Caring For Your Canning Gear

Introduction

Your pressure canner is a sturdy piece of equipment with simple parts. It does require some care, however. Before the canning season, inspect your canner and all the parts for any nicks or cracks. Check the cover and make sure the overpressure plug moves freely and the vent tube is unblocked. If your pressure canner has a rubber gasket, make sure it is pliable and clean.

Every year, the dial gauge on your pressure canner should be checked for accuracy. This is usually a free or inexpensive service that can be done at your local county extension office or hardware store. Do this early, as many services require that you drop off your equipment. If you wait until the last minute, you may have to wait for the return and miss a week or two of prime produce.

Between canning sessions, a quick rinse and dry of the pot is all that is needed before storage as long as you keep it clean as a matter of course. I keep my canner in the original box once it is clean and dry. That helps keep it from gathering dust and ensures it doesn’t get dinged up. It also protects the gauge from damage.

When it comes to your canning jars, they are sturdy but, at the end of the day, they are glass. Run your hand gently over the rim of each jar the day before you want to use it to find any small nicks. Also, hold each jar up to the light and look at the glass. You will be able to see small cracks if there are any. Chips, nicks, and cracks are all signs the glass is no longer fit for canning. It is for this reason I never recommend letting your family use canning jars as drinking glasses. Something that seems as harmless as the teaspoon you stir your sweet tea with can weaken the glass. If you love the look of canning jars, buy a set just for drinking and keep the ones you use for canning stored separately.

The screw bands are the backbone of a good seal. When you purchase a box of canning jars, they come with the lid and band on each jar. The lids are not reusable, but the bands are. Once your jars cool, carefully remove the screw band and store the sealed jar. Screw bands can be reused until they become bent or corroded. Wash and dry your bands before storing them and plan to replace a few each year. I recommend keeping a box on hand for this purpose.

Likewise, keep measuring cups and spoons in good shape by keeping them clean. I like to keep all my canning supplies in the same drawer, and I like to sanitize my supplies before each canning session (see sidebar Clean is Best). This ensures my surfaces and items are as clean as possible before I start. Using plastic items means they can be sanitized without the risk of corrosion.

Every canning season should start with a visual inspection. This includes removing the lid and checking the gasket for some models.

The Pressure Canning Process

Assorted pickled vegetables in jars with kitchen utensils

No matter what food you are preserving, it requires the same steps to pressure can.

  • If you’re using an electric pressure canner, you will need to rely on additional instructions from the manufacturer to achieve the desired pressure for the appropriate length of time—you will not adjust it with a stovetop burner like the other models.
  • Likewise, if you’re using a weighted-gauge model, consult the manufacturer’s instructions on setting the canning pressure and for information on how to evaluate whether the canner is maintaining pressure.

The USDA specifically calls out a serious error that can cause unsafe canning:

  • As mentioned previously, the internal canning temperature drops at high altitudes. To correct for this, adjust the pressure of your canner upward if you live above sea level. USDA guidelines recommend increases as follows for dial gauge canners. The recipes in this book specify dial gauge pressure for canners below 2,000 feet (610 m).
  • For weighted gauge canners, as soon as you get over 1,000 feet (304.8 m) in elevation, you should switch from the 5-pound (34.5 kPa) to the 10-pound (68.9 kPa) or the 10-pound (68.9 kPa) to the 15-pound (103.4 kPa) setting for safety, depending on the recipe. The recipes in this book specify pressure for weighted gauge canners below 1,000 feet (304.8 m).

If air is trapped in your canner, it lowers the temperature obtained at any pressure. Take care to avoid this.

Here is a quick review of the steps we’ll take:

  1. Prepare the canning area.
  2. Prepare the canning jars and utensils.
  3. Prepare the canner.
  4. Prepare the food.
  5. Fill the jars to the correct level.
  6. Fill the canner.
  7. Follow the recipe instructions.
  8. Cool the jars.
  9. Check the seals; label and store the jars.

1. Prepare the Canning Area

Preparing the area means removing whatever you don’t need to pressure can from the counter: 

  • extra utensils, small appliances, daily dishes, and other items should be placed elsewhere while you focus on canning. 
  • Clean and sanitize your countertops and anything else you think will come in contact with the canning jars and lids before they go into the canner.

2. Prepare the Canning Jars and Utensils

Glass containers with grains and cork lids on counter

The jars and utensils you will use should be examined beforehand to make sure nothing is chipped or broken. The jars and utensils you will use should be washed in hot, soapy water before use. The clean jars should then be placed in hot—not boiling—water. Single-use lids need to be clean. It is no longer necessary to heat Ball or Kerr brand lids, but if you choose to heat them, do not boil them.

One tip for being ready to can is to place your jars in the dishwasher and run it through a sanitizing cycle. You can leave your jars in the dishwasher until you actually need to use them. I often do this the night before so they are waiting for me first thing in the morning. Before I had a dishwasher, I would wash them the night before and place them on linen hand towels on the sideboard. In the morning, all I had to do was place them in hot water to heat while I prepped my food. Before preparing the canning Jars and Utensils you need to know about freezing.

3. Prepare the Canner

Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for filling your specific canner. You’ll likely need to insert the canning rack, add 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) of water to the bottom of the canner, and get that water preheated.

4. Prepare the Food

Your recipe may require a variety of preparation techniques before you can it. Fruits or vegetables must be washed, and perhaps peeled, and cut according to the recipe guidelines. Some foods are also browned or otherwise precooked. When making broth or soup, you may cook the entire recipe before you can. In any case, your recipe will clearly provide these directions.

5. Fill the Jars to the Correct Level

Once your food is ready to can, the sanitized jars must be filled to the recipe’s specifications. Nearly all recipes in this book provide cooking liquid or heated water to top up your jars to the proper fill level. Note that all recipes require some amount of headspace, the room between the top of the food or liquid and the rim of the jar. (Proper headspace allows the food to expand and air to be forced out during the canning process.) Once the jars are full, use a nonmetallic tool to remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth, carefully place the lids on, and hand-tighten the screw bands around the lids.

6. Fill the Canner

Gently place your jars in the canner on top of the canning rack, making sure they do not touch (using a jar lifter, grab the jars below the screw band). When the canner is full, double check that all jars are upright and not tilted. Place the lid on the canner and lock it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

If you accidentally prepared more food than will fit in your pressure canner, do not pack jars for the next batch and let them sit. Instead, I recommend repeating the steps here in the same order: 

  1. Prepare the food, 
  2. Prepare the canner, 
  3. Pack the jars, and then fill the canner once again.

Follow your manufacturer’s guidelines to close and lock the pressure canner. If you’re using a model with more manual controls, you typically need to secure the lid, open the petcock (vent pipe) or leave the weight off the vent port, and place the pot over high heat until steam flows continuously for about 10 minutes. At this point, it is time to close the petcock or vent port and let the canner pressurize—it should take less than 5 minutes. Again, always follow your machine’s instructions as you must close and lock the lid properly to maintain pressure!

7. Follow the Recipe

With your lid locked in place, use your canner’s settings or a stovetop burner to get a steady stream of steam from your pressure canner for 10 minutes or according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Only once you do this should you close the vent and start bringing the canner to the proper pressure.

For an electric pressure canner or a weighted-gauge model, you will most likely be instructed to set the pressure now. If you’re using the stovetop to supply the heat, keep the pot at a temperature that maintains the pressure at or above the recommended level for the duration of the recipe’s recommended processing time.

No matter which type of pressure canner you use, start timing your recipe once the pressure on the dial gauge is correct or when the weighted gauge moves as described by the manufacturer. In other words, if your recipe says the pressure should be held at 11 pounds (75.8 kPa) for 30 minutes, start the timer only once the pot reaches 11 pounds (75.8 kPa), not when you first apply the heat.

Pressure Dip?

Did your pressure dip below the recipe’s recommended pressure?

The only safe way to remedy this is to bring the pot back to the recommended pressure and restart the timer. Never let the timer continue once a pot falls below the recommended pressure amount as you can no longer guarantee the safety of the canned food.

Use care not to create large drops or increases in pressure, even above the recommended range, as this could prevent some of the jars from sealing properly. (Again, if you’re using a weighted gauge, the manufacturer will provide instructions on how to monitor the pressure.)

8. Cool the Jars

Once your recipe is finished cooking, turn off the heat. After some of the cooling time has passed, you can safely remove the lid. The amount of time it takes before you can safely release pressure and remove the lid varies by machine. It’s often about 10 minutes after the machine reaches 0 pounds (0.7 kPa) pressure.

Do not attempt to speed the cooling by putting your canner in the fridge or freezer or by placing it in a sink full of cold water. The canner needs to cool without your assistance. Trying to cool the canner faster can result in unsafe canned foods, as well as imperfect seals.

Once the lid is off, do not remove the jars immediately; let them continue to cool inside the canner for about 20 minutes. This is a good time to set up a place for the jars to rest once you remove them. I recommend setting a clean dish towel in an out-of-the way place in the kitchen, away from people who may be tempted to touch the cooling canned food and away from any drafts. You may need a spot for the cans to rest for up to 24 hours as they cool, so choose wisely!

Once you’re ready to remove the jars, use a jar lifter to remove them and place them on the clean dish towel, about 1 inch (5 cm) apart. Do not disturb the jars while they cool and do not try to remove the bands yet. You will hear the jars “ping” as each lid finishes sealing during the cooling process. for staring the foods you may need to know about the wide world of salt.

9. Check the Seals and Label and Store the Jars

Once the jars cool to room temperature, remove the screw bands and check that each jar is sealed properly: 

  • Press gently on the lid. 
  • It should be concave (dip inward) if you have a good seal. 
  • It should feel firm to the touch and it should not move or dip when you push on it. 
  • Do not tip or shake the jars, but do wipe off any residue that may have escaped during the time in the canner. 
  • Label your jars and place the sealed jars in a cool, dry location. 
  • If you have any jars that did not seal properly, refrigerate them and use them within a week or two (depending on the recipe).

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