Do not taunt Happy Pressure Canner

It’s been baby steps, really.

It all started with an innocent batch of freezer jam. Jars, purchased for their cuteness, held runny strawberry jam, my first-ever batch, frozen until ready to consume.

Then came water-bath canning. I sneaked sideways into that venture — using an old stockpot as a canner, jars of crock-pot apple butter sitting directly on the bottom, I was officially canning before I could think too hard about what I was doing.

And then I started getting gadget-happy. I graduated to stainless utensils, and invested in a good, on-sale enameled water-bath canner. It was still fun and games until I bought my first case of tomatoes, and let’s just call those a gateway drug to pressure canning. Because it starts to get tricky with tomatoes — what with their new-variety acidity levels, etc. — and worlds of possibility would truly open up, if only you had a pressure canner.

But isn’t a pressure canner the equivalent of a stick of dynamite, handed to a toddler with a lit match between his teeth, standing in your kitchen? Isn’t it just so easy to blow you, your house, and perhaps your entire city to smithereens with one wrong move with a pressure canner? I mean, so-and-so’s grandmother lost her finger in a pressure-canning accident, right?

Is any amount of home-canned tomato sauce worth that risk?

Well, I was just dying to know. So I did something very characteristic of myself: I waited until I acquired a pressure-canner for free to find out. My mother-in-law had a Presto dial-gauge canner (similar to this new one) that had rarely been used. She decided there was a much better chance that I’d use it than she would, so she passed it on. And then, I refused to do anything with it* until a friend who’s taken the Master Preserving Class could come to my house and show me how to use it.

Because I’m just so daring that way.

And so I spent Tuesday in the company of uber-gracious Suzanne, who traded her vast pressure-canning knowledge,** her time, and her kind listening ears (I sort-of had a morning of emotional vomiting — she totally didn’t sign up for that) for a smoothie, a few dilly beans, and a spoonful of cashew butter. Seems fair, don’t you think?

Wanna know what I learned yesterday? I learned that pressure canning just isn’t that scary. That — while you should follow directions carefully and pay attention to what you’re doing, it’s not rocket science. A pressure canner is basically a big pot with a lid that has a good seal on it. When it gets really hot, it builds pressure inside. The dial (on my version) tells you what pressure you’re at, and if it gets too high, you just turn off the heat (not ideal, because you have to start over, but explosion-free). I learned that pressure-canning is often much quicker than water-bath canning, and causes less heat in the kitchen. That the biggest risk you run is not losing a digit, but losing a canner-load of food. Which would totally suck. But still — not dismemberment.

I also learned, when my husband phoned mid-process from Portland, that there’s no shortage of euphemisms when it comes to pressure canning. My canner has a petcock, for crying out loud.

Long story short: with the exception of one hiccup that caused 2 jars not to seal, I now have 4 quarts of pasta sauce and 4 quarts of tomato juice, ready for storage (those jars of juice accomplished solo!). I’m no master, but I’m no longer afraid. I have dominion over the pressure canner — it is not a weapon of mass destruction. Might I go so far as to say — the pressure canner is my friend.

I’ve come a long way, baby.


* I did do one thing with it, solo: I took it to my local county Extension office to get the gauge calibrated — something you’re supposed to do each year, to make sure your canner is operating at the right pressure.

** The Master-Preserving Class is FORTY HOURS of classes. I think that’s the equivalent of a PhD in canning.


20 thoughts on “Do not taunt Happy Pressure Canner

  1. Hey, it was an honor just being nominated as the receptacle of your emotional vomit. For the record, it just felt like chatting, and what better way to spend the day? So, if that’s all it takes to get one of your smoothies, then sign me up any time!

    1. Oh, good — it must have *felt* much more vomit-like than it seemed. Could have something to do w/ the fact that my only conversation for 5 days previous was with a 3, 6, or 8 year old?

  2. Sneaky, sneaky! I’ve done the same thing – started out making Grandma’s Freezer Strawberry Jam. Now I’m canning jams and marmalade and wishing I had a pressure canner for some tomato-y deliciousness. šŸ™‚ Good job! Keep it up.

  3. I’m scared of starting to pressure can too–but then I start thinking how great it would be to have a whole pantry full of shelf-stable homemade soups and salsas and vegetables of all kinds. I think I need to just jump in and get over it. šŸ™‚

    1. Eileen — SOUP, I know!!! I had totally forgotten about soup until Suzanne mentioned it. Jump in — you’ll be so glad you did!

  4. I don’t always comment, but I read your blog regularly and almost always you make me smile or laugh.

    Having a good safe listener for emotional vomit makes such a difference! I would love to set up some kind of regular, established, official space for that sort of thing among my friends.

    1. Thanks, Marcy! Your comment just made me smile : )
      Finding that kind of listener can be so hard, especially finding the time for it (at least, that’s been true for me) — but what a relief when that sounding board appears, it often just takes getting the words out of my own head.

      1. It IS hard! Especially if you want it to be something regular and reliable. This parenting program that I’ve been doing recommends that people set up a weekly time to exchange listening without judgment, advice, tangents, and so on. It’s been a great help to me — I have two weekly listening partners.

      2. That is awesome! I think summer has thrown me for a loop (all 3 kids at home, all the time, with comprehending ears) — and then Tim was out of town for almost a week. Adult conversation, turns out, is necessary for sanity ; )

      3. Sure is! I do it by Skype, after bedtime. And if I have to let off steam in another part of the day, sometimes I send nasty emails (the stuff I would like to say to the child, or to whoever else) to my listening partners, who know that it’s just ranting.

  5. Katy!
    So funny; I’ve been looking online like crazy at water bath vs. pressure canning….kinda making me crazy. Called local extension office and of course they only recommend pressure b/c of safety and avoiding bacteria in your foods. Next weekend my mom and I are supposed to can some green beans and tomatoes…..I can’t find a pressure canner to borrow so I may end up making that big purchase: ( but I’m hoping well worth it?! Mom canned for years when we were little from our garden; but she always did water bath—so pressure canner would be new for her as well. You think 2 newbies will be ok?

    1. Erica — yes, I saw your FB conundrum about the glass-top stove (I had no advice there).

      So, if it were me, I would not can green beans in a water-bath canner. I know that many grandmothers and mothers have been doing it for years — but from everything I read, the pH of those beans is just not high enough (and the temps of water-bath canning don’t get high enough) to ward off botulism spores.

      I think if you bought a new pressure canner, and read the directions and maybe watched a couple of youtube videos, you and your mom will be good to go.

      If you can’t get one, I would stick w/ tomatoes, and make sure you add citric acid, bottled lemon juice, or vinegar to the jars before sealing — most water-bath tomato-canning recipes will include this step.

      Have fun!!

    1. And I totally wrote you off on that prediction, didn’t I? : )
      Wasn’t until I read something about not letting all that liquid evaporate into wasteland that I decided to go for it. I’m planning to post about the whole process soon — it was a great way to get more yield from that box!

  6. I haven’t even graduated to freezer jam yet but I aspire, truly I do. Love making jam but I think the bigger issue for me aside from fear, is time (and did I mention fear?).

    Bigger batch means more prep and then canning just takes time and I can’t seem to find enough of that to even write a blog post, let alone can. And did I mention the fear factor already?

    Congratulations on the tomatoes and not dying!

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