Canned food is one of those things that vary from region to region. It’s always fun to check out grocery stores in different parts of the country to see what local canned foods they carry. You can find giardiniera in just about every grocery store in Chicago, kimchi in just about any grocery store in Hawaii, and plenty of pickled okra in the Southeast.
But what if you live in Chicago and have a hankering for some strawberry marmalade? Or you live in LA and are craving mom’s sauerkraut? If you find yourself hard-pressed to find home-grown, high-quality versions of these foods in your neighborhood grocery store (or you just want to try your hand at a new cooking trick), here’s what you’ll need to start making them yourself!
Canning kit with utensils
The easiest way to start your canning operation is to buy a multi-piece canning kit with all the utensils included. A full set might have a large canning pot, strainer, lid wrench (for opening those tight jars), funnel, and tongs of different sizes. Some more expensive canning pots have digitized temperature control, but if you’re willing to let Mother Nature—or your air conditioning/heat—do the climate control work, a regular canning pot is just fine. Be prepared to shell out between $50 and $100 on a full set.
Vacuum jar sealer
To ensure that your food ferments in a completely airless environment, you’ll want to heat the ingredients and screw on the lids/bands of your jars, so the air pressure creates a vacuum seal. Some canned foods can be ruined by heat, so you may need to remove the air with a vacuum-sealing lid and hose instead. You’ll need to find a sealer that fits the mouth of your jar. A regular jar lid and wide-mouth jar lid will require sealers of different sizes.
Some canning concoctions, like kimchi, are best fermented in large, half-gallon- to gallon-sized glass jars. The most important criterion for finding a large jar of high quality is making sure the lid can become airtight with a vacuum sealer if needed. For some acidic canning operations, you’ll want some air in the jar, but for other recipes, an air leak will lead to mold in your ferment, which is no bueno for dairy-based cultures. Again, here, the key is finding a vacuum sealer that will fit the jar.
A dozen small jars
While large jars allow you to make bigger batches of foods, small jars give you the flexibility to try out and store a variety of different recipes. If you want to make smaller batches of canned goods, small jars might be more appropriate for your goals. A dozen small, mason-style jars are an aesthetically pleasing solution for storing your edibles.
This is the fun part. When your setup is solid, you can start researching recipes and buying up ingredients.
The cost of your ingredients depends on what you decide to make, but say you’re canning some good old Chicago-style giardiniera. You’ll need some mixed veggies—onions, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, red peppers, and whatever else suits your fancy—and some mustard, sugar, salt, spices, and herbs like mustard seed, celery seed, or cloves. Each batch of a dozen or so small jars will cost you between $20 and $30.
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