Summer's over and you have boxes of tasty summer fruits and vegetables picked in their prime? Why don't you save money by canning them at home?
WHAT IS A PRESSURE CANNER?
A pressure canner is a type of metal kettle which has a lockable lid. They are used for heat-processing low-acid foods (like vegetables, meat and poultry). Most modern pressure canners have racks inside for you to place jars, a way to gauge or control the pressure, a safety type of mechanism and a system for exhausting the air.
Pressure canners are also known as pressure cookers in countries like the UK, Australia.
WHAT DOES A PRESSURE CANNER DO? HOW DOES IT WORK?
A pressure canner has been in use in the home for many years. It's a great way of preserving low acid foods so you don't have to go to the supermarket and spend money on canned or preserved food. It's also a way of speeding up the time it takes to cook food so many people simply use it as a faster way of cooking their evening meal. It's great for soups, risottos, ribs and pot roasts. Even cheese cakes come out perfectly.
Low acid foods require cooking at a higher temperature than other foods (which may be steamed or cooked simply by putting them in a jar in a saucepan of boiling water). Steam reaches higher temperatures than boiling water which is why a pressure cooker is the only safe way of preserving certain foods.
WHAT'S SO GREAT ABOUT A PRESSURE CANNER?
As mentioned, you save money by preserving food yourself. It's cheaper than buying similar products in the supermarkets and it means that you haven't wasted any of the fruits, vegetables and other foods that you may have gathered up over the summer.
And the big reason it's coming back into fashion these days is that you can ensure the food is of the highest quality that you desire: without preservatives, excess salt, sugar, food coloring and all the other additives you might wish to avoid putting into your body.
Plus, there is the ENORMOUS satisfaction of creating your own preserved food. It's like going back to the olden days of self-sufficiency, non-wastefulness and there's this magical going-to-nature side of it that shouldn't be underestimated. You know how aunties and grandma's used to go crazy about making their own jam in a bygone era? It feels like that.
In addition, you can simply use a pressure canner for normal cooking but it will reduce your cooking time by up to 70%.
WHAT FOODS CAN I PRESERVE IN A PRESSURE CANNER?
Red meats, poultry, milk, seafood, all fresh vegetables and some tomatoes. The USDA recommends the use of pressure canning as the ONLY safe, consistently reliable method for preserving low-acid foods. Many mothers use it for preparing healthy baby food by the bulk and it's also perfect for soups.
SOUNDS GREAT, I WANT TO START PRESSURE COOKING MY OWN FOOD. WHAT DO I NEED?
The big old pressure canners from the 1960s were these huge, heavy looking devices with enormous lids and heavy clamps.
Pressure canners these days are fairly lightweight. They usually consist of:
- The main body, usually a cylindrical pot often made of aluminum. Usually with stay-cool side handles. TIP: buy a pressure canner which works on both smooth-top and regular ranges
- A metal jar rack or a basket with handles
- A turn-on lid
- A vent/cover lock with a vent port (steam vent)
- A rubber gaset
- A dial or weighted gauge
- A safety fuse
It also helps to have
- A jar lifter
- A canning funnel
- A jar-lid wench
- Kitchen tongs
GETTING STARTED WITH PRESSURE CANNING
If you are completely new to using a pressure canner, it might be worth purchasing an entire pressure canner kit. The Fagor 9 Piece Pressure Canning Set is one of the best selling pressure canning kits on the market because it comes with a handy cookbook as well as all the other essentials including a stainless steel funnel, magnetic lid lifter (this comes in far more handy than you might think), and an instructional DVD.
Then, the normal process goes like this:
- Prepare your food for cooking, often in jars
- Put two to three inches of hot water into the pressure canner.
- Put the jars onto the metal rack, using the jar lifter
- Fasten the canner lid
- Keep the vent/petcock open or the weight off
- Heat the water until you see steam coming out of the vent
- After around 10 minutes you can close the petcock or put the weight onto the vent. Then the canner starts to pressurize
- Look at the gauge and wait for it to reach the pressure you require: usually you'll get the distinctive wiggling sound of the weighted gauge
- Start timing. Read your cooking recipes or instructions carefully so you get the timing right. Check that the gauge pressure is steady and correct
- Once you're done, turn off the heat, remove the canner from the range and let it cool down and de-pressurize naturally at room temperature.
- Once the canner is de-pressurized, remove the weight or open the petcock, give it another couple of minutes then remove the lid. Be careful as you take the lid off as you don't want steam to burn your face.
- Use your handy jar lifter to take out the jars and let them cool at their own temperature.
- Enjoy your pressure cooked food!