Saturday, 7 May 2016

Review: Ball® freshTECH Electric Water Bath Canner + Multi-cooker

Whether novice or seasoned, every home canner is on the hunt for the perfect setup, the right combination of tools to make their lives easier and the process more efficient. Rarely does an innovation come up that dramatically improves on the basic tools, but Jarden Home Brands, the parent corporation of the venerable Ball, Kerr and Bernardin (Canada) jar brands, has created a new device that truly makes water bath canning easier than ever.

The Ball® freshTECH Electric Water Bath Canner + Multi-cooker is effectively a large stock pot that sits on its own heating element. It's fitted with a spigot on one side, a canning rack and steaming rack that fit within the pot itself, and a glass lid with vents. The design is simple, but effective.

No matter what kind of cooktop you have, there are potential pitfalls for water bath canning. Gas burners are inefficient at heating water, and can take a long time to bring a large pot to boil. Older electric stoves may simply not have enough power to do the job. And modern glass-top stoves are not recommended for canning, as it may damage the cooktop. Both element electric and glass-top stoves also have the disbenefit of cycling on and off, which may affect the ability to maintain a full rolling boil during the canning process.

This device erases any potential problems with the process, and eliminates guesswork when processing jars. Simply fill the pot with enough water to cover your filled jars by at least an inch.

Turn the power to Medium-High to bring the water to a simmer to preheat your jars. Once the jars are filled and returned to the pot, you turn the power to High to achieve a full rolling boil for the allotted time you are processing. The integrated element is extremely efficient at heating the water, and a consistent boil is maintained throughout the processing time, ensuring safely canned foods.

The vented lid keeps most of the steam -- and noise -- contained inside the canner.

The spigot at the bottom makes it easy to drain the pot when you're done. The pot neatly fits seven quart jars, eight pints, or 12 half-pints per batch; stacked, you could do 24 of the wee 4-ounce jars. The canner can be used for any recipe that is tested as safe for water bath canning.

Moreover, the device is not limited to use as a canner. You could potentially use it to make hot beverages, such as mulled wine during the holidays; again, the spigot would be handy here. It also acts as a large stock pot, making it a useful tool to cook larger batches of soups, stocks and sauces when you want to free up burners on the stovetop. This is especially nice on hot days when you want to kick up as little additional heat as possible.

In my tests, I encountered only one hiccup. The canner includes a diffuser rack that rests on top of the jars while processing. When it came time to remove the jars, I found the rack difficult to pull out of boiling-hot water, as the fold-down handle sometimes does exactly that: Folds down, submerging it in the scalding liquid. A chopstick came to the rescue.

The included book has a smattering of easy-to-follow recipes for both canning and general cookery. That said, it is not always immediately clear that some of those recipes are not intended for canning, as they are commingled. By way of example, it includes a recipe for Italian-style pasta sauce, which calls for a quantity of their seasoning mix, no doubt including citric acid to bring the acid level up to safe canning levels. Yet on the same page are included instructions for variations that call for cream and meat, neither of which can be canned using a water bath canner. It's not imminently clear that those variations are for immediate consumption or freezing only.

It's a commitment, to be sure, to introduce a large, new appliance into any kitchen, but ultimately it doesn't take up substantially more space than a standard canning pot, and may in fact afford you the opportunity to dispose of both the canner and another stockpot. The element nests inside the pot for more compact storage.

With its efficient design and flexible utility, the Ball® freshTECH Electric Water Bath Canner + Multi-cooker is a welcome addition to the home canner's pantry. So long as you use safe recipes as you would for any other water bath canner, it's worth the space on the shelf or in the cupboard.

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