and vegetables, and leave a sediment on the bottom.  You'll also need pickling spice and alum if you're planning on making pickles, Various other spices will be required for different recipes.  If you're canning fruit you'll want powdered ascorbic acid to keep the fruit from turning brown.  Particularly fruits like apples and pears.  This can be found in a product called Fruit Fresh, which also contains other chemicals, or you can buy pure ascorbic acid on the internet or at some grocery stores.  I keep the big jugs of white vinegar and apple cider vinegar on hand at all times.  They're not only used in making pickles and other products, but I use vinegar in the water for cleaning fruits and vegetables, and also to clean the rims and threads on the jars before sealing.

The last thing that you'll need is a couple of cute, furry dogs to lay at your feet and trip you up while you're canning.  It's worth the frustration of almost breaking your neck because dogs will eat virtually anything that hits the floor.  From onions to asparagus to apples to mushrooms, their motto is, "If it's good enough for humans, it's good enough for us."  This will save you a tremendous amount of time in cleaning up after you're done.  :)

That's about it!  Once you assemble your equipment you'll be ready to start out on your canning adventure.  In the next couple of days I'll start posting some simple recipes to get you going.  

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