Don't be Afraid of Pressure Canning

All American Pressure Canner

All American Pressure Canner

Most people who take on canning projects do so using the boiling water bath method. That’s how I started too, but having a pressure canner really opens up more possibilities for food preservation.

I bought this All American pressure canner/cooker, built by the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry in Manitowoc, from Lehman’s Non-Electric Supply in 2002, when my ex-husband and I were living on the Rosebud Reservation. In the time between when my ex moved there and I did in 2001, I spent about three weeks boiling water bath canning and freezing the contents of my Vermillion garden.

I used dry ice to pack the frozen goods to make the move out there, but the quality of those frozen veggies suffered from the temperature changes and the four hour trip in hot weather. I decided I should learn how to pressure can, so I could preserve the harvest from our summer garden in Vermillion to bring back for our second year in Mission.

The canner is big and heavy, and I was a little intimidated by it at first. But when a country neighbor offered us a tractor-scoop full of sweet corn that summer, I decided I’d better just dive in. We started picking at 6am, and with the shucking, blanching, cutting, and canning, plus the heat-up and cool-down times, it wasn’t until about 1am the next morning that I emerged with 4 cases of pressure-canned sweet corn.

Our friend Casey mentioned at one point that Butter Kernel was selling for 50 cents a can at the grocery store, and I just about clobbered him.

I haven’t done a project quite so extensive since then, but it did get me comfortable with the pressure canner and the process. What’s nice about this method is that it lets you preserve low acid foods and combination foods that aren’t safe to do in the boiling water bath. I’ve done lamb broth, some meat, green beans, and lots and lots of tomato-based mixed-vegetable soups.

While it doesn’t seem economical to do some longer-process projects in a pressure canner when you could simply freeze them, it’s nice to have a few jars of soup put by, and it’s also nice to have some meats in jars against an extended power outage. Too, if your big freezer goes “kaput” and you have a pressure canner, you can process all that meat you had frozen and don’t have room for in your upstairs fridge/freezer so it doesn’t spoil.

The drawbacks of pressure canning have to do with the time you spend processing. The processing times for some foods are extensive–some are close to, or over an hour, depending on the density of the product. Too, you can’t simply remove the jars once the processing time is over–you have to wait until the pressure gauge drops to zero before removing the lid and the contents (sometimes close to an hour as well), which makes doing multiple batches time-consuming if you are trying to get it done all at once.

But, like bread-making, if you have other projects to do around the house, you can focus on those other projects in the meantime and be twice as productive (and you thought multi-tasking was a modern thing…).

There’s also that scary high-pressure thing–I mean, what if it blows up? I haven’t had that happen yet–and I don’t tend to spend a lot of time right near the canner while it’s processing–but I do keep a pretty close eye (or ear) on the jiggling weighted gauge to make sure it’s maintaining a steady pressure.

I recommend the kind of pressure canner I have because it has both a dial and weighted gauge–you have two instruments by which to judge how low or high your psi is getting so your finished product is safer (and so are you).  This All-American canner holds seven quart jars, up to eight pint jars, and up to ten narrow half-pint jars.  You can also use it to process boiling water bath items if you don’t want to take up room for both kinds of canners.

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