You should begin by deciding what’s going into the jars that will be tucked away like gems in your pantry. Summer berries are a favorite ingredient for jams, but ingredients are available year-round. Think winter squash chutney or pickled carrots, cranberry relish or old school sauerkraut. Consider mixing things up with a variety of jar sizes, with the small and medium size jars making for perfect gifts.
Choose the freshest fruits and vegetables available. Going to U-pick farms, farmers’ markets, or using fruits and vegetables from your own garden are great ways to ensure freshness. Avoid overripe or under-ripe fruits, which can affect the acidity and stability of the final product. Cucumbers, especially, need to be at their peak of freshness to make great pickles.
Pectin, an essential gelling agent, is found naturally in many fruits. Most recipes call for added pectin, in either liquid or powdered form; there are also special pectins available for making low-sugar preserves. Jams and jellies made without pectin must be cooked longer, depending upon the amount of natural pectin in the fruit.
In preserving, acid provides flavor, texture, and helps prevent bacterial growth. Acid is also an important part of the fermentation process in pickle making. Lemon juice is typically used as the acid for fruit preserves, while vinegar is more common in vegetable preserves.
Once you’ve settled on a recipe, it’s go time.
The investment in canning supplies puts some people off, but there are now kits designed for beginners looking to test the waters. While sturdy canning kettles last for decades, the next generation of canning rack is made from hard silicone and holds three to four jars, which easily fit in a stockpot. Small batch canning is picking up steam, where you make enough for a quick afternoon project rather than devoting an entire day. Special canning tongs are helpful for removing jars after they’ve been processed, but in a pinch, you can wrap rubber bands around a set of regular tongs and remove the jars that way.
One extra-large pot for sterilizing jars and lids
Five- or six-quart metal or glazed cast-iron pot
Several metal ladles of different sizes
Jars, lids, and rings
Paper or cloth towels
Tips for Home Canning
Read your canning recipe carefully to see if ingredients have to be prepped ahead of time. For example, does your watermelon rind need to soak in brine overnight before you can move on to the pickling process?