You'll Need a few basic items to make canning easier:
Jar Lifter- For removing jars from boiling water easily
Jar funnel- fits the mouth of jars and makes it easy to fill them without spillage & mess
Water Bath Canner- a 21 1/2 quart pot
Lifting Rack- an insert that allows jars to be inserted or removed from water-bath canner at the same time
Lid Lifter- contains a magnet on one end for removing lids from Hot water, can be flipped over & used to remove air bubbles from jars
Ladle- for filling the jars
Tongs- for lifting hot lids, foods, etc
Jar Wrench- for effortlessly removing sticky lids, or tightening hot lids
Clean Spoons- for scooping out any excess filling from the jar to leave proper headspace
Clean Lint-Free Cloth- for wiping away any excess moisture from the rim and threads of the jar before applying the 2-piece lids
Ball Canning Jars- quality jars that will keep your goods fresh & can be re-used year after year
Fruit Fresh or Citric Acid Powder or lemon Juice- this is used to treat fruits to prevent them from browning and help them to remain "pretty" rather than darkening.
There are a number of ways to obtain these items, if you're extremely thrifty or low on cash, keep an eye out during summer yard sales, Craigslist, local swap/barter newspaper listings, etc. You might be able to borrow them for a few days from a relative.
However, if you plan on canning every year, it's worth it to invest in good quality canning supplies. It will make canning considerably easier and is worth the small initial investment.
Water-Bath Canner with rack runs about $20 on Amazon or up to $45 in big box stores like Target, Wal-mart.
Canning Jars are frequently on sale in the fall months. Stock up during the off-season! They can also be found on freecycle groups, craigslist, big box stores, yard sales and newspaper ads. A typical price is $6-10 for 12 jars (with lids/caps)
First, Prepare the fruits and veggies according to the recipe you want to can. Be sure it is a high-acid fruit/ veggie/recipe such as peaches, tomatoes, pickles, chutney, etc.
Wash the jars in hot soapy water, rinse well. Place a cooling rack on a cookie sheet and place the jars upside down on the rack. Put them in a 200F oven for at least 10 minutes prior to use. Some recipes will call for a hot jar, others will not. Placing the jars in the oven until you're ready to use them keeps them clean & sterile.
Next, bring water to a boil in the water bath canner. How much water you'll need is dependent upon the size jars being used, half-pints, pints, quarts, etc. Generally speaking there are 3 distinct levels on the canner, the first level is the depth needed for pints, the second is for quarts.
You'll want enough water in the canner to cover 1"-2" over the top of the jars when they are submersed.
Since having multiple pots on the stove with additional water isn't feasible, we generally run a pot of hot water through the coffee pot and leave it on to keep it hot in case we need additional water.
Place the lids and tops in a pan of hot water, be careful not to boil the lids as this will render them useless by ruining the seal, but they do need to be HOT. We usually leave them on the back burner of the stove in a pot of hot water over low heat until we need them.
Prepare the contents of the jars according to the recipe chosen. Place a funnel in the top of the jar and ladle the contents into it. Be careful to follow the directions in the recipe and leave the proper headspace. This essentially means that you leave 1/4" to 1" of Un-Filled Space/Air depending on the recipe
If you accidentally over-filled the jar, use a clean spoon to scoop out some of the contents, leaving the appropriate headspace that the recipe calls for.
Using a non-metallic spatula or wooden spoon, etc, remove the air bubbles from the jar. Simply slide the spatula down the side and allow the air bubbles to release. (Alternatively, you can use the other end of the lid retriever, it works great)
Using the lid retriever (the little plastic thing with the magnet on the end!) grab a lid from the hot water. Using the clean lint-free towel wipe the rim and threads of the filled jar. Apply the lid and add the metal cap, tightening it, but not too tightly, it can be tightened completely after processing.
Place the canning rack in position over the rapidly boiling water. As each jar is filled, place it in the rack until the rack is completely filled. Gently lower it into the water. Be sure the water is covering the tops of the jars by 1-2". If it's not, add hot water, COVER.
Process for the length of time indicated in the recipe. Basically- if the recipe says to "process 10 minutes" it means that you boil the jars for 10 minutes. Do not start calculating the time until the water is boiling rapidly.
Once the timer is up, gently remove the rack from the boiling water. Let the jars rest 5 minutes.
Next, using the jar lifting tongs, remove the jars one at a time, tilting them gently sideways to remove any excess water from the jar and to allow any air bubbles to escape to the headspace. (see note at bottom about using jar tongs)
Place the hot jars on a clean towel and cover to keep them in a draft free spot. Let them cool without disturbing them. You will hear "pings" as each jar seals on its own. Do not press the jar lids down. In 12-24 hours time the jars should have sealed properly on their own. You can check the seal by pressing down gently in the center of the lid. If it "bounces" or has "give" it did not properly seal and should be re-processed or refrigerated immediately and used with 7 days.
Note: There are 2 ways to use the jar lifting tongs:
The jars can be lifted from the top, like so:
This method is helpful when removing hot jars from the canner, or placing them in boiling water if you don't have a canner rack handy.
They can also be lifted this way:
This method is handy for removing hot jars from the oven just prior to filling.