Most beginner food preservers (and I count myself as an advanced beginner) start with the standard issue water bath canner. It’s usually blue or green with funny speckles on it and can be found pretty cheaply new or really cheaply used.
My ginormous canning kettle came from the thrift store and cost, as I recall, $10. These big kettle things are great for preserving high-acid jams, fruits, and pickles, the gateway drugs of food preservation.
They usually come complete with a canning rack, and it is here that everything falls apart. If you are new to this water bath canning thing, please allow me to share my none-too-subtle opinion: these canning racks are total crap.
You think, because these racks often come with the canner that they are somehow supposed to make your canning process more efficient, easier or safer. Certainly using the rack seems to be the “official” way to can. Well, hogwash.
The idea seems to be that you can load or unload all your filled jars from a huge pot of boiling water with grace and ease by using the flimsy wire handles of the rack. That’s a total joke. The racks really only fit huge quart jars, and even those don’t exactly seem locked in place. And little half-pint jars? Forget about it – they fall right through. All my attempts to streamline the process of setting in or removing jars en mass have resulted in tipped or toppled jars and scalds from splashed water.
Thankfully, there is another way – a DIY way. First, it’s good to know that the legitimate reason that people use canning racks is to keep the jars off the floor of the canning pot and allow the boiling water to circulate all around. This is important – you don’t want crazy heat spots scorching your jam, breaking your glass jars, or otherwise ruining your jamming day.
With a bunch of old, no-longer-canning worthy jar rings and a few plastic zip ties, you can have a custom-sized DIY Canning Rack alternative in about 3 minutes.
This rack was so simple to make, it hardly needs instructions. Basically, you just use zip-ties to hold the old rusty rings together in a size and configuration that fits your canning kettle. There are a few tips I’ll pass on:
- Use regular, not wide mouth rings. If you use the wide mouth, your regular jars might slip through.
- Use your old rings that are a bit dented or have some rust spots on them. Reuse beats recycle!
- Use the little zip-ties that aren’t much good for anything else. They are perfect for this.
- Do not zip-tie the rings super tight. It’s good for there to be a little wiggle-room in the rings to allow the rack to better conform to the shape of the kettle bottom. Besides, if you pull the rings together snuggly, they tend to make a shallow dome shape.
- When everything looks right, trim the zip ties so their little tails aren’t poking up.
- Use the rack top-side up to avoid narrow jars slipping through.
So far I love my DIY Canning Rack. What’s your best punk canning tip?249