Home canning has been around for a long time. And while there's nothing necessarily wrong with grandma's approach, traditional water-bath canning is a fairly arduous process. From preheating the jars to removing the preserved food from the boiling water, you have to actively monitor, well, everything. If you don't, your food runs a greater risk of carrying harmful bacteria.
Enter Jarden Home Brands' $299.99 Ball Freshtech Automatic Home Canning System. Yes, you still have to prepare the recipe for canning and clean the jars, lids, and bands beforehand, but this appliance will preheat your jars and preserve your food for you. Not only will that save you time, it also removes some of the responsibility, thanks to an array of sensors. That means you won't have to stare at water boiling for a prolonged period of time and you won't need to worry about things like altitude, or the time and temperature required to safely preserve your favorite foods.
As someone completely new to canning, that was a big relief. And I think a lot of other beginners would agree -- with the opportunity for human error minimized, getting started is much less intimidating. Sound good so far?
Not too fast; this appliance does have a couple of limitations. Even though there's no stovetop boiling required, this appliance is not a pressure canner. It works with water-bath canning recipes only. The water-bath approach is only safe with acidic foods like jams and jellies, fruits, tomatoes, salsas, pickles, and sauces. Low-acid foods like meat and vegetables have to be preserved in a pressure canner to rule out potential botulism contamination.
Also, you are not supposed to deviate in any way from the recipes provided by Ball for this appliance. Page 17 of the included recipe book states: "Each recipe provided has been tested specifically for this appliance to ensure the highest quality and safest product. It is important to only use the recipes provided with this appliance. Use of other recipes not tested for this appliance can result in seal failure, food spoilage and potential health risks. We do not recommend altering these home canning recipes. They must be used as stated to ensure the proper acidity for the canning process." Bummer.
If you are interested in canning but don't know how to get started, the Ball Freshtech Automatic Home Canning System is a great option. Or, if you are a confident home canner who wouldn't mind saving some time making classic recipes like strawberry jam, applesauce, or salsa, this is also a good choice. But, if you want to make a lot of low-acid foods, or expect to experiment with your own recipes, this isn't for you. And at $299, the price is pretty high, but I still think it's a fantastic time- and stress-saving device and a great holiday gift idea for the aspiring home canner in your life.
Since there aren't any other auto-canners out there, I don't have much in the way of design comparison, but I like the way this one looks. It's decked out in a stainless steel and matte black finish. The display isn't exactly modern, but it doesn't bother me, either. The buttons are large and intuitive and there are two different types of handles for easy lifting.
It's a good size, too. It won't overwhelm your entire countertop, but it's large enough to hold 6 half-pints, 4 pints, or 3 quart-size jars per batch. That strikes a good balance, I think.
The kit includes the appliance base, the inner pot, and the jar rack. All together, the base, inner pot, and rack weigh just over 15 pounds. It also comes with a power adapter, a jar lifter, two small vent cleaners, and a book with recipes modified to work specifically with this product.
Using the traditional water-bath method, you have to keep your eye on the stovetop a lot, simultaneously tracking the temperature and the time. You also have to factor the altitude into the mix. And if it isn't done just right, you increase the chances of improper lid sealing or worse, a nasty botulism contamination. That's less than ideal.
And it's enough to scare away a lot of would-be canners. But the Ball Freshtech Automatic Home Canning System takes on those challenges for you. That makes this auto-canner much easier to use than more classic methods.
Canning is still a pretty time intensive activity, though. Fortunately, the included recipe book acts as a step-by-step guide, addressing any questions you might have about the process. It even includes information on what to do after the processing phase to ensure your food is properly sealed for long-term storage.