Pressure Canning: The Dark Side of Food Storage
OK I’m kidding its not really the dark side. But let’s be honest there seems to be this awful stigma about pressure canning. Everyone seems to be afraid of trying it, yet once you do it’s life changing!
Pressure canning opens a whole new world of opportunity, savings, and flavor! So follow me into the realm of the pressure canner.
Pressure canning is basically just like water bath canning except in a different pot. Package and prepare your food as instructed in the Blue Bible (Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving) , them process as recommended. Processing is where the pressure canner and the water bath canner differ. The pressure allows the temperature to reach sufficient levels as to kill the bacteria in lower acid foods, while the acid is what deters the same bacteria in foods that you can process in a water bath. Pressure canning does have risks, but everything does, and if you follow a few simple rules and are diligent in checking your equipment than you have nothing to fear.
The biggest and most important rule is to be sure you have the right pressure canner and that it’s in good working order. Older steam canners are NOT recommended. If you have any questions about your canner contact your local extension agency, they can also test your equipment to be sure its functioning properly.
Pressure Canning Rules
- READ THE MANUEL AND YOUR CANNING BOOK (I recommend The Ball Blue Book) Knowledge is power!
- Follow the instructions for your canner PRECISELY! Never fill above fill line, always check gauges regularly, and assembly properly.
- Be sure there’s an inch of water at least above the tops of the jars in the canner ESPECIALLY for a long canning session (1 ½ Hours). The water MUST cover jars!
- Add 1-2 T vinegar to the water in the canner to avoid hard water spots on jars
- Don’t freak out if there’s an oil slick on the water in the canner after processing, this is normal. Skim as much off before pulling out jars to avoid slick jars and then wipe down jars. If its really bad, empty the canner, wash and refill, but if you can remove most of it than it should be fine for another 2 batches.
- Check lids a hour or so after removing from canner to be sure they sealed, if a jar didn’t seal don’t be afraid to reprocess it, or change the lid and reprocess it, This is the time to do so before you discover its no good 3 months later when you need it.
- You don’t have to heat them before placing in canner, just BE SURE that the temperature difference between jar and water isn’t too big. The closer to room temp the better. Then heat them both up together for canning.
- Example: 1st batch soup is hot so I make sure the water in the canner is warm-hot before putting jars in; 2nd and 3rd batch jars are room temp but water is pretty hot still, so I let water cool longer then add jars and bring to boil.
Fire Her Up!
Your equipment is checked and all clear. You’re all fired up and ready to go! Now what?!
- Pick your produce – what do you want to can first. I recommend green beans. But if you have something else that tickles your fancy look it up in The Blue Book Index.
- Recipes for canning are a little different. They’ll give you basic preparation instructions. Cold pack simply means nothing is heated up until processing. Hot Pack usually means boiling water is involved before processing. It only effects water temperature in your canner (see last rule above)
- Fill your jars, top them off with your lids and place in your canner.
- Be sure that you have sufficient water to give at least an 1” of water above your jars, but never fill above fill line. If its too high remove jars.
- Double check seals on your canner, and that you have a clear airway where your weight will eventually rest.
- Put the lid on and be sure its aligned and sealed
- Turn on your heat (med-high) and listen for the steam coming from your airway.
- Once the steam is steady set your timer for 10 minutes
- Set your weight over the hole, it will get noisy at this point as the pressure releases a little with the weight rocking.
- Watch your gauge, and monitor heat settings. As it approaches the recommended pressure starting turning your heat down a little. It takes surprisingly little heat to maintain pressure better to keep it slow and steady than fluctuating wildly. This is where most people get nervous. On you first batch stay close by watch and learn, your stove, canner and you are learning a dance between heat and pressure settings. After a batch or two your two will be completely at ease in how your canner reacts to your stove.
- Once the correct pressure is reached (anything at or 2-3 lbs above the recommended pressure for that food) then you can start the clock. The time is usually determined by the size of the jar you are using. If you have quart and pint go by the quart time.
- Once the timer goes off, turn off the heat. DON’T DO ANYTHING ELSE. You’ll hear the weight settle and the gauge will return to “0” when the pressure is normal. But I would still give it a good 20-30 minutes before opening. It’s still going to be VERY HOT!
- Remove your jars and either heat your next batch or let it cool a bit more than reload or wash and store.
There’s really nothing scary about pressure canning. It just comes down to a little physics, a bit of watching and waiting, and a lot of healthy and delicious food!