Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Doing the CanCan

I have been wrestling with the idea of canning all summer.  I've read a lot about it, seen a lot of blogs where people extol the virtues of canning your own food and claim it's so easy.

In my searching, I learned that pressure canning is safer than water bath canning.  I also learned that the pressure cooker not only does it faster, it does it hotter.  And that lovely bochulism  bacteria like to live in food until it gets to 238 degrees and a pressure cooker magically goes to 240.  Perfect.

I've read so much conflicting stuff, my head is ready to explode faster than the pressure cooker could.  It seems that even the marvelous pressure cooker can make everything safe, according to some.  This means that you should follow a USDA approved recipe to make sure you don't kill anyone when you give these gorgeous gifts at Christmas.

Well, I debated and debated all summer.  I finally caved and bought a pressure cooker from Fagor that also had the canning tools necessary so you don't burn your fingers trying to juggle the glassware.  And there some weird plastic "tool" that you run around the inside of the jar to get rid of bubbles before you put the covers on.  This mystifies me because it's not even flexible.  It's like running a butter knife around the jar.  And I don't know how it's getting out any bubbles.  But, anyway.
If you have your mother's pressure cooker, you probably have something that has a rocking weight that sits on top and goes ch-ch-ch as it cooks.  These new fangled things don't have them.  They seem kind of chintzy with their plastic lock and dial, but they are  the new rage.

My original intention when making this hefty purchase was to make grape jelly from the luscious bounty that nature gave me this summer and to somehow can my favorite raw salsa in a way that still allowed for some crunch when I open it later.

I'm not even a fan of grape jelly, but I figured if nature wanted me to do it, I better get cracking.  I think k-ster has a deal with nature because he LOVES grape jelly.

Well, that takes care of that.
Thanks to cute little masked creatures that refused to look from this bush as I took a picture, I have no grapes for jelly.  They've shaken off just about every one of them and now it smells like a winery just as we step out the shower door out there.  They weren't even all ripe, so I hadn't seriously though about when I would pick them.  No need to worry about that anymore.

 So, on to the salsa.  I cannot get a clear answer, so I gave up on the salsa for now.  Instead, I decided to use this batch of tomatoes for spaghetti sauce.

 They were really starting to over ripen, so I needed to make a decision.  I decided to use the recipe for spaghetti sauce that came with the pressure cooker since it is supposed to work.

 Spaghetti sauce never looks pretty in the pot.  And all of those tomatoes boiled down to two stinkin' pints.

Some of the things I read online said you must sterilize the jars and lids.  Other places said if you are pressure canning, don't bother sterilizing.  I might be a tad bit of a worrywart, so I sterilized them.

While I was waiting for the sauce to cook and jars to sterilize, I removed all of the lace from this shirt because it look ridiculous and made my hips look a tad large.

I got 2 loads of laundry out on the line.
 I did a lot of dishes.  I got the recycling ready to go to the dump.

Good Housekeeping called and wanted an interview, but I told them I was far too busy with my domesticity for that.
So, it came time to fill the jars.  The funnel that came with the package is actually a fantastic idea.  Did you know that glass gets HOT to the touch when you pour boiling liquids into it?   Me neither.  That blue stick to the right is a magnet so you can pull the lids and collars out of the boiling water.  Nifty,  but not really necessary.  The blue handled things between the jars in the background is the jar grabber and is by far, the best invention I've see this week.  You can just pick up a jar out of the cooker and not burn yourself or do any kind of hot potato juggle.

The part about wiping the tops before putting the lids on always seems vague to me.  Do I dip the cloth down the inside of the jar a little to get any residue away from there too? I wish I knew all of these answers for sure!

And we're off.  It's always a good idea to practice safe cooking.
After making up some of my own rules about what was not clear in the directions, the process was over.   Here are my first two little jars of bochulism.  

Sadly, when the jars came out, they had some residue on them. I wasn't sure what to do.  Again, conflicting reports online.  Some places said no way, you must reprocess them.  Some said they were fine if the tops were definitely sealed.

I waited until they were cool and one was definitely not sealed.  The top came right off.  The other was definitely sealed, but I'm a little nervous about this, so I popped the top and redid them.

The second time through, they seem to be perfect.  I think I did not leave enough headroom the first time.  Everything said one inch, but the second time, I lift like 1.5 inches and it seems to have worked.

There are lots of scary parts to this.  Like, I'm not sure at which point I am supposed to start the timer.  And I'm not sure what sounds my pressure cooker should make.

After going through 2 processes with the tomato sauce, I think I know what sound is right on the cooker.  And my brain says to start the timer when a little steam comes out of the steam thing once I add the weight.  There should be some steam, just not a large white cloud of it.  And i think it should be slightly hissing the whole time.  It just doesn't make the ch ch ch of my mother's.

Now I'm running around wondering what else I can can!  I am not really a canned vegetable person.  In fact, I am not at all a canned green bean person.

I definitely want to can applesauce.  But first I need the apples.  I will be on the hunt for the next couple of weeks to find local apples that are not too sweet.

In the meantime, I decided I should can the winter squash that Irene made me harvest.

I've been debating what to do with these.  They all had a little nick or two or 8 from some ambitious squirrels, and I wasn't sure how far they went down.  I didn't think I wanted to store them anywhere for very long because there might be some rot from the nicks.

I am not overly in love with winter squash, but I do need it to complete the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, so my plan was to keep them for one or both of those.

I found directions to can them and decided that is the way to go.  This way, they won't rot.  At least, not if I did them right.

Did you know that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you EVER can mashed squash?  Click the link.  You have to go read it.  I can't explain why it makes me laugh so hard.

So, I cubed it all up and boiled it for 2 minutes.  Again the debate.  I didn't put them in until the water was boiling, lest I overboil and cause mush.  But, when I put them in, it took time for the water to boil again.  Should I start the time once the boil comes back?

That's what I did.  So they were in hot water for like 6-10 minutes.  Blanching is another of those mysteries that no one seems to be able to answer to my satisfaction.

Then I found out that I had enough for 4 quarts, but I only sterilized 3 quarts and 2 pints.  That meant I had to do 2 separate processes because I didn't have room for 5 jars at once.

90 minutes of actually cooking for the quarts and 55 minutes for the pints.  And each time, you have to wait for the steam to all release before you are done.  And you can't do the forced method of cooling it down.

It took me two tries with one of the jars of squash but the rest seem fine.  I think my problem is that I wasn't tightening the lids enough.  It says not too tight.  But what does that mean?  

So, it looks like we might have just enough for Thanksgiving(minus the spaghetti sauce, of course).

Now if I can convince everyone that we will all be fine if we eat it....

There really is a science to it.  I do not know how people did it back in the old days.  I don't think many people were really killed by the bacteria.  So just how did they do it?

Now that I've done it, I think I get how it works.  If not, the body numbing paralysis will take over within 4 days of eating, so I will certainly know at that point.

Nothing But Country


  1. I do not have enough energy in me to can. In fact, your energy seems to be enough for many households. If you'd like, you can hop on over to my place. I sure could use an energetic hand.

    I don't can, but I love, love, love the end result. Every year our kids' school has an auction and the first thing I do is start bidding on my friend's collections of homemade jellies and jams. I can never go back to store bought again. So delicious.

    Good luck. I hope the botulism didn't find its way in to your lovely preserves.

    Also, too? The spaghetti sauce looked delicious in that pot!

  2. It is hard to figure out all the directions, but it's one of those things you sort of have to figure out while you're doing it. Each pressure canner is different too. Glad your first experience went well.

  3. Hmmm, I am dying to can salsa b/c I have some great recipes. But this seems far too complicated and messy.

    Also my mom is daily depressed at the "newfangled" pressure cookers. And double boilers (she liked her glass one).

  4. Wow, I am so impressed that you tackled this kind of project! (No wonder Good Housekeeping called... haha!). It all looks so delicious - you probably won't die from it ;D

  5. Loved the pink Hard Hat. Where are matching safety goggles?


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