With the resurgence of home gardening and preserving food at home, more and more novices are trying their hand at putting the bounty away for the winter. Food preservation can be easy, but, in order to be done safely, specific guidelines must be followed to ensure the food "put up" is safe and wholesome. Be sure to learn these guidelines before trying to preserve food, especially if you don’t have the skills and knowledge necessary. Following unscientifically tested recipes and methods can be dangerous, plus wastes lots of nutritious and expensive ingredients, supplies and time.
This is the first in a series of articles designed to introduce you to the basics of these food preservation methods: Pressure Canning, Boiling-Water Bath Canning, Freezing, Jelly and Jams, Pickles and Relishes, and Drying. The different methods will be highlighted, giving the basics of each method and directing the readers to more information.
Workshops will be available this summer in many County Extension Offices in Alabama. We have updated the Master Food Preserver program and will be offering workshops in different locations. To find out the details on workshops offered in your county, call your local County Extension Office or contact the Regional Extension Agent for Food Safety/Preservation/Preparation covering your area. Regional agent contacts are:
-Angela Treadaway: (205) 410-3696; atreadaw@ aces.edu; Blount, Cullman, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair & Walker Counties
-Bridgette Brannon: (256) 508-9067; huttobf@ aces.edu; Crenshaw, Pike, Covington, Coffee, Geneva, Dale, Henry & Houston Counties
Steam Pressure Canning
The steam-pressure canner is used to process foods under pressure. The temperature most-often used is 240° which is 10 lbs pressure. A pressure canner is the ONLY safe method for processing low-acid foods like vegetables, meat, poultry and fish. The high temperature achieved with pressure destroys spores of bacteria causing botulism, as well as other types of spoilage. Failure to use a pressure canner when preserving low-acid foods can result in botulism which is often fatal.
In order to steam-pressure can at home, you must have a pressure canner. Pressure canners come in many brands, sizes and styles. Most hold seven quart jars, but some are tall enough to double stack pints and process 14 pints at a time.
Some have dial gauges, which look similar to a clock with hands, and must be watched closely during processing to make sure pressure is held steady at the recommended level. The gauge on dial-gauge canners should be checked annually for accuracy. We provide this free service at the Extension office, just call and make an appointment. Other style pressure canners have weighted gauges. It jiggles or rocks a certain number of times per minute, to regulate the pressure. Be sure to follow your manufacturer’s instructions.
The style you choose is up to your personal preference. There are more weighted-gauge canners available on the market today than dial-gauge canners. Most pressure canners have a gasket (rubber ring) in the lid to ensure a firm seal. With proper care, the gasket should last many years, but should be replaced if stretched, cracked or otherwise damaged. Most hardware stores have replacement gauges and gaskets.
Some people are fearful of pressure canners. You do need to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, but, by doing so, a pressure canner is a very safe piece of equipment. Never leave a pressurized canner unattended. Before each use, be sure the vent pipe is free of debris. Make sure your gasket, gauge, safety value and weight are present and in good repair. When processing, make sure pressure never exceeds 20 pounds. When finished processing, turn off heat and allow canner to cool slowly and naturally. Do not jiggle weight. Do not run under cool water. After canner has cooled enough for the pressure to have dropped to zero, remove weight (open vent). NEVER open canner lid before removing weight. Allow steam to escape several minutes, before opening canner lid. Carefully tilt lid away from you, to avoid steam rushing in your face. Never leave a canner sitting overnight to cool down either. The food will spoil and the lid may be impossible to remove.
Preparing the food and packing the jars is the same for boiling-water and pressure canning methods. Remember to remove air bubbles, using a plastic utensil, refill with liquid if necessary, before placing lid and ring on jars.
|Home canning is one of the most rewarding tasks you can do for you and your family. Making sure you follow recommended procedures and recipes are so very important.
There are free handouts on all methods of food preservation available at your local county Extension office or online at www.aces.edu under publications.
Pressure canners vary, so you must be familiar with your manufacturer’s instructions. The following are instructions for using pressure canners in general:
1. Place rack inside of pressure canner.
2. Add two to three inches of water. Heat to simmer.
3. Place jars on rack immediately after filling. Lock canner lid securely in place. Increase heat to medium-high setting until steam flows steadily from the petcock (air vent).
4. Exhaust steam from the canner for 10 minutes. This step is often forgotten or omitted. This step is necessary to drive all excess air from the canner.
5. Place weight on petcock. It will take approximately five minutes for canner to pressurize. After the gauge indicates recommended pressure is reached, gradually adjust heat to maintain pressure for the entire processing period. Begin timing processing at this point. Set timer for the recommended processing time.
6. After processing period is complete, turn off heat. Allow the canner to cool naturally. DO NOT remove the weighted gauge or open petcock until the canner has depressurized and returned to zero pressure. Remove gauge or open petcock. Let sit a few minutes, allowing steam to escape. Carefully unlock lid and lift it off, being sure to tilt away from face, so steam will escape away from you. Let canner cool 10 minutes before removing jars.
7. Using a jar lifter, remove jars from canner. Set jars upright on a dry towel or cutting board, away from drafts, leaving one to two inches of space between jars. Allow to cool for 12 to 24 hours before checking seals.
8. When jars are completely cool, press the center of the lids. If it is concave and does not give to the touch, then remove the bands. Wash jars, rims and lids to remove any residue. Label as to contents and date. If a lid is not sealed, the product can be immediately reprocessed by reheating the contents, replacing the lid and reprocessing the full length of the recommended processing time. Reprocessing often causes an overcooked, mushy product. I recommend considering an alternative storage method for jars not sealing like refrigerating or freezing.
9. Store sealed jars in cool, dry, dark place, for up to one year for optimum quality. Ideal storage temperature is 50–70°.
Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at (205) 410-3696 or your local County Extension office.