Pressure Canning: a Primer
A water-bath canner is fine for acidic foods, in other words for pretty much anything that is fruit, fruit preserves, jellies, jams, or pickled. But to can meats and vegetables, you need a pressure canner.
We have a Presto 23-quart pressure canner, which is currently on sale at Walmart. It does not can 23 quarts at a time – that’s the total volume. I think we’ve fit in 14 quart jars at once. Protect the gauge: it’s the most fragile, and important, part of the equipment. We saved the box and it’s in that box in the off season, the lid with its gauge upside down to protect it.
As to what to cook with a pressure canner on, DO NOT use a ceramic (glass) flat cooktop. Pressure canners run much hotter than a water-bath canner and will ruin the cooktop. You can use an electric range with actual burner elements, or a gas range. Or, if you don’t want to heat up the house, you can use the canner out-of-doors. That’s what we do. Any fire you can control will work: coal or hardwood fires can be regulated by how close they are to the canner and over-hot wood or coal fires can be cooled down with a spray water mist. But we use the base of a propane-fueled turkey fryer, which it says not to do right on the box but everyone we know seems to use them with the same abandon that people ignore the warning not to put Q-tips in their ears.
I suspect the warning is to protect them from litigation if a pressure canner blows up. It can blow up with any kind of fire if the pressure gets too high: there is a safety valve–a blowout plug– but if the pressure builds too quickly the safety valve can be overwhelmed. You MUST stay with the canner and watch the pressure at all times. No ifs, ands or buts.
- Follow the manufacturer’s directions as to how much water to add, etc. Keep that little booklet; don’t throw it away.
- FOLLOW THE RECIPE. If it says so much salt, use that much salt. If it says so many pounds of pressure for so many minutes, that’s what you do. There are low sodium recipes, but they have different instructions. Follow them.
- Practice using the canner to cook something else first to get used to how fast the pressure rises.
- Have a timer ready.
- If you’re using propane have a nice long barbecue lighter ready in case you turn it down too far.
- When it hits close to the proper pressure, start turning the heat down because the pressure will continue rise a little.
- When the pressure hits the right number of pounds, start your timer.
- If the pressure is slightly elevated it will continue to rise, so turn the heat down until it stabilizes.
Time’s up? You HAVE to turn off the heat to let it depressurize to zero. If you can, leave it on the burner (or carefully move it off of some heat sources like wood or coal fires, level so the jars won’t crack).
You have to let the pressure fall back down to zero before you open it. Tilt the steam away from your face when you open the lid ; wear heavy oven mitts. When you open the canner the jars will be extremely hot and the jar contents will mostly likely be visibly boiling. If the jars tip over you may lose some liquid. You’ll want something to carry the jars to where you will set them to cool. An old wooden or metal tray with high sides or a thick cardboard box will do. Wherever you set them to cool has to be level and out of the reach of children.
And trust me, when you open them later, you’re going to need a very sturdy punch or bottle opener.
Dinner tonight was a venison stew with pressure-canned carrots and green beans from last September. We also canned a lot of chicken and chicken broth. We’ll expand our canning operation this year to include beef and corn and other things.
A final note: we have extra fuel on hand in case of a power failure, and enough canning supplies to preserve the contents of the freezer. You might want to do that, too.
We found a couple of All American pressure canners on Ebay, they were old and ugly and cheep. The machining of the canner is good enough that no rubber seal is required, read that as nothing to replace when parts go bad and might not be available.
We are at altitude and I LOVE pressure canning, times are shorter than for water bath canning and less fuel is used. It is much more simple as jars do not need to be sterilized if your times are over 10 minutes.
Our large canner will hold 14 pints, our small one will hold 5. The smaller of the two seems to get more use as we can culls that don't go to market, we even can leftovers from a meal. There are times when we use both of them on a big haul.
Canning takes priority over almost everything we do, it if needs to be put up it usually happens on the same day, it does lead to some late nights. Produce nutrition degrades quickly.
Canning is hard work that is rewarded through out the year.
We had a 6×6 bull elk hit and killed in front of our house the other day, much of it became canned dog food, talk about enthusiasm around supper time!
A whole elk, on your doorstep. Wow! I like the idea of having a smaller pressure canner around to deal with leftovers, or to run two when you have a lot to can. We have a fancy cooktop and cannot use the pressure canner on that, so we are limited. We intend to eventually replace it with an electric range or to make an outdoor canning area to cook with various fuels. Here is a picture of the sort of canning area we'd like. We plan on building it on the side of our metal shed.
I also found the newest IKEA catalog had a section on pantry shelves which featured canning and jars and drying racks and root vegetable storage. Take a look!
I love the look! It looks like you could stay pretty organized.
I love the idea of an outside cook area, we have dreamed of one. Anybody that cans in the summer heat probably has! Our dream also includes a wood fired pizza oven that we could bake in.
I like what you are thinking, post photos if you get there before we do.
You should consider buying a propane turkey fryer. The burner setup can be used with a pressure canner as well. The biggest advantage is keeping the heat out of the house! I process my summer time canned goods this way frequently.
I have friends who have a wood fired pizza oven. It takes a while to get it up to temperature ~an hour or two. It is really fussy. Put too much wood in there and it burns the pizza, not enough and the crust is soggy. Another friend uses a 1/4" thick steel plate in his BBQ. It works great! I purchased a cordierite pizza stone to use in a propane BBQ. It only takes about 10 minutes to get up to temperature. It takes several attempts to learn where the knobs should be set, but after that, does a wonderful job.
To limit the effort and carbs, we've started using burrito sized flour tortillas as the crust. It is quick, easy, and delicious. I fire up the BBQ, start making the pizza, and by the time the pizza is ready to cook, the temperature of the stone has stabilized. I've learned that too many toppings don't work well. It runs over the edge and makes a mess. Tomato paste from last year's garden, fresh herbs from the garden/greenhouse, salami (or another meat,) and a topping of shredded mozzarella and cheddar. That's my recipe. I added fresh pea pods while they were producing. Now, I add fresh garlic, sliced tomatoes, and onions. YUM!
That's what we use, even though it says not to use it for canning! Works great.
Thanks for the tutorial, Wendy, and the advice from those of you who already are canning.
I have never done this and am contemplating taking the plunge.
Found these All American Pressure Canners at Amazon. New, they are pretty expensive, though. They do describe a finely machined metal-on-metal seal that doesn't wear out as mentioned by Rob, above.
Several different sizes. This one is a 21.5 Quart size canner that holds 7 quart jars or 19 pints at one time. $225.
I found an old one about this same size (21 Quart) on eBay for $80.
This 15 inch diameter cast iron stand with propane burner could fit under it. $49.
Would you put this on a picnic table in a shaded part of the yard so as to work in the summer heat? A couple of picnic tables to peel and chop veggies would sound handy. Lots of ice water. (But not beer–or moonshine–while playing with sharp instruments….)
This is a jar lifter for getting the hot jars out of the pressure cooker without spilling. $9.
With the current temperatures near 100 degrees, it is hard to get too enthusiastic about anything that adds heat to my life experience right now.
Comment on the tools. As I mentioned in my previous article on water bath canning, my personal preference is to use the tongs, center bottom in this image, rather than the jar lifter on the far right. I get a better grip with it, especially with pint and half-pin jars.
Clockwise from the top: The tools are the canning funnel, jar lifter, tongs, jar wrench, and lid lifter (that's a magnet on the end of it).
We use a 21 quart All American Pressure Canner as s_p described above, with a 2 burner Browning brand propane camp stove available for $120.00 at sporting goods stores. The extra burner lets us heat water for topping off jars or warming lids prior to the canning run etc. and is quite handy. The stove has its own adjustable legs that puts the cooking surface at the perfect height for filling the pressure canner.
Happy Canning !