Monday, June 21, 2010

Canning: A Blast from the Past

One month ago Jason and I decided to “take the plunge,” so to speak, and learn how to can. While I was initially a bit wary to try – thinking it would be too hard, there were too many steps, etc., etc. (how sad is that?) – it ended up being relatively simple. We are now canning fools! Well, let me rephrase that, Jason is a canning fool. Seeing as how it is usually fairly hot in our house these days, the last thing I want to do it “slave” over a hot stove. But since Jason is basically unphased by the heat, he has come to embrace this long lost (though seeing a resurgence) art. So far we’ve canned salsa (using Jason’s grandfather’s recipe), mulberry jelly, and apple mint jelly. And this is just the tiny tip of the iceberg, folks.

We haven’t had any of the official equipment one may need in order to can, and we’ve gotten along just fine. However, we did want to purchase a pressure canner second-hand. We’ve been keeping an eye on craigslist and garage sales, but this weekend Jason finally had luck at a local estate sale! We are now the proud owners of a vintage 1958 Deluxe Mirro-Matic 4Qt. Pressure Cooker. Being newbies, I have no idea if this is a good brand or not, but it has the Good Housekeeping seal, so it can’t be too bad! And it only cost $9.00, which I thought was reasonable. The most amazing thing to me about this purchase is that it included the original 80 page booklet complete with cool 1950s graphics, directions on use, recipes, and an entire section on pressure canning. As it was just bought yesterday we haven’t had a chance to test it out, but we’ll be sure to post about it when we do. - Carrie


  1. Congratulations! It is so rewarding to process one's own food. Rows of filled mason jars in your pantry are worth the heat. $9 is a super fantastic price for a pressure canner. Your county cooperative extension office can check the pressure gauge for you (for free) to make sure it's still accurate. And while you're there, you can load up on all kinds of free info on anything a homesteader needs to know.

  2. Leigh,
    That is great information, thanks! I had no idea the extension office would test a pressure canner, though Jason said he was aware of it. If we have problems with the canner I'll definitely take advantage of their expertise.

  3. I have gone through several food preservation workshops through Extension, so I am always wary about old equipment or canning without going through a training program with an instructor. I'm not saying "you're doing it wrong!," I just don't want you to wind up with botulism in your jars (which can kill you).

    1. DEFINITELY have your pressure canner tested by Extension before you use it. (In Missouri it only costs $1.) If you don't, you have no idea if the gauge is reading the correct pressure. If it's not reading the correct pressure, you don't know what the temperature is inside. And if it's not 240 degrees, you won't be able to destroy botulism spores. An anaerobic environment inside a canning jar is heaven for botulism spores, so you have to make sure they're killed to know your food is safe.

    2. Canning is food science. Food science has come a long way since the 50s, and as a result canning recommendations have changed since then, too. It's very risky to use old or untested recipes for canning. The only recipes that are recommended to be use for canning are recipes that have been scientifically tested by food scientists to be sure that they will be safe when proper canning technique is followed. The experts at this stuff are the folks at the National Center for Home Food Preservation: Their book, So Easy to Preserve, has all the instructions plus recipes for everything imaginable. There are also instructions and some recipes on their website. Once you have a tested recipe that you'd like to try, don't change any of the amounts or items in the recipe. The recipe was tested and found to be safe with the amounts listed, and may not be safe if you leave something out or change an amount.

    3. Also be sure the rubber gasket on your canner is still good. The rubber will dry out with age, and if it isn't making a good seal you won't be able to reach 240 degrees. One of the challenges with using older equipment is that it can be hard to find replacement parts if you do have to update a piece of the canner.

    I am not afraid of canning, but I am afraid of canning improperly. :) Definitely know the steps and recommendations, and you can be sure your food is safe. :)