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Published August 30, 2010, 12:00 AM

New products make canning safer and easier

Canning has gone trendy. A new crop of consumers has turned to home-preservation as a way to eat more healthfully and spend less on groceries.

Canning has gone trendy. A new crop of consumers has turned to home-preservation as a way to eat more healthfully and spend less on groceries.

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist, says that, state- and nationwide, Extension programs are reporting major increases in the number of consumer calls and website “hits” on the topic of food preservation.

Now manufacturers have taken notice. Aware that their new customer base may be younger and more time-strapped, they’ve released many new products that are intended to make canning less labor-intensive.

As canning season is about to get into full swing, here’s the latest and greatest in home-preservation products:

  • “The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving” ($5.95 at Walmart) has been around for 100 years and is America’s canning bible. And although you may want to use an antique “Blue Book” to decorate your cookbook shelf, you don’t want to use it as your canning guide. That’s because food-preservation recommendations are updated regularly. So Extension educators suggest always buying the most recent edition, which will include the recipes and guidelines that yield the safest and tastiest results.
  • OXO Good Grips V-Blade Mandoline Slicer ($39.99 at Creative Kitchen). The mandoline is another once-common kitchen tool that’s making a comeback. “I think people are just going back to doing their own,” says Karen Skalicky, manager/buyer at Creative Kitchen. “It costs less, and it’s healthier.” This OXO-brand mandoline features a sharp, v-shaped blade of hardened stainless steel to easily slice both firm veggies like potatoes and soft fruits like tomatoes. It adjusts to four slice-thickness setting plus includes julienne blades and cubing blades for large or fine dice. The mandoline locks closed for safe storage.
  • Ball Freezer Containers ($4 for 2-quart container) help frozen produce stay fresh longer. An air-tight seal and locking lid help protect against off flavors, unwanted odors and spills in the freezer. “These heavy-duty containers may help prevent ‘freezer burn,’ which is dehydration,” Garden-Robinson says. “It isn’t a safety issue, but it affects quality.”

    The bottom of the container is ridged to allow for better cold-air circulation. And freshness date dials on the lid let you know exactly how long that mystery fruit has been hiding under the pork chops.

  • Ball Canning Discovery Kit (starting at $11.99). Welcome to Canning for Hipsters. One of the roadblocks to canning is that it’s typically done on a massive scale and requires the purchase of all kinds of special equipment. But this kit is tailored for one- or two-person households, container gardeners or anyone else who might want to give home-preservation a whirl. The kit features a propylene, heat-proof rack that fits in a standard stockpot, three pint jars, an illustrated, simplified instruction book filled with trendy recipes, and bounce-back coupons to buy additional jars.
  • Ball Utensil Set for Preserving ($6.74 at Walmart) provides four tools that will make canning easier. Included in the kit: a jar lifter with insulated handles, a funnel for filling jars, a magnetic wand for lifting lids out of hot water, and an air-bubble-removing spatula. All the utensils are heat-resistant.
  • Ball Half-Pint Jars ($3.78 for four-pack at Walmart). These 8-ounce jars feature the same thick glass and sealable lids as regular mason jars, but are the ideal size for gift-giving. They can be used to preserve favorite jams, chutneys and sauces, or as cute containers for non-food gifts like jar candles or bath salts. Warning: If using these for canning, it’s not safe to stack them in the hot-water bath.
  • Ball Plastic Storage Caps ($2.28 for eight-pack at Walmart) help to expand your options when using regular-mouth glass preserving jars to freeze or store food. While not intended for processing, the inexpensive, reusable, BPA-free lids can be used to cover freezer jams, leftovers and opened preserved foods in the fridge. They also can top jars that are being used to store dry pasta, layered mixes or dried spices.
  • Fagor Pressure Cooker/Canner ($109 at Creative Kitchen, Fargo). Pressure canning is the only USDA-recommended method for preserving low-acid foods such as meats, vegetables and fish. But a regular pressure cooker won’t do; only a pressure cooker/canner will do the trick. This sturdy, 10-quart model from Fagor is much safer than the “Old Faithful” models that Grandma once used. And the dual-purpose appliance comes in handy for meal-making after canning season is done, Skalicky says.
  • Kuhn-Rikon Corn Zipper ($16.99 at Creative Kitchen). In late summer, people become obsessed with the best way to freeze all that extra sweet corn. One of Creative Kitchen’s top sellers is the “corn zipper.” The stainless-steel utensil, which resembles a curved spatula, is designed so the teeth cut between the kernel and the cob, yet never bite into the cob.
  • Ball Instant Pectin ($2.32 for two packets at Walmart) and Ball Liquid Fruit Pectin ($2.68 for two packets at Walmart) are exactly what you need to make that good recipe jell. The instant fruit pectin is formulated especially for easy-to-make freezer jams. The liquid fruit pectin is created to dissolve instantly and easily. (A note of caution: Use only in recipes that call specifically for liquid pectin.)

More information

For Extension-tested home-preservation recipes, tips and safety information, go to:

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or