Before I forget – announcements! I participated in a blog hop this week! Check us out here: http://spaininiowa.blogspot.com/2010/07/simple-lives-thursday-first-edition.html
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Now for our regularly scheduled blog:
A few months back I bought a pressure canner. I know a lot of traditional foodies are down on pressure canning, but here’s my position: I can’t rely 100% on electricity and feel secure. I desire shelf-stable, safe food that I prepared in the event of an emergency. I certainly would not recommend relying on pressure canned foods on a regular basis throughout the year. It’s more of a personal survival and independence thing.
My All-American Pressure Canner (AKA the Tank)
That said, pressure canners are a bit intimidating in the kitchen. First, they are heavy and huge. Second, they have ginormous warning labels all over them. Not the kind of thing that gives the average cook warm fuzzies. I bought this one because it had a higher capacity (fewer loads needed) and it’s made in the USA (go USA!). Let me tell you, this thing is built like a TANK. If this doesn’t last forever nothing will. I also like that it has a metal-to-metal seal that you lubricate with petroleum jelly instead of gaskets that can and will go bad, requiring replacement. Additionally, the safety features are impeccable. You shift the lid to lock, then there are six wing nuts that hold the lid securely to the base. That baby’s not going anywhere. There’s some really good info on pressure canning and pressure canners here. I recommend doing some homework before buying one, as they are pricey.
My test run for the pressure canner was green beans. I picked up a load at the farmer’s market and washed and cut the beans. After spending about an hour reading the user’s manual for the canner (which I found poorly organized and required reading parts several times to determine which steps came when), I was ready to roll. I washed the canner and lubricated the seal and the screws. I packed the beans in hot pint jars and poured boiling water over them, checked for air pockets, and lidded.
Vent on the pressure canner (without the weight)
Here’s a big difference between pressure canning and water bath canning. When you put jars into a water bath canner, there’s water in it already going to town boiling. When you put jars into a pressure canner, it’s cold. There’s about an inch and a half of water (for my canner) at the bottom of the base. It’s a bit…anticlimactic. Don’t worry though, there’s more action to come.
I settled seven pint jars on the rack inside the canner and secured the lid. The jars were to be processed at 10 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes. However, the first step was to vent steam. This means the canner has to heat up. This took FOREVER, but finally I could see steam coming out of the vent and started counting – seven minutes as per the owner’s manual. Then I put the weight on the vent set for ten pounds. You don’t start counting the processing time until the weight begins to jiggle. This, also, takes forever (at least for my enormous caldron).
I found it was easier to watch for steam with the black background of the handle for contrast.
The weight is supposed to do its jiggling venting dance one to four times per minute. I found it difficult to maintain that. Either the heat was too high and it jiggled all the time or it was too low and it didn’t jiggle at all. Oh well. The pressure gauge showed constant at ten pounds of pressure the whole time so I wasn’t too worried.
Once processing time was up, I cut the heat and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally the pressure gauge was showing zero pounds of pressure. I removed the weight from the vent and allowed the rest of the steam/pressure to release, then removed the lid. Note: it is hotter than hell. Do not allow it to touch any body part EVER. Not that I did that or anything.
My jars of green beans inside were intact. They had not exploded, disintegrated or otherwise become unusable during their time under pressure. The test run was counted as a success.
The next day it was time for the big guns. Beef stew. Making a protein like beef shelf stable is no laughing matter. I joked about botulism last year when I canned, but for real – I don’t want to kill myself or others in an attempt to be independent. I carefully followed the exact instructions for preparing the stew as per this recipe. I would hope Ball knows what they are doing when it comes to canning. (Ok I added garlic. Who can make soup without garlic??)
I followed the same procedure as the day before. This time the jars processed for an hour and fifteen minutes. Actually probably longer given how long it takes the thing to heat up and cool down, but I followed the instructions precisely for my first time through. I can play with timing later.
Pressure canned green beans and beef stew; water bath canned marinara sauce
While the stew pressure canned I was busy making marinara to water bath can. I made it last year and test subject Bill has been talking about it ever since. I had enough tomatoes to make twice as many this year. Good thing, because it is time consuming to make! Darn tasty, though…mmm, need to do some fried mozzarella to go with it…
While the marinara cooked down the stew finished processing and cooling. And the lid promptly became stuck. The manual had talked about the possibility of a vacuum forming and how to remedy it – by prying the lid open with a screwdriver. However, test subject Bill came to the rescue with the claw end of a hammer. Worked like a charm!
My weekend's work
By the end of the day, I had fourteen cans of beef stew, seven cans of green beans and seven cans of marinara. It was a long but productive weekend. And if the power were to go out…we would be ok for a while due to our own diligence and foresight. After all, who wants to eat factory processed crap even in the midst of an emergency? We have standards!
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