Although I’m not a prolific canner, I usually put up a few things from my garden every August, using an ancient enameled canning pot I picked up years ago at a yard sale. Baltimore in August is steamy enough without giant pots of water boiling on the stove for several hours, so I was intrigued by a recent review of a new electric canning appliance from Ball–and delighted when the folks at Ball offered to send me a unit to review.
Having spent the weekend playing with my new toy, here are some thoughts–in case you are considering purchasing one.
Pros of the Ball FreshTECH canner:
Energy Efficient. The canner uses much less water than a canning pot and heats it up far more quickly. That keeps the kitchen a whole lot cooler–probably the chief advantage for me. You could even use it outside!
Automatically Adjusts for Altitude. Although my city sits at sea level, those who live at higher altitudes have to adjust their processing times to ensure a safe product. The FreshTECH unit automatically senses and adjusts for your local altitude, which is very cool.
Maintains Proper Temperature. Processing foods at the proper temperatures for the proper length of time is also essential to product safety. You’d be amazed at the difference in water temperature between “starting to boil” and “rolling boil”–a distinction that most home canners fail to recognize. The FreshTECH keeps the water at the right temperature and times the processing precisely.
Easy to Use and Clean. The unit is easy to clean and the push button dashboard is intuitive and easy to operate. The unit takes up less space than my old canning pot and made the whole process (preparing the empty jars, filling them, processing them) quick, easy, and tidy.
Cons of the Ball FreshTECH canner:
Small Capacity. The unit only handles small batches–just 3 quarts, 4 pints, or 6 half-pint jars at a time. I tend to can in pretty small quantities because I have a fairly small garden, but even I often have more than 4 pints of peppers or pickles to put up–something that my old canning pot can do in a single batch. The instructions also discourage you from making large batches and processing them sequentially.
Recipe Restrictions. After writing this article on canning techniques, I had a heightened appreciation for the importance of following precise recipes when canning. Fiddling with the ingredients or proportions can raise the pH to the point where harmful bacteria can thrive, for example. But I expected to be able to use any approved canning recipe in the automatic canner. The instructions repeatedly emphasize that ONLY recipes optimized for the FreshTECH canner should be used–which struck me as unnecessarily limiting.
The book came with a fairly limited number of recipes–none of which were for the vegetable I had on hand (hot peppers). Fortunately, there is a much more extensive selection of “optimized ” recipes on the FreshPreserving.com website, including a few for hot peppers.
I also thought the unit would allow me to can lower-acid foods that require pressure canning. Without a pressure canner, these recipes have always been off-limits to me–and with the FreshTECH canner, they still are. Despite its resemblance to a pressure cooker, the canner does not have this capacity.
I also found it irritating that so many of the recipes (which ostensibly must be followed exactly) require Ball brand ingredients like spice mixtures and pectin. Although some aspects of a recipe (such as the amount and type of vinegar or salt) are crucial, it’s hard to believe that using my preferred pickling spices will threaten my safety or success. In my opinion, having more choice and flexibility would make the FreshTECH canner even more appealing.
Although it was disappointing on a few points, on balance, I am glad to have the FreshTECH Automatic Canner. Being able to put up a few jars of jam or pickles with so little muss and fuss (and steam) will probably encourage me to can more frequently. With a footprint of about one cubic foot, I can definitely justify a spot for it on my basement shelves–although due to its small capacity, it would not completely replace my old canning pot.
Some might find the price tag of $300 off-putting, compared to the $30 you might spend on a lower tech set-up–but it will save you water, energy, and sweat. The unit has a usable life of about 1o00 hours, which translates into several thousands of jars of home-canned goods.
The FreshTECH Automatic Canner would make a FANTASTIC birthday, anniversary, wedding, Mother’s or Father’s Day gift for someone who’s into the whole preserving scene. And from now through October 31st, Ball is offering free shipping on the units.
Disclaimer: I have received no compensation for this review and receive no commission on purchases through this or any site. I did receive a unit (value $299) for review purposes.