Practicality of the Pressure Canner

Make the pressure canner your ally in the kitchen for year-round food preservation.

| September/October 2017

  • Pressure canning is great for storing leftovers after a large feast.
    Photo by Getty Images/Karimala
  • Pressure canning is a cost-effective method for preserving batches of soups, stews, broth, and meat.
    Photo by Getty Images/RyersonClark
  • Prepare large batches of broth for canning in fall so you’ll have plenty on hand come winter.
    Photo by Getty Images/Photosiber
  • Save money on food when you can your own meats, soups, and broth.
    Photo by Getty Images/vkuslandia
  • A pressure canner can be an invaluable piece of kitchen equipment.
    Photo by Victoria Redhed Miller
  • Be sure your pressure canner's locking mechanisms are in good working order.
    Photo by Victoria Redhed Miller
  • Annually check that your pressure canner's gauge is working properly, or replace it every year before canning season.
    Photo by Victoria Redhed Miller

I grew up in Seattle, Washington, in a family with eight children. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and she has always cooked virtually everything from scratch. Grocery store sale ads appeared in the Wednesday newspaper, and Mom would plan a week’s worth of meals based largely on what was on sale that week. I was interested in cooking when I was quite young, and Mom often let me cook for the family. I’m so thankful that I learned to cook the way she did — economically and in quantity.

The high school I attended in north Seattle required girls to take home economics in 9th grade. Frankly, I was bored most of the time in this class; I already knew how to make bread, bake an apple pie, and boil pasta. I will always be grateful for that class, though, because it was there that I learned the basic principles of canning. I don’t remember exactly what we canned (probably some kind of jam), but the idea of safely preserving perishable food to be consumed weeks or months later was a kind of epiphany for me.

Throughout my high school years, Mom and I, and sometimes my sisters, did a lot of canning every summer and fall. We always had a vegetable garden, and the old pear tree by the back porch yielded a good crop every other year. The whole family would pile into our Ford van and head out to the U-pick farms near Seattle: strawberries in June, raspberries in July, and blueberries in August. Dozens of jars of beautiful jams, jellies, pears, tomatoes, and pickles crowded the pantry. Later, Mom got a pressure canner, and the shelves filled even more quickly with marinara sauce, homegrown green beans, and other low-acid foods.

Mom always said two things when we proudly surveyed that stockpile of delicious food: “This makes me feel rich,” and “This is my idea of convenience food.” She’s so right about that.

The need to can

In 2006, my husband, David, and I moved to our off-grid farm in the foothills of the beautiful Olympic Mountains, about 21⁄2 hours northwest of Seattle. With a lot of enthusiasm and garden space, but only about a cubic foot of freezer space in our small propane refrigerator and freezer, I quickly realized how much I was going to be relying on my canning skills and my pressure canner. This skill became even more important when we began raising free-range chickens, turkeys, and ducks. When it came time to slaughter older hens and extra roosters, being comfortable with the pressure canner was a huge asset.

Big benefits

There aren’t many tools I have around the house that have exactly one use, but my pressure canner is one of them. For all its advantages, it does have some drawbacks. While not prohibitively expensive (about $100 to $150), it is one more thing to buy. Compared to water-bath canning, pressure canning usually involves much longer processing times. Also, because of the high temperatures involved in pressure canning (10 pounds pressure = 240 degrees Fahrenheit), some nutrient loss does occur. On the other hand, for the same reason, meat becomes quite tender, something to consider when canning meat from older birds or other livestock.

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