Your garden is running over with corn, green beans and so on. As food prices are rising, it would be nice to be able to store some of these for future use. But your freezer is full, and your regular water-bath canner can't safely can low-acid vegetables.
So it may make sense to invest in a pressure canner.
You've probably heard the scary stories of how Grandma's pressure cooker exploded, spraying bottles of beets across her kitchen ceiling.
But today's pressure canners are safer and easier to use.
"You still have to have a healthy respect for it," said Teresa Hunsaker, Utah State University Extension agent in Weber County. "But now there are a lot of safety features, so if you follow the directions, you don't need to worry about exploding."
During a recent canning class, Hunsaker displayed jars of the various foods that she has pressure canned, including chicken, ground beef, beans and sausage patties. Hunsaker likes to take the jarred meats on camping trips or heat them up with barbecue or spaghetti sauce for quick weekday meals. Clearly, pressure canners aren't just for vegetables.
But they cost more than water-bath canners; you can expect to pay from $65 to $200 or more, depending on the size and brand. You would have to process a few jars of food in order to recoup your investment. But if you're limited on freezer space, or if you'd like shelf-stable foods in the event of a power outage, pressure canning might be for you.
"If I can do it, anyone can do it," declares Shawna Baker of Kaysville, who bought a pressure canner this year to take advantage of her garden's produce. "It's way easier than I thought it would be, and I felt very accomplished with all those jars of green beans and spaghetti sauce on my counter."
When is pressure canning necessary? The premise of home canning is to interrupt the natural decay that happens to food from existing enzymes, mold, yeast and bacteria. To "process" them, the jars of food are heated in a boiling-water bath canner or a pressure canner at a high temperature long enough to destroy the microorganisms.
When the jars cool, they vent excess air and form a vacuum seal on the lid to keep any new microorganisms from entering the food in the future.
Most microorganisms can't grow or produce their toxin in an acid environment. So fruits with high acidity are good candidates for water-bath canning. But microorganisms in low-acid foods such as meat, poultry, vegetables and dairy products can survive the boiling temperature of 212 degrees (or, in Utah, about 204 degrees), according to Hunsaker. To be killed, they must be heated to around 240 degrees, which can only be reached with a pressure canner.
On a scale of pH acidity levels, lemons are 2.0. Peaches are 3.6. The acidity cutoff is 4.6, and most tomatoes are a 4.1 to 4.3 just barely enough acidity to qualify for water-bath canning. Because tomatoes require a long processing time in a water-bath canner, many people prefer to pressure can them. Crushed tomatoes, already hot when packed in quart jars, require 55 minutes in a water-bath canner for Wasatch Front altitudes. They can be pressure canned in 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the amount of pressure added.
In a pressure canner, the water comes to a boil and changes to steam. The steam drives all the air out of the canner. When all of the air is out, the petcock (valve) on the pressure canner should be closed so the steam can't get out. It gets hotter and hotter, and the pressure builds up. It keeps expanding until it reaches 10 pounds of pressure. At sea level, the temperature is 240 degrees by then. Higher altitudes need more pressure; for Utah's altitude, you need 13 pounds of pressure, or PSI, to reach 240 degrees, said Hunsaker.
Today's pressure canners have safety devices that allow steam to escape if the pressure gets too high inside the canner, so it won't "blow up." It's important to read your pressure canner directions carefully and keep it clean. If the petcock or vent pipe becomes clogged with food, steam can't escape, and pressure could build up quickly.
There are two kinds of pressure canners: dial-gauge and weighted-gauge. Some large pressure canners can hold up to 18 pint jars in two layers, or seven quart jars. Small ones can hold four quart jars.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
• Pressure canning doesn't improve poor-quality food, Hunsaker said. Choose fresh, tender vegetables. The quicker they're picked and canned, the better the results.
• Use only standard canning jars, because they're tempered to stand up to the pressure canner's high temperature.
• Check dial gauges for accuracy before use each year. Gauges may be checked at most county Cooperative Extension offices.
• Allow one inch of head space (an empty space between the jar lid and the food) because the food will expand during processing.• After processing, take the canner off the heat and allow the pressure to drop naturally; if pressure release is forced, the bottles can become unsealed.
SPAGHETTI SAUCE WITHOUT MEAT
30 pounds tomatoes
1 cup chopped onions
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped celery or green peppers
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced (optional)
4 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons oregano
4 tablespoons minced parsley
2 teaspoons black pepper
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Wash tomatoes and dip in boiling water for 30-60 seconds or until skins split. Dip in cold water and slip off skins. Remove cores and quarter tomatoes. Boil 20 minutes, uncovered, in large saucepan. Put through food mill and sieve. Saute onions, garlic, celery or peppers and mushrooms in vegetable oil until tender. Combine sauteed vegetables and tomatoes and add remainder of spice, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, until thick enough for serving. At this time, the initial volume will have been reduced by nearly one-half. Stir frequently to avoid burning. Fill jars, leaving 1-inch head space. Adjust lids. While the sauce is still hot (hot pack), process in a pressure canner. Makes 7 quarts.
For a dial-gauge canner, process quarts for 25 minutes at 13 pounds pressure, or PSI, for Wasatch Front altitude (4,000-6,000 feet). For pints, process 20 minutes at 13 pounds pressure.For a weighted-gauge pressure canner, process quarts 25 minutes at 15 pounds pressure for Wasatch Front altitude (above 1,000 feet). For pints, process 20 minutes at 15 pounds pressure. Teresa Hunsaker, USU Extension
MEAT STRIPS OR CUBES
Desired quantity of bear, beef, lamb, pork, veal or venison
Choose quality chilled meat. Remove excess fat. Soak strong-flavored wild meats for 1 hour in brine water containing 1 tablespoon of salt per quart. Rinse. Remove large bones.
Hot pack: Precook meat until rare by roasting, stewing or browning in a small amount of fat. Add 1 teaspoon of salt per quart to the jar, if desired. Fill jars with pieces and add boiling broth, meat drippings, water or tomato juice (especially with wild game), leaving a 1-inch head space.
Raw pack: Add 1 teaspoon of salt per quart to the jar, if desired. Fill jars with raw meat pieces, leaving 1-inch head space. Do not add liquid. Adjust lids and process.
For a dial-gauge pressure canner, pints (either hot or raw pack) should be processed 75 minutes at 13 pounds pressure for Wasatch Front altitude (4001-6,000 feet). For quarts, process 90 minutes at 13 pounds pressure.
For a weighted-gauge pressure canner, pints (either hot or raw pack) should be processed 75 minutes at 15 pounds of pressure for Wasatch Front altitude (above 1,000 feet). For quarts, process 90 minutes at 15 pounds pressure.To use: Since the meat is already cooked, it can be used in soups, stews, barbecue beef, casseroles, etc. Teresa Hunsaker, USU Extension