There’s not much that you really need to get started canning–a canner with rack and jars with 2-piece lids. And maybe a jar lifter, magnetic lid wand, funnel and timer. All of this can cost you as little as $10 if you buy it at rummage sales or thrift stores or as much as $50-75 new.
But probably the biggest time-consumer when canning is prepping the food. As promised, here are my suggestions for other tools that will make food prep quicker and easier. Starting with the most useful:
Victorio Strainer. The name “Victorio” is like Band-aid or Jello–a brand name for a tool that is so well-loved that the brand-name is now the tool’s name. Put any soft food (tomatoes, steamed apples, grapes, berries, etc) into this food strainer and it will strain out the skin, seeds and stems. The pulp comes down the chute and the waste is expelled out the end of the cone. With this tool, applesauce and tomato sauce take a fraction of the time to make. Different spiral cones or screens allow you to process pumpkins or squash, berries or grapes. There is also a screen that process tomatoes into coarse pieces for salsa.
If you can only afford one food prep tool, this should be your first choice. But don’t take my word for it. Read what this happy owner says. These strainers cost $45-$60.
Apple peeler/slicer/corer. This nifty gadget does it all in one pass: peels, cores and slices. (Nifty?!? Who says “nifty” any more? I think I just embarrassed my teen-aged son.) Just one slice down the middle and you have apple slices for pie filling or drying. Several slices and you have diced apples for drying. I prefer the model that attaches with a suction base instead of a table clamp. They were on sale this summer at a local hardware store for $5, but usually cost $15-$25.
Food processor or meat slicer. You will do a lot of slicing and chopping. Mostly slicing. So get something that slices quickly and evenly. It’s the perfect way to prep your food for drying and, of course, making sauerkraut. But I also like using a food processor to chop onions, celery, peppers or other veggies when I am making relish, salsa or soups. You can get food processors that both slice and chop. In that case, I recommend getting one that ejects the food through a chute so you don’t have to stop all the time to remove the sliced food from the bowl. There are a zillion different types, so choose one that fits your budget and cooking preferences. The cost varies but I’ve found some very good processors and meat slicers at thrift stores and estate sales for as little as $6. Expect to pay $40-$180 for new.
OK, these are the three biggies that I think are must-haves for your food prep. Now here come several other gadgets that are very helpful but might not be used as much
(depending on where you live and what food is available.) These are all pretty inexpensive and most are under $20.
Cherry pitter. Pit your cherries with one press of the plunger. As with the apple peeler, I prefer the one that attaches with a suction base. You can get simple hand-held models for as little as $5-$6 but trust me, they aren’t what you want. A good model (like the one pictured) will cost $14-$30
Bean frencher. My boys normally hate green beans but they like them a lot better when they are French sliced. You can get more French sliced beans into a jar than regular cut beans and they just look fancier. Cost about $14-$19.
Pear corer. Prepping pears for canning is fussy work. If you’re making pear sauce, pear butter or pear leather, the Victorio strainer will make quick work of them. But if you’re canning them in halves or slices, this little gadget will make it go a lot faster with very little food waste. It costs about $5-$6.
Corn slicer. If you freeze a lot of corn, you can slice it off the cob by hand or you can use this handy little gadget. Not only does it make the job quicker and easier, but it also saves your fingers from accidental cuts. This particular model pictured here costs about $18-$20. There are cheaper versions–between $6-$12–but they can be a little difficult handle with just two hands. You’ll have to rig up a board with a nail in it to impale the cob and keep it steady while slicing.
I’ve included links so you can find these on Amazon. It’s always my favorite place to start looking for kitchen gadgets. You can read customer reviews to get an idea of what others think of these. That will help you decide if it’s really what you want. But you can get most of these at any hardware store or good kitchen store. They are also available from online and catalog stores. You’ll save even more if you can find them at a rummage sale or thrift store.
Finally, check out my previous posts discussing other tools that that you may also want to consider. The first is a canning burner. This will help save your stove from the damage of long exposure to high heat and makes it easier for you to maintain a steady heat while canning. The other is electronic scales. I use scales a lot to measure how much produce I am bringing in. But apropos to today’s topic, many canning recipes (like salsa, relish and pickles) measure ingredients by the pound. For these kinds of recipes, scales are a must-have. I consider these two tools almost as important as the first three biggies (Victorio strainer, apple peeler/slicer and food processor.) And if you don’t already have a pressure canner, I hope you’ll read my review of pressure canners.
With the right tools (and maybe some help from your kids or a good friend) you can get a lot canned in just a little time. Happy canning!