Try home preserving using a steam-pressure canner! A pressure canner must be used to process low-acid foods including vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood as well as soups, stews, and sauces containing those foods. The bacterial spores and toxins produced by low-acid foods are destroyed by the higher temperature reached by this method. Following proper procedures when using a pressure canner is important, but it’s not scary. Learning to use a pressure canner is nothing more than learning how to operate any other piece of equipment, and it’s a fairly simple piece of equipment at that. Also, if you already know how to can using a hot water bath, you know the basic steps of food and jar preparation, so you’re halfway there in the process. Now learn to use a pressure canner and you can preserve almost anything in a jar. If you’ve been afraid to try pressure canning, c’mon. I’ll show you how.
*Utilize expert canning resources for further guidance. See suggested resources at the bottom of this post. This post is intended as a visual aid, and as inspiration and encouragement, not a single or expert resource. Also note that pressure canners come in different styles and sizes–deep enough for one layer of quart or smaller size jars, or deep enough for two layers of pint or smaller size jars. The USDA recommends that a canner be large enough to hold at least 4 quart jars to be considered a pressure canner for its published processes. Consult your manual for specifics regarding use of your gauge and how to lock on your lid. I do not recommend the use of a pressure canner for which you cannot acquire the manual, especially if you are new to canning. Many manuals are available for download online or for a small cost, ordered through the manufacturer or a distributor.
My pressure canner is 50 years old. It came with its manual, was in good working order, and it was free! (Also known as well-loved.) Ask around. You never know what people might have in their attics and be happy to give away.
Supplies you will need: A large pressure canner with a dial or weighted gauge and a rack, a wide-mouth funnel, a jar lifter, and canning jars, lids, and bands. Lids are one-time use items. Jars and bands can be washed and re-used.
Jars must be well washed and hot when you begin filling them. Jars do NOT need to be pre-sterilized as long as the filled jars will be processed at least 10 minutes in a boiling water bath or pressure canner.
Use a rack that fits the bottom of the pot and the size jars you are using. (The jars must not be in direct contact with the bottom of the pot. Normally, a rack will come with your canner.) In a small pot, prepare jar lids. Lids come in regular and wide-mouth sizes, as do jars. Use “real” canning jars ONLY. Lids should be heated for at least 10 minutes prior to using. Lids can be heated in a small pot on the stove or in a small slow-cooker that can maintain a temperature of around 180 degrees. (Do NOT overheat. Do NOT boil. Overheating lids by boiling can result in seal failure.) Remove as needed.
How to Can Using a Pressure Canner:
1. Before you begin the final preparation stage of the food to be canned, fill the canner with 2-3 inches of water and heat to a simmer (180 degrees). Note that the simmering water is for hot-packed jars. If using “cold” or raw pack, do not heat water above 140 degrees to avoid thermal shock/jars breaking.
2. Using a wide-mouth funnel, spoon prepared food into jars, filling to the recommended headspace per your recipe.
Use a plastic or wooden instrument to press mixture and remove air bubbles. (Always remove air bubbles, even if you think there aren’t any. THERE ARE.) After debubbling, add more food if needed to reach the recommended headspace.
Never use metal in a glass jar. The slightest knock of metal against a glass jar could cause an invisible fracture that might cause the jar to break in the canner.
Wipe jar rims thoroughly with a damp towel to clean any spillage. This is important because any particles of food remaining on the jar rim can prevent a vacuum seal. If you are canning foods that are particularly sticky or greasy, you can wipe the rims with a paper towel dampened with vinegar to ensure a squeaky clean rim.
3. Take lids one at a time from simmering water with tongs. They do not need to be dried–put them right on the jar.
You can also buy what is called a magnetic wand to use for removing lids from simmering water to place on jars. Tongs do just fine, too.
Place lid immediately on each jar as it is prepared. Screw on bands. Use a towel to hold the hot jars as you tighten the bands. Tighten the bands only fingertip tight–meaning stop when there is resistance. Firm and snug –not as tight as you can make it.
Over-tightening can interfere with the vacuum seal and even cause buckled lids.
4. Slowly lower each jar as you fill it into the simmering canner of water.
Make sure jars remain upright as they are moved. Once all the jars are loaded, place the lid on the canner and lock it on according to the style of your canner and your manual’s instructions. My canner works by moving the lid until the handles on the lid and pot align and lock.
5. Adjust heat to medium-high, leaving vent open to exhaust steam for 10 minutes. Begin counting the 10 minutes after you see visible, continuous steam escaping.
6. Close vent, either by shutting what is called the “peacock” or placing the weighted gauge on top. (Consult your manual’s instructions for more info if using a dial gauge.) My canner uses a weighted gauge.
When using a weighted gauge, place the gauge down on the vent at the pressure level required for the recipe. I was canning tomatoes here at 5 pounds pressure.
You can process tomatoes in a hot water bath with the addition of an acid (lemon juice, or vinegar when making salsa, etc), but I prefer to use a pressure canner because of the increased speed of processing.
7. Time processing according to directions for the recipe you are using. Begin counting the processing time after the correct pressure is reached. Using a weighted gauge, this is identified by when the gauge begins to jiggle, letting off steam as it holds the pressure at the required level. After the gauge begins to jiggle, lower the temperature until the gauge jiggles two or three times per minute. Avoid “see-sawing” the temperature when adjusting for the proper “jiggle”–this can cause excess loss of liquid from the jars.
When the processing time has expired, turn off the heat. Do not remove the lid (or gauge) until the canner has depressurized. Allow the canner to cool naturally. Trying to rush the cooling of the canner will also cause liquid loss/siphoning of liquids from the jars. (I usually give my canner about an hour.) When using a dial gauge, wait until the gauge returns to zero. With a weighted gauge, you can test it by lifting the gauge in minimal increments. If steam is still escaping, lower the gauge and wait. If nothing happens as you slowly lift the gauge, the canner is ready to be opened. Open the canner by tilting the underside of the lid AWAY from you to avoid a steam burn. Wait a few minutes to allow the temperature in the canner to stabilize.
8. Remove jars one at a time with a jar lifter and place the jars, not touching and at least one inch apart, on a dry surface covered with toweling or layers of newspaper to prevent thermal shock.
Keep cooling jars out of drafts. Do not move jars or adjust rings during the resting period.
Allow jars to rest undisturbed for 12-24 hours. Store jars in a cool, dry location after removing rings from jars and thoroughly washing jars in warm soapy water. Do not store jars with the rings on. Rings may rust onto jars and become difficult to remove. Rings may also mask a bad seal and result in jar explosion. Always remove rings on stored jars. (You may want to replace them later for gift-giving or for transport, but it’s not a good idea to store jars with rings on a longterm basis.)
Recipes and Resources:
For high-acid foods that can be safely canned in a hot water bath, check out: How to Can: Hot Water Bath Method.
I highly recommend the “bible” of canning, the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. (Want to win one? Check out my Ball Blue Book Project page for information about this ongoing giveaway.) Please read expert canning instructions. Do not take anyone’s advice on the internet, including mine, without also consulting an expert source. The Ball Blue Book is an EXCELLENT canning guide. I use it endlessly. Visit the Ball site here.
Another expert source of canning knowledge: The University of Georgia.
Read: The Joy of Canning.
Find even more canning recipes at Farm Bell Recipes.
Got questions about canning? Just want to chat about canning with other like-minded canning souls? Join us in the special canning forum on Chickens in the Road!