Home pressure canning is a fabulous way of preserving the bounty from your garden or store, but for some it can feel very scary. Many hear horror stories involving pressure canning and wonder “will I blow up my kitchen?” Some simply just stick with water bath canning, and unfortunately, end up using that method for foods that need to be processed under pressure, putting their families in danger every time they serve their home-canned creations. While there are things that can go wrong with canning low acid foods, learning the basic rules will help you eliminate any issues you might run into.
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Before I share my list of safe practices with you, it’s important to first understand that home pressure canning is not the only way to home can your foods. In addition to home (steam) pressure canning, you may also use a boiling water bath canning method to home can some of your foods.
Boiling Water Bath Canning
Boiling water bath canning is primarily used for fruits, jams, and other high acid foods. With this method, the temperature of the boiling water surrounding your immersed jars reaches 212 degrees and is maintained for a specified length of time so as to kill off any molds, yeasts and some bacteria, also rendering enzymes inactive. This is enough heat to remove the danger of any illness as a result of your high acid home canned foods.
Low acid foods should never be processed in a water bath canner. To ignore this rule is to put your family’s lives at risk, in my opinion. Since we are not talking about boiling water bath canning today, I won’t go into it, but you can read more about how to do it safely in this article.
Home Pressure Canning Low Acid Foods
Pressure canning is primarily used for low acid foods, including vegetables and meat. With this method, the steam inside of the canner is pressurized, which results in higher temperature of steam surrounding your jars. The steam reaches 240 degrees and is maintained for a specified length of time so as to kill off all bacteria, their spores and toxins. This is enough heat to remove the danger of any illness as a result of your low acid home canned foods.
There is a very specific method to steam pressure canning, and usually, it’s best to follow the directions can come with your specific canner. Still, there are some basic principles that you will want to follow which I cover in my list of rules below.
My 7 Smart Rules of Home Pressure Canning
- Inspect your canner’s vent pipe, and make sure it is not clogged by holding the cover up to the light and looking through the vent pipe. If the vent pipe is blocked, excess pressure cannot be released, which could cause your canner’s pressure to build to unsafe levels.
- If you use a canner with a dial gauge on it, make sure to have it checked/calibrated every year by your local county extension office (PickYourOwn.org has a fabulous page to help you find yours here). If your local county extension office is like mine and doesn’t offer that service, you may want to so what I do and rely on the pressure regular on your canner. If your canner does not have a pressure regulator, you may want to invest in a canner that does have one as this will ensure that your foods are reaching proper pressure/temperature levels for the foods you are home canning.
- Once your canner has built pressure and is releasing steam from the vent pipe, allow your canner to vent continually for a full 10 minutes. According to Presto® (the company that manufactured my canner), doing this ensures that all air is exhausted from the canner as well as the jars, and eliminates any air pockets that might cause uneven heating of the food in the jars.
- Follow carefully all the recipe directions in regards to head space, removing air from the packed jars, and processing times. All of these factors are important to ensuring the quality and safety of the your home canned food.
- Once the processing time is up, turn off the fire and allow the canner to depressurize on its own. Do not seek to speed up the decompression process by removing the pressure regulator (also called “force-cooling”), as it can result in food spoilage, according to National Center for Home Food Preservation.
- Once you are sure that your canner is depressurized completely (refer to your canner’s manual on how to know this), tilt the weight of the pressure regulator–making sure that no steam escapes—before removing it completely. If no steam escapes, your canner is completely depressurized and it is safe to carefully remove the lid.
- Lift the lid away from you so as not to drip hot water on your feet, or burn your face or hands with the steam.
These rules might seem like ‘no brainers’ for pressure canning, but they are things that I need to remember to do every time I use my pressure canner. This is the reason I am no longer afraid of using this method, and why it remains a part of what I do here on our homestead.
Now that we’ve got the rules out of the way, we are on to the fun part—the canning! Here are some of the items I can most frequently, along with some of our favorite recipes:
Pinto Beans: This is probably the canning recipe I use the most in our home, because it saves so much money. It costs me roughly .28 per pint of organic pinto beans when I can them, versus the price of .50 per 15 oz can of non-organic. I call that a spectacular deal! Here’s the recipe.
Tomatoes: I grow San Marzano tomatoes specifically so I can have tomato sauce, salsas, whole tomatoes, and other tomato products on my shelf. It’s fantastic to be able to know that the items on your shelf are 100% from your hands, and know what’s in them! Tomatoes are usually water bath canned, but they can also be processed in a pressure canner with some adjustments!
Carrots: Todd loves carrots and so I can’t go without having some canned carrots on the shelf! Here’s how I can carrots safely!