It’s canning season! Truth be told, canning season goes year ’round, around here. Canning isn’t just all jam and applesauce. Canning is chili at the ready for a quick dinner, chicken soup in seconds for sick loved ones, simple–delicious food ready to go during grid down situations and natural (or almost any!) disaster. Canning allows me to can up a variety of foods when either in season or at a great price (or both!) and it is SUPER convenient to have your pantry shelves lined with jars at the ready; no electricity required!
Pressure Canning also carries a bit of anxiety with it too; we’ve all heard the stories about the pressure canner and its dangers! Truth be told? Pressure canning is just as simple as water bathing, just a few different steps and rules apply, reallllly.
The biggest difference between pressure and water bath canning is the temperature and the foods you are canning. Water bathing or ‘open kettle’ method canning can only get the water / temps to 212 degrees and is for HIGH acid foods (fruits, jams, tomatoes), while pressure canning yields temps to 240 degrees; huge difference in being able to SAFELY kill bacterias and is for low acid foods (meat, veggies, etc). That and obviously the pressure canner is…under pressure.
Pressure canning is a must for canning meats, seafood, dairy, veggies, soups, chilis, sauces, anything low acid– again I would refer you to your Ball Blue Book to look up a specific recipe or food. Note that Water Bath Canning CAN NOT KILL THE BACTERIA that veggies, meats- low acid foods, can have. If you want to learn more about canning, basic recipes and more–grab a copy of my Canning 101: A Primer ebook HERE.
If you pressure can food, you will inevitably hear from somebody, some variation on these words: “Oh, you can water bath can that…!” I lean on the safe side here. I just don’t think there is wiggle room in canning, juuuust my opinion. Do it right, or don’t do it…I say.
When it comes to preparing your jars it’s much the same as water bath canning; as far as the food you are going to can, that changes recipe by recipe. (look for some of my favorite recipes here on the blog) The real difference with pressure canning is in the canner itself. Pressure canning is where you want to know your elevation, as your times and pressure will vary depending on your elevation. If you are above 1000 feet, you’ll need to adjust; again look to your Ball Blue Book or the manual that came with your pressure canner. This is crucial to your success. I’d also suggest keeping track of your canning, your yields, your recipes and what you have stocked in your pantry. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to stop and think about canning details that I wish I would have written down somewhere. Now I have my Preservation Planner. Problem solved. You can get yours, HERE.
When using your pressure canner (different models will operate slightly differently) the basic prep is the same as Water Bath Canning; getting your jars all loaded up, lids on and have your rack in the bottom (you don’t want your jars directly on the bottom of any canner–they must be on a rack, preferrably the one that came with it) with your jars on it.
Here come some of the stark differences with your pressure canner vs your water bath canner.
In a pressure canner you do not just COVER the jars with water as you do in your water bath. Follow the directions in your pressure canner manual for this step, it will guide you in how many cups of water you will need to generate the pressure you’ll need to get the job done. This step needs to be done very accurately. If you run out of water while canning…this is where your canner will get too hot, the pressure will build and the old fabled ‘canner explosion’ stories come from! So, just make sure you get the proper amount of water in your canner and you’ll be fine.
Once you have your canner loaded and the proper amount of water in it, you will put the lid on. Some canners have twist-on lids fitted with gaskets. I use an All American, that does not use any rubber gaskets (one less thing for me to tend to) and is just metal to metal seal. Some have screw-down knobs around the lid on the canner (mine does), some don’t. They have removable racks, a weighted vent port (steam vent), and a safety vent. They also have either a dial gauge for indicating the pressure or a weighted gauge (which both regulates the pressure and indicates, by rattling) some have both– my All American does. Pressure canners can usually handle either one layer of quart or smaller size jars, or deep enough for two layers of pint or smaller size jars-depending on your canner size.
Next, we’ll vent the pressure canner a considerable length of time while the water boils (with the jars in and the lid on). This causes steam to push out all the air. So the jars are in a space filled with only boiling water and steam. Basically you get your lid on properly and make sure you take the weighted gauge on your steam vent OFF. Let it get to boiling…as it gets hotter and hotter, the steam will start to build and eventually start to shoot a stream of steam out the port/steam vent—once you see that stream of steam coming out– time it for 10 minutes (that is what it is for MY canner— check YOUR MANUAL for YOUR canner ) that will get the air OUT of your canner and leave it filled with boiling water and steam, thus…pressure! Then put your weighted gauge on your steam vent/port, weighted gauge has 5, 10 & 15 carved into the metal next to the holes, for the desired amount out pounds of pressure–for me it is normally 15 (based on elevation and recipe) some folks call this piece the ‘jiggler’ b/c once steam has built to the proper pressure it will start to JIGGLE; making noise and once it starts jiggling/ making noise (you’ll know what I am talking about once you do this, sorry this blog has no sound effects device 🙂 you can look at your pressure gauge and it should read the pressure you desire, based on the pressure marker you placed over your steam port. (If I put my ‘jiggler’ over the steam port where the ’15’ is, that indicates 15 pounds of pressure, and once it starts jiggling…look at the steam/ pressure gauge–it will (or SHOULD) read right about 15!) Once you reach that point–start your timer. If your recipe says to can your carrots or chili for quarts for 90 minutes– hit your timer once it starts jiggling/reaching proper pressure.
I highly recommend a timer of some sort and staying close by your canner to keep watch on the pressure gauge. I try to plan to do some other kitchen work while I mind the canner. The timer is a must in my opinion– if you get called away or a child needs you– I just find that I can all too easily get sidetracked. When the timer goes off, turn the burner off. At this point I let my canner just sit at least 20 minutes or more, until the pressure releases (or almost completely releases) and then remove the weighted gauge-follow the instructions for your canner. DO NOT try opening the lid until your pressure gauge reads ZERO, ever. Even then, when you do remove the lid– be cautious and take your time. Once you remove your jars, set them on a towel, on a stable counter or table and let stand for 24 hours before wiping down your jars with a hot washcloth and placing on your pantry or storage shelves.
Once you pressure can a couple times? It will be just as simple as water bath canning. Promise.