Hey all -
The fiancee & I (okay, mostly her
) have been doing some pressure canning lately, so I thought I would do a brief write up.
**DISCLAIMER** **DISCLAIMER** **DISCLAIMER**
I am a rank amateur when it comes to canning. It is entirely possible and probably likely that I'll make some mistakes , omit some details, or make some typos. My intention here is to give a BRIEF overview of the canning process and possibly inspire some ZS'ers to try it for themselves. This is not meant to be a step-by-step, be-all-end-all guide to canning. Messing up with canning is a good way to make yourself really really sick - the MOST IMPORTANT THING is to follow the instructions in your canner's manual and the guidelines in the Ball Blue Book of Canning.
Pressure canning is a great method for preserving fruits, vegetables, meats, or poultry. She had done some water bath canning in the past few years, but that is only suitable mostly for pickled vegetables and tomato-based items. With food prices rising steadily, we decided to stock up on as much meat as we could when it was cheap, but we live in a townhouse and don't have room for a chest freezer. However, we were able to clear out some room in the utility closet for a makeshift pantry to store jars.
We bought a 23-quart Presto pressure cooker & canner from Amazon for $70 - the finacee assures me that this is an awesome price for a pressure canner this size. We asked around in our family and everyone used to
have a pressure canner, but apparently it's becoming a lost art, 'cause they all disappeared over the years. You might have luck at garage sales or thrift stores.
**WARNING** BE VERY CAREFUL IF SHOPPING FOR A USED PRESSURE CANNER! There are lots of finicky seals & parts that need to be in good condition for the canner to be safe to use. There are also a lot of safety features that make new canners fairly idiot-proof that won't be present on 20- or 30-year-old models. I wouldn't buy a used pressure canner unless it is coming from a friend or family member you trust who can vouch for it's condition, or you're ABSOLUTELY SURE it's new old stock that's never been used.
So anyway, here's the pressure cooker:
Basically a big 'ol aluminum pot. The lid looks like this:
In the center of the lid is the pressure gauge, to the right of that is the stem that the pressure regulator attaches to, and in the front is the air vent that will "pop up" when the unit is pressurized. If you're buying a new canner, these items will have to be assembled before you use the unit for the first time - follow the instructions in the manual (most companies have manuals available online if you're missing yours).
I highly recommend you buy one of these, too:
It's a canning accessory set that contains a jar lifter, magnetic lid lifter, tongs, funnel, and jar wrench. These will make your life a lot easier. About $10.
You'll also need jars - these are available lots of places. We bought some today at Big Lots - $7 for a case of 12 quart-size jars. We also have pint-size jars (which you'll see here).
The first step is to wash your jars & lids. Keep the jars filled with hot water until you're ready to fill them. Lids and bands need to be sanitized by boiling them.
Put the funnel in your jar. This day we were doing beef broth & chicken broth, so it was already cooked. Follow the directions in your canning book for whatever you are canning - my fiancee says that the Ball Blue Book of Canning
is the unofficial "bible" of home canners.
Start filling your jars...
Leave 1/2" - 1" of space in the top of the jar. Use a rubber spatula and run along inside of jar to remove air bubbles, wipe off rim of jar with a damp towel.
Put a lid & screw band on the jar & tighten it down (finger tight).
And put the jar in the canner. In a 23-quart canner you should be able to fit 7 quart-size jars or 10 pint-size jars. After all your jars are filled...
...put 'em all in the canner. Fill the canner with water to the indicator mark on the inside wall of the canner.
Lock the lid on the canner according to the instructions.
Turn on the heat. After steam vents for 10 minutes, attach the pressure regulator.
And the pressure gauge will start to rise. Your goal is to get the gauge to a certain pressure and keep it there for a certain amount of time, depending on what you're cooking and what elevation you're at. In this case, we are going for 11 PSI for 90 minutes.
Now we wait...
After the proper amount of time has passed, turn off the heat and the gauge will start to drop. Around this time you might smell whatever was in the jars cooking - usually this is a bit of overflow from the air getting sucked out of the jars and is normal, so don't freak out and assume one of your jars broke - just let it go until it's safe to open the canner.
After the pressure drops to zero you can remove the pressure regulator. On our model, it won't let you unlock the lid until it's safe to do so.
Done. The liquid will probably still be boiling inside the jars for a while - this is normal.
Take the jars out of the canner with the jar lifter...
...and put them on a towel in a safe place to cool. Around this time you'll start to hear the jars go *ping* when the vacuum forms as they cool (this is my fiancee's favorite part
) After they are completely cooled, wipe 'em down and write the date & contents on the lid with a Sharpie.
Today we got some more quart jars and were doing:
Chicken (drumsticks were on sale for 99 cents a pound!)
Ham (we bought a 13-lb. ham to feed 5 people at Easter dinner, so there were plenty of leftovers)
You can see where the jars are still boiling in this picture - they will continue to boil for quite awhile afterwards...
...taco meat & sloppy joe (ground beef was $1.50/lb.)
...and a big batch of my homemade chili that will be canned after it cooks overnight.
We like the idea of canning because we know exactly what's in it, and you don't have all the salt that comes in commercially processed cans of food. We'll also be able to can plenty of produce from our garden for use in the winter.
Remember, the most important thing
is to follow your manual/Blue Book. That being said, there is lots of info available on the Internet - my fiancee pointed towards the following as good resources:http://www.missvickie.com
forums at http://www.mrssurvival.com