10 Things to Consider before buying a Pressure Canner

We’ve shared considerations about buying a dehydrator (and then shared some more) and we’ve shared some do’s and don’ts when looking to buy a pressure canner.  Earlier this week we even showed you two types of pressure canners to avoid and two to consider.  These posts are all intended to help guide you to the right ‘model’ or piece of equipment that will suit your kitchen and your home.  Today’s article is different than those.

The following list isn’t a guide on acquiring a canner – it’s meant as a list of questions to ask yourself before choosing a model.  I’m hoping it will help you determine if pressure canning is worth your time and investment.  There’s no right or wrong here but I hope the list will help you decide what’s right for you:

  1. Do you have a deep freezer?
    A deep freezer will store a LOT of food and will generally preserve it’s texture and nutrients better than pressure canning.  We don’t have room for a deep freezer so this makes it a good option for us.
  2. Do you have a cold cellar?
    If you do, fermenting and learning to store vegetables (tomatoes can last for weeks and even months is treated right) can be kept in a cold room.  It takes less energy and can be more affordable (if you have a cold room).
  3. Do you grow your own?  Have you considered winter crops?
    Many crops, including kale and spinach will last into early winter and reduce the need for processing as you can keep them in the ground.  It’s less work and saves energy.
  4. Do you grow your own?  Have you considered building a hoop house?
    A simple technique to preserve autumn veg is to cover your gardens.  It won’t last all winter but it will extend the harvest and cut into your need to preserve food via canning or pressure canning.
  5. Are you doing this for health benefits?
    A lot of people are surprised to find out that many nutrients are reduced during pressure canning.  Freezing, fermenting, and dehydrating can all preserve food with high nutritional values.  But, compared to buying cans of peas or commercial broth, pressure canning is far superior.
  6. Do you have room to store the canner?
    It does take room as it’s rather large (we have 1 closet in our entire house so we live with it on display).
  7. Do you have room to store the jars?
    A small amount ofpressure canning (i.e. 12 pints of peas, 12 quarts of asparagus, 12 quarts of stock) starts to take up a lot of storage room very quickly.  Thankfully we have the Great Wall of Preserves to stow it all away.
  8. Do you know what type of canner you are going to buy?
    Don’t make this decision lightly; you’ll want to be sure that you’re choosing a dial gauge or a weighted gauge canner with open eyes.
  9. Chose a dial gauge canner?  Do you have a place to have the gauge checked every year?
    A lot of people feel more comfortable with the perceived accuracy and easy of a dial-gauge canner.  Make sure you have access to have it checked before committing to buy one.
  10. Do you enjoy preserving?
    This may seem like a silly question but if you don’t enjoy it, you probably won’t get as much out of this as you can (pun intended!)

If these questions seem negative, they’re not meant to be.  I love our pressure canner and frequently use it.  It’s most common use is to preserve a few liters of stock at a time to get us through the winter months.  I love the ritual of making stock, filling the canner and having them on the shelf.

Pressure Canning Problems: Siphoning (Missing Liquid)

When it comes to pressure canning people often share two related problems:

  1. Jars enter the canner full of liquid and when processing finishes you are surprised to see how much liquid is missing.  The outside of the jars are a little dirty and it appears that liquid has siphoned from inside, out.
  2. Related to question 1; is it ok to still eat preserved (and pressure canned) food that is missing a lot of liquid?

People often ask question 2 without resolving question 1 first.  I say this because I was one of them – I was so focused on what to do with the ‘problem jars’ after processing that I missed getting to the root of the problem and preventing them all together.

And, while I have the occasional jar that siphons, it’s an extreme rarity.  So, let’s start there..

[Read more...]

What Type of Pressure Canner to Buy?

Thinking of buying a pressure canner?  There are 4 types of canners that people buy; 2 should be avoided and 2 should be considered.

Here’s a quick overview of each:

Avoid – Pressure Cooker

We’ve talked about this before but it’s important to know that a pressure cooker and a pressure canner are different things.  Though similar, you should not use a cooker to can (the cooling and heating periods vary from a canner and can affect processing time).

Avoid – The Heritage Hand-Me-Down

Buying a pressure canner from a thrift store or dusting off Grannie’s 1950′s canning equipment might sound like a good idea (and save a few pennies) but avoid the temptation.  Modern canners (which have improved incrementally since the 1970s) have a significant amount of safety features built into them that were lacking in the past.  People were often hesitant to use pressure canners after hearing stories of pieces ‘flying off’; newer technology and venting makes this virtually impossible.

[Read more...]

Fundamentals of Pressure Canning – What is it, How does it work and Why do it?

We’ve had a lot of questions around pressure canning in recent months so I thought it was time to get back to the fundamentals and chat about the basics of pressure canning.  Let’s start with a definition:

Pressure canning is a technique of home food preservation that uses special equipment to process food at a higher temperature than ‘normal’ waterbath canning.  It is primarily used to can meat and vegetables without the need for adding high acid (like pickles).

We use a pressure canner (it’s similar but different from a pressure cooker) to can peas, asparagus, stock, soup and more.  The process makes these things shelf-stable so they produce homemade versions of canned vegetables and stocks found in the produce aisle.  The homemade version can be a superior product as you can choose the ingredients (including lowering or emitting salt and avoiding preservatives alltogether).

How does Pressure Canning Work?

Let’s start by discussing how water bath canning works: jars are covered in boiling water and processed for a certain amount of time.  Water can only reach 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit); the boiling water raises the temperature of the ingredients within the jar to kill bacteria.  You use this technique for high-acid foods as they are safe to process at these temperatures.

Pressure canning uses less water (the jars aren’t covered) as it traps steam inside a pressurized container to raise temperatures beyond 240 degrees Fahrenheit.  This allows us to preserve food that otherwise would require acid to be added to it.

What are the advantages of Pressure Canning?

There are several advantages to pressure canning, including:

  • It maintains the flavor of the ingredients (peas and asparagus taste almost as fresh as they were canned).
  • It uses less water and less energy (debatable) than water bath canning.
  • It allows you to store items on the shelf without needing the space, budget or energy for a freezer or cold cellar.
  • As mentioned above, you can control the ingredients that are added to your preserved foods.

What are the disadvantages of Pressure Canning?

  • It requires specialized equipment that can be expensive (most canners are around $100) that can also be difficult to store.  I use my pressure canner (without the lid) as my pot for waterbath preserving so it sees lots of use.  We’ll share guidelines on what to look for when buying a canner later this week.
  • It can be intimidating.  The equipment is more technical than most preserving equipment and there’s less people who do it which makes it a little more difficult to learn/ wrap your head around.  Once you do it a few times you’ll find it’s no more difficult that ‘normal’ canning.  If you’ve never used a waterbath (i.e. to preserve jam, pickles or tomato sauce), you may want to start there.
  • The texture changes.  Vegetables will be softer as they are fully cooked (although every preserving method changes the texture of the original product in some way).
  • Canners take maintenance (for example, a dial-gauge canner should be checked yearly for accuracy)

What’s the Basic Process?

I’m skipping a few details here (this isn’t a how-to) but it’s a good general overview:

  1. A few quarts of water is added to the canner and turned on high.  You add enough water to ensure that it won’t run out when boiling during processing but not enough to cover the jars.
  2. Vegetables/ product is heated and added to clean mason jars.
  3. Rims of the jars are wiped clean, lids attached and placed in the canner (generally before boiling as you’ll see in the resource article below).
  4. The lid is secured on the canner and it’s ‘brought up to pressure’ meaning that the water is brought to a full boil and the pressure accumulates within the pot until a certain temperature is met.  Canners let you know that temperature has happened by by a dial or a weight that wiggles in place.
  5. Food is processed for a specific time (which has to be adjusted if you’re at extreme altitude).
  6. Heat is turned off and the canner is allowed to cool before removing the lid and the jars.
  7. Jars are cooled for 24 hours before being placed on a shelf or in a larder.

Other Resources

There’s a great (and detailed) walk-through of pressure canning and pressure canning safety at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Closing

What questions do you have about pressure canning?  We’ll be sharing more about it this week as well as featuring a big round-up on pressure canning in the weekly newsletter this weekend (you can sign up here).

Possibly the Best French Toast

A few years ago I made the worst french toast ever.  It was awful.  I somehow managed to take a simple dish and transform it into toast-crusted-with-scrambled-eggs.  It was that bad.

I swore that one day I’d get my vengeance on French Toast.  And I did just that this weekend:

Possibly the Best French Toast french toast breakfast [Read more...]

Another Tip For Flying With Bottles of Beer

I need to start this post with 2 warnings:

  1. It’s exceptionally geeky.  I have no shame about my deep-seeded love for things that are geeky; this is one of them.
  2. It includes a little bit about metric.  But not that much.  Really.

If you are looking to fly with bottles of beer and want some less geeky advice, read my original tips on How To Fly With Bottles of Beer.  I’ve flown with hundreds of bottles and that system has yet to fail me.

As I shared in the other piece, weighing your luggage on the way to your destination is a key knowing how much room you have for beer on the way home.  I gave some guidelines on guessing the amount of beer in the previous piece; today’s tip is about how to more accurately guess the weight of the beer you are buying.

And this is where the metric comes in: a milliliter of water weighs a gram.  Most quarts are around 750 ml, so they weigh 750 grams.  There are 454 grams in a pound so dividing the ml by 454 will give you the amount of pounds of water in a bottle of beer (i.e. 750 ml/ 454 = 1.65 pounds).

If you’re flying with 5 or 6 (or 12) bottles, this gives you a quick way to precisely measure the weight of the liquid in the bottles.

Of course there’s a few things missing in order to calculate the total weight of your beer, so you’ll have to estimate:

  • The weight of the bottles
  • The weight of any non-beer items (such as excess packaging or lees in the bottle)
  • At extreme temperatures the weight of the liquid could be effected.

While this won’t precisely tell you how much your beer will be it has saved me from buying too much a few times.

Do you fly with beer?  What’s your system?

HomeEc 26 (Get Pickled) Recap

Thank you to all who came out to HomeEcNight last night!  We had an amazing time and hope that each of you did as well!

What is HomeEcNight?  It’s our monthly (and sometimes more frequent) pop-up.  Each event has a theme; last night we had a pickle theme.  Participants packed into Toronto’s HiLo bar and celebrated everything pickled!

HomeEc 26 (Get Pickled) Recap homeecnight [Read more...]

How to Salt Food Properly (When Cooking)

When I watch professional Chefs cook I find that they use salt very different than most home cooks.  And, while many cookbooks and TV shows use salt in a similar fashion to home cooks, many Chef friends insist on using salt in a very different way than the rest of us.

For the sake of this argument, I’m going to avoid the topic of seasoning meat (including brining and pre-seasoning) and generalize about ‘cooking.’  The problem of such generalizations is that there are always exceptions including the fact that I’m sure there are home cooks who already follow this advice as well as pros who admonish it.  There are also dishes (such as stock) where this ‘rule’ is completely thrown out (I’m a fan of salting stock at the end because it’s only then when you know how much liquid you’ll have and how much salt you’ll need).

The advice from many of my Chef friends, when it comes to salt, is to salt your dish through the cooking process.  They’re not necessarily adding more salt than you do; just adding it a bit at a time as the dish cooks.  As opposed to a recipe which calls to add a specific measure of salt, they add a little at a time throughout the cooking process.  I’ve heard 3 reasons for this most often:

  1. Salt draws flavors out as you cook and seasoning as you go changes the flavor.
  2. Cooking often reduces the volume or size of your food.  Adding all the salt at the start risks over-salting.
  3. Many add salt once and forget it; seasoning as you go makes you conscious of the changing flavors.

I can’t prove any of those 3 ‘reasons’ as factually correct but I have changed how I cook over the years and I now salt throughout the entire cooking process and I believe it makes a significant different in my results.

When do you add salt to your cooking – and why?

How to Store Dehydrated Food

It occurs to me that I’ve written tips on storing dehydrated food in different articles over the years but I’ve never really published a consolidated list of tips.

Storing dehydrated food is easy; here are my 6 tips for best results:

  1. Make sure the food is actually dry.  In order to check the texture, I remove the product from the dehydrator for at least 5 minutes before assessing (it will get harder as it cools).  For a guide on desired textures check out the last page of this pamphlet from the Colorado State University Extension Office (via the National Center for Home Food Preservation).
  2. Ensure that the container that you’re storing your food in is absolutely dry (and clean).  Residual moisture will be absorbed by food and leads to spoilage.
  3. Place a lid or cover your jar (this prevents dust).
  4. Store the container in a cool location with low humidity (over your stove where you boil pasta isn’t a great location).
  5. Keep the container in a dark area (towards the back of a shelf is often fine).
  6. Store food in large chunks (powder will lose flavor faster due to increased surface area/ air exposure).

What would you add to this list?

Fermenting 101: Add the Water.. Tomorrow

Lactofermenting vegetables is easy:

  • Cut (and generally peel vegetables)
  • Crush them with your hands a bit (to break down the cell structure; there are exceptions like whole pickles
  • Add salt (3%-5% or about 2-3 tablespoons of coarse salt per quart of veggies)
  • Top with unchlorinated water
  • Submerge (often with a weight) and leave in a warmish place in your house.
  • Check daily and remove mould or froth.
  • Taste often.  They’re generally ready in 5-30 days though some recipes or ingredients vary.

Simple, right?  In a word – yes.

But a lot of recipes seem to call for adding water the moment you add the salt.  And, while this technique will work, I generally prefer leaving the salt on the vegetables for a few hours (and even over night) instead.  This leaves the vegetables in a high percentage of salt to start the process which draws our water from the vegetables in a hurry.  I believe this leads to crisper pickled vegetables and I prefer the taste.

If course the world of fermentation allows for great experimentation so you may prefer the water right away – buy you’ll never know unless you try both!

Which way do you ferment (or do you do it differently each time)?