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Yes, I can.

When I was a child, my parts often told me I could do anything I set my mind to. As I've become an adult, I've realized they were pretty smart. Several years ago when my husband and I started talking about adopting a "self-sufficient lifestyle," my instinctual response was a resounding negative. We couldn't possibly do that; it would be too difficult; too time consuming, and too much financially for us; not to mention the storage and space issues we were already dealing with. And then my parent's old mantra came back to mind, "You can do anything you set your mind to." And so it began.

My husband enjoys vegetable gardening, and before we began living a more self-sufficient lifestyle we wasted a ton of our own fruits and veggies, because I didn't have a clue as to how to store or preserve our fresh harvest. As we began learning more about self-sufficiency and homesteading, it became clear to us that food preservation would need to be an integral part of our life now, which meant I was going to have to learn some new skills.

The first thing I did in order to prepare myself for food preservation was an Internet search. There are thousands of websites on the subject. You can find information on everything you'd ever want to know about canning and freezing to dehydrating and curing. I read dozens of websites and bookmarked tons of blogs on the subject. I then bought a few canning cookbooks and started stocking up on jars, lids, rings, and preservatives. We bought a water bath canning kit at our local big box farm supply store, and I tried out a few easy recipes, like fig preserves and strawberry jam. So far the process was pretty simple and easy to learn, but the next step seemed daunting to me. The pressure cooker.

As a child I can remember my mom canning green beans and salsa in the summer. Our job was to weed the garden, help with harvests, and snap beans. From there our responsibility ended and I was a virtual pressure cooker virgin. I'd heard the horror stories of people who were seriously injured by pressure cookers when the pressure got too strong and it blew up on them. That thought alone terrified me. But worse than that was the fact that my mom was anxious to unload her old pressure cooker onto me since she had as many storage issues as I did. This cooker was at least 30 years old, having belonged to someone in her family before it came to her. It was huge, and heavy, and seemed very scary for a virgin like me who'd never even put one together, much less tried to actually cook anything in it. But once again, my parent's words from long ago broke through my inner monologue. So I strapped on my big girl panties and got to work.

My husband's garden was having a bumper crop of tomatoes that year and I had them running out my ears. It was obvious to me that there was no way I was going to be able to use them all before they went bad, and since tomato-based products are a huge part of our diet, I decided that diced tomatoes would be my first pressure canner experience.

I pulled out my new Ball Blue Book and found a basic recipe. I prepped my equipment. I filled my jars with the hot tomatoes and measured the headspace. I meticulously cleaned the rims and screwed on the lids. I loaded my first batch of quarts into the pressure canner and carefully lowered the heavy jars into the simmering water. I cautiously slid the heavy lid onto the base and twisted it in place, making sure there was an even seal around the entire lid. I turned up the heat on my stove and prayed I had the petcock on just right--not too loose and not too tight. I moved back across the length of my kitchen and waited as the gauge on top of the ancient canner began to climb. Slowly, steam began escaping from the petcock and little droplets of water bubbled out of it. As the gauge reached the proper setting, I pulled on my oven mitts, grabbed a large dishtowel, and slowly walked toward the stove. I quickly adjusted the flame to maintain the pressure on the gauge, set the timer, and then stepped away from the stove and back behind the safety of my kitchen island.

My pulse was racing and my palms were sweaty; I was as nervous as a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. When my kitchen timer beeped I nearly jumped out of my skin, but I pulled on my oven mitts again and stepped over to the now hot and hissing canner. I turned off the flame and slowly, at an arm's-length with the kitchen towel over it, began to unscrew the petcock to release the pressure. I was certain I was going to mess this part up and it was going to blow off completely and either put my eye out or blast a hole in my kitchen ceiling. Fortunately, neither happened. As the steam began escaping in a viscious hiss, I once again stepped around my kitchen island and waited. Once the steam had completely escaped and the gauge read zero, I waited an additional 10 minutes before cracking the lid. At this point I was nearly in a panic attack from the fear. I could see it all play out in my mind. The gauge was going to be wrong and there was still going to be tons of pressure in the pot. I was going to crack the lid and it was going to blow off in my face, burning the flesh from my body in one giant kaboom; not to mention ruining my kitchen in a spray of glass shards and tomato.

I said a prayer, grabbed a bath towel and decided to face my fate. I tossed the bath towel over the canner, once again donned my mitts, and gave the dog-eared handles on the lid a little push. Nothing. No steam. No hiss. No explosion. Just the easy click of the lid snapping apart and the familiar heat of a hot pot of water. Not only did I breathe an enormous sigh of relief, but I think my blood pressure dropped about 15 points in that exact moment. I set the lid aside and to my utter surprise, all the jars inside the canner were intact and bubbling away. Taking great care, I lifted each jar from the canner and placed them on the cooling racks. I was amazed that I'd done it, and without incident. I loaded the second load of tomatoes into the canner, and with a little more confidence I snapped the lid in place, turned on the flame and started the process over. As my second and third batches were cooking I took great pleasure in the familiar "ping" of lids being sealed in place as my maiden batch cooled.

I've since learned that pressure canning is really not as dangerous as the old stories want you to believe. And while you need to take care when using a pressure canner, the likelihood of it blowing up on you is really remote. Home-canned produce is a great way to incorporate fresh, homegrown fruits and veggies into your winter diet. And while the initial equipment investment seems a bit steep, with proper care your canner and jars will last years. So I encourage you to give it a try if you haven't before. And remember, "you can do anything you set your mind to."

To find a State extension Food Safety office in your area, search <nchfp.uga.ude/links/links_home.html>

Pressure canners for use in the home were extensively redesigned beginning in the 1970s. Models made before the 1970s were heavy-walled kettles with clamp-on or turn-on lids. They were fitted with a dial gauge, a vent pipe in the form of a petcock or covered with a counterweight, and a safety fuse. Most modern pressure canners are lightweight, thin-walled kettles; most have turn-on lids fitted with gaskets. At least one style is still made with heavy cast aluminum, has screw-down knobs around the canner and does not have a gasket, however.

Modern pressure canners have removable racks, an automatic vent/cover lock, a vent pipe (steam vent), and a safety fuse. Use only canners that have the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) approval to ensure their safety.

Today's pressure canner may have a dial gauge for indicating the pressure or a weighted gauge, for indicating and regulating the pressure. Weighted gauges are usually designed to "jiggle" several times a minute or to keep rocking gently when they are maintaining the correct pressure. Read your manufacturer's directions to know how a particular weighted gauge should rock or jiggle to indicate that the proper pressure is reached and then maintained during processing. Dial gauge canners will usually have a counterweight or pressure regulator for sealing off the open vent pipe to pressurize the canner. This weight should not be confused with a weighted gauge and will not jiggle or rock as described for a weighted gauge canner. Pressure readings on a dial gauge canner are only registered on the dial and only the dial should be used as an indication of the pressure in the canner. One manufacturer now makes a dual-gauge canner; read the manufacturer's user manual for information on when and how to use either the weighted gauge or the dial.

Pressure canners come deep enough for one layer of quart or smaller size jars, or deep enough for two layers of pint or smaller size jars. The USDA recommends that a canner be large enough to hold at least four quart jars to be considered a pressure canner for the USDA published processes.

Serious errors in processing in pressure canners can occur if any of the following conditions exist:

* The altitude at which the canner is operated is above sea level and adjustments in pressure are not made. Internal canner pressures (and therefore temperatures) are lower at higher altitudes. Canners must be operated at increased pressures as the altitude increases. Check reliable canning instructions for altitude adjustments.

* Air is trapped in the closed canner during the process. Air trapped in a pressure canner lowers the temperature obtained for a given pressure (for example, 10 or 15 pounds pressure) and results in underprocessing. To be safe, USDA recommends that all pressure canners must be vented 10 minutes before they are pressurized.

* To vent a canner, leave the vent pipe (steam vent) uncovered (or manually open the petcock on some older models) after you fill the canner and lock the canner lid in place. Heat the canner on high until the water boils and generates steam that can be seen escaping through the open vent pipe or petcock. When a visible funnel-shape of steam is continuously escaping the canner, set a timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes of continuous steam, you can close the petcock or place the counterweight or weighted gauge over the vent pipe to begin pressurizing the canner.

* An inaccurate dial gauge is used. Dial gauges should be checked for accuracy each year before use. If the gauge reads high or low by more than two pounds at 5,10 or 15 pounds pressure, replace it. If it is less than two pounds off in accuracy, you can make adjustments needed to be sure you have the required pressure in your canner.

Follow these steps for successful pressure canning:

(Read through all the instructions before beginning.)

Make sure the pressure canner is working properly before preparing food. Clean lid gaskets and other parts according to the manufacturer's directions; make sure all vent pipes are clear and contain no trapped material or mineral deposits. Center the canner over the burner. The burner and range must be level. Your pressure canner can be damaged if the burner puts out too much heat. In general, do not use on an outdoor LP gas burner or gas range burner over 12,000 BTUs. Check your manufacturer's directions for more information about appropriate burners.

Put the rack and hot water into the canner. If the amount of water is not specified with a given food, use enough water so it is two to three inches deep in the canner. Longer processes required more water. Some specific products (for example, smoked fish) require that you start with even more water in the canner. Always follow the directions with USDA processes for specific foods if they require more water be added to the canner.

For hot packed foods, you can bring the water to 180[degrees]F. ahead of time, but be careful not to boil the water or heat it long enough for the depth to decrease. For raw packed foods, the water should only be brought to 140[degrees]F.

Place filled jars, fitted with lids and ring bands, on the jar rack in the canner, using a jar lifter. When moving jars with a jar lifter, make sure the jar lifter is securely positioned below the neck of the jar (below the ring band of the lid). Keep the jar upright at all times. Tilting the jar could cause food to spill into the sealing area of the lid.

Fasten the canner lid securely. Leave the weight off the vent pipe or open the petcock.

Turn the heat setting to its highest position. Heat until the water boils and steam flows freely in a funnel-shape from the open vent pipe or petcock. While maintaining the high heat setting, let the steam flow (exhaust) continuously for 10 minutes.

After this venting, or exhausting, of the canner, place the counterweight or weighted gauge on the vent pipe, or close the petcock. The canner will pressurize during the next 3 to 10 minutes.

Start timing the process when the pressure reading on the dial gauge indicates that the recommended pressure has been reached, or, for canners without dial gauges, when the weighted gauge begins to jiggle or rock as the manufacturer describes.

Regulate the heat under the canner to maintain a steady pressure at, or slightly above, the correct gauge pressure. One type of weighted gauge should jiggle a certain number of times per minute, while another type should rock slowly throughout the process--check the manufacturer's directions.

Loss of pressure at any time can result in underprocessing, or unsafe food.

Quick and large pressure variations during processing may cause unnecessary liquid losses from jars.

Important: If at any time pressure goes below the recommended amount, bring the canner back to pressure and begin the timing of the process over, from the beginning (using the total original process time). This is important for the safety of the food.

When the timed process is completed, turn off the heat, remove the canner from the heat (electric burner) if possible, and let the canner cool down naturally. (Lift the canner to move it; do not slide the canner. It is also okay to leave the canner in place after you have turned off the burner. It is better to do so than to let jars inside the canner tilt or tip over if the canner is too heavy to move easily.)

While the canner is cooling, it is also de-pressurizing. Do not force cool the canner. Forced cooling may result in food spoilage. Cooling the canner with cold running water or opening the vent pipe before the canner is fully depressurized are types of forced cooling. They will also cause loss of liquid from jars and seal failures. Forced cooling may also warp the canner lid.

Even after a dial gauge canner has cooled until the dial reads zero pounds pressure, be cautious in removing the weight from the vent pipe. Tilt the weight slightly to make sure no steam escapes before pulling it all the way off. Newer canners will also have a cover lock in the lid or handle that must release after cooling before the lids are twisted off. Do not force the lid open if the cover locks are not released. Manufacturers will provide more detailed instructions for particular models.

Depressurization of older canner models without dial gauges should be timed. Standard size heavy-walled canners require about 30 minutes when loaded with pints and 45 minutes when loaded with quarts. Newer thin-walled canners cool more rapidly and are equipped with vent locks that are designed to open when the pressure is gone. These canners are depressurized when the piston in the vent lock drops to a normal position. Some of these locks are hidden in handles and cannot be seen; however, the lid will not turn open until the lock is released.

After the canner is completely depressurized, remove the weight from the vent pipe or open the petcock. Wait 10 minutes; then unfasten the lid and remove it carefully. Lift the lid with the underside away from you so that the steam coming out of the canner does not burn your face.

Using a jar lifter, remove the jars one at a time, being careful not to tilt the jars. Carefully place them directly onto a towel or cake cooling rack, leaving at least one inch of space between the jars during cooling. Avoid placing the jars on a cold surface or in a cold draft.

Let the jars sit undisturbed while they cool, from 12 to 24 hours. Do not tighten ring bands on the lids or push down on the center of the flat metal lid until the jar is completely cooled.

Remove ring bands from sealed jars. Ring bands can be washed and dried and put away for using another time. Put any unsealed jars in the refrigerator and use first.

Wash jars and lids to remove all residues.

Label jars and store in a cool, dry place out of direct light.

Dry the canner, lid and gasket. Take off removable petcocks and safety valves; wash and dry thoroughly. Follow maintenance and storage instructions that come from your canner manufacturer.


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Title Annotation:The Homestead Kitchen
Author:Burton, Brittan
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2013
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