by guest writer Tracy Falbe
Home canning can be addictive. Once you get hooked on preserving your own food, you’ll start thinking “What can I preserve next?” But the simple boiling water bath will only get you so far. Many types of food, like vegetables, meats, poultry, and fish can only be safely canned with a pressure canner. These are the foods that have a low-acid or non-acid chemical composition, which makes them susceptible to the bacterium that produces botulism toxin. This hazardous and sometimes lethal toxin can only be destroyed in the high temperatures achieved within a pressure canner.
The pressure canner works just like a pressure cooker, except that it is large enough to hold quart canning jars. Water is heated within the sealed canner and the pressure builds. The pressure causes the water molecules of the steam to continually collide, which produces temperatures of 240 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. This is significantly higher than the 212 degrees Fahrenheit that is the top temperature of a boiling water bath.
What a pressure canner will do for you:
Provide the capability to can your own soups and stocks containing vegetables and meats. Some people like to preserve their leftovers after they make a big kettle of soup. When canning soups, you will have to keep a couple things in mind to be successful. Cream-based or milk-based soups are not recommended for home canning. I’ve read that the milk product will tend to separate during the canning process. I’m not saying it is impossible but I’ve read several warnings against trying it. What you can do is preserve the soup base and then add the cream or milk later when you heat up the soup to eat. For example, for cream of mushroom soup, you would can the mushroom broth and then add the cream when you open the jar and reheat the soup. This applies to any cream of vegetable soup. The same principle will be necessary for pasta and noodles. Do not can the soup with the noodles in it. They will likely break down and dissolve during processing. Simply add the noodles when you heat the soup before serving.
A pressure canner will allow you to can any vegetable safely. You CANNOT use a boiling water bath to preserve vegetables like corn, beans, peas, squash, carrots, beets, peppers, potatoes, and so forth. You must use a pressure canner unless you are using a pickling recipe. For some people, this could be a worthwhile endeavor. If you grow sweet corn, the crop comes in all at once. Sometimes you can’t eat it all, despite your family’s best efforts, so canning that corn would be a great idea. The book that came with my Presto pressure canner even explains how to can dried beans or peas. You soak and boil them and then can them. This is handy because dried beans or peas are extremely affordable, but — if you’re like me — it is easy to forget to soak them ahead of time when you need them for cooking. By cooking and canning them, they are ready to go off the shelf anytime.
With a pressure canner, you will be able to can all meats (including game), poultry, and fish. Some people like to do this when they see a good price on meat and they do not have freezer space. They will buy a bunch of the meat and can it. Then they have, for example, jars of cooked chicken or beef ready to go off the shelf as convenience food. And if you have a fisherman in your family who shows up once in a while with a big catch, that food can be canned as well. I was told by a lady who did this that the fish tasted wonderful.
Deciding to beef up your home canning beyond the boiling water bath will require an investment of approximately $100 for a pressure canner. Should you get a pressure canner, carefully follow the directions for set up, use, and maintenance. The book that comes with whatever model you buy should also include many recipes. Also be aware that the pressure canner can do double duty as a boiling water bath simply by not sealing it. Home canning with the pressure canner will be a long process because it takes time to pressurize the cooker and then to let it cool down (don’t run it under cold water).
Although it requires an investment and significant effort, the pressure canner remains a versatile piece of equipment that will help you take advantage of food deals and bountiful gardens. I personally use mine mostly for tomatoes. Although tomatoes and tomato sauce can be preserved in a boiling water bath, the results are superior when you use the pressure canner. I have done tomatoes both ways and really prefer them out of the pressure canner. Their color and flavor are better.
At my website Canning Local, I have information about determining which foods require pressure canning and how to use the equipment. http://canning.falbepublishing.com