Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Big Bertha and the joys of pressure canning

A pot of vegetable soup sat simmering on the stove, the aroma infiltrating every corner of the house. A friend had stopped by for a visit and we talked while I prepped the kitchen. "Is that your new canner?" she asked, eyeballing the large black water bath canner on the stove. "Nope," I replied turning the corner and emerging from the laundry room (the only place where Big Bertha will fit). "THIS is the new canner!"

I knew we were ordering the largest of the pressure canners - 26 quarts - so I knew it was going to be big. Yeah. Big is an understatement. Big Bertha, as I have come to call it, is a monstrosity of a pot, but she gets the job done.

Despite the fact that I had read the instruction manual twice, I was nervous about using the canner. There were multiple warnings (on the pressure gage, on the canner box, on the front of the instruction booklet) about thoroughly reading the instructions before use and I was convinced I was going to blow up the kitchen. But people do this right? After the first time, I would laugh at how silly I had been to worry, right?

I prepped the canning jars as I did for any other process (inversion or boiling water bath), filled them to within an inch of the rim, covered them with a boiled lid and band, and set them aside. I wanted my full attention on the pressure canner when it came time to use it. It was time.

Reading the instructions aloud to my friend, we added 3 quarts of boiling water to the pot (it may have been just a touch more), and the five quart size jars of fresh, homemade vegetable soup. I was amazed at how little water it required! Considering the size of this pot, 3 quarts is nothing! On went the lid, which twisted close to lock. Now to let the heating begin. On high heat, we watched for a steady stream of steam to flow from the pressure regulator. Once it did we allowed this to continue for the required 10 minutes. Isabel (our youngest kitty) thought this was amazing. I tied to capture her photo as she sat transfixed by the steaming pot, but alas, when I got up to get the camera, she moved. You'll have to trust me when I say it was cute!

After 10 minutes of constant steam, the pressure regulator was covered and we watched carefully as the pressure rose to 11 on the gage. Once at 11, we could start timing the process - a full 90 minutes. Controlling the pressure with the heat from the stove took some careful observation and many times I had to turn the heat up or down to keep the pressure on target. It certainly wasn't difficult. I just had to keep a watchful eye. 

My friend and I continued to talk and enjoy our afternoon together until, before we knew it, the timer was going off in the kitchen. The 90 minutes of processing time had expired and low and behold, the kitchen was still intact. But it wasn't over yet.

The heat was turned off, the pot transferred to a cool burner, and we waited for the pressure to drop. At this point, we decided to get out of the house for a quick walk to the grocery. By the time we returned, the pressure registered at zero and no steam emerged from the canner when I removed the pressure regulator cover. We were instructed to allow it to sit an additional 1o minutes without the pressure regulator cover. Once those last 10 minutes had expired, I carefully removed the lid, being sure to open the canner away from me to avoid burning my face off. I was ready to witness the carnage of my first pressure canner effort, but... all five jars were just fine!  

Each jar was carefully placed on a thick towel on the counter, allowed to sit overnight, then with bands removed were labeled and placed on the pantry shelf. Aren't they gorgeous? Yep! It's time to laugh at how nervous I was, because this was really easy. Working with that kind of heat definitely warrants caution, but it's not hard. There are just more steps than other methods. And with all that extra soup sitting in the pantry and not taking up room in my freezer, I have plenty of room for other things like frozen peaches and homemade ice cream. Mmmm... ice cream!

I suppose the best part about using the pressure canner was resource use. It took an amazingly small amount of water and once we got started, it took very little heat (very low setting) from the stove to maintain the required pressure. I'm sold! Big Bertha was worth every penny!  So for those of you who have been a little nervous about trying the pressure canner, for those of you who long to can corn, soup, beans, etc but are terrified of blowing up your kitchen - never fear. Exercise a little caution, practice mindfulness as you work, and pressure canning can mean endless afternoons of fun with friends, and good local food all year round. Now, who wants some soup...


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ib mommy said...

Hey.... my great grandmother's name was Bertha.

I haven't found anywhere to store mine.... it's so huge! She's sitting on the screen porch, nameless. I haven't figured out a hot, steamy food pornish name to give her so she's just "the big pot on the porch".

I am still amazed at how easy canning is now that I finally got up the nerve to try it.

Abbie said...

Thanks for the confidence... I just bought a pressure canner and have been a little nervous. Of course, since I'm a science teacher, I'm used to living a little bit dangerously, but safety is always a concern.
I plan to use it to can tomatoes, once all my little green ones turn read.
Soup is a great idea though! Maybe I'll whip up some corn chowder and can it. Yum!

Bobbi said...

I love my pressure canner. Never thought to name her, though. Big Bertha - seems to be appropriate!

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

Wow Heather, that IS a big canner! Wow! And too funny about your kitty, I bet ours would have been interested too!

I'm happy to hear that your first experience with the canner did not involve blown up how or burnt off face! Now you'll be canning in that thing like mad. You are making me want a pressure canner so I can make some yummy soups too. Better get used to using the water bath one first though, I've never canned a thing in my life.

This weekend I will be pickling some peppers from my container garden. I've already told my Mom that I will be calling her on the day we sample them so she can call an ambulance if we did it wrong. ;-)

Heather @ SGF said...

pressure canner - thanks for the link to your blog. I'll keep an eye out for new posts!

ib mommy - I'm already looking forward to my next canning adventure. It takes some time, but it's so worth it and you're right - totally easy once you know what you're doing!

abbie - Just follow the instructions and you'll be fine. I gained so much confidence just after this first time. Before you know it, you'll be canning like crazy! Good luck!

bobbi - I'm weird about naming things like that but it's fun. In fact, keep your eyes open for tomorrow's post. I'll be asking for name suggestions for a little something else.... :)

jennifer - I'm sure your peppers will turn out wonderfully but it will be fun to enjoy the experience with your Mom. Good luck! The boiling water bath is great too. You make so many spanish dishes, I bet you could can a mean salsa!

Beany said...

I laughed at your canner's name: Big Bertha. I am starting to like naming inanimate objects as well.

Until I read this post I didn't know about pressure canning. I thought I would limited to preserving foods using acidity or dehydration or freezing.

Heather @ SGF said...

Beany - freezing was all I was ever planning on doing. But when my friend invited me to learn jam making with her, I caught the bug. First it was jam, then it was tomatoes, now it's, well, everything. And I love that now I don't have to buy a second freezer to store everything. I just put it all on a shelf to wait patiently until I'm ready for it. Oh and another plus to not freezing? My soup doesn't have to be defrosted before I eat it :) It's ready to go!

Red said...

I've never pressure canned, but I use it all the time for coooking.

Just recently, my husband made Arrox con Pollo in the pressure cooker and my daughter (Who is a vegetarian),was totally amazed at how quick and thoroughly cooked the meal was.

then her and I made homemade baked beans, which we cooked in th slowcooker, but not before pressuring them. They turned out grand!!!

Heather @ SGF said...

Red - I'll have to try Big Bertha on the cooking side too. I've been scoping out recipes for baked beans and have been craving them. One of these days...

Dan said...

You've given me some inspiration to break out my new pressure canner on my wild and crazy, bachelor with an empty house weekend (boy, am I getting old!) It's still early for my tomatoes and didn't have much else on hand, so after reading this entry, I decided to make some soup and pressure can it this weekend. That way the cat and I would be the only collateral damage if something goes wrong. Thanks for the inspiration. BTW, nice blog, I just stumbled across it.

Heather @ SGF said...

Dan - That's wonderful! Good luck with the soup canning this weekend! I'm looking forward to finding out how it goes. If you think of it, come back and let me know. Happy Friday!

Anonymous said...

Not sure if it is a good or bad tip but it looks like your water is like ours ... hard. Gives you that ring around the outside of the jars. I started using water from the rainwater barrel (naturally soft) so I don't get the ring. Just like how it looks on the shelf better.

Heather @ SGF said...

anonymous - great tip! I also understand putting a little vinegar in the canner helps too. Thanks!

dan said...

Heather-my canner efforts were a smashing success! The soup included summer squash, potatoes, red onions, cabbage, carrots and a tomato, all from my CSA.

A couple observations: I got the hard water ring on my cans as well. Also, I noticed the bottom of the canner pot, and especially the rack placed on the bottom, were somewhat blackened. After some googling, it is either the minerals from hard water or some seepage from the cans. I chalk it up to hard water as my liquid levels looked the same. I'll add some vinegar to the water bath next time to see if this helps.

Also, my wife is a little hesitant to try my pressure canned soup and raw sauerkraut for fear of botulism, etc. Does anyone else have this issue with their significant other?

Heather @ SGF said...

Dan - that's awesome! Congratulations! From what I understand, vinegar in the canner does help. I'm going to try that next time.

Hubby hasn't mentioned not eating anything because he's worried it hasn't been preserved properly. It's out first year canning so I guess we'll find out if everything went well, but I'm not worried. I figure people have been doing this forever and pressure canning is supposed to be the absolute safest method. And when I used my canner, I opted on the side of caution and did it longer than required.

Pressure Canner said...

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Anonymous said...

Great Blog! I just came across it. I really want to start pressure canning but I've been scared off by the prices I see on them - $200 is a lot to spend to "save money" by canning. Any ideas on where to find a used one?

Heather @ SGF said...

Janie - $200? I bought mine new for $80 and it's large and works great. Here's the link, although it looks like prices have gone up a bit:

If you're looking for used, ask around because many people (particularly some of the older generations) used to do this and may have a canner tucked away in the attic or barn. You can also check freecycle, craigslist, or even eBay (although I'm sure shipping might be expensive through eBay)