Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad...Pressure Canner?

I'm not sure exactly how I came across the blogger, Just Plain Marie, but she hooked me from the start. I 
was intrigued by all the food she was putting up while living in an apartment.  She processed a whole pig in 
there.  Oh, yes, she did.  Well, she's a wiz with her pressure canner and since I have been back and forth 
between wanting to learn to pressure can and just sticking to my hot water bath-ing methods, I asked her to 
convince me to go the pressure canner route and she has done just that.  I'm putting a pressure canner on my 
Christmas list!
If she convinces you as well, she suggests that the pressure canner you chose have a three piece weight and 
not just a gauge.  She feels the gauges are unreliable and a lot more work. I bookmarked this blog post awhile 
ago which provides some great things to think about when shopping for a pressure canner. 
Without further ado, be prepared to be no longer scared (if you were in the first place).  Thank you Just Plain Marie!

Why Bother Pressure Canning? 
Whenever I talk about pressure canning, I find people who believe that it is too 
difficult, too much effort and work, and invariably, too scary. 
Those who are familiar with my blog know that I am strongly in favour of canning 
according to modern, tested, USDA-approved canning methods. That means Boiling 
Water Bath Canning (BWB) for high-acid foods (pickles, jams and jellies, most 
fruit) and Pressure Canning (PC) for everything else. 
In fact, I pressure can everything if I can get away with it. Why? Simply put, it 
is easier, less effort and work, and less scary and accident-prone than Boiling 
Water Bath Canning. In addition, Pressure Canning uses significantly less water, 
heats up my kitchen less, can process more jars at a time, works for an incredible 
array of practical, useful, every day foods, and produces food that is safe in a 
normal kitchen cupboard. 
Before I go into the details of BWB and PC, let's mention one outdated method which 
many people use - Open Kettle Canning. That is the method by which you boil and 
sterilize your jars and then add hot food to them, add hot lids and rings, seal 
them tight and let a vacuam form without any heat processing at all. Unfortunately, 
it is possible to have a very good seal form and still have unsafe canned goods if 
bacteria remain alive inside the sealed jar.  There are conditions under which I 
would consider doing Open Kettle Canning, but they are few and I won't go into them 
here. Now the practical reason not to do Open Kettle Canning is that you must boil 
your jars to sterilize them, which means you already have the huge pot of water 
ready to do the five to twenty minutes of heat processing necessary for safety! 
With all of that, why is my Pressure Canner the most beloved tool in my kitchen? 
I do not need to sterilize my jars. I wash them with the rest of my dishes, ensure 
that there are no food bits in them, and then fill them with the food I want to 
Pressure Can. That means I don't have a huge pot of boiling water on my stovetop to 
deal with. When doing BWB canning, it is extremely important that the jars be 
steriled before adding the food, as the jars will only be heated to 212F. 
I do not need to heat the food. I keep my food (meat, vegetables, sauce) cold, add 
it to cold jars, and use room temperature water in my Pressure Canner. I have never 
had a jar break. BWB requires hot food to be put into hot jars and added to boiling 
water - there are many, many opportunities for burns. 
Once I have my jars in the Pressure Canner, seal it and start up the heat, I have 
very little work to do for between one and three hours. I watch until the steam 
appears and then count ten minutes, then I add the appropriate weight to the steam 
vent. I putter around the kitchen until I hear the weight starting to rock, and 
then I note the time and set the timer. The only thing I then have to do is gently 
lower the heat if the weight is rocking too rapidly. When the time is up, I turn 
off the heat and wait for the pressure to be gone (gauge is at zero, no steam is 
releasing, and pressure lock has unlocked). Then I open the canner and use a jar 
lifter to remove my food. 
As for less water - my Pressure Canner (and they're all slightly different) uses 3 
quarts of water. That's all. There's a fill line inside my canner that's about 2" 
from the bottom. My Boiling Water Bath canner is about the same size, and it holds 
almost 20 quarts of water because the water must completely cover the jars by one 
or two inches. Which do you think is easier and safer to lift to the sink and pour 
out? Of course, 20 quarts of water also takes a long time to come to a boil. 
Whenever I do Boiling Water Bath Canning, my kitchen fills with steam. That's 
because I have several gallons of water boiling away on my stove for such a long 
time. That wouldn't be a problem during a dry winter day, but most food isn't 
harvested in cold weather. Even though the Pressure Canner brings the food to a 
bacteria-destroying 240F, far less steam is created. Or rather, it's created but 
it's kept inside the canner. Less water is used, and very little water is boiled 
away into the air, 
The standard Boiling Water Bath canner will hold 7 1-quart jars or 9 1-pint jars. 
In order to do more, you need to process those, remove them and then add more. 
Technically, this means you can do as many jars as you have the energy to process. 
The problem, though, is that the water is boiling away all that time, topping it up 
with fresh water as it boils away. In order to keep my BWB canner at a full boil, I 
usually have the burner set at maximum. This is hot, steamy work that wastes a lot 
of water (as steam) and uses a lot of heating fuel. The benefit with the Pressure 
Canner shows up primarily when doing smaller jars. I can process 18 pint jars at a 
time, and each pint jar holds 1 pound of meat. 
So what foods do I Pressure Can? Looking in my cupboards, I see cooked ground beef, 
meatballs in pasta sauce, chicken broth, pork broth, baked beans, chicken soup 
starter, potatoes, carrots, chicken in many forms, ham, pork chunks, spaghetti 
sauce .... the list is endless. When my cupboard is fully stocked with home-canned 
foods, I can make a beef stew in ten minutes that tastes like it has slow cooked 
all day. I can whip up incredible cream of chicken soup in five minutes. Spaghetti 
and meatballs is a quick meal. Potatoes are $7 for 10 at the grocery store? I'm not 
worried - my home-canned potatoes can be roasted, mashed, added to stew, or made 
into potato salad. 
As for safety in the cupboard, we just went through a heat wave. We rarely see 
temperatures over 80F, but they were hovering around 100F all week. I expected to 
see jars popping in the heat. Instead ... a few days ago, my toddler got into one 
of my boxes of canned foods and was carrying around a jar of pork chunks in broth, 
and holding it by the flat lid! The seal held beautifully. I stopped worrying! 
None of this is to say that Boiling Water Bath canning is bad. On the contrary, 
pickles must be done in a BWB, as must jams and jellies and most fruits. Pressure 
Canning would destroy these foods. I experimented with Pressure Canning some of my 
rhubarb this year - those jars turned out darker and overcooked. Oh, they'll still 
be edible (and my goodness, they're safe!) but they won't taste as good as the BWB 
There is definitely a place for both Boiling Water Bath canning and Pressure 
Canning, and I do both. However, when it comes to energy and water conservation, 
safety, convenience and ease, the Pressure Canner can't be beat! 
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  1. I broke down and got a pressure canner this year. So far I am loving it!! We even canned fresh raw milk when we had a surplus. Now that we don't have milk, I use this "condensed" milk in my cooking and baking. Works great!

  2. Here I was gonna tell you .Go to Erin's blog-and than I look and it is her. the company actually should have gave her a discount or a another new appliance free of charge,she has convinced so many people to use a pressure cooker----me---I'm still hemming and hawing.

  3. Hmn...I'm starting to be convinced....

  4. I love my pressure canner! My mom got it for me about three years ago for Christmas so I had no say in what kind, but even though it's the gauge kind it still works great. Last week I canned several quarts of homemade chicken stock, so handy to have on hand for yummy homemade soups and lots of other uses.

  5. I've been canning for several years. Green beans, beef. I love it! Truly, just like anything else, if you do it correctly there really isn't any reason to be afraid. Good luck!

  6. I admit I am afraid. I had an incident with the gauge kind a few years ago in which all the lids on my jars formed a dome. It looked as though they almost exploded. I still have that pressure canner in the attic but I think I would buy a new one if I ever tried again. She makes a very good case for using one. I hadn't even thought about the heat reduction in the kitchen. With temps over 100 this summer that would be a great benefit.

  7. Great post. I am checking out my old blogroll and forgot what fun this one is. My pressure canner is an All-American 30 quart one that can hold 14 quart jars (!)... two years old, I think. If you'd like to borrow it to try it out on a few things, please do. I'm not putting much up this summer.
    MAC (mom of Atticus... JenniferJo has my email)

  8. Cat - I used a gauge for a while until I got my weights. The gauge canners DO work. However, with the three piece weights, you don't need to constantly watch your pressure. I generally blog while canning, because I only need to listen to make sure that my canner's maintaining pressure. It's a lot less work to use the weights. The other thing is that gauges need annual checking and they can be considerably off, even new.

    Melissa, I've never had lids dome and I agree - that would scare me, too! I can't even figure out what could cause that, but it would certainly be worth calling the manufacturer, and, yes, I'd buy a new canner.

  9. At first I was afraid of my pressure canner but then I realized it was simply because I'd never used one before. There was an older lady at my church who I had heard talking about putting up meat and vegetables when she and her husband had a farm. I invited her over for lunch and to lend me a hand canning some green beans. She knew just what she was doing and really gave me the confidence to handle it on my own. Anyone who is uncertain or fearful I urge you to ask around. You'll probably find someone who would be happy to share their knowledge with you.

  10. Canadian Doomer,
    This may be a silly question, but how do I know if I could pressure can my tomato sauce recipe? I'm asking it here in case others have the same question (of course, if others have it, it isn't silly:-)). Here's the link to my recipe...

  11. I mainly BWB fruits, jams, and my tomato sauce/diced/and salsa.
    I would love to venture into pressure canning because it opens up a whole new realm. Thanks for the info :)

  12. Very persuasive! I'm already a pressure canner kind of girl, but she solidified my opinion and made me REALLY want a pressure cooker with weights instead of a gauge. :-D

  13. I personally don't see anything in it that I wouldn't PC. I would do it at 40 minutes at 10 PSI for pints or quarts.

    Here's the rule of thumb: Find the proper processing time for each individual ingredient and use the longest. If it has dairy, eggs or grains, don't can it at all.

    So if you're doing anything with meat in it, you process pints 75 minutes and quarts 90 minutes. In your recipe, the onions are (at a quick glance) the ingredient that takes the longest, and onions are processed for 40 minutes.

  14. Canadian Doomer, that makes sense. If I ever buy a new canner, it will be the gaugeless kind. In the meantime, the County Extension Service will check the gauge for free each year.

  15. I pressure canned your tomato sauce recipe last year. It turned out great! I just found a similar recipe in my canning book. I think I did only 30 min. at 10 PSI :( Eek! I have another spaghetti sauce recipe that uses a large amount of carrots, peppers and onions and didn't want to risk boiling it so I made both and pressure canned them.
    Great rule of thumb!

  16. Cat - we don't have Extension Service Centers here in Canada, so that's not an option for me. I've also seen comments from people around the internet that some US Extension Centers (I'm not sure what the right term is) have been charging a fee. I added the three-piece weights to my Presto gauged canner, so it has both now.


Just a friendly reminder, if you know me personally please try to refrain from using my name. There are those who may try to locate me, break into my pantry and steal my pickled beets. Thanks:-).

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