[Canning] Under Pressure

I’ve written several blog posts about canning and preserving our homegrown produce, but I thought I would make a more informational post about pressure canning.

Back when I had the desire to can but also the fear of poisoning my entire family, I was looking at buying a pressure cooker. Which shows my naivety of canning back then anyway.

You can pressure cook in a pressure canner but you cannot pressure can in a pressure cooker.

Lesson numero uno.

I wanted to write this post now, however, because as things have changed completely, my prayer is more people will be less dependent on any one store/system/supply chain for their food.

If more people are gardening, raising chickens, and freezing, dehydrating, or canning what they produce, I think it would be a good thing. Really, I think it would be a GREAT thing!

Right away I’m going to address the common fears of pressure canning. In no particular order, I’d say the most common are:

  • Poisoning family (or self)
  • Jar (or canner) exploding in the house
  • Things will taste weird
  • A lot of work, time, money, and not a lot of return on investment

Quickly, allow me to answer each of these.

  • The CDC’s web page oh home canning hasn’t been updated since June of 2018. This is because dying from eating home-canned food is most likely never going to happen. There are a lot of “tells” when your canned food has gone bad, and the rule of thumb is “when in doubt, throw it out.” If you do it properly, carefully, and pay attention, you’ll live to tell about it. Or write a blog post about it.
  • This was a legitimate fear of mine as well. The first time I used a pressure canner, I hid behind the counter because I was sure it was going to explode in my kitchen. It didn’t. While I’ve ended up with several broken jars over the years as a result of canning, nothing has blown up. Again, following the instructions and being aware of your equipment and methods goes a long way.
  • Actually, things taste better. Maybe with the exception of canned poultry, which I have always thought tastes weird anyway, home-canned food retains amazing flavor!
  • The reward is well worth the investment. To grocery shop from a cupboard in the middle of winter, rather than having to leave the house in a snowstorm to put dinner on the table – priceless. If I don’t feel like cooking, I can grab an assortment of home-canned goods and have dinner on the table within minutes. Worth every minute, every cent. This, coming from a woman who just spent six hours washing, peeling, chopping, and canning 10 quarts of potatoes. WORTH. IT.

Pressure canning is different from water bath canning and is used to process low-acid foods like meats, vegetables, etc. There are different methods for different kinds of foods, so be sure you know what you’re after depending on what you’re canning.

If you only want to do pickles, jellies, and jams, a water bath canner is all you’ll need. If you want to do chili, stew, green beans, etc. then you’ll want to be sure you have a pressure canner.

Now about deciding on a pressure canner. Here’s almost verbatim an email I sent to a friend a while back when she was wondering about a pressure canner.

Considerations:

1. How much (quantity) will you be canning?
    If you think in terms of all the possibilities pressure canning opens up: broth, vegetables, meats, dry beans, chili, soups, etc. you’ll find you will be using your pressure canner a lot, so frequency isn’t an issue.

But how much of something will you be canning at one time? You’ll want something big enough to hold those quantities. And you might find you need more than you realized. My Presto holds 7 quarts and I forget how many pints – it could be 18 or it could be 20, I don’t remember – and it does a great job, but I can so much I often wish I had a second canner.

Even though mine only holds 7-quart jars at a time, it’s a “23-quart” canner. They size it on how much liquid it can hold, not how many filled jars. Confusing, but it is what it is.

I would recommend getting that size (or close to it) above getting the little 16-quart. It’s better to have room to spare than not enough room.

2. What will fit on your stovetop?
  Don’t get something that’s too big for your stovetop. You’ll want the burner to be able to distribute heat evenly enough, and you’ll want enough room between canner lid (and gauges) and the bottom of your microwave or stove hood.

In the apartment, I could only can on one burner, because it didn’t fit anywhere else, and I had to turn it just right so it wouldn’t tip off the burner. Probably a hazard.

3. What kind of pressure control are you after?
    So many of the pressure canners have a little jiggler weight that you’re supposed to gauge pressure by counting how many times it jiggles in a minute. That was too high maintenance for me.

The jiggler on my Presto only “jiggles” if something is canned at 15lbs of pressure or higher – and I have yet to can something that requires more than 10 lbs of pressure. So no jiggle for me.

One thing I love about the All American Canner (that I don’t have… yet…) is that it has a weighted gauge – you put the number (10, 15, or 20) on the spout and that number creates the right amount of pressure and venting.

4. Don’t buy used.
    You don’t know how (or if) the owners cared for their canner, and when it comes to pressure canning, you want to make sure you have as much correctly taken care of as possible.

Another cool thing, the county extension office offers free canner inspections – you can take it there each year and have another set of eyes tell you it’s good to go, or you need to lubricate the seal, etc. 

5. Investment
   I bought my pressure canner several years ago and it was expensive for us at the time. I think it was $115.
(*2020 update to say because of the pandemic, the price has gone up instead of down. There was a time when you could get the Presto 23-quart canner for around $75. I hope you find a deal because if you put a 1 in front of that now, that’s the going rate.)

Don’t skimp on cost, but don’t break the bank. You’re going to get your money’s worth time and time again, so long as you invest enough to get a quality canner in the first place.

BONUS!! You can use your pressure canner as an additional water bath canner. You just don’t put the weight on the spout, and it can boil jars so you can have big batches of rhubarb syrup going at one time.

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