At risk of being the last person to come to the party, I have been resisting the call to begin pressure canning. It is not that I have not tried. A couple of years ago I was ready to go; I had psyched myself up to learn, purchased a canner, some tools, and dozens of mason jars,
But then karma stepped in. The pressure canner was too tall to fit under the hood of my range so back it went. And I went into major procrastination mode for two years. Let me be honest. I have a healthy fear of pressure canning. Yes, I can do pickles and jams but cooking under pressure? What if something went wrong and the canner exploded or worse, I got botulism?
The time has come for me to get beyond all of that. If you have the same concerns (okay, fears), let us step up together and overcome the fear of pressure canning. Lucky for us, I have a number of blogging colleagues who are canning experts plus, many many readers who are willing to share canning tips. Knowing that, let us take the leap and make a commitment to learn how to can our own jars of homemade goodness!
First up on my own agenda? I purchased a pressure canner. This time I was mindful of the size and measured first. Did you even know that canners came in sizes? Next, I rang up LeAnn Edmondson aka the Homestead Dreamer and asked her for some tips to help me overcome my fear. Today I share them with you.
Overcoming the Fear of Pressure Canning
When I first got into canning, particularly pressure canning, I was nervous. Not so nervous that I would let my fear keep me from doing it, but a healthy dose of caution guided my every step. I was like most people who are new to pressure canning: my wild imagination conjured images of explosions, and shrapnel flying all over and through me that would lead to the headlines, “Newbie Killed by Pressure Canner Explosion.”
As with all things I decide to get into, it starts with research. I wanted to learn how to preserve the food that was growing in our first garden. One of the first things I learned about was the difference between water bath canning and pressure canning. Water bath canning is much less intimidating since you are effectively just boiling jars in a large pot. I thought to myself, “Aha! if I learn water bath canning first, pressure canning will be much easier.”
A lot of first time canners go this route and it makes sense. Pressure canning is intimidating and unlike 100 years ago when pretty much every house had a canner in the kitchen, it isn’t the norm and not many people do it anymore. That means that most people just don’t know enough about them and a lack of knowledge causes trepidation and resistance to something new.
I joked that water bath canning is the ‘gateway’ to pressure canning, but there is real truth to that statement. Water bath canning is used on high acid foods (pickles, jams and jellies, etc.) and pressure canning is for low acid (vegetables, meats, etc.). I liked the idea of making pickles so I decided that I would start there.
WOW! It was incredibly fun and very satisfying making those first batches of pickles. I then moved on to making jams and jellies and have expanded since. Needless to say, I was completely hooked and ready for the next step. Though I was still nervous about it, it was time to at least learn more about pressure canning and see if the fears I had were founded or if it was more of a fear of the unknown. The answer to that is both!
Sure, there are risks when it comes to pressure canning. There are also risks when stepping outside your front door, lighting a propane grill, and going to the gym.
If you know what you’re doing and understand what you’re working with, the risk is considerably lessened. When it comes to pressure canning, the more I learned about canners and how they function, the less nervous I was. Worry turned into excitement as I thought about all the possibilities that can come from having this one item in my food preservation arsenal.
There are several layers of safety built into pressure canners and you would have to take special measures to make them fail. I’m sure many of you are thinking about the Boston Marathon bombing that used pressure canners. Those boys went to some serious lengths to make it actually explode, the least of which was removing or disabling all the safety features that are built in, shown below.
Getting to Know the Safety Features of Your Canner
1. Pressure canner lids lock in place. Even if there is pressure inside, it will not blow the lid off or come undone.
2. For additional locking, once pressure has built up inside another lock kicks in which will not allow you (or anyone else) to open the lid while there is pressure inside.
3. The gauge tells you what level of pressure you are at but in the event you stepped away and forgot (heaven forbid!), there is another feature called the knocker. Generally speaking, most knockers are rated for 15 pounds of pressure. When it reaches that level, the weight begins to rattle or ‘knock.’ This is an indication that “pressure is getting higher and you may want to check it.”
The only time I have ever seen or known of something that actually needed that much pressure to process was at higher elevations. Most people don’t need to go any higher than 12 pounds of pressure.
4. The rubber plug is the last of the safety features and is the end-all, be-all of making pressure canning safe for just about everyone. Should your canner ever build up too much pressure to the point where it wants to burst, this handy little guy will come flying out and release the pressure instead.
I cannot stress this enough: you would have to actually go out of your way to make a pressure canner or cooker explode. So, unless you are intentionally trying to sabotage your canner, your worries can be laid to rest. You got this!
I highly recommend starting out with water bath canning. It can be done with a pressure canner/cooker, a ‘water bath canner,’ or simply a large pot with a good lid. It will help you gain confidence and start getting the muscle memory down for the process of sterilizing jars, warming lids, filling and sealing the lids, and of course, storing them away.
I can say from personal experience that there is little more I find as satisfying as pulling out jars of food that I processed myself. Opening your cupboard to be greeted by clear jars filled with the bright colors of carrots, green beans, and corn makes you feel secure. A taste of summer goodness from strawberry preserves or blueberry jam in the middle of winter is incomparable to buying it at the store.
The best part? You know exactly how it was processed and what is it in it. Plus, you now have the skills to preserve food that can be stored and safely consumed even after a year or two. That is very empowering and liberating stuff!
Gaye’s Note: To learn more about LeAnn and her website Homestead Dreamer, see About LeAnn Edmondson.
The Final Word
Now that my fear is abated, I have some additional challenges. My garden is not large enough to produce food that can be preserved. In addition, the farmers market’s in my area is ridiculously expensive. By that I mean $5 for a bunch of carrots and $3 for a single tomato. Still, I intend to can my own soups, chilies, and, thanks Ms. Jimmie (you know who you are!), meatloaf.
As a warm up, as LeAnn mentions, I am going to make pickles, or, given that the cukes are not ripe yet, pickled something. Sure, I don’t need a pressure canner for that but I want to familiarize myself with sterilizing jars and lids and dealing with the basic process of heat sealing. I am going to use the basic recipe in LeAnn’s pickling eBook, A Primer on Pickling: Learn How to Pickle Food in a Single Afternoon! so if things go wrong, I can blame it on her. Just joking of course because I really do not expect a blooper.
After that, I will move on to my pressure canning using my new All American Canner. I am so excited about learning this new skill and hope you will join me as I share my progress, for better or for worse!
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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