The difference between water bath canning and pressure canning is getting the temperature of the contents of the jar high enough to kill off any bacteria. You get the temperature high enough with a pressure canner. If you don't get the temperature high enough then the food will not be safe to eat. So knowing that your gauge is accurate is extremely important.
You also want to make sure that your seals are sealing, your lid fits property, and there is nothing clogging up the steam vent on the top. You can get all of these things checked in a jiffy at your local Extension Office.
I called up my local office and asked if I could get my gauges checked and they said, 'Sure! Come on in." There is a gal who teaches classes and provides this service. So I ran right down. She was terrific and I learned a lot. The process just took a few minutes - I should have taken pictures but I didn't think about it. Rats.
Since I didn't have any pictures of the process here is an unrelated picture of Nicholas.
LOOK at his huge paws!
I took the entire lid of both of my pressure canners. You can take the gauges off - but I took the whole thing. She had a gauge that is calibrated by the Fancy Pants Calibration Office (I honestly don't remember who provides it)....and a bicycle pump. Yep. How fun is that?
She put my lid on the contraption and increased the pressure. I could see the standard gauge and my gauge registering the pressure... that's when I saw that my gauge was off!
Fortunately, my first gauge was within 2 pounds of accuracy - so this was OK. But she cautioned me to make sure I ran the pressure a little high to be extra careful. However, when it got to the upper reaches - 15 pounds - it was really off. This is a problem.
Meat is canned at 15 pounds of pressure so my first gauge was out of the meat canning business. Was there a way to adjust it? Nope. I was sad. Improper canning can have dire results so I'm not taking any chances. Fortunately I can get a replacement steam gauge for my pressure canner here.
However, my second gauge was right on the money at all pressures. What a relief!
Next she checked the lids to make sure the handles were secure. A-OK on that. Then she checked the little rubber stopper thingy on the top... yep those were fine also. Could she see thru the steam vents? She checked this by holding it up to the light. Yep that was perfect also. In truth, I always check this at home. Just hold the lid up to the light and peep in - you should be able to see daylight thru the tiny hole.
We also checked the rubber seals - that is the big rubber ring thingy that fits inside the lip of the lid. The first one was perfect. It didn't show any wear, was intact, and was secure - meaning it was kind of hard to spin around in the brackets that hold it in place. She also bent the seal over her finger to check for any cracks. It was perfect. The first one got and A+++.
The second seal (remember I brought in two lids) did not get an A+++. The first thing she did was try and move the seal around in a circle while it was in place in the lid. It just spun around easily. Oh-oh.... Nope that one needs to be replaced. That is easy enough also - I can order this replacement seal.
She gave me some forms that stated the condition of the canner and results.
And that was it! I think it took about 10 minutes and that was mostly because we were chatting.
If you are uneasy about canning you should call up your local extension office. The gal I talked to holds classes to teach people the right way to can foods. She was so much fun that I would love to go to some of her classes even tho I know most of the basics of canning.
I asked her some questions that I get about canning... here is what she said:
OFG: What is the number one mistake people make with home canned foods?
Canning Gal: Probably not knowing when to use a pressure canner. Also using non-standard methods because "That's the way Grandma used to do it."
She said she often works with older folks who might be holding on to old school ways. One thing to remember is that we seem to have more "superbugs" so not using proper canning protocols is just bad business.
OFG: What else?
CG: Using unapproved recipes. There are a lot of books out there that are just wrong - and also a lot of information on the internet that is not up to proper specifications.
Most extension offices provide recipes and instruction sheets for how to's. This is also a terrific site that provides a lot of information. I'm always a little suspect when I see canning recipes online. So I always double check with an extension office. To make sure you are in the right place just look for a URL that looks like of like this: http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/canning. See the "extension.umn.edu? Yep. That is the ticket. Your state has a website that has approved canning recipes.
OFG: OK, here is the "uncomfortable potato" question..... what about providing home canned goods to friends, family....or say.... to a potluck at a local church?
CG: We recommend that you use home canned goods for home. However, if you want to give gifts then jams and jellies are a good option because they are easy to do and hard to do incorrectly, provided that you follow an approved recipe.
Here is the backstory and it serves as a good warning. There is a community nearby that had a terrible situation where someone brought potato salad to a potluck....made from incorrectly home canned potatoes. People got botulism - some were critically ill and someone died. While botulism is very rare - it happens. It looks like a stroke or some other neurological problem. Fortunately, a local doctor had seen a case of botulism early in her career and was able to properly diagnose and treat the folks. If not for her quick action the situation could have been much worse.
OFG: So how can we guard against that?
CG: Always follow proper canning processes and approved recipes. For low acid foods we recommend that you boil them for 10 minutes. This may not destroy all food borne contaminants but it is a good secondary precaution.
She also said that in these cases it's "eater beware." So if you find yourself in suspect circumstances... you can always gracefully decline. I know folks who do not practice proper food safety in their own kitchens. Someone I know regularly scares the dickens out of my with their "cooking" practices. Never feel bad about being polite and just pushing food around on your plate.
If you aren't scared off and you'd love to get into canning there are some terrific resources out there to help you on your way. You can find a list of my canning tools here. Here is a quick list:
* I have not one but TWO Presto 23-quart pressure canners.
* Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.
* I like this set of tools because it comes with a timer.
* Lids, lids, lids, and more lids.
Today I'm having another pickle day... and even more tomato sauce. And I'm canning with confidence now that I know my gauges and canning parts are inspected. My replacement parts are on the way.
Happy Friday everyone! Have you gotten your pressure canner checked out?
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