Tools of the trade

Having written about my food preservation activities quite a bit, I thought that it might be useful for any of you considering doing this yourself to know a bit about what’s required. I have collected my equipment over a number of years and when I started, I managed with the most basic items: a preserving pan, a funnel and a ladle. Since those days, I have gathered more equipment, but this is mostly because I now feel confident enough to try different techniques and preserve more challenging foods.

In the UK we have a very dull approach to preserving. Pick up a British book on the subject and you will find recipes for jams, pickles and chutneys, with perhaps lemon curd and fruit leathers. More recently, dehydrating food has become fashionable, but I’m not keen. To get really inspired, you need to cross the Atlantic (metaphorically, at least) and see what the Americans are doing. In fact it was Willowscottling who pointed me in the direction of the most useful book that I own on the subject: Putting Food By. Apparently this is an American classic, but hardly anyone in the UK seems to have even heard of it. It was because of this book and a discussion with Kate Chiconi that I finally bit the bullet and invested in a pressure canner (again not something people in the UK are familiar with, where most people think it’s the same as a pressure cooker).

So, what do I have in my collection? First there are a few books. As well as Putting Food By, I also like The Ball Blue Book of Preserving. And the I also have two books by Marisa McClellan, which are full of excellent ideas for more small-scale preserving:

Then I have two preserving pans – a stainless steel one and a brass one – as well as a pressure canner.

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pots and pans

If you are making jams and pickles, then the pans are probably sufficient, but if you are embarking on bottled (canned) vegetables and low-acidity fruits, then the pressure canner is an important piece of equipment. I’ve been told by several Brits that I could just have bought a pressure cooker for this purpose, but I disagree. The difference between a pressure cooker and a pressure canner is this:

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getting the pressure right

This is a pressure gauge and without it you cannot be sure that the food you are processing has reached the correct pressure for the right length of time. If you don’t know this, you cannot be sure that you have destroyed all possible sources of contamination – botulism being a particular hazard. I want my food to be safe, so I would not be happy bottling without this piece of equipment.

As well as pressure, you need to check that you’ve achieved the right temperature, so a thermometer is essential, Plus you need tongs to remove hot jars from hot water, and I also have little silicone mitt (the purple thing in the picture below) that is useful for handling items that are both hot and wet.

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some of the essentials

The photo above also shows some of the preserving jars that I use – various sizes, but all have lids and separate screw bands. I do actually use jars with spring clips too sometimes. And to get hot food into hot jars without spilling, a funnel is essential.

There are some other items that I have which, whilst not essential, are very useful: a stainless steel bucket (easy to sterilise and ideal for washing fruit or holding prepared fruit or vegetables prior to cooking), my passata mill (which saves me hours of work with a sieve and ensures that there is minimal waste) and a pH meter (very useful for peace of mind – allowing me to check whether the threshold pH of 4.6 has been crossed).

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not essential but oh-so-useful

And finally, although I haven’t been using them recently, I have a jelly bay and supporting frame, for making clean jellies and juices.

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jelly bag and frame

So, those are all my bits and pieces. Do you have useful equipment you can recommend? Or a particularly good book?

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19 Comments

  1. All excellent gear. I have only one other thing, which is a collapsible very wide neck silicone funnel, for getting chunkier boiling hot substances into a jar than the smaller neck funnel, and because it’s silicone, you can flatten it for storage. The other thing I use is Ball’s water soluble labels for the jars, because there’s no need to scrub them off; they dissolve if you immerse the jar in water. I learned that one the hard way!

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  2. This is so interesting!! I just had pans and funnels and wooden spoons in my day 🙂 And I always thought the American term ‘canning’ was just the same as our term ‘bottling’. Isn’t it amazing how the www has changed the sharing of information – good on you for leading the way in the UK!

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    • It’s only in recent years that I have accumulated so much paraphernalia!
      The term ‘canning’ is odd, because in the US they do still sometimes preserve using cans (tins) but also seem to use the word to mean bottling (using jars). I have been fascinated to read about their community canning kitchens… nothing like that in the UK

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  3. Great post, thanks for sharing. I’ve got the pan part of my mum’s pressure cooker which I’ve used for chutney but I haven’t got much other kit. I’m very impressed by all of yours!

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  4. I really should get a stand for the jelly bag, a passata mill and a funnel. I struggle on Heath Robinson style far too much. Thanks for this interesting post.

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    • For many years I used a broom handle to suspend the jelly bag, but the stand does make life easier (and less prone to doggy investigation since it can be placed well out of their reach)

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      • My mother used to use old stockings instead of jelly bags… and it was tied to the underside of the high plate draining rack over the sink, with a pan underneath.

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  5. Oh, this takes me back! When I was growing up, half the contents of our garden was transformed into jams and jellies in late summer and early autumn. I’m actually most intrigued that there’s such a thing as a dedicated jelly bag stand… My dad used to hang ours from a hook under the kitchen table!

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  6. As a child used to spend summers with family friends on a farm in North Dakota. Claire bottled all summer and the cellar was packed with fruit and vegetables. I have never quite managed shelves as beautiful as hers but there is something quite different about bottling your own fruit and vegetables and foraged foods. I bought a canning cooker a few years back and the only mistake I think I made was the size. It is probably too big and it takes an age to get up to pressure. But we’re getting there. I want a collapsable funnel too! BTW where did you get your wooden stand? I hang our bags from hooks in the beams but that does clog up my central cooking area. I’ve looked for wooden ones but not found any. I have a dreadful one from Lakeland that just collapses if you put more than a tablespoon of fruit in it.

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  7. Your kit looks wonderful, and light years away from my large pan, wooden, spoon, and thermometer! 🙂

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  8. Excited to see someone in the UK doing canning! I definitely want to get a passata mill (hadn’t heard of this before). Did you find it easy enough to start canning? I’m going to start investing in some equipment this year for our tomatoes

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    • I was rather nervous to begin with, but bought a great US book called “Putting Food By” which goes into lots of details. I highly recommend getting a little pH meter to make sure your food will be safe and store properly – it has relieved some of the worry about not doing it right!

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