For our first fire canning experience, we decided to use our pressure canner as a water bath. We wanted to get a feel for how much wood it would take to build a fire hot enough, how long it would take for the canner to come to a boil, and just practice the process before throwing pressure canning into the equation. We had been given a lot of zucchini and yellow squash, so we decided to make bread and butter squash pickles. See the recipe here.
The second day we did more squash, dill pickles, and used the pressure canner for green beans. (See 16 Tips for Pressure Canning Over a Wood Fire for more specific information about pressure canning.) We did twice as much food in half the amount of time! It was a long, hot day. We couldn’t stop sweating and were dumping cold well water over our heads, but we canned a lot of food! It was a successful day!
Here are the tips that I’ve learned from my wood fire canning experience:
- Have helpers. This is the most important thing. I couldn’t have done this by myself. I’ll be honest and admit that I was kind of intimated by my HUGE All American pressure canner. If you haven’t seen this thing in person, a picture doesn’t really do it justice. It holds 19 quart jars. It weighs 25 pounds when it’s empty. When it’s full, it is over 100 pounds. It takes two people to move. My husband and I could do it, but for safety’s sake we let it completely cool before we moved it. Once it is on the fire and full, you better have it where you want it!
- Don’t leave your fire and produce unattended. Our animals came over frequently to check on us. They would have gobbled up my uncooked squash if I had let them! But besides that, it is not a good practice to leave boiling pots unattended. Again, have helpers.
- Have lots of firewood ready! My husband was on fire duty. A short way into the process on our first day, he realized that he didn’t have near enough firewood collected. He had his chainsaw ready and kept cutting more. The second day, he was better prepared.
- Start the fire early and get it hot before you’re ready to start. We didn’t accomplish this the first time we tried. The second time the fire was good and hot. The whole process went a lot faster with a hotter fire.
- Make sure your cooking grate is a good height. We tried a couple different levels the first time, but in the end the lower height was better. Things cooked quickly and we made good progress by moving things on and off the fire as we needed them. We set our grate on two levels of concrete block. It is on the right in the picture above.
- Have as many pots as you have available filled with water on the edges of your grate. You can never have enough warm water. You will want extra hot water when doing water bath canning.
- Have everything ready so that you don’t have to go in and out of your house to get your supplies. Along with the regular canning supplies (funnel, ladel, jar puller, etc.), heavy oven mitts and long handled wooden spoons are a must. In the future, we are going to try using welder’s gloves that go up to the elbows.
- You will be hot! Have lots of drinking water on hand. Shade is good, but our spot doesn’t have much.
- When sterilizing your jars, put the lid on your pot! This was the biggest mistake we made when canning the first time. Ash got in the water. The squash took longer to come to a boil than I thought it would and my empty jars were sitting in the water staying hot for a long time. By the time I was ready to fill them, I realized all of them were covered with a film. We had to wipe them out and start again. The second time, we kept the lids on!
- Your pots will get blackened with the fire. If you are concerned with this, it’s best to have pots devoted to outside canning. It also helps to wash up your pots outside and have a couple dishpans devoted to this. You will have lots of hot water from the canner when you are done. You will not want to wash fire blackened pots in your kitchen sink. I don’t like bringing soot into my house, if I can help it!
This was hard, hot work, but totally worth it. We will continue to can this way for the rest of the summer and put up as much produce as we can. We also plan to can a lot of chicken once our birds are old enough. Canning over an open fire is possible, even when using a pressure canner. Anything worth doing, takes some practice!
Please view this episode to see our first outdoor canning experience!