It is crazy to think that just a mere 18 months ago, I hadn’t canned anything in my life. No water-bath canning or pressure canning of any kind. Oh sure, I would ‘help’ and watch Grandma jar up applesauce, peaches, apple butter, jams and jellies; but it wasn’t me doing it. Not really. I had ideas, theories, and daydreams of the house smelling like Grandma’s did and shelves lined with beautiful, colorful jars of homemade goodness. There was only one thing marring my perfect little vision: Pressure Canning.
To me, like the great majority of people, the idea of using a pressure canner was intimidating. I was scared I would blow the house up or at least the kitchen. People would read the newspaper about a lady who had a hole blown through her from a piece of slag off of a pressure canner and my family would live in shame and have to move to the hills. Of course, I knew better but it did take a bit of time to get used to the idea and researching helped a lot. Eventually, the desire to learn how to preserve my own food outweighed my hesitancy to try. Instead of jumping right in to using a pressure canner though, I went another route that I have since learned is actually quite common: water bath canning. A few friends of mine agree it is the ‘gateway’ to pressure canning and yes, you can get addicted but more on that later. 😉
Water bath canning is a method of food preservation where the contents of the jars are raised above 212 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes (or more) to kill any bacteria found in high acid fruits and vegetables. When the jars cool, a vacuum seal is created that keeps air out and the food safe from bacteria entering and contamination. Basically, you are getting everything up to the same temp, killing off any bugs and letting it seal to preserve the food! There is no ‘special’ equipment really needed for this project either. You just need a pot large enough to fit the jars and water inside with a lid on top! Of course, it is easier if you have a canning tool kit and a water-bath canner but you can get by without them!
The first thing I tried making was jams and jellies. It was exciting and fun and made the house smell incredible! Without getting into the “how-to’s” of making jam, when it comes to the water-bath canning aspect of the project, it is pretty straightforward. If you have all of your supplies at-hand, it goes smoothly! Take a jar out of the hot water, fill it, wipe the rim and put a lid and band on, place back in the water. Repeat until done, put the lid on the pot and boil for the recommended amount of time! Once done, take the jars out and let them sit overnight to finish sealing. In the morning, wipe the jars down to get any extra food off (including the lid and band!!) then date and store them! I did a couple batches of jams and jellies (I am better at making jam I learned haha!) and then decided to try pickling food.
I about fell over with how incredibly easy it is to pickle food. It is easier than making jams and jellies – faster too! I fell in love with pickling food. Garlic, cucumbers of course, beets – you name it, I couldn’t wait to pickle it up! With so few steps and supplies needed, I found myself asking why more people didn’t do their own pickling. Why would they pay when you can save money and have a superior product by doing it yourself?! I understand time and money may be a factor, along with no interest in such domestic activities, but those aside, why not? It made me wonder if it was because of the same fear/intimidation factor I was dealing with. Once I came to that conclusion, I sat down and wrote a straight-forward primer on how to pickle food that will teach a complete newbie how to do their first batch in an afternoon.
In less than 2 years, I went from a newbie canner to a confident canner and you can, too!
Anyway, now that I had done some water bath canning, I knew it was time to dive in and try my hand at pressure canning. The newbie canner title was coming off. I started with green beans from the garden. Yes, I was nervous about ruining my first harvest of green beans out of my first garden by pressure canning them for the first time but I figured it was worth the risk because I was going to follow those instructions perfectly. I was very thankful for the previous water bath canning experience I had done because I already had some muscle memory built up on the flow of filling hot jars, wiping them clean and getting them into the pot before they cooled too much (I prefer to fill the jars one at a time so there is less of a chance they will cool too much before I get to them).
The green bean canning went perfectly. Yes, I was nervous during the whole process. I would stand slightly off to the side and peek at the pressure gauge. If the sound of the steam was different, I worried something was wrong. I worried about jars breaking and losing the hard-grown food. I worried the gauge wasn’t reading right and that the whole thing was going to blow at any minute. When it was time to take the lid off, I was worried there would be some kind of weird backpressure and it would again send steam and boiling water everywhere. Then there was the (normal) worry that the jars wouldn’t seal and I had done everything wrong and wasted it all. 18 months later, I belly-laugh at myself. I spent more energy worrying about what could and might happen than the pressure canner did to preserve my beans! The truth is that it takes some serious modifications to make the safety features on pressure canners fail and build enough pressure to explode. It takes work to make it go wrong. Sure, there is some minor risk involved but walking out your front door can be dangerous, too.
From there, I moved on to meats. Veggies are quick and very easy but I wanted to be able to pressure can meats! I found a great ebook on Amazon called, “I Can Can Beef!” It walked me through the steps (and reasons why) you absolutely must pressure can beef and again, how easy it is! It is also a lot of fun, at least to me. I have jars of oregano/basil/garlic beef, plain beef, garlic/onion beef – the combinations are limitless! It has helped me greatly to get further and further away from the boxed and canned foods from the grocery store. I have noticed a definite decrease in our food bill as well. I shop the sales harder than I ever have before on meat and fresh fruits that I cannot grow yet. I am really looking forward to the upcoming hunting trip and already have visions of canned venison on the pantry shelves.
I no longer fear pressure canning. I have a healthy respect for it, though! Kind of like the ocean or fire – both have the ability to harm you but if you are smart and respectful, you lower your risk. Pressure canning is no different! Understand how it works and follow the rules and you will be just fine. On a personal note, I learned a great majority of what I now know from Simply Canning which is a blog dedicated to all things canning and I absolutely love it. Sharon is the amazing woman who has built a veritable treasure-trove of how-to’s, recipes, tips and tricks for just about any project your mind can come up with. She even has a book called: Simply Canning (the book)! I very highly recommend taking a few minutes and checking the site out. I look things up multiple times a week and am incredibly grateful for sites like this. It took me from a 100% newbie canner – to knowing just enough to be dangerous – to where where I am now: A Confident Canner.