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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Beginning Presure Canning :: Filling Your Pantry

I hope that you have had time to try out The Pressure Canning Process and that you are feeling comfortable with your pressure canner now.

If you are just jumping in on my series on Beginning Pressure canning, I invite you to read my first post about Understanding Pressure Canning, followed by The Pressure Canning Process which gives you a step by step tutorial on becoming familiar with your pressure canner.

If you you feel like you are getting the hang of your pressure canner, it is now time to start filling your pantry! 


Preserving the Harvest

When most people think about filling their pantry with pressure canned products, they often think of jars filled with produce from the summer's garden.  Pressure canning is a wonderful way to preserve the bounty of your harvest, especially if you don't have freezer space or a root cellar to fill.

Low acid produce such as green beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, carrots, peas, asparagus, and even onions and peppers can all be safely preserved to enjoy and cook with throughout the year.

Although fruits and tomato based food with a high enough acidity (sauces, salsa, tomato juice, stewed tomatoes, etc.) can be safely canned in a water bath, they can also be pressure canned with a reduced processing time compared to the water bath.

Whenever you select produce to can, make sure that you use produce that is free of blemishes (which could contain more of the organisms that spoil food) and that is not overly ripe (for the best flavor, nutritional quality, and longevity for storage). 

What if you don't have a garden?  (To see my post on Gardening to Feed a Family, click here.) Don't let that stop you!  Here are just a few ideas on how to acquire delicious produce to pressure can:
  • Join a CSA - Community Supported Agriculture farms will supply you with weekly shares of their harvest throughout the growing season.  
  • Farmers' Markets - Farmers' markets allow you to select the types and amounts of produce that you would like to preserve.  Make sure to talk to the farmers about the origins of their produce, however, since many farmers' markets allow individuals to sell produce that has been shipped in. 
  • Produce Auctions - Produce auctions are a great way to buy bulk produce for canning. If you search around on Google, you might be able to locate produce auctions in your area. My mom and grandma often frequent the Wapsie Valley Produce Auction in Hazelton, located amongst the Amish near my hometown. More Iowa produce auctions can be found here. Although most of the produce is grown locally, it is still a good idea to ask about the origin of the produce.
  • Check with Friends and Neighbors - There are many gardeners out there who garden just as much to get their hands dirty in the garden as they do to consume their crops, and there are many land owners who have fruit trees but do not eat all of the fruit.  These gardeners and landowners often have more produce than they can handle. Don't be afraid to ask them if they ever have an abundance to sell or barter for.  You might even be able to exchange some garden or fruit picking up labor for crops. I know of many individuals who have spotted plentiful gardens or fruit trees on walks or drives and have ended up with large amounts of produce.  Don't be shy! :) 
  • Purchase from Stores - If you aren't able to grow or purchase any local produce, you can always purchase your produce from the store.  This allows you to have foods on hand and ready to go without a trip to town, and you can also get nice sales on certain crops when they are in season.


When There Isn't a Harvest

The gardening season is not the only time that you can have foods to pressure can.  My pressure canner runs regularly throughout the winter months as well, which is a great time to can. The heat provided by the canner is actually welcomed, unlike in the summer months.  There are also many jars available that are being emptied of summer produce. These jars can be filled with ready to go meals or with ingredients for meals. This significantly cuts down on your meal preparation and clean up.  Many of my winter canned goods are my "fast food" canned goods. 

Here are some of my favorite things to pressure can in the winter:

  • Meat - What would I do without my canned meat?!  I have almost forgotten how to cook with meat from the freezer.  Pork shanks are cooked down to fill jars with tender pulled pork to be used in sandwiches, soups, seasoned with my homeade BBQ sauce, and seasoned with my homeade taco seasoning for tacos or fajitasHam hocks are also cooked down for ham for scrambled eggs, casseroles, ham and beans, pizza toppings, ham sandwiches, or ham and noodles.  The same goes with chicken, turkey, and beef, all waiting to be added to casseroles, soups, or to be used in sandwiches.  Canning meats can be so simple and so rewarding, especially on those evenings when you want to provide a hearty meal in a short amount of time. It is also a great way to turn lesser cuts of meats into ingredients for a wonderful meal!
  • Broth - Pork, beef, chicken, and turkey broth are a staple in my pantry. Broth can be made from soup bones, bones left over from a roast or broiler bird, or from the extra liquid used when preparing meat to can. The nutrients pulled out during the process of making broth are very healing and nourishing to your body. Broth is wonderful to use in soups (no more of those MSG filled bullion cubes!) and to cook noodles in or rice in for extra flavor and nutrients.  Save whatever bones are leftover from your meals to use for broth or check with your local farmer or butcher if you are in search of bones to use.
  • Beans - I once turned my nose up to cooked beans, but now I am constantly canning dried beans: black beans and mixed beans for soups and various dishes, beans flavored with my homemade enchilada seasoning (to be mashed and used in burritos, taco dips, or as refried beans), beans flavored with my homemade chili seasoning (ready for my 4 jar chili meal), beans canned as baked beans, and even a few other seasoned bean experiments. Cooking with beans started as a necessity to add protein into our meals when we need to sell much more meat than we ate. I don't ever recall eating any beans besides baked beans when I was growing up (nor did I want to), but now our family has really grown to enjoy not only the savings of using beans in recipes, but also the flavors of all of my seasoned beans.  Plus, if you use broth as your liquid, you take away much of the "reputation" that comes with beans
  • Soups and Stews - Soups and stews can be made up specially to be canned, or you can multiply your recipes to allow for extra soup to can. Jars of premade soups are wonderful to have on hand for days when there is sickness in the house or when you need a filling meal in 10 minutes or less. One of the best parts about these meals is that the only cleanup you have is the jar, pan you heated it in, and the bowl and spoon you used to eat it with (if you even bothered using a bowl!)
  • Food From the Cellar - If you are blessed to have a root cellar and produce being stored over the winter months, don't be afraid to can some of it up if it is still in good shape, especially if you are nearing the end of the season.  Potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, and carrots are all wonderful crops that can be pulled out and canned.  It may seem a bit silly to can them, but the convenience of having them precooked is well worth it. I often open a jar of pumpkin squash to make a quick batch of pumpkin bread for the kids' snack, and the flavor of my fried potatoes when using canned potatoes beats the fresh potatoes hands down!
  • Produce From the Store - If you are just getting started pressure canning and are planning on canning produce during the upcoming growing season, you just might want to try heading to your favorite store's produce department, picking up some veggies, and giving them a try in your pressure canner.  You probably won't be saving much financially, but the practice could save you considerably (time and money) when the bounty of fresh produce comes on fast and furious from the garden or a local producer.

Giving it a Try

Since this post is coming out in February, here are a couple links to some of my photo tutorials that can be tried out now.
Also, recipes and instructions for each of the areas of canning listed in this post can be found in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving

And since canning meat is such a help to me, I thought I'd add a quick tutorial of one of the easiest ways to can meat. This can be done with cubed meat or stew meat.  This meat can be used in casseroles, soups, stir fry, or spaghetti sauce. It is so quick, so easy, and so helpful to have on hand!

Purchase or thaw cubed stew meat. I used approximately 15 lbs to give me 18 pints worth of meat.
Add just enough hot water to cover your meat.  Bring your meat to a boil. During this time, you will want to prepare your canner, jars, and lids if you haven't already.

Once your meat has been brought to a boil, turn off your heat and begin filling your jars.  I like to use a slotted spoon to lift out the meat, and then I dip out enough liquid with a measuring cup to fill the jar to the proper head space, both of these done with the aid of a canning funnel.

Process your jars according to time and pressure given with your pressure canner.

Here is a photo of my finished jars.  The jars on the left are fully cooled, and the jars are the right are still cooling.

A note on fats: You may notice the lard that has rendered out of the meat, which has solidified at the top of the jars on the right as they cooled.  I have recently been leaving more fats in my meat since it is a healthy fat from our pasture raised animals and is an important part of our young childrens' diet.

When I prefer to remove the fats, I use my fat separator (aff link) when I add in my liquids or I chill the meat overnight to remove the fat as shown in this post.  After the fat has been removed, just reheat your meat back up and continue on.

Now What Do I Do?

If you have read about Understanding Pressure Canning, have gathered your materials, and are comfortable with The Pressure Canning Process, here are some next steps you can take.
  1. Think about where you can purchase crops or meats for canning.  If you can't grow or raise them yourself, try to find a local producer so that you are working with fresh products.
  2. Try something simple.  Flip through the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and find a recipe that you think you would enjoy and one that doesn't require too much work.  This is a great way to build confidence.
  3. Determine what types of canned goods you consume the most.  This is a great place to start since you will quickly see the rewards of pressure canning your own food. 
  4. Look forward to my next post on Organizing Your Canning!

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Tools of My Trade
You can check out the aff links below to learn more about these canning tools, and you can also read about them in the first post of my series, Understanding Pressure Canning, where I talk about how to pick out and find good used equipment.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Our Maxed Out Mudroom

I am taking a short break from my series of posts on Beginning Pressure Canning to give you a chance to gather your materials I shared about in Understanding Pressure Canning and to do some trial runs as described in my photo tutorial on The Pressure Canning Process.

During this little break, I'll give you a quick glance around the rest of our mudroom.

When I decided how I wanted to finish off our mudroom, I decided that I wanted it to look like the outside of the house to give the feel that you hadn't quite entered the house.  After all, it was going to house all of our farm gear, which I was assuming would be quite dirty.  I was right. Hence the name mudroom. So please excuse the mud. :)

If you read my post on Managing Mittens in the Mudroom a few weeks ago, you read all about my struggles to organize our children's hats, mittens, and gloves, as well as seeing what I eventually came up with.

Well, the rest of the mudroom has been about as equal as a struggle as the mittens.  We are finally getting to a point where we can function in there though.  I'll walk you around, show what all we have going on in here, and share more than you would probably ever need to know about a person's mudroom

First of all, to gain your orientation, the photo above is directly to your left as you step inside our mudroom. There is a window above the mittens, and if you take a few more steps forward, you will find yourself walking into our house.  We won't go in the house today. If you turn your head from the left to the right, you will see the rest of the room.

Along the outside wall of our mudroom is where I attempt to organize the rest of our farm gear.

Next to the light switch is fun little chicken key holder that my parents found for me on one of their flea market excursions.  It not just holds our keys, but it also is a handy spot for Ethan's headlamp, which gets used quite often considering many of his chores are done during the dark hours of the day, when he isn't in the office or at the other farm he works for.  The wind chime partially shown above was a wedding present from Ethan's grandma and gently chimes when a summer breeze blows through the mudroom window.

Hanging on a nail in the wall beside this, is our electric fence remote, quick to grab and handy to use!

You will also notice across the top of the area shown is an array of Amish style farm hats.  My parents live by an Amish settlement, and when we were dreaming of farming, I bought the family some of these for Christmas.  My parents have picked up more sizes since we moved to the farm so the kids would have shade to wear on our treeless (shadeless) hill. 

Also, hanging on the wall are mostly Ethan and my farm coats. Yes, we have a lot of them. Just like you have the right shoes for the right occasions, we have the right farm coats for the right occasions. When you are out doing chores or working on a project for an extended amount of time, you want to be dressed right, especially in the winter.  Not too cold, but not overheating.  Thankfully, many of these coats get put away when the summer warms up.

Under the coats is my shoe shelving. Like my mittens, in another moment of mudroom desperation, I constructed our shelving by again wandering around to see what I could find. I ended up grabbing two empty milk crates and a couple loose boards to set across the top.  This year, as little feet have gotten bigger, I decided that I needed another level.  I was able to find one more board, as well as some bricks.

Ethan and my shoes and boots go underneath, and the kids' shoes go on the shelves. Like the gloves, my kids have learned that they need to be responsible for their shoes as I remind them that not picking them up is like telling me I need to.  As you can see, most of the shoes are fairly well matched. It's not beautiful, but it does the job.  I'm thinking that one of these years, as soon as I finally get everything situated to where I want it, I might ask my dad, who builds custom furniture, to build for me the shoe shelf that I have drawn up in my head.

Past our shoes and coats is a wooden locker that I picked up for free when our town's head start was moving.  My mother-in-law helped me paint it, and after hanging hooks inside, it became our kids' storage area. This is where they hang their farm coats and snow pants, as well as where they keep their boots.  We used to keep the gloves and hats in the little cubby above, which was disastrous.  Now that area is used to keep sunglasses, the tool belts that I made for them, and any other extras that need a place.

On the far end of the locker, on the far, far side of the mudroom, is a hook to hang (hide) our farm coveralls.

On top of this unit, from the far right to left, is a basket for Ethan and my gloves and hats, a tool carrier for tools Ethan wants to have handy, another basket for farm outdoor odds and ends, and also a tool carrier for myself.  This tool carrier got put on my Christmas list this past year after trying to hunt down Ethan's tools for projects that I try to work on when he is gone or for home repairs that I attempt - every farm wife needs one of these! (Plus, her own tools!)

Now to the opposite side of the mudroom.

Right as you walk in, you have a mudroom sink that greets you, calling you to wash off all of the farm dirt that was acquired outside. This is also the sink I use to wash up our chicken eggs, and the cabinet underneath makes a great spot to store egg cartons.

Above the sink is a medicine cabinet I recently installed where I keep things like band-aids, sunscreen, and bug deterrent, and hanging on the wall beside the sink is a rooster towel holder, gifted to me one Christmas from Ethan.

Above the towel holder is our little egg basket that I bought Ethan when we still lived in town and were wanting to add some chickens in our backyard.  Although this little basket doesn't quite do the job anymore, it's a great egg basket for small helpers who tag along.

Underneath the towel holder is our ash bucket which I shared about in my post  A Glimpse Around Our Woodstove.  This ash bucket can get quite hot when first filled, which is why it gets set on our cement floor, painted brown to add to the barn-like effect of the room and to try and help hide the dirt - a near impossible task in this room.

Next to the sink is our family freezer.  I was very excited this year to get a freezer back for our family's use since every year prior our freezers have all been used for our business.  Actually, I was excited to get our mudroom back as well. Before we finished our freezer room, which now holds 6 business freezers and our market supplies, our mudroom was the central location for our farmer's market business.  The two freezers, towers of coolers, and marketing paraphernalia did not help the sanity level in the mudroom one bit!
Past our home freezer we now have 2 incubators and a hatcher.  I'm thinking these might get a stand built for them so that they can be stacked three high (we have 10 foot ceilings), since we are also wanting to add an egg refrigerator to this room this spring.

For now, we have our egg hatching cabinets in two locations, and atop one of our incubators you will find our real egg collecting baskets, a watering can, and Ethan's batteries for his power drills. The space that will be consumed by the egg fridge makes a handy spot for Ethan's chain saws, used frequently to cut wood for our wood stove.  *Sigh*  I guess we'll need to find a new spot for them . . .

If you were observant, you may have noticed from the photo showing the whole wall of coats and from the photo showing the stack of incubators, there is a curtain along the back wall.  I'm not allowed to tell you what is behind the curtain.  Just kidding.  Actually, there is a small mess behind the curtain.  Stacks of tubs, a coat bar for hanging coats we don't want farm filth on, and an area that will hopefully soon be transformed into shelving for my overflow of canned goods that are now stacked in my hallway. Some day I hope to replace the curtain with some sliding closet doors resembling barn doors . . .  Someday. 

Here is the view from the back end of our mudroom. Because we have 10 foot ceilings, we had to join the wall boards to reach to the ceiling.  The white trim covers the joint, and above the trim I display fun farmy things.  On the left wall are some old traps and a cool seed bag from some open pollinated corn we experimented with one year.  Continuing around is a wall hanging from a foreign exchange student who was in our youth group which depicts a farm in her country, along with a wall hanging of an African Guinea Fowl coincidentally given to the year we got guineas by my Uncle who is a missionary in Zimbabwe. A bit lower, beside the window, you will find Ethan's snow shoes and a pig wall hanging he gifted me one Christmas. And up high again, along the right wall, is a rooster clock positioned to check the time by a quick peek inside the door, two lanterns that we have used for school when our power went out, and a rug beater that is no longer solid enough to beat my rugs but is still pretty.

Like I said, this is probably more than you ever wanted to know about someone's mudroom.  I'd love to hear anyone's tips or tricks they might have to offer since it is still a work in progress. As hard as it is to function within it though, I can't even imagine trying to be able to function without it!

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Tools of My Trade

This tool carrier is the one I ordered with my Christmas/Birthday gift money.  I had been eying Ethan's over the last year as I realized how helpful it would be for me to keep my house and garden tools handy.  It has a generous amount of pockets, and it even has a little box that fits underneath to hold nails, photo hooks, or whatever else I want to store for my building/household projects.  I just wish I would have gotten one sooner!
I do have to admit that although I thought Ethan's headlamp, similar to this one, was a little silly when we first started the farm, I use it quite often too now.  When I'm out in the dark, by myself, trying to get something done as quick as I can to get back inside (yeah, I'm wimpy in that I prefer not to be out in the dark by myself), I appreciate not only light but also 2 hands to work with.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Beginning Pressure Canning :: The Pressure Canning Process

As I write this post, it is the beginning of February.  This may seem like an odd time to learn how to pressure can with gardens tucked away for the winter, but in my opinion, it is the best time to learn!

Think about it, do you really want to be fumbling around with something new like this when the weather is beautiful outside, when produce waits impatiently to be harvested and preserved, and when mistakes (or what I like to call learning opportunities) impact the crops you have worked so hard to raise?

For me, I would much rather have learned to pressure can in the off season of the garden, which is one of the reasons I'm sharing my posts about Beginning Pressure Canning with you now.

If you have never canned before, I encourage you to start at my first post, Understanding Pressure Canning.  In this post I give an overview on what you need to pressure can, what pressure canning is doing, and how to ease concerns about the safety of pressure canning - both during the process and with the food you have preserved. If you understand pressure canning and have gathered your equipment, then you are ready to move ahead to The Pressure Canning Process.

The Pressure Canning Process

I remember the first time that I actually started my pressure canner up, which was also the first time I can really remember being around a pressure canner running. Most of what I remember from that first run was that I had my heat considerably too high, most likely my canner was not level, and oh, was that steam spewing and whistling out from under the weighted gauge that danced as if it were on hot coals!  I don't even remember what I canned or if I even finished canning it.  I just remember that I was a bit freaked out by my initial run and was frustrated that what I was trying to can probably was being ruined.

Because of this, I suggest that for your first few times canning, just can some water.  That's right.  Fill some jars with water, pretend it's food, and get to know your canner.  So here it is.  My most important photo tutorial ever:  How to Pressure Can Jars of Water

Since this is to prepare you for actually pressure canning food, I am going to treat my water like it is a food that I am going to eat in the future. My photo tutorial will include steps that might seem a little silly to do with water.  I encourage you to do them all.  Not only will it help you better understand the complete process of pressure canning, but it will also help start a rhythm to your canning to ensure you don't miss steps in the future. Please keep in mind that this is just my overview, and it is not meant to replace the information that is included with pressure canners.


Canning Preparation

Before you start canning, you will need to get your jars nice and clean.  You can either run them through your dish washer or scrub them up with hot soapy water. You will also want to use this time to check for any cracks or chips on your jar.  The slightest chip on the rim could hinder the seal on your jar.

If you run your jars through your dishwasher, you can keep them hot and ready to fill by keeping the dishwasher door shut after they have finished washing. If you need to level your burner, you will need to use them in the leveling process.

Since I don't have a dishwasher, I have purchased a bottle brush to help me scrub the inside of the jar thoroughly. (It is also great to use when washing the jars after eating the food inside.) This also works to freshen up jars that have been cleaned and are waiting in storage to be filled.

Your next step will be to prepare the burner that your canner will be on, especially if you have unlevel burners like mine. It is important for your canner to be level in order for the steam to vent properly. If your canner is not level, your canner could possibly become over pressurized. This can lead to food being forced out of your jars during the canning process, which in turn could effect the seal due to improper head space or food within the seal.

Leveling your canner doesn't take much time to do once you have done it a few times. Plus, this time can also be used to prepare to heat up your jars. This is an important step since contrasting temperatures of jars and the foods going into your jars might cause your jars to break. If you have already determined that your burner is level, you can skip the steps to level your burner, but do still follow the steps to fill your canner and heat up any hand washed jars.

When you are leveling your canner, you will first want to put 2-3 inches of warm water into your canner which will allow for sufficient steam throughout the canning process.  (Some recipes with lengthy canning times might call for more.)

Next, you will want to fill your cleaned jars with warm water and place them in your canner.  You will want to use the same number and size of jars you will be canning with to apply the same weight on your burner, which could effect how it levels.

You will also want to make note of where your water level is to watch for evaporation.

Now it's time to level your canner. You can do this by eye, but if you are like me, you might feel more confident using a small level. Place your canner on your burner and check the level of your canner both front to back and side to side.
As you can see, my burner is considerably off level. You can first try adjusting how the coils set on your burner plate, but if adjusting your burner plate does not do the trick, you can use washers, coins, or any other metal lift under your burner plate to achieve a level burner.  This might take a bit of trial and error the first couple times with placement and various sizes of lifts, but if you make some notes or illustrations on what you did to help level your burner, you will soon be able to level your burner in no time at all! 

Once you are done adjusting your burner to level, be sure to check that your pressure canner is still very stable.  

Now that your burner is level, you can begin slowly heating the water in the canner until it reaches a gentle simmer (~180 degrees), about the same temperature that your food should be. (If using a raw pack method, meaning jars are packed with raw food followed by hot water or syrup being poured into the jars, you can bring this temperature to 140 degrees.)

Keep your jars heated in your canner (or dishwasher if you are not leveling your canner) until they are ready to be filled.  If you are not filling your jars shortly after this, however, you may need to replace water that has evaporated.

About 10 minutes or so before you plan to fill your jars, you can start preparing your lids and rings. In order for your lids to form a nice seal, you will need to soften the sealant of the lids.  This is done by heating your lids in a small sauce pan.  It is recommended to heat these up to a light simmer, but heating them to boiling can actually increase the chance of them not sealing.  It is also recommended to heat your rings, which can be tossed in with your lids. 

Food Preparation

There are times when you will have food that is quick to prepare, so you will want to have your jars, canner, and lids ready to go before you start preparing your food.  There are also times when your food will take quite awhile to prepare. For these times you can start your food preparation first and then get your jars, canner, and lids ready when your food is getting close to the point of filling your jars.

Since it doesn't take long to prepare simmering water, I have placed the food preparation part of the tutorial after the preparation of the jars and canner. As I mentioned, it might seem tempting to skip some of these steps, but I encourage you to go through each one pretending with me that you are preparing and canning some type of food.  It will really help you understand the canning process fully and start a rhythm to your canning.

For this round, I am preparing 7 quarts of water. (As my little conversion robot shares, this is equal to 28 cups of water.)   Many of the foods that you pressure can will be canned using the hot pack method, meaning your food is brought to a boil or simmer before filling the jars. Because of this, I will be heating my water to a nice simmer.

When your water reaches a simmer, you can turn your heat off, let your water cool just a tad if you would like, and then prepare to fill your jars.

Fill your heated jars one at a time. If they were being kept warm in your canner, dump the heated water out and fill them with your "food" water to the appropriate head space, as called for in your canning recipe.  (Even if it seems like a silly step to replace heating water with "food" water, it is important to get into a canning rhythm.)

Sometimes food can be pushed out of your jars from over pressuring during the canning process, effecting the seal due to improper head space or food stuck between the jar and the lid.  To check for this when canning with water, add a drop of food coloring to each jar.

You may want to experiment with different head spaces. If you do this in the same trial run, use different food colorings.  I'm using red for 1 inch head space and blue for 1/2 inch.

If you are canning anything that has solid particles in it, you will want to run a spatula around the outside of your jar to release any air bubbles within the jar.  We'll pretend this jar has some garden vegetables in it.  :) 

After your jars are filled, you will want to clean the rim of the jar with a damp cloth to remove any residues that might prevent a sure seal.

Now remove a lid and ring from your heated water.  A magnetic lid lifter is very handy, but a couple of forks can do the job too.

Place the lid on your jar and screw the ring onto your jar.  You will want to get it "finger tight", meaning tighten down with your fingers but not with all of your muscle. You want a tight seal, but you don't want to push all of the sealant out of the way. (If you have young ones helping, you might want to give it a quick tightness check before it goes into the canner.)

Using your jar lifter, move your jars into the canner of heated water one at a time as you fill them, being careful to grab the jars around the neck of the jar below the glass ring.

Once your canner is full, add a splash of vinegar, or about 2 tablespoons worth.  This will keep your jars sparkly clear by preventing mineral deposits from forming on the outside of your jars. If you need to add additional water due to evaporation, go ahead and do that now too.

Getting Your Canner Up to Pressure

Before you start up your canner, you will want to make sure that your room is free of drafts and temperature fluctuations, as this can cause fluctuations as you work to regulate the temperature and pressure inside your canner.  Check to see that ceiling fans are turned off and windows and outside doors are shut.

Before you place the lid on your canner, always make sure to hold your lid up to some light, peek through the steam vent, and make sure the vent is clear of any debris.

It's now time to turn your burner on high and put on your canner's lid.  

When your lid is properly in place, the safety spring on your lid should be positioned above the recess in your canner's handle.

Once you turn on your stove, watch for the first bit of steam to come out of the vent on the lid. When your canner starts releasing steam, set your timer for 10 minutes. This time frame is very important as your canner is pushing out any air and is filling with steam, which is what helps your canner reach the needed temperature to kill bacteria.

If you read my first post on Beginning Pressure Canning, you will probably remember to not let your canner steam much past these 10 minutes.

When your 10 minutes is up, it is time to put the weighted pressure gauge on your canner. Be sure to check your recipe to make sure you have your gauge set for the proper amount of pressure.

Continue heating your pressure canner on high until your pressure gauge shows that your canner is under pressure, wiggling, rocking, or moving as will be described in your canner's instructions.  This should happen within 2-10 minutes. 

Once your gauge reacts to the pressure inside, your pressure canner is under the proper amount of pressure, and your safety spring should be securely dropped in your canner's handle.


Your Canner Under Pressure

Once your canner is under pressure, you will want to begin your timer.  You may start your timer at the first movement of your pressure gauge. Always double check with your recipe to make sure you have the correct amount of time for the food being canned and for the size of jars being used.  Different foods have different
densities and properties to them.  The amount of pressure and time processing is crucial in ensuring that the contents of the jar are heated throughout the whole jar to a temperature that will destroy harmful bacteria.

Also, once your pressure canner is under pressure, you will need to adjust your temperature to the point where your canner is not over pressurized but where pressure is maintained.  This is the part of the process that will take some getting used to, and it is the part of the process that was the most frustrating for me as I tried to preserve actual food and learn at the same time.  Thus, the canning water.

If your pressure is too high, demonstrated by an overactive pressure gauge, gradually turn your temperature down.  If your pressure is too low, demonstrated by a pressure gauge that ceases to react, bring your canner back to pressure, start your time over, and try again.  Restarting your time when pressure is lost is required when canning food to ensure your food has been heated under the proper amount of pressure for the proper amount of time.

If you are using a gas stove, your pressure canner should respond fairly quickly to the gradual decrease in heat. If you are using an electric stove, your canner will take just a bit of time to respond making it extra important that you are right there and ready to start gradually turning down your heat when your canner comes under pressure. It is also tempting to overcompensate as you wait for your canner to respond, which could start a back and forth battle of increasing and decreasing your heat. This is where I went wrong when I started and why I ended up with a wildly hissing and trembling pressure gauge that was near impossible to regulate. 

You don't have to worry about spoiling your food so take your time and find that right setting. Your goal is to find a setting on your stove which maintains pressure without needing to continuously adjust your temperature, as this could lead to liquids being pushed out of your jars - leading to seal failure.  (If you have been working with your canner for an extended amount of time and feel that you might have steamed all of the water out, depressurize your canner, replenish your water, and try again.)

Although my camera leaves much to be desired for video, here is how my pressure canner acts when regulated: You should hear a rolling boil inside the canner and my pressure gauge will react at least a few times every minute - sometimes jiggling, sometimes just rotating, but having some type of motion as extra pressure is released.

Learning your pressure canner is kind of like riding a bike.  It takes awhile to find that balance, but once you do you are off and running! Take your time, learn your stove and canner, and don't worry about spoiling any food.  It's just colored water. :)


Depressurizing Your Canner

After you have maintained pressure for the amount of time called for, it is time to depressurize your canner.

If you have a gas stove, you can just turn your heat off.  If you have an electric stove, you can  turn you heat off and gently lift (not slide) your canner off of the burner, being careful not to tip or drop your canner or you can just turn your heat off and leave your canner where it sits, which will just add a bit of time to depressurizing your canner.

When you see the lid's safety spring has lifted, your canner is no longer under pressure, and you can remove the weighted gauge.

If you are thinking your canner is no longer under pressure but the spring is still engaged, you may need to tap the lid's handle to get your safety spring to lift.

You can also gently lift you pressure gauge and listen for any hissing.  If it is silent, your canner is no longer under pressure, however, if there is still pressure within the canner, you might cause seal failure by forcefully depressurizing your canner.

Once you have confirmed your canner is no longer under pressure, wait 10 minutes before removing your canner's lid.  This extra time of slowly cooling down your jars will help ensure that your seals achieve a tight seal.  You may even start to hear some pings of lids being sealed as the button is pulled down.


After Processing

Once the 10 minutes of depressurized cool down has passed, you can go ahead and take the lid off of your canner.  You will want to open it away from your face since there will be a bit of steam inside yet.

Using your jar lifter, carefully lift your jars out of your canner, being careful not to tip them. I like to use a potholder underneath my jars as well at this point since the contents of the jar are extremely hot and will continue to boil inside the jar even after being removed from the canner.

When you do this, check the water in your canner to see if any of the colored liquid was drawn out of the jars.  If so, try another trial run sometime and watch for over pressurizing of your canner.

Place your jars on a insulated surface, such as a towel, with a spacing of an inch between each jar, allowing the jars to cool.

During this time, the contents of the jar will contract due to cooling (remember taking balloons outside in the winter?) With the seal that is formed with the lid, no additional air will be allowed inside the jar, and a vacuum will be formed, holding the lid onto the jar.

It is important to not disturb the ring and the lid as the jars are cooling as this could damage the seal of the jar.

Checking Your Seals

When your jars are fully cooled, it is time to check the seals of your jars. 

First, check the buttons in the center of your lids. If any of the buttons on your lids are not pulled down, you did not achieve a seal with that jar.  If the buttons are pulled down but springy, your seal may not last long term. You can move on to the next step with those jars or set them aside or in the fridge to be used in the near future, making sure to test check the seal again before eating. (I usually put an x on these lids so I will be sure to carefully check them.)

Next, unscrew the lids that have a tight vacuum and have pulled the button firmly down. Carefully hold on to the edge of the lid and gently lift up, having your extra hand ready to grab the jar.  Jars with a tight seal will be able to be lifted completely off the counter by just holding onto the metal lid. Jars that do not have a tight seal will become unsealed.
Any jars that are not sealed will need to be reprocessed within 24 hours, stored in the refrigerator to eat within the next few days, or frozen.

Storing Your Jars

All jars that remain sealed are ready to be stored. Before storing, however, you will first want to wash the outside of your jars, especially if you had seepage within your canner.  Pay close attention to get the top of the jar clean, where the lid screws on.  You will not need to replace the screw on lid either to store your jars, as it might rust on if any bit of moisture left on the jar or in the air stays underneath.

Using a permanent marker, mark your lids to show the contents of your jar and the date processed.  Not only do I like to make little notes on my lids to recall special memories made while canning that particular batch, but I also like to use different colored markers to differentiate between different batches of the same food.

The best place to store your jars, keeping your food at a high quality, is in a cool, dry, and dark place. Although, these jars you might want to just set out on the counter so you can admire your new skill for awhile!

Opening Your Jars

It is important to always get in the habit of rechecking the seal on your jar before opening it up.  The lid should still be tight against the jar, with the button pulled down.  When slowly opening the lid, you should be able to hear the air rushing into the jar.  Pay extra close attention to any lids that might have been marked with a weak seal.  If you can hear the air as you open the jar, they are just fine. 

There will be times where you will know for sure if a jar has had a seal failure during storage.  There may also be times when you open the lid that you aren't quite sure about the seal, especially on a jar that was marked with a weak seal.  When working with canning, or any type of food really, remember the saying "If in doubt, throw it out."  

It is sad and a bit painful to toss food that you have worked so hard to preserve, but it is much more important to be safe then to risk illness.  Just dispose of the food in a manner that no other person or animal will get into it, carefully wash your hands and items that the food might have touched, sterilize your jar in your dishwasher or a 10 minute boiling water bath, and celebrate the benefits of all of the other jars that have stayed sealed and that you have enjoyed.

Now What Do I Do?

If you have read about Understanding Pressure Canning and have all of your materials together, here are some next steps you can take:
  1. Go ahead and do some trial runs with colored water in your pressure canner. Try your trial runs with different numbers of jars and different sizes of jars. And while you are at it, think of someone who you can bring along beside you as you learn. (If you are working with a youngster, there are many things they can do, but do be cautious when the canner is under pressure and when you are working with hot food and jars.)
  2. Make notes on how your canner runs, as well as the time frames to reach certain points.  Keep in mind that the number and size of jars, the density of what you are canning, and outside factors such as the temperature of your house will all effect these times.  Even so, you will start to learn what to expect from your canner.
  3. Begin thinking about and preparing a spot for your filled jars to be stored.  This might mean  emptying a shelf in your kitchen cabinet or constructing some shelving elsewhere in your house, as I am now needing to do!
  4. Look forward to Part 3! In this post I will share about ways to fill your pantry with food you have preserved, even during the winter months or when you don't have a garden available.
**A special thanks to my 8 year old daughter, Hannah, who helped me put this post together!

Follow The Beginning Farmer's Wife on Facebook for additional personal peeks at building a family farm.

Tools of My Trade
You can check out the aff links below to learn more about these canning tools, and you can also read about them in the first post of my series, Understanding Pressure Canning, where I talk about how to pick out and find good used equipment.

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