Tuesday, June 2, 2020

SHTF Self-Education: Introduction to Pressure Canning

My interest in pressure canning began when I became concerned about the meat stored in our large chest freezer in the event of an extended power outage.  We had just purchased a custom butchered quarter cow and half hog, as well as game that my husband had procured and free range poultry he earned by volunteering at a local farm on chicken slaughtering days.  It would be impossible to cook/save all of it in the event of long term loss of power.  Anxious about potentially losing such a significant investment, I began seeking ways to diversify our food storage.

Investing in a quality pressure canner is investing in a piece of American history.  The number one seller of pressure canners in the USA is the "All American" brand produced by the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry founded in 1909.  Their line up of pressure canners has stood the test of time, is heirloom quality and range in size from 10 qt to 41 qts.

As an aside, the Wisconsin Foundry also sells a line of electric sterilizers (autoclaves). In a pinch, your pressure canner could be a substitute autoclave to properly sterilize instruments, equipment and bandages.  Autoclaving sterilization works by steam and pressure to kill infectious organisms, which is the function of a pressure canner.

Many people are intimidated by pressure canning because of anecdotal stories of pressure canners exploding, causing burns and other injuries.  If the manufacturer's directions are strictly followed pressure canning is a safe and practical way to preserve meats, vegetables and fruits for long term storage and an excellent addition to your personal knowledge skill bank.

Another benefit of pressure canned foods is that they are already cooked and ready to eat, minimizing the time and energy required to reheat (if desired).  They can also be eaten cold out of the jar. 

An unforeseen benefit in our home now that our children are grown and have left home is that it is easy to bulk prepare ready-to-serve meals of favorite recipes in servings for 2 or 4 by canning in smaller jars. It allows smaller families or singles to enjoy the cost savings of buying and cooking in bulk without the waste if large quantities are not consumed quickly and/or fall victim to "freezer burn". I was also pleasantly surprised at just how tender pressure-cooked meats are - saving me a lot of time not having to pre-marinate leaner or tougher cuts of meat.

They are also a great way to "gift" comfort food to away from home college students. Nothing is more soothing than Mom's version of beef stew or venison chili and it can be reheated in its packing jar by hot water bath in a pinch.  They are also an ideal storage food for SHTF prepping as once processed they can be safely stored in the pantry without the need for refrigeration.

Meatloaf, teriyaki meatballs, beef brisket, rosemary pork and fajita chicken are the most requested homemade meals by hungry homesick college students
Initial expenditures for a pressure canner and supplies (glass jars, lids, rings, tongs, etc) can be a bit daunting but the majority of the canning supplies are reusable, reducing the long term outlay.  I had a pressure canner on my "prepping wish list" for quite some time and I don't regret the investment. It has more than paid for itself in the food savings, time savings and anxiety-reduction.

Jar manufacturers caution that the round sealing lids should be discarded after opening the jar, as should any metal sealing rings that are dented or otherwise not in good condition.  I found the best price for my All American pressure canner on Amazon, but you have to price-shop within the site for the best deal.

All American Pressure Canners are classics and heirloom quality.
Proudly made in the USA at Wisconsin Foundry

Amazon Link to "All American" Pressure Cooker/Canner

Amazon Link to "Presto" Brand Pressure Canner (glass cook top compatible)

Amazon Link to Pressure Canning Tools

Amazon Link to Replacement Jar Lids & Rings

Pressure canning helps you save money and reduce the urge to order in unhealthy and expensive take-out or fast food knowing there is a wholesome meal in a jar waiting for you at home.  It is ideal for diabetics or others who are trying to control their sugar intake (all processed foods have added sugars to achieve the "bliss point" to drive sales ) and avoid metabolic syndrome. Home canning bone broth is far more nutritious and flavorful than anything found on the supermarket shelf. It is an excellent way to process game meat, as the final product is very tender.

Elk or venison, once dressed, is super-easy to pressure can!
Meat can be either processed raw or cooked and then canned. My personal preference is to "raw-pack" half chicken breasts, pork tenderloin medallions, beef brisket strips, venison, meatballs and meatloaf.  Just for preference reasons, I precook pulled pork or carnitas (beef or pork) and ground meats to preserve the texture and then process the already cooked meats. During the summer, I oven roast our homegrown garden tomatoes with carrots and onions with garlic, sea salt and olive oil then blend/puree and process for a delicious, healthy marinara sauce.  It tastes like a jar of summer sunshine when you open it in the middle of winter - no supermarket sauce can compete!

Some other items you will need:  glass or pint jars - I find the wide mouth jars easier for canning meats - and a set of basic canning tools such as a wide mouth funnel, jar lifter, jar lid magnetic.  These are usually sold in a kit and I have a link to one type above.

Amazon Link for Wide Mouth Canning Jars, but also available at your local hardware or farm supply 

The Ball jar company website is an excellent resource for beginner canners (both hot water bath and pressure canning).  In addition to how-to videos, they also have recipes and timing guidelines. (The owner's manual that comes with your pressure canner will also have instructions and guidelines on how long/at what pressure to safely process various items). In my opinion, it is worthwhile to buy a print copy of the published canning/preserving Ball book for home reference as it is more complete than what is provided on the website and you can make margin notes (remember - trial and error!) and has lots of good quality illustrative photos if you're a visual learner.

Free Resource:  You can download the most recent and up-to-date USDA home preservation guide book with recipes for free HERE.

Many agricultural university or county extension offices have material online or offer classes on canning. A wide variety of easy to understand "how to" videos on YouTube will get you safely started on pressure canning.  As a word of caution, I've seen some videos on YouTube that have given advice that I wouldn't recommend - you are best to start out by following the videos produced by a university or county extension education office (there are hundreds!)

Some caveats about pressure canning:  the type of pressure canner you buy to preserve foods is not the same as the small one you buy to cook meals in.

***2020 Edited Update:  The "InstaPot" pressure cookers that are very popular these days are NOT safe for pressure canning for long term food storage.  They are not designed for that purpose.

It takes some time to get the "feel" of how tightly to seal your jars - in the beginning, I stored my initial projects in the refrigerator until I was confident I had it "down" and a safe seal for storage in the pantry. Trial and error is to be expected.

You can not safely pressure can on a glass-top stove.  You can safely pressure can on a wood stove however!

**Update:  A Reader commented that the video does show the presenter pressure canning on a glass cooktop.  I have an "All American" pressure canner, and the manufacturer states it is not safe for glass cook tops.  Likewise, our glass cooktop user's manual at our vacation home states that it is not safe to use a pressure canner.  Pressure canners can not be used on induction glass tops.  Read your manufacturer's instruction booklet before proceeding on a glass cooktop.  Safety first.

The Presto Pressure Canner manufacturer states that they believe that their products are safe to use on glass cooktops, which the following caveats, including verifying with your cooktop owner's manual whether or not pressure canners can be safely used:
Heat Source Acceptable: All Presto® Pressure Canners will work on electric coil and regular gas ranges. Current models of Presto® Pressure Canners will also work on glass/smooth top ranges.
Although Presto believes that current pressure canners are acceptable for use on glass top stoves we recommend that you check with the owner's manual for your range or the manufacturer before using. Please be mindful of the following tips for successful use of the canner on your glass top range:

  • Use the largest element, making sure that the surface of the canner bottom contacting the element does not extend more than one inch outside the element.
  • Do not place the canner on two heated elements at the same time.
  • Make sure that the canner does not boil dry.
  • Do not use the canner on the elements for several hours at a time.
  • To prevent scratches to the glass top make sure that the bottom of the canner does not have scratches or areas that are rough, and do not slide or rotate the canner on the smooth top range.
  • Clean the cooking surface with a ceramic cook top cleaner prior to and after using the canner.
Not Acceptable: Presto® Pressure Canners will not work on induction ranges because the canners are made of aluminum. Electric hot plates do not provide sufficient energy to heat a canner for the boiling water method or for pressure canning. Presto strongly discourages using outdoor LP gas burners in excess of 12,000 BTUs. These types of burners cannot be adjusted to a low enough setting to maintain the recommended amount of pressure, which can result in damage to the bottom of the canner.

Source:  Presto Canning Basics Info Page

It is advisable to apply a thin layer of lubricant on the metal-to-metal seal edges to make it easier to open the canner when the food has finished processing. All American recommends olive oil but not most other vegetable or seed oils and I use a thin coat of Vaseline petroleum jelly which is also permissible.

It is recommended that the round seal that goes on top of the jar be discarded and not reused once the jar has been opened (they are inexpensive to purchase) but the metal sealing rings may be reused if they are not dented or damaged.

Once the jars have cooled (listen/look for the "pop" in the center of the jar lid to know you've successfully sealed it properly) remove the outer metal sealing rings before storing in your pantry.

**Very Important: It is also important to test your pressure gauge annually - many cooperative extension offices or community canning centers offer this service.

Discoloration inside your pressure canner is due to mineral deposits in your water and does not affect its utility. Depending on the source of the stain, you can try cleaning it with a boiling solution of either vinegar or cream of tartar dissolved in water.  You can also safely scrub your aluminum pressure canner with a soap impregnated steel pad (like Brillo).

Pasta, dried beans, lentils and other pulses do not store well long-term and should never be processed uncooked.  Your owner's manual should be pretty clear on that. As a consequence, when I make soups for example, I do not add in the pasta or rice but cook that separately and add it to the soup when I am ready to prepare it. I have successfully canned beans and the texture did stand up after pressure cooking (ie: they weren't mushy).  You CAN safely pressure can beans that are already fully cooked, such as pinto or black beans in a chili recipe, or lentils or other beans in a soup recipe.
**Thanks to a comment that pointed out my miscommunication I need to clarify - fresh garden beans can well ;-)

Community Canners were a wonderful source of institutional knowledge and a vital community building resource throughout America
Another wonderful resource is a community canning site.  These used to be ubiquitous during WWII and in the post war period, but now are generally only found in rural areas with a long history of self-sufficiency.  Many of these community canning sites offer hands-on guidance and "how-to" advice.  They may also offer the alternative of metal cans if that is your preference and often will sell the supplies needed on site at low/minimal cost.

Here are two lists for potential community canning locations; I can make no personal representations or warranties about the information contained within (ie: if still operational, costs, who may use them) but it could be a good starting point and an excellent group activity if you are developing a Prepper Network. Some are only open on specific days or times of year and require a pre-arranged appointment to access.  

List of Community Canning Resources from Pick Your Own website

List of Community Canning Site from Frugal Living. published January 2016, so it should be pretty accurate and up-to-date.

Good Luck and have fun - now that I've learned how to safely pressure can, we've sold our giant chest freezer and I feel more secure with the knowledge that our expensive animal proteins won't be lost in a major power outage.

You may also enjoy reading my previously published post on things to think about when planning a garden to supplement your food pantry:  Beginning a Prepper SHTF Garden - Avoid the hazards

Yours in Liberty,

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Prepperdaddy said...

Great article. I love to cann and have been doing so since the 80's when I got my first taste of home canned Tuna, no going back after that! Right now I have 700 to 800 pounds of meat in storage, 200 in just tuna, and it will last a long time if kept cool and in the dark. Most meats cann be canned, although I have been able to cann hot dogs for some reason. Have successfully canned bacon and recently canned hamburger that was great on tacos. A note about canning ckicken, I started canning chicken by just putting a couple of breast in a car and canning. It worked fine but the end result, one big chunk of chicken, did not look very appetizing. I now put my cleaned chicken breasts on trays and bake for one hour at 250, then cut into 1 inch cubes, jar, top with distilled water and cann for the appropriate time. Much better appearance and I think taste. I get my chicken from Zycon foods on the net. One last thing, when I first started canning meats I would add broths, gravy, etc. No more, I found that it limits to some degree what you use the meat for.

Anonymous said...

I pressure can pole and bush beans and successfully store them up to five years. I do prepare them as Dilly beans so they are quite spicy but wonderful. Sunshine in a can is an apt description we use as well, nothing like a jar of homemade salsa on a 30 below January night.

Stop shouting... said...

Hi, thanks for your comment, I have noted in the post. I was referring to dried beans, fresh garden/snap/string beans do can very well !

Anonymous said...

The American canners are great, it is tempting to get the largest size available. Do make certain it will fit in the space between stove & range hood, and is not so large in diameter as to preclude proper placement on available burners. Obviously not a problem outdoors.

And, as your results indicate, no need to remove seeds from tomatoes prior to canning - a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

Why do you say one can not can safely on a glass top stove, which contradicts your embedded video? According to the video, it depends on your type of pressure canner, one type can do glass top stove, but not on open fire (which is the one she was using), and one can do open fire, but not glass top stove. Is the video wrong? I am ignorant, have never pressure canned, but do have a glass top stove.

Stop shouting... said...

Hi Anon @ 1:26 -
I have an "All American" pressure canner, and the manufacturer states it is not safe to use on a glass cook top. I have a gas range. Thanks for the question, I will create an "update" in the blog post.

I am told that the "Presto" brand canner is safe for glasstop use, but I don't have any first hand experience with this brand.


from the Presto website:

Acceptable: All Presto® Pressure Canners will work on electric coil and regular gas ranges. Current models of Presto® Pressure Canners will also work on glass/smooth top ranges.

Although Presto believes that current pressure canners are acceptable for use on glass top stoves we recommend that you check with the owner's manual for your range or the manufacturer before using. Please be mindful of the following tips for successful use of the canner on your glass top range...


Hope this addresses your question.

NCScout said...

Great Article! There's a lot of great stuff contained here, ytz4mee.

fjord said...

If you are starting to pressure can after only water bath canning, realize that your processing time is not only longer (usually much longer), but you aren't going to be doing consecutive batches due to the time it takes after processing -- you have to shut the gas off and leave the canner to release pressure on it's own. Unlike water bath canning, where you just remove the jars and put more jars in for processing immediately, you have to leave that canner sit there til the pressure releases on it's own, usually an hour or more. Reserve multiple days for canning large batches or get more than one pressure canner. I like to pressure can quart jars. Seems more economical with the amount of energy you're going to expend.

If you use propane on a delivery service, make sure your tanks are full (or not close to empty) before starting this endeavor. Learned that the hard way. Luckily, I have a backup.

If you have hard water, putting a splash of white vinegar in your canner is going to cut down on mineral deposits. I have a white powdery residue on all my jars, we have really hard water, even with using white vinegar. I just wash the jars before storing. Storing them wrapped in newspaper if they are exposed to light or the boxes that new canning jars come in handy with the cardboard dividers. Also, periodically I check the jars and flip them over to sit on their lids. Spices tend to settle to the bottom, making whatever not have consistent taste.

When canning meat, you want to remove as much fat as possible. As someone else mentioned you can leave spices/gravy out and add them before prep. The front quarter beef cuts do better with canning. Realize the texture is going to be a lot different, but not make a difference if you're desperate. Also, it's going to look different and possible unappetizing, which isn't going to matter if you are really, really hungry, which most people in the modern world haven't ever experienced, so it might take some getting used to. Think using that meat in soups, stews, chilis, pot pies, not sitting down to eat a steak type dinner when using home canned meat.

fjord said...

Goodwill, estate sales and flea markets are a good source for pressure canners/water bath canners, although if you're a newbie, you'd be better starting with a new one, they come with directions, and make sure they are complete with all parts.

Prepperdaddy said...

Great comment from fjord. In a pressure canner you do have downtime as the canner needs to cool off enough to depressurize. I cook all my meat for 90 minutes at 10 to 15 pounds. A typical cycle takes over 2 hours. Also, make sure you change the HOT water in the canner before you put more jars in, it will still be hot enough to fracture jars that are at room temp. A note on the appearance of the meat. I have started adding distilled water to the meats I cann, beef top round (the best/most cost effective cut IMO), chicken and pork loin. It improves the appearance greatly. I don't add anything to my tuna.