Preserving The Bounty
Preserving the bounty from your homestead is an important skill to learn. Not only will it save money and provide healthy food for your family but it also helps you prepare for lean times. Fresh veggies from the garden, fruit from the orchard, or meat from your livestock can all be preserved at home. One of my favorite ways to preserve food is by canning. Once the jars are safely sealed, you may keep your harvest for several years without electricity.
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Hot Water Bath vs Pressure Canning
High acid foods, such as fruit, pickles, and jam may be preserved with a hot water bath canner. The acid in the food, along with proper processing, prevents the growth of bacteria in the jars. Low acid foods, however, need to be processed in a pressure canner to safely preserve them. Meat, poultry, fish, and many vegetables fit in this category.
How To Pressure Can Food
To pressure can food, you’ll need the following items:
- Pressure canner
- Canning jars
- Screw tops and new canning lids
- Food to can
- Canning funnel – not necessary, but helpful
Before you begin, make sure you read the instructions for your pressure canner and check the condition of the canner. If the gasket is warped, cracked, or feels sticky, you should replace it. (Note – some pressure canners are made to operate without a gasket. These are nice because you never have to replace the rubber gasket!) Be sure that the overpressure plug is in place and the pressure vent tube is clean. The pressure cooker/canner will have an automatic pressure control that is either weighted or a dial. Either one is fine but it must be a selective pressure control, allowing you to choose the proper pressure for canning different foods. The weighted control should allow for 5, 10, or 15 pounds of pressure. If you have never used your pressure canner, or if you are concerned that it may not be in good condition, contact your local extension office. They may be able to check the canner and answer your concerns.
Preparing Your Food and Jars
Check to see how many canning jars your canner will hold. The jars may touch. My Mirro pressure canner holds 7 quarts or 9 pints. Once you know how many jars you can process at a time, you have a better idea of how much food to prepare.
Wash the jars thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Make sure there are no chips or cracks in your jars. Wash the screw tops and follow the manufacturers directions for preparing canning lids. (*Note – Ball lids are now made BPA free and they should not be heated…read about it on here on Living Homegrown.) Prepare the food you will be canning. You may can beef, pork, venison, fish, chicken, turkey, or other poultry with a pressure canner. You may also can soups, stews, chili, and sloppy Joe mix as long you use the longest processing time with the highest pressure required for any of the foods in the mixture. For example, chicken soup containing chicken, broth, potatoes, celery, and carrots will need to be processed for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure for quart size jars – the requirements for canning chicken, which has the longest processing time.
Beef, pork, venison, and lamb will need to be boned before canning. Chicken, turkey, rabbit, and duck may be canned with bones in, but I prefer to remove all bones prior to canning. Fish may be boned or canned in large chunks, bone in.
- Precook meats until medium done
- Cut in chunks, shred, or dice and fill jars
- Add stock or water, leaving one inch of head space
- Add salt – optional
- Rabbit and poultry may be raw packed – cut up, pack in jars, and cover with water
- Wipe rims with clean cloth, place canning lids on jars and tighten screw bands by hand
- Place jars in pressure canner
- Add required amount of water to canner (check instructions for your canner)
- Helpful Hint! Add a splash of vinegar to water in canner to prevent mineral buildup if you have hard water.
Follow these processing instructions for the foods you are preserving. Begin timing when canner reaches proper pressure (control begins to jiggle).
Process all of these foods at 10 pounds of pressure (15 pounds if your elevation is over 1000 ft).
Beef, Pork, Venison, Lamb
- Process pint jars for 75 minutes, quart jars for 90 minutes.
Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Rabbit – with bones
- Process pint jars for 65 minutes, quart jars for 75 minutes.
Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Rabbit – without bones
- Process pint jars for 75 minutes, quart jars for 90 minutes.
- Process pint jars for 110 minutes.
- It is not recommended that you can fish in quart jars.
- Salmon should not be cooked first. Pour hot water over salmon and scrape dark color from skin.
- Process pint jars for 20 minutes, quart jars for 25 minutes.
- Skim all fat from stock before canning.
Processing Procedures, Hints and Tips
Once your jars are packed, settled into the canner, water is added, and the lid is properly in place, you will need to heat things up. Turn the heat on (I find it works best to slowly heat the canner up, preventing liquid from escaping from jars from the uneven pressure) and wait for the lid to lock into place and steam to escape from the vent tube. Allow it to steam for 10 minutes, then place the weighted gauge in place (if this applies to your canner). Wait for the pressure to build up, causing the gauge to jiggle. Begin timing at this point. The gauge should jiggle 3 times per minute or slightly more. If it is jiggling a lot more than this, slowly adjust heat down.
Tips and Hints:
- Do not use a smooth glass cooktop for canning. The burners are not designed for this purpose. You may purchase a separate burner to use for canning, or you may set up a propane burner outside.
- Do not make big adjustments to the heat under your canner as it is processing. Swings in temperature will cause uneven pressure between the inside of jars and the canner.
- It is advisable to do a ‘wet run’ before you start canning foods. Put the recommended amount of water in your canner and process without any jars of food inside. This will allow you to get the hang of canning without potentially ruining any food or breaking jars.
- It is normal for a small amount of steam to sputter from the overpressure plug as the pressure builds up in the canner.
- If the lid isn’t locking into place, you may need to adjust it so that the locking mechanism lines up properly. Use potholders to protect your hands.
When Processing Time is Up
It is very important that when the processing time is finished, you allow the canner to cool slowly until the pressure has returned to normal. Do not put your canner in cold water, remove the pressure gauge, or try to open the lid. You may damage the canner, cause the liquid inside jars to bubble out, or you could scald yourself. It may take several hours for the pressure to slowly stabilize so that you may remove the lid.
What Went Wrong?
Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Here are some common problems encountered when using a pressure canner:
- Pressure never builds up – gasket may need to be replaced, over pressure plug may need to be replaced, locking pin may not be lined up properly, burner may not be hot enough.
- Pressure gauge stops jiggling – water inside canner may have all evaporated off (may cause burned scent), food may have stopped up vent tube. Turn burner off, allow canner to cool and pressure to drop to normal before opening canner to investigate.
- Liquid escapes from jars, leaving larger head space than recommended – canner heated too quickly, cooled too quickly, or heat levels were not stable during processing. If jars are sealed, the food should be fine to use. Freeze jars if you are concerned about safety, making sure that there is enough room in jar for liquid to expand.
- Jars don’t seal. Review instructions on box of canning lids and make sure you are following them. Most lids need to be heated in water before placing on jars.
Do you pressure can your own meats, poultry, and fish? Do you have any helpful hints for best results?
For more information, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation.