Canning: Pressure Canning 101

Pressure canning, while still pretty darned easy, is an entirely different animal from Boiling Water Bath (BWB) canning.

For starters, you need one of these:

This is my brand-spankin’ new pressure canner. It functions in the same capacity as a pressure-cooker, but it is big enough to accommodate jars of food to be processed and has a canning rack inside.

You cannot pressure can foods without one of these bad boys. And you cannot process low-acid foods like vegetables, meats, or beans, without one. Please don’t BWB can green beans and give them to your neighbors. You most likely handed them a jar of botulism.

Pressure canning looks a lot like BWB canning, except for the added equipment and a few extra steps.

You still prepare your recipe, wash and heat your jars and lids, and fill the jars hot. Unlike BWB canning, however, you only put a few inches of water in the pressure canner, and vent the canner once the jars are loaded and the lid is sealed.

Venting the canner looks like this, and serves to remove the air from the canner, producing the pressure required to super-heat the jars. To vent the canner, you remove the weighted gauge (or open the petcock on dial-gauge canners) and once steam issues from the valve, let the steam vent for 10 minutes.

Then you replace the gauge.

A fully assembled weighted gauge looks like this. Or, mine does anyway. To adjust the pressure (consult your recipe) you simply remove the weights on the gauge. Fully assembled it is 15 pounds of pressure.

With one weight removed it is 10 pounds.

And with all the weights removed it is 5 pounds.

Once you determine what pressure your recipe needs and remove (or not) the weight required, replace the gauge on the steaming valve. Once it begins to rock steadily back and forth (or rock for the suggested number of times per minute, depending on your canner) you can adjust the heat and begin timing the process.

After the time is up, you can remove the canner from the heat source and let it depressurize naturally.

The main difference I have noticed (so far) between pressure canning and BWB canning is that with BWB canning you have to monitor the process much more closely. With pressure canning (if you have a weighted gauge) once you do the initial loading and venting steps, you can walk away from the canner while it’s processing. As long as you can hear the gauge rocking, you don’t need to adjust anything. Obviously with a dial gauge canner this would not be the case. I don’t think I’ll ever want a dial-gauge canner for exactly this reason. I trust my ears way more than a dial that has to be tested every year for accuracy.

If you think buying a pressure canner just for some extra process steps is a waste of money, think about these things:

  • do you consume a lot of produce that can’t be canned in a BWB? We eat a lot of beans and corn. I can now buy them dried (cheaper) or at peak season and have them all year.
  • Do you use the BWB method and wish you could can more? The pressure canner can double as a BWB canner.
  • Do you wish you could mix recipes using low and high acid foods? You can can fully-prepared soups in a pressure canner. Just reheat when you want soup!

There are quite a few pros to owning a pressure canner. While they can climb into three-digit prices, a decent pressure canner from a reputable company can cost as little as $60.

In the coming weeks I will be posting both pressure canning recipes as well as BWB recipes. If the pressure canning recipes sound like something you might want to try, pick one up. It will save money in the long run as well as expand your canning possibilities.

The Wife

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4 thoughts on “Canning: Pressure Canning 101

    • They’ve got a few new safety features, but the principal is still very much the same. My pressure cooker is the less-sophisticated and decidedly old-school weighted gauge, mostly because I can walk away from it and still hear the gauge rocking. You can’t do that with a dial gauge!

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