Canning season starts early for gardeners! Spring strawberries all the way through the apples and pumpkins of late autumn definitely keep us busy. If you’re as diligent about preserving your harvest as you are about growing it, you know that a pressure canner is an absolute necessity. Whether you’re a seasoned canner or just starting out, read on to learn why this is such an essential tool.
Why is a Pressure Canner so Vital?
Grocery, farm, and hardware stores are full of ball jars, lids, pectin, and recipes. These are all stocked for easy, boiling water bath canning used for traditional jams, jellies, pickles, and relishes. But water bath canning can only do so much. Many gardeners are looking for a less labor-intensive preserving method.
Boiling water canning is a time-tested way to put food by for long-term storage. That said, it’s only safe to use on naturally acidic fruits and berries, or alkaline vegetables that have been prepared with vinegar or sugar. It requires a huge investment of time and energy. In the midst of tending a home garden and preserving the harvest, sometimes the extra time it takes to pickle and prepare is just too daunting.
Home gardeners are also looking for ways to savor the true taste of their summertime garden. They’re aiming to preserve beans, corn, pumpkin, and asparagus without changing their produce’s flavor. The only safe and effective way to can most of your garden’s bounty without altering its taste is with a pressure canner.
How Does it Work?
Boiling water canners process jars at 212°F: the heat at which water boils. Only a highly acidic environment, or heating at or about 240° F, can destroy the deadly botulism spores that contaminate improperly preserved foods. Water bath canners rely on acidity to kill spores. Since water can’t reach those temperatures merely by boiling, alkaline foods are unsafe unless they’ve been processed in a pressure canner.
These canners can reach temperatures of 240°F and beyond by trapping steam. The trapped steam builds up pressure inside the canner, and that pressure raises the temperature significantly.
When 10lbs of pressure has built up inside the canner, the interior and the food being processed reaches upwards of 240°F. The harmful clostridium botulinum bacteria is thus destroyed completely. This makes it safe for you to can everything from corn to chicken without worrying about poisoning friends and family members.
If used properly, a pressure canner lets you confidently store even homemade chicken or beef soup in the pantry! This frees up freezer space for all that zucchini bread you’ll be making all summer long.
The process sounds intense, and many would-be home canners have been deterred by legends of pressure canning gone wrong. But it really is a simple and safe way of preserving low-acid foods. After a few sessions with the canner, your pantry will be brimming with jars of safe, versatile preserves from your garden.
Just keep in mind that a pressure canner is not the same as a pressure cooker. The process is similar, but don’t try to can anything in your pressure cooker! They simply can’t maintain the amount of pressure necessary to safely preserve foods.
Best Produce for the Pressure Canner
What vegetable do you process in the pressure canner? More than you might expect! Corn, asparagus, beans, shelled peas, squash, and pumpkin are some of the favorite vegetables grown and preserved by home gardeners.
Most garden produce only needs to be quickly simmered with a proportional amount of water and packed into jars for processing. This is a far cry from the long, drawn-out pickling and prep work required by boiling water bath canners. One of the most popular pressure caner uses is to preserve homemade vegetable soup.
Soups aren’t safe to process in boiling water baths, but they’re one of the most enjoyable ways of preserving the summer’s bounty. A pressure canner allows for shelves of safe, wholesome, summertime vegetable (or meat-based) soups to be stocked in your pantry for easy meals in January.
It’s important to always check best canning practices for each food in a reliable book like Putting Food By: the Ultimate in Canning Wisdom by Janet Greene.
Don’t attempt to use pressure canning for staples such as jams, jellies, and pickles. The heat and pressure will be too much for these delicate foods to handle. Many pressure canners can be used as boiling water canners however, thus saving you from investing in two separate pieces of equipment.
Where to Find A Pressure Canner
Local shops are full of canning pots for water bath processing, but you want to preserve your whole harvest, not just a tiny portion of it. So where are all the pressure canners?
Well, you can call up your local Wal-Mart and ask if they’re carrying what you need. Wal-Mart, Target, and most large hardware stores do stock them, especially at the peak of canning season. High-quality pressure canners, however, are more likely to be found at a local farmer-supply stores or online.
One of the best places to find a variety of well-made canners in sizes ideal for either the solo gardener or the family of twelve, is Lehman’s.
How Do I Choose The Right Canner?
The ideal pressure canner is going to vary depending on your needs. Large families with farmstead gardens will be looking for larger, heavy-duty canners. Small-scale gardeners and those without a lot of mouths to feed may want to scale down while shopping for pressure canners. A 41.5 quart pressure canner can keep a large, farmstead family prepped for a winter of home grown meals with ease.
It’s also important to consider storage space. You won’t be using your canner all day, every day throughout the year. Make sure there’s plenty of room to store it when it’s not in use.
The All American brand canner is a trusted brand designed to preserve huge quantities safely and securely. This gasket-free canner is an investment, built to last.
The single gardener, small families, or couples with moderate, suburban gardens will want a canner that won’t overwhelm the pantry with too many preserves, nor leave you with too few jars to fill the canner. Try a 10- or 15.5-quart pressure canner from Lehmans.
A smaller canner doesn’t limit the backyard garden’s ability to can more: it just allows plenty of options for small-batch canning, as well as being easier to store.
Gasket, or No Gasket?
Along with sizes, there are two varieties of pressure canner to choose from.
The high-end, gasket-free canner is safe to leave unattended because it can’t exceed the pounds of pressure you’ve set it to. This means that unlike the sealed-gasket style pressure canner, there’s no chance of cracked gaskets and burst seals!
Gasket-free canners are currently the most popular and most recommended pressure canner because they’re so safe and long-lasting. Made of heavy-duty, hand-cast aluminum, these canners keep working year after year. Of course, they’re an investment. If you’re just getting started with pressure canning, a gasket-free canner may be intimidatingly expensive.
Thankfully, sealed-gasket variety canners are still available. The Presto brand stands out as the best-known and most reliable maker of this variety of canner.
Sealed gasket canners do have benefits of their own. They’re much less expensive than their gasket-free counterparts. This is exciting news if you’re just trying out canning for the first time. They can also often double as pressure cookers. Sealed-gasket canners tend to be lighter weight as well.
The gasket pressure canners do need to be used with more caution than their gasket-free counterparts. Over processing can cause the gasket to break, destroying the canner’s seal, and potentially causing injury or damage to the produce.
Words to the Wise
Glass stove tops aren’t safe to use with any sort of canner. They’re just not designed to handle the sort of consistent heat and weight that even a boiling water bath canner produces. It’s always safer to can on a gas or electric-coil stove top. Or, set up an old wood cook stove outside and can right next to your garden.
In addition, there are many legends and warnings about the dangers of pressure canners. Stories of exploding canners abound. The truth is, pressure canners used to be pretty risky to use. Before the 1970s, home pressure canners took a lot of skill and focus to operate safely.
In the early 1970s they were extensively redesigned with a focus on safety and reliability. Today’s pressure canners—both the sealed gasket style and the high-end gasket-free canners—are considered no more dangerous than an Instapot. They stay sealed safely while processing and are equipped with reliable, inspected safety gauges to ensure that pressure won’t build to extreme levels.
That’s great news if you’ve been holding off on getting a pressure canner because of safety concerns.
A pressure canner will open up a whole world of home preserving for you. Whether you have a huge farm or a small garden, it’s an invaluable tool to have on hand.