Let me share with you –
1. A helper is great – husbands, older children, sisters, neighbors. Sharing the work load makes it go faster and you are sharing your experience with new canners and, if you’re lucky, learning from more experienced canners.
2. Get organized before you start. Read your directions, make sure they are up-to-date, and make a plan, at least mentally. If a cookbook tells you to water-bath something for 3 hours or just to turn jars over to seal, you need to get a current $5 Ball Blue Book.
3. Clear the decks. I stash some of my countertop appliances in my utility room if I’m planning a big session.
4. Plan on a “make-ahead” meal – perhaps a salad or simple sandwiches. No room to be cooking a meal when you have your canning in gear.
5. Keep your tools together. I store some of my tools in a old, covered 9 x 13” pan, then use the pan for my “filling jars” pan.
6. I put clean towels on trays or half sheets to set my finished jars on - I can move them around without disturbing the jars.
7. I keep the rings I plan to use handy in an old bread pan so they aren't all over the counter..why didn't I think of this earlier?
8. I like the long, plastic-ended tongs from OXO for removing jars from their sterilizing water. They won’t scratch the glass, and they are 12” long, keeps your hands out of the boiling water. I usually heat or sterilize my jars (according to the recipe) right in my canner while heating water for processing before filling them - saves room on my stove.
9. I also like a long nylon spoon like this one, a 12” Vollrath food service spoon – it goes in the dishwasher, isn’t reactive, and withstands 475° temperatures.
10. My next purchase is going to be a ladle with a hooked end – no more ladles falling in my jam! I've had my current one for 40 years!!
11. Try a big tea ball for a spice bag, I really like the big, 3” one I purchased, it will hold cinnamon sticks, etc.
12. If you are going to make jelly, I like a granite-ware jam pan – they carry them at Ace Hardware stores for about $20, or you can buy copper ones for $200-300! I can go through a lot of graniteware ones for that price. The wide deep pan cooks your jam or jelly down fast, and is high enough to keep it from spattering too much.
13. I now use stainless steel stock pots with glass lids for water-bath canning. I use a pressure canning rack in the bottom or a cake rack the right size. I like to see into the pan! I bought 20 quart ones from Walmart at a good price.
14. Use disposables. This isn’t necessarily the time to be accumulating sticky rags and dishtowels, I have a big roll of paper towels handy. I often peel onto a few thicknesses of newspaper on top of a large plastic grocery bag, and then I can wrap up the mess and carry it out to the compost or trash.
15. If I am “hot-packing”, that is, the product to be canned is hot, I put the pot in my stainless steel sink, put the “filling jars” pan next to it, and I don’t have to reach over a high pot to fill jars. Easier on the back and arms, and you’re less likely to make a mess.
16. Don’t be afraid to try pressure canning. Start by canning something simple, like green beans or even carrots you can purchase any time of the year. These are good items to practice on. Try canning just water the very first time. If I can do it, you can too.
17. I think it would be wonderful to have an expensive pressure canner, but I can perfectly well with a 12 quart Mirro and a 16 quart Presto, both with multiple "jiggler" weights. I like having two - I can choose the size I want, or run both consecutively. Canning alone, it takes me too long to get a double-stacked canner filled, as I used to do when I had a bigger garden and family at home to help, besides being too heavy to handle. I bought my Presto at Walmart, specifically because it had the jiggler weight instead of a dial. I want to "hear" how the canner is doing, not stand around watching a dial gauge.
18. I keep my canners and stock pots on the top shelf in my pantry, and my canning tools in a nearby drawer. I can get canning at the drop of a hat without having to find my supplies.
19. I can all year round - I frequently can all of our meat and poultry, beans, soups, stocks and stews from January to March when my kitchen is cool and I'm going to be inside anyway. Then I am free to concentrate on garden produce in the summer. I also need less jars; I can use the empties from winter canning in the summer and vice versa.
Keep those boxes. I use them to store clean empty jars in my garage, and I also use them to store full jars on my kitchen pantry shelves as well as for my additional storage. They keep the jars together, and keep them from getting tipped over. I can mark the boxes on the outside to know what's in them.
I use a "ring hanger" - two wire hangers twisted together - to store extra rings in addition to a couple boxes full. I like a heavy plastic bag with a reinforced handle area to cover them but make them readily accessible. I usually hang it on my jar storage rack or inside my pantry door. Be sure to remove the rings from your thoroughly cooled, sealed jars and carefully wash the jars, especially in the screw band area. This will prevent mold and rusting.
Make sure your shelving is STURDY. Filled and even empty jars weigh a lot, and a collapsed shelf will certainly make a mess!
I have also stored canned goods in the boxes under our bed or in other closets when I haven't had as much room. I keep a list of what is where.
Canning is a satisfying hobby – one that will make you more self-sufficient, let you control what is added to your food, and will also save you money, especially on specialty items like jams, relishes and pickles, your own or shared-with-you garden produce and meats and convenience foods.