You do need a few things, and some things just make life easier. Here's what I use (not the brand, just some of the stuff).
The little magnet device is for lifting hot, flat, sealing lids from the bowl. It doesn't work, but the idea is a good one. Pity the magnet is pathetic.
You can operate without a funnel, but it makes a mess unless you're a pro with a ladling lumpy hot substances. I'm not.
The jar lifter is totally useful. It's for lifting the jars out of the oven where I keep them hot while getting the fruit ready, and also for lifting the finished jars out of the water bath.
I don't find the rubberized tongs useful and I don't actually have the bottle cleaner. I just wash my jars in hot soapy water.
And this is necessary. The water bath canner.
It's essentially just a big, deep, enamel pot with a rack for up to seven jars (quarts or pints work best. The tiniest jam jars slip right through, but you can line the rack with a wash cloth). The rack lifts and rests on the sides of the pot when you are filling or emptying the rack. Use your rubber jar lifter for that. You lose less to broken jars or toppled jars than if you use regular tongs.
Okay, here's what I do and a bit of explanation. I'm not a scientist, but I've read some things and some things are easy enough to do, so why risk your health? Also, keep in mind that I'm not a perfectionist and am pretty lenient. You do what feels right for you.
I'll use peaches as an example since it's very fresh in my mind and the house is still humid from all the boiling.
Basically you create a simple syrup, fill jars with peeled peaches, cover them with the syrup and boil the jars for 15 minutes. Only read on if you need step-by-step instructions. It's a lot of steps that you only need if you haven't done this before.
- Set a big pot of water to boil for blanching the peaches.
- Fill your canner about halfway with water and put it to boil. It takes a while to boil.
- Fill another big pot with 4 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar. Boil it and then just let it simmer.
- Wash your jars. I used 14 pint jars for 20 pounds of peaches.
- Line a cookie sheet with a tea towel and place the jars on it and into the oven on 200 degrees until you are ready for them. I'm not sure that's hot enough to consider it sterile. If that bothers you, look up what you need to do. Some dish washers have a sterilization setting, and some people boil their jars for 10 minues. I don't bother and I haven't killed anyone yet.
- Fill your sink with really cold water. Even add ice if you've got it.
- Pour boiling water into a bowl with the flat lids. It softens the rubber and helps them to seal.
- Once your blanching pot is boiling, fill it with peaches and boil for about one minute.
- Scoop them out and put them in the sink. The cold water makes the peel separate from the flesh and it's easy to peel them.
- Fill the pot with your next bunch of peaches and peel them all once blanched.
- Slice the peaches into the hot sugar water solution. Technically you don't have to heat the peaches at all because you are still going to process them, but heating the fruit and liquid together helps to keep the fruit evenly suspended in the jar, instead of floating to the top.
- Fill the hot jars. 20 pounds of peaches filled 15 pint jars for me. Top up with the hot liquid, covering the peaches.
- Wipe the tops of the jars. If you've got anything on the edge, it will stop the jars from sealing. You don't want that.
- Put a hot, flat lid on the jar and screw on the ring. The ring doesn't need to be hot.
- By now the water bath has been boiling for a while. Fill the rack with up to 7 jars. Lower it into the boiling water. Make sure that there is at least 1" of water above the jars. Add more water if you need to.
- Boil for 15 minutes. Raise the rack or use your rubberized jar lifter to remove the jars. Keep them upright and allow them to seal. Each jar should "pop" within 30 minutes when the jars seal. If they don't seal, you can reprocess them with the next batch, washing the lid, wiping the top and making sure the jar and seal are undamaged.
Things I don't do that your mom may have done:
- Hot pack fruit without further processing.
- Seal jars with wax.
- Use a hot water bath for anything other than fruit or acidic tomatoes.
Things I don't do that the USFDA says you should:
- Sterilize all of my equipment, or my kitchen. I'm clean, but not sterile.
- Boil everything to death. They sometimes want you to boil them to a mushy state.
- Buy new lids every time. I reuse them if they aren't dented or rusty or otherwise looking damaged.
You decide what's safe for you or what risks you feel comfortable taking.
That's it. Any questions?