From Pipi’s Pasture: The sinister pressure canner
September 4, 2015
This morning, after doing corral chores here at Pipi's Pasture, I stopped by the garden to check out the Jack Be Little pumpkins and other maturing vegetables. Once again I was reminded of our big garden at the ranch when we kids were growing up and of the canning season that lasted all summer long, into early fall.
Mom figured out how many jars of different vegetables, fruits, meats, jams and jellies, and pickled items we would need to get by until next canning season. Think of it — the number of jars figured into the hundreds!
There were jars of green beans, peas, carrots, corn, tomatoes, beets and mixtures of vegetables, too. Fruits included apples, peaches, pears, apricots, plums and even fruit cocktail. Then there were jams and jellies and pickled items. Later in the fall Mom even canned meats.
Everything was processed with food safety in mind, using whatever method was recommended for the product being canned. Mom was especially cautious about botulism so all low-acid items were processed in a pressure canner.
The pressure canner was a tall, heavy metal container with a top that could be securely fastened. On top of the lid was a dial gauge that recorded pressure. There was also a petcock or weighted gauge (I don't remember which) that was used to let off steam. When heated, the pressure that built up in the canner sterilized the jars of vegetables, killing bacteria. Each particular vegetable required a certain amount of pressure over a certain period of time, figuring in altitude, in order to be properly processed.
We kids analogized the pressure canner to some sort of sinister creature. For one thing, the canner was extremely hot. Then at various times during the processing period, the weighted gauge on the lid wiggles and jiggled, and there was a sizzling noise from the gauge and/or petcock. For another thing, Mom was always afraid that the canner would explode so she "encouraged" us to stay out of the kitchen. (Amazingly, in years to come, as a high school biology teacher, I used a pressure canner to sterilize equipment and media when we worked with bacteria. I put it on a hot plate and did the sterilizing after the kids went home.)
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I remember Mom getting the jars of vegetables ready for the canner. She would put a little salt in the bottom of each sterilized jar, pack a vegetable like green beans in the jar, add hot water, and then run a knife between the beans and the jar (to release air bubbles), clean the rim of the jar, and then put on the lid that was setting in hot water. After the ring was screwed tightly over the lid, she put the jar in the canner.
I remember that Mom put water in the bottom of the canner, but I don't remember whether the jars were in a basket or on a rack. I don't remember how many jars could be processed at once, either, but once Mom had them all in place, she secured the canner lid and the processing started. The sizzle, sizzle, jiggle, jiggle sounds commenced, and we kids hoped that there wouldn't be an explosion.
When the processing time was up and the canner had cooled, the jars were up out on the kitchen counter to cool. We listened for the "ping" sound that occurred when the lids sealed. The next day the lids were inspected to make sure they were slightly concave in the centers, proof that the jars were sealed. If not, they had to be reprocessed, starting with the repacking.
The sinister pressure canner was used over and over again, all summer long. It took an incredibly long time to get everything canned for the winter months ahead.