Food preservation, such as canning, allows for fresher food, few preservatives, a connection to the local food economy and cost savings. Basically, canning in-season foods provides an affordable, high quality product. An increase in preservation popularity means many people are ready for the next step after jams and fruit. Pressure canning can be intimidating – yet with a few simple steps – taking the leap from water bath to pressure canning is a snap.
Fresh fruits are suitable for water bath, or boiling water, canning because of their high acidity content. Fresh vegetables, meats and other low acid foods must be pressure canned due to the potential for botulism, a potentially fatal bacterium that multiplies in environments without oxygen, such as sealed canning jars, and is not destroyed by boiling water. Properly using a pressure canner which reaches a temperature of 240 degrees not only destroys botulism spores but provides a safe product that can be stored and used throughout the year.
Pressure canning requires a specialized pressure canner with a pressure gauge, valve and racks. Before using any pressure canner, whether new or used, have the rings, seals and gauge checked. Gauges, even those purchased off the store shelf, are often 1 to 1 ½ pounds off in measurement. The Clark/Washington State University Extension Master Food Preservers offer pressure canner testing for a minimal fee.
The most important aspect of pressure canner safety is taking the time. Clean and prepare the kitchen, and use highest quality meats and produce for the best quality end product. Follow the directions exactly in books such as The Ball Blue Book or So Easy to Preserve which details food preparation, processing times and pounds of pressure required. Visit any of the national Master Food Preserver sites for additional suggestions which provide safe, tested recipes. Above all else remember that following the instructions provided, using quality product in a clean kitchen, and watching and waiting patiently for the processing time to elapse will lead to a safe, delicious product that can be used throughout the year.
For Canning Fact Sheets, canner testing, and canning hotline information visit www.clark.wsu.edu or call 360-397-6060. Kendra Pearce is owner of Urban Farm School, found at www.urbanfarmschool.com.