All About Canners! Part 1 of 2

All About Canners! Part 1 of 2

By servantheart, Editor At Large

Lee made me do it: A primer on pressure canners

Well, actually, Lee INSPIRED me. Thanks, Lee – I think?!! (Just messin’ with ya’!)


A Word About Water Bath Canners

We are here to talk about pressure canners, but I do want to first bring up water bath canners. Water bath canners are sufficient for high acid foods, the most common of which is tomatoes. However, even tomatoes need a little help; depending on the variety and the soil in which they were grown, they may or may not have sufficient levels of acid; that is why it is important to add lemon juice when canning tomatoes; salt is a matter of taste – there isn’t enough salt to have any effect on food preservation, but lemon juice guarantees proper acidity. Use one-half teaspoon per pint, one level teaspoon per quart. However, it needs to be BOTTLED lemon juice, not fresh; bottled is much more consistent in pH (power of hydrogen – the measure of acidity in an aqueous solution), and more likely to produce a safe product.

A water bath canner should NEVER be used to can foods calling for pressure canning. NEVER. No arguments. I don’t care if Grandma did do it. Water boils @ 212 deg. F.; the minimum standard pressure for home canning any food, at any altitude, is 10 lbs. – this is 240 deg. F. See the difference? Yeah, you’ll hurt people like that, or worse.

Pressure Canners

Now to pressure canners. Let’s start with the most frequently asked question. No, you can not blow it up. Not even if you try; not unless you process dynamite, or something stupid like that – as long as there is an overpressure plug or device or “hole”.  Some older models do not, but very few; those – you can blow up, but you have to work hard at it. It would take a lot of heat for a long time. Even my 1930’s KwikKooks have overpressure plugs; they are metal, and don’t look like a modern one at all, but, that’s what they are, and, unless you let them get stuffed up, they do their job, very well.

Never run a pressure canner dry. It will warp the bottom, and, once the bottom is warped, it is useless for canning. Ask this question before buying a used unit online.

Yes, you will need at least one rack that fits; if you are buying a really old one without a rack, good luck finding one that fits. I do a lot of “borrowing” of racks and that works out fine, but do be aware that with very old units, you may not be able to get replacement parts. Example: the Presto/National # 7 is a common 16 quart unit; I can find a dozen of them for sale on ebay right now. They hold 7 quarts and 8 pints. Replacement parts are easy peasy. But, the Presto/National # 5, the 12 quart, is nearly impossible to find replacement parts for; I had to buy a whole second unit just to get the part I needed for my #5. I have both units, and use both.

Presto was originally National, so, you will often see both names used; either way, they are the same unit, and use the same replacement parts.

Some of the older units (Presto/National) have wooden handles; unless you want to oil them constantly, avoid them – go with the black bakelite handle models, instead. But, if you have a wooden handle unit, olive oil works just fine; just oil them down after using.

The All-American reigns supreme as “the” Cadillac of canners. I have yet to meet an A-A canner who does not love this piece of equipment. But they are very expensive, and parts do break – mostly the hard plastic handles used to tighten down the lid to seal before canning, and reversed to release the lid after a cool down period. It is mostly loved because it is gasketless. If you have one, get spare part knobs, too, before IHTF.

There are less expensive alternatives. I have two 1930’s Kwik-Kook canners that have nothing but heavy metal parts; all canners were at one time gasketless. I use my Kwik-Kooks; they both do the job very well. One is huge, and will hold up to 16 pints or 14 quarts at a run, and the other is a 16-quart (that refers to how much liquid it will safely hold); the 16-quart will run 8 pints or 7 quarts at one time. A 16-quart is a very common size produced by all canning manufacturers.

Then there is the backbone of the canning industry – National/Presto! Presto has been manufactured out of China for about 20 years now. These canners are thinner, lighter, and do not hold up as well as their vintage American production ancestors. I have two newer ones. The dial gauges are plastic, not metal, and they break a lot. I do not like them, and do not use them except to demonstrate them at classes, i.e., “don’t buy this”!

I much prefer my vintage 1970’s American-made Presto units; I have two that are 21-quart units in the circa-1970’s harvest gold. I did not seek out this color; it just “happened”.  They come in plain chrome, too. They are rock solid and use the original pressure gauges. I do replace the gaskets and overpressure plugs about once a year, but I can year ‘round – there is no “season” for canning when you’re a homesteader!

The pre-80’s units are heavier and do a better job of even heating, so they are not as labor intensive. Once you get to know your equipment, which means your canner and how it works with your stove, you can pretty much set it and it will hold pressure very well. I find the newer, thinner models need more “adjusting”; therefore, more watching, therefore, more labor intensive.

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