Canning – Let’s Talk Equipment

 

By servantheart

O.K., so, we talked about water bath canners and pressure canners a little. A couple of quick notes that could prove important.

ANY large pot with a tight-fitting lid can be used as a water bath canner, as long as you have a rack that fits the bottom. My racks from 21-quart units fit nicely in the bottom of a large stainless steel stockpot I own; this stockpot has a nice, tight-fitting lid. Although I do have a conventional (spatterware) water bath canner – well, more than one – you know me! (2 is 1; 1 is none; and 3 makes me happy!) – but I prefer the stockpot; it is heavier, has an even-core heat bottom, and just works better, IMHO. I bought this in the late 1980’s; it is made in China (unfortunately), but, it’s been used enough that whatever toxins were in the metals or manufacturing process have already poisoned us. That explains a lot…oh, never mind!  Cool

A boiling water bath canner must be deep (tall) enough that it will allow not less than one inch of water covering your jars, plus four (4) inches for “boiling” activity, so that no one gets hurt, and it doesn’t boil out of the pot.  So, five (5) inches from the top of a quart jar, minimum clearance.

Some types of water bath canners do not have a flat bottom; these pots should NOT be used on an ELECTRIC burner stove, as they will not heat evenly and safety of canned product can be compromised.

The size of the stove burner you use is important. Most stoves will have at least two different burner sizes. The canner should not extend more than two (2) inches in any direction over the burner.

SOME smooth cooktops will allow canners to run without problems, but most will do it for a while, then crack. Check your manufacturer’s recommendations, and go to Plan B, if necessary (don’t have a Plan B?). See the first post on canners and make a Plan B.

Where Ya’at?!

Use the right equipment for the job at hand. ALL low-acid foods MUST be canned using a pressure canner; each recipe will need a specific amount of pressure (not less than 10 lbs. in a pressure canner, which is 240 deg. F); you will also need to know the elevation of the location where you are canning. If you are canning at my BOL, for example, which is way up in the air, you would have to add 2 lbs. pressure to every recipe, whereas in my city place, less than a 1,000 feet altitude, I would need only 10 lbs. pressure for that same recipe. Increasing it would probably give me a mushy and less than palatable and attractive food product, in the city location.

If you don’t know the elevation where you live (where y’at?! As we say in the South!), check it at sites like this one:  http://www.daftlogic.com/sandbox-google-maps-find-altitude.htm Just put the zip code in the search window; you’ll get longitude, latitude, etc.; the last number you see will be feet above sea level at the zip code entered. This is your “altitude”.  Note that this is NOT a secure site (there is no “s” after http in the address); however, no google-affiliated site is secure, and they probably already have your location; this is one time I don’t worry about it.

If you have a GPS, that will tell you. That isn’t secure, either, so, what the hay!

Check Your Equipment

So, you’re going to pressure can. Check your equipment. Make sure you can see through the vent pipe (it is not blocked). This is the pipe on which you set the pressure cock or pressure regulator  or “jiggler” (three names for same thing); make sure it  has not been blocked by food residue, etc. Hold the lid up to light, look through the underside. If it’s blocked by anything, clean it out before using. Make sure the overpressure plug or safety plug/fuse (sometimes called a “lid safety fuse”) is in good working order. If it is still pliable (not hardened plastic or rubber), and it is not “sticking up”, it is good. If it is hard, replace it. Older models may have a metal safety plug/fuse; if it is damaged, replace it; you will probably be replacing metal pieces with rubber.

Check your jars, even new ones, to make sure there is no damage to the rims; you do this by lightly running a finger gently across the mouth or rim of the jar; if there is even a “fleabite”, you’ll feel it. Process jars in dishwasher or hand wash in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly, after checking all rims for possible damage; even new jars can have fleabite chips, so, check those, too.

Make sure the bottom of your canner is not warped (should not be – just a safety check!).

Make sure you have the correct size rack to fit the bottom of the canner you choose to use for this particular canning job; no part of a glass jar should be touching the bottom of your canner while processing. This is asking for trouble.

Jars: What You Need to Know

Jars are an integral part of your equipment. Let’s talk about them a bit.

Most canning will be done in either pint or quart (glass) jars. There is also a half-gallon (2 quart) glass jar which I can get in my area. I do not recommend them. First of all, few families need or want 2 quarts of a product at any one time. You can just as easily open two quarts as one, in the rare occasion when you might. More importantly, however, there is no proven scientific standard for home canning in half gallon jars. In other words, the folks who do this for a living, testing jars, food, processing times, results, etc., have not done so with half gallon jars. There just isn’t enough demand to warrant the time and resources involved in such a study, apparently. So, bottom line? We have no idea how long you would need to process which foods in order to avoid botulism. That should tell you what you need to know. It’s safest to simply not use them.  BTW, they ain’t cheap!

It matters which BRAND jar you purchase, IMHO. “Golden Harvest” is the cheapest brand you can buy, for a reason. You’ll see all kinds of arguments on the internet about them being the same as Ball and Kerr, all manufactured by the same company, etc.  They are not. How do I know? I contacted the parent company and asked. Just to put those untruths to bed, here’s the skinny on it. Jarden Corporation owns the companies that produce Ball and Kerr; these are their money makers. But anybody who has ever been in business knows that large corporations need something to lose just the right amount of money for tax write-off purposes. That’s what Golden Harvest does for Jarden Corp. It is my understanding, based on my conversation with their rep, that Jarden does not own the manufacturing company that produces Golden Harvest – they own the “distribution rights”. They lose money on it, and that’s the plan. That should tell you everything you need to know about this product.

All three, as I recall, are out of Indiana. Ball and Kerr are produced by the same manufacturer;  Jarden does not own them, either, but does own the distribution rights, just like GH. Golden Harvest is produced by a different Indiana manufacturer, if I remember correctly.

I will tell you that I teach, “don’t use Golden Harvest jars”. Every jar I have ever lost to thermal shock breakage has been with Golden Harvest jars. They are not worth the “cost savings”.

What is “thermal shock” breakage? That’s where the temperature differential between the jars and the contents of the jars and the water temp, when combined with increasing pressure inside the canner (as it builds up) have enough differential to cause the bottom of the jar to literally break off in a usually clean circle, and the whole bottom drops right off the jar. This usually occurs because one or the other was too hot or too cool: either the jars and contents went into water that was too hot, or the too hot jars went into water that was too cool.  Keeping your jars/product hot for hot packing is easy: just keep them in a 250 deg. F oven until ready to fill; keep product hot, and don’t let water in canner “boil” prior to adding jars; in other words, be careful to keep the temps of jarred product and water in canner at safe temps that will compliment one another. Not too hot and not too cool for either one.

Point of interest: do you know why they stopped “making” blue jars? There was a particular type of sand from the Indiana Dunes along the Great Lakes that had some mineral element in it that produced the blue color glass. Unfortunately, no studies were done to find out “what”. When that particular dune was environmentally destroyed…er, used up…the next dunes did not contain this element and were not blue.

Blue jars are re-emerging, but, if they’re made in China (I have not checked the origin), I would NOT use them for food! The Chinese are infamous for toxic ingredients in everything they produce. You can buy the originals for collecting in lots of places, but the glass is too old to can with safely. Just admire their beauty; daisies look wonderful in them!

Glass does have a “shelf life”. It does degrade, with time; how glass is cared for has everything to do with how quickly it degrades. If you’re going to store glass in a basement or attic, first wrap them with a paper or plastic bag, if possible, then put them in a cardboard box, and stuff  the box around them with insulation, even just newspaper. This will delay degradation. Just setting them in a hot attic or cold, damp basement, unprotected,  shortens their useful life.

If glass has turned “purple”, contrary to what you may have heard, that does not necessarily indicate that it is an “antique”; it does, however, indicate that the glass has been damaged by the sun’s UV rays; don’t buy it, and certainly don’t try to can food in it. It will break.

For this reason, I don’t recommend buying jars from yard sales, etc., unless you know the owner and know how old they are, and how they were stored.  How much food can you afford to lose because the jar breaks in the canner?

Lids and rings (metal):

There are basically two types of lids and rings available. The most common, and least expensive, are metal. The metal caps have a thin rubber ring applied to the inside; this is what creates the seal with your jar, assuming nothing gets in the way. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you attempt to can more than once with the same metal lid. It WILL NOT seal properly. Botulism (food poisoning) is very serious business, y’all.  The metal rings are used to hold the caps in place while they process.

Metal caps that have been previously used in pressure canning BUT DID NOT SEAL –  CAN be recycled for dry goods in glass jars; they just cannot be processed (the act of canning) more than once. If you process a jar and it does not seal, you can reprocess most foods (even though they will be overcooked; but they are still food!); just clean the jar rim, boil a fresh cap and ring for 30 seconds, and process it again for the same amount of time. I usually don’t re-process; I just put unsealed jars in the ‘fridge and use the contents within a few days; the point is, you can – but use a NEW metal cap to reprocess. If you have a new metal cap that arrived on a new jar that shows obvious damage, don’t try to process with it; save it for dry goods storage but mark it (I put an x on the lid with markers) so you know not to process with it.

Even though books and websites tell you to do this, I say NEVER tap the center of a metal cap (there is a visible “button” area on most of them – leave the “button” alone)  to test it for sound, to determine whether it properly sealed. Tap only on the outer edges of the cap. It will give you exactly the same sound, whether it is or is not sealed. Sometimes, if the air is not fully forced out of the jar, you can force the button in the center to collapse, which is a seal, but you still have some air in the jar; this can lead to botulism. AIR MUST EXPEL ON ITS OWN TO GUARANTEE THE SAFEST POSSIBLE SEAL.

I see a lot of posts and even books telling canners to boil these rubber-ringed caps for up to 15 minutes – seriously! Try that some time, and see what happens. Yeah; rubber ring boils right off.
Guess how I know?!!  You are not trying to sterilize caps and rings by pre-boiling; they will be sterilized, like everything else, during processing. What you are trying to do is make sure they are absolutely clean and free of anything that might prevent a proper seal, including stray but minute bits of rubber. 30 seconds of boil time for both caps and rings is MORE than sufficient. Bottom line: overboiling leads to separation of rubber from metal, and it WILL NOT seal.

Tattlers:

Raise your hand if you know about “Tattlers”! Oh, I see some of you do! Tattlers are plastic lids and rubber rings you use many times before they need replacing. Just how many will depend on the skill of the canner and how they are stored. I do have some; I bring them along and show them at classes. But, honestly? I haven’t actually canned with them yet. I know how; I just haven’t done it, other than to test. If you do a lot of canning (and I do), they can get very expensive, very quickly. They also call for a slightly different approach. They do not make that wonderful “whump!” sound I count after processing jars (a symphony to a canner’s ear!); whereas you can gently tap the outer edges of a metal cap and tell by the sound whether or not it is sealed (even without looking at the center button), not so with Tattlers. You are supposed to push up on the rim, after they are completely cooled; if they do not “push”, they are sealed. Yeah, that kind of worries me, too. However, while I do have a good supply of metal caps, rings, and jars, I also have  a supply of reusable Tattlers. Should IHTF AND I run out of metal caps (which will take a while)  I’ll still be able to home can with Tattlers.

Here’s the Tattler site link for you: http://www.reusablecanninglids.com/

Have YOU used Tattlers? Tell us about your experience with comments below (please!).

Some people remove the rings after processing. When my jars are fully cooled, I remove them, wash jars and rings, let them air dry, then REPLACE the rings on the caps. Sometimes I will replace them the next day, as the metal needs to be fully dry, or they will rust in place. Why replace them at all? Because even with a box between stacked layers of jars, the cap can be damaged; a tiny opening is all required for an air leak, which is all required for botulism growth. But DO remove and wash rings and jars; if you have “messy foods” such as fatty meats, fat can get between the cap and outer ring in the canner; if it dries in place, you’ll have a heck of a time getting it off – plus that little bit of food residue WILL attract ants and critters to your pantry.

There are just a few tools you will need. Most of them are not expensive. Your canner will likely be your highest expense.

One of my favorite new “toys” is what I call “my magic wand”. I bought it at China (Wal) Mart; I’m sure it was made in China; it’s a plastic handle with a small, round (but powerful) magnet on the end. This device is quite handy for removing metal caps and rings from hot water, which you will do every time you can! Cost? About $3.00, U.S. Get more than one, because your friends are going to want one!

You will need a “jar funnel”; these are all made of plastic these days, it seems. This will keep your jar mouths clean as you fill your jars. Metal ones can be found, but not usually “off the shelf”.

A set of tongs might come in handy.

A “jar lifter” is required for safely lifting processed jars from a hot water. Get the newer ones with the plastic protective handles; the old, all-metal ones can burn hands.

Cookie cooling racks are handy for cool-down, but, some people just use towels. I like racks on top of towels, to catch the drip/mess.

Never throw jar boxes out; these are “tools for storage”.

And one good canning book, such as “The Ball Blue Book”, so you can check for correct recipe processing without the internet.

There are a lot of cool and fun canning utensils, tools, and toys out there. The basics are all you need.

O.K., next time…how do you use this thing? Let’s can something!

 

 

 

 

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