All About Canners! Part 2 of 2
By servantheart, Editor At Large
If buying a used unit, know what you are doing before you buy it. Does it use a gasket? Count on needing to replace it. Most replacement gaskets also come with a new overpressure plug for that model. Make sure it has the counterweight, or, you may have trouble getting the one to fit the vent pipe for that model. That’s the doodad you drop in place to help regulate the pressure. A good, solid model will not rock and make noise unless you have too much pressure built; this is a warning sign. A pressure cooker must rock and release pressure as it works; a pressure canner should not need to do that.
If using a dial gauge canner (the only kind I use) please make sure the gauge needs to work correctly in order to safely can food. You can take your unit to your local county extension office; most of them have the ability to check it for accuracy. However, if it is a really old unit, they will likely tell you they can not check it. I guarantee I’d get this answer on my 1930’s Kook-Kwik canners. They work, and I know my equipment well enough to know they work. It is O.K. to use a canner with a dial gauge that is “off” in reading, as long as it is NOT off more than two (2) degrees, AND you compensate for that while canning. One of my 1970’s Presto units is like this; I have used it for years in this manner; if the recipe calls for 10 lbs. pressure (I am well below 1,000 ft. altitude), then I process @ 12 lbs. pressure. If the gauge ever changes so that it is off by more than 2 degrees, I will replace it.
Do be aware that the replacement parts, including gaskets, are all coming out of China. I have bought multiple gaskets for the same canner at one time, only to have one that did not fit properly, so it would not seal and I could not use it, but another from the same shipment worked just fine. This is a good time for: “2 is 1; 1 is none; and 3 makes me happy!”.
I order replacement parts from online sources. These include:
and ebay and Amazon.
The majority of sellers on ebay, etc., have no idea how a pressure canner works, or what it should look like. They just hope to sell it and make a few bucks. So you see used units in all kinds of conditions, from “never used much”, to “what happened”? Know what to look for or consult someone who does. If ebay, pay only by Paypal for the buyer protection. If there is any damage to certain parts of a canner, it will not be safe to operate. Some parts are replaceable, some are not.
If your canner is sputtering, leaking, etc., you do not have a proper seal. You must take it off the heat, let it cool enough to open, find the problem and fix it, or, forget about it. Food processed like this will not kill contaminants and subject the one eating it to food poisoning.
The Ball Blue Book is a common “go to” source for canning information, but, even it has a few things to say that I will not teach, because it’s just wrong, based on my own experience; but, mostly it’s good stuff. You can get one at most China (Wal) Marts.
Do not try to use a pressure cooker as a pressure canner. Mirro makes a cooker that can be used as a canner; it’s the one with the weighted gauge in 5/10/15 pound “holes” that fit the regulator onto the vent pipe. This is do-able, but, not recommended.
The amount of pressure and time you need to can any given product is determined by: (1) what you are canning (low or high acid?); (2) the altitude where you live (over 1000 ft increases pressure needed by 2 deg. increments; and (3) whether you are canning pints, quarts. etc. If, for example, you need 12 lbs. pressure for X amount of time to safely can that food, where you live, in the size jar you want, then you can not do that with the Mirro; your only choices are 5, 10, and 15 lbs. pressure.
I do not recommend canning in half gallons (yes, you can buy these jars) , as there is no scientific info on proper times and temps per altitude, for any given kind of food. If you choose to can in half gallon jars, that’s your business, but, do know it’s a crap shoot.
What to do about that 12 lbs.? Well, you can not safely can at 10 lbs. pressure; if the recipe calls for 12 lbs., there is a reason for it; it has been scientifically tested and found to be the correct pressure at which to process that particular food, at that altitude, in the size jar you want. Anything less will not guarantee food safety, as it may not be hot enough long enough to kill any potential toxins or botulism wannabes. Ever had food poisoning? Yes, it can kill. But even if it doesn’t, you will, at least temporarily, wish it would.
So, you can process at 15 lbs. pressure. That should do it, right? Sure. If you like mush. 12 lbs. pressure means 12 lbs. pressure. You will need a dial gauge to know where that is, and keep it there.
Most books and sites tell you to take your canner to your county extension office and have it tested once a year to make sure it is safe. I do teach this in my classes, but, do I do it? What do you think? I know how it should act, and, when it doesn’t act right, I replace it.
What size canner should you choose? Nothing under 12 quarts, as they are not considered safe for food processing if they are smaller than 12 quarts – which makes me wonder why All-American sells a 10.5 quart model but, they do. Don’t buy it. I have a 12 quart Guardian Ware (vintage) that is perfect for a leftover pint or more of soup, stew, etc. During dinner, I process my jars (in the dishwasher). After dinner, I pack and process the leftovers. DH will grab a jar, take it to work, remove the metal parts, nuke it, and have it for lunch. He has refused to eat from the company cafeterias for years, because he knows what’s in Mama’s cookin’. Yes, he’s spoiled; it’s my job and I’m good at it. The 70’s harvest gold 12 quarts show up on ebay from time-to-time, as well. Prices will vary, so, shop carefully.
Back to what size canner. A 16 or 17 quart is the most common size; they will hold 7 quarts and 8 pints per fill. A 21 or 22 quart will hold 8 quarts and 9 pints, I believe. A 30 quart, well, now, that’s a pretty big one, but nice for large batches. You must have three (3) inches clearance between the top of the jars and the inside top of your canner lid.
You do need one tall enough to allow for double-stacking pints. You will use a rack at the bottom for the first layer of jars, and a rack between layers. Water does not have to cover the jars; do not use less than 3-4 inches, however; if double-stacking, make sure water is about half full in canner.
What kind of stove will you can on?
The heat source you will can on (most likely a stove) is an integral part of your canning equipment. It is possible to home can on most smooth tops; however, it is a very bad idea, and not recommended, unless you are ready for a new stove. Even radiant heat stoves can not take the prolonged heat necessary for most canning jobs indefinitely; most will do it for a while, but will eventually crack.
A gas flame is your best option for home canning; it gives you the best control over the heat, which makes your job easier.
Electric stoves work just fine, as long as they are not smooth top units.
I know people who have built “outdoor kitchens” just for canning, because they could not afford to ruin their smooth cooktop. These can be rudimentary; a tent with a gas grill and a single burner; or a Cajun cooker (though these are very hard to regulate, as well, and not recommended, particularly for a novice). Some people have purchased used gas stoves and set them up in outdoor kitchens; concrete or stone pad, with a simple roof or awning overhead.
Next: jars, tools, and how to use your canner properly.
What specific questions do you have for me?
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