Until my family moved to our homestead in the Ozarks, I had never known anyone personally who used a pressure canner. My mom didn’t know how. (Although, she often used a pressure cooker when I was growing up.) I think my grandma may have known how to pressure can, but I never saw her do it. She was a wonderful cook and loved spending time in the kitchen. She even loved to garden. But I guess she didn’t feel the need to put up her produce. Why? Maybe because it became unnecessary. So much produce was available in the supermarkets all year long. She also had a long growing season, living in California. But I think the major reason was that many women in the two generations before mine had heard too many stories about their mothers and grandmothers having accidents with their pressure canners and cookers. Women swore that they would never use one. It was only recently that I realized that I needed to invest in the skill of pressure canning. It really is a vital tool for putting up food on the farm and becoming self-sufficient.
Water bath canning is good for any foods that are acidic: fruits, pickled vegetables (vinegar provides the acid needed), fermented vegetables like sauerkraut (salt and time make an acidic “juice”), and tomatoes (slightly acidic, but lemon juice or citric acid is needed). But if you really want to be able to put up all your produce, as well as other foods, a pressure canner is necessary. I now personally know a few women who pressure can. A friend recently gave me a whole bunch of canned milk that she had put up from the abundance of their milk cow. I was so grateful. It’s so nice to have when baking during the summer when I don’t have a way to keep milk cold. (See 10 Ways to Live without Refrigeration) She also cans meat and other things. My neighbor (about a mile away) does a lot of pressure canning. She taught herself five years ago. Ever since, she has been putting up cans of produce from her garden, a lot of deer during deer season, chickens, fish, really anything that she wants to preserve. These ladies are both self-taught and are no longer scared of the pressure canner. They believe in waste not, want not. They know if they can’t preserve it now, they will not have it later. For my neighbor, knowing how to pressure can is essential during deer season. That is her opportunity to put up as much meat as possible. She doesn’t have that much room in her freezer!
There are so many benefits to using a pressure canner:
- It can safely can food that a water bath canner cannot. All meats, vegetables that are not pickled, soups/stews, pastas, and dried beans can be safely canned with a pressure canner, but not in a water bath canner.
- It can process food in less than half the time. The canning instructions that came with my pressure canner say to water bath tomatoes for 45 minutes. In a pressure canner, that time is reduced to only 10 minutes. That’s a big savings in fuel and time!
- Canning tough cuts of meat is a very efficient way to not only preserve the meat but tenderize it in the process. My boys love canned meat because it is so easy to chew! I use it in anything that I would normally use ground meat. I add it to pasta sauce, rice dishes, nacho dip, the options are endless.
- When it comes time for dinner most of the work is already done and there is no defrosting necessary! Just open a jar and heat. Pressure canning brings new meaning to cooking once for a whole week or month.
- Canning dried beans means that I always have beans to use and never have to plan ahead to soak and cook them.
- You can naturally portion your food into the sizes that your family will use. When we butcher and can our chickens, I will use pint jars instead of quarts because one pint of chicken is a good size for one meal for my family.
- Pressure canning ensures that your food will be preserved without the need for electricity. A freezer is the most common method of food preservation. But if you lose your power for a period of time, all that food will spoil before you are able to eat it all.
- You may be able to cheaply buy canned goods at the store like vegetables, soups, sauces, etc. But a pressure canner provides a way for you to cheaply make your own while controlling the quality of ingredients that you want. You don’t have to search for a more expensive brand of soup from a company that makes it without MSG, high fructose corn syrup, and soybean oil. You can make your own!
- Canning and especially pressure canning is so rewarding. For me, it’s a good addiction! I love it! Just imagine your pantry filled with beautiful jars that you filled and canned yourself. It’s a great feeling.
- Read the instructions to your pressure canner carefully. Make sure you understand them and how all the parts of your pressure canner function. The top of my canner has three different parts to watch. Understanding how each works and their purpose help me safely operate my canner. (1) Vent Pipe and Pressure Regulator Weight: The vent pipe is attached to the lid and the pressure regulator weight sits on top. The weight rocks when pressure has been achieved inside the canner. Always check the vent pipe to make sure that nothing is blocking it before you start canning. Simply hold it up to the light and make sure you can see through it. (2) Overpressure Plug: This automatically pops up allowing steam to escape if the vent gets blocked during canning. It automatically releases pressure inside the canner. (3) Pressure Gauge: This is a visual way to show what the pressure is inside the canner. It helps you to keep the correct pressure during the canning process, but it also shows you when it is safe to open the canner.
- Close the lid correctly, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Accidents can happen because lids have not been closed correctly. Our All American pressure canner has a metal to metal seal, meaning a gasket is not necessary. It also makes it easy to open and close the lid. Screwing down the clamps makes me feel very secure knowing that my lid is sealed correctly and on tight.
- If you purchased your canner second hand, you may want to consider replacing the gasket. A faulty gasket will not provide a tight seal. Better yet, purchase a canner that does not require a gasket. You will never have to replace one!
- Don’t overfill the canner. Two to three inches of water in the bottom of your canner, plus your jars, is what your canner is made to hold. Do not try to place more than the recommended number of jars in your canner. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Stay in the vicinity of your canner. You don’t have to hover over it, but don’t leave it. Clean up the kitchen and do the dishes. Organize your pantry. Don’t leave the room and get distracted doing something else. You want to watch your pressure so that it doesn’t get too high or low.
- Never open the lid until the gauge registers zero, meaning there is no pressure in the pot. When I was a girl, we always put our pressure cooker in the sink and ran cold water over it. And then knocked off the weight to release steam. Not the most safe practice. When pressure canning, I follow the instructions explicitly. For safety’s sake, never pick up a pressure canner that is still under pressure and move to another location! You will run the risk of dropping it. Just slide it off the burner. However, my canner is too heavy to move anyway! It took about an hour for the pressure to come down, but it would probably be less for smaller canners.
With so many benefits to using a pressure canner, there are plenty of reasons to get over any fear or intimidation that we may have from stories passed down from previous generations. Here are some tips to ensure that you stay safe while pressure canning:
Let’s get canning! Are you ready to give it a try?