How to Overcome The Fear of Pressure Canning

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At risk of being the last person to come to the party, I have been resisting the call to begin pressure canning.  It is not that I have not tried.  A couple of years ago I was ready to go; I had psyched myself up to learn, purchased a canner, some tools, and dozens of mason jars,

But then karma stepped in.  The pressure canner was too tall to fit under the hood of my range so back it went.  And I went into major procrastination mode for two years.  Let me be honest.  I have a healthy fear of pressure canning.  Yes, I can do pickles and jams but cooking under pressure?  What if something went wrong and the canner exploded or worse, I got botulism?

How to Overcome the Fear of Pressure Canning - Backdoor Survival

The time has come for me to get beyond all of that.  If you have the same concerns (okay, fears), let us step up together and overcome the fear of pressure canning.  Lucky for us, I have a number of blogging colleagues who are canning experts plus, many many readers who are willing to share canning tips. Knowing that, let us take the leap and make a commitment to learn how to can our own jars of homemade goodness!

First up on my own agenda? I purchased a pressure canner.  This time I was mindful of the size and measured first.  Did you even know that canners came in sizes?  Next, I rang up LeAnn Edmondson aka the Homestead Dreamer and asked her for some tips to help me overcome my fear.  Today I share them with you.

Overcoming the Fear of Pressure Canning

When I first got into canning, particularly pressure canning, I was nervous. Not so nervous that I would let my fear keep me from doing it, but a healthy dose of caution guided my every step. I was like most people who are new to pressure canning: my wild imagination conjured images of explosions, and shrapnel flying all over and through me that would lead to the headlines, “Newbie Killed by Pressure Canner Explosion.”

As with all things I decide to get into, it starts with research. I wanted to learn how to preserve the food that was growing in our first garden. One of the first things I learned about was the difference between water bath canning and pressure canning. Water bath canning is much less intimidating since you are effectively just boiling jars in a large pot.  I thought to myself, “Aha! if I learn water bath canning first, pressure canning will be much easier.”

A lot of first time canners go this route and it makes sense. Pressure canning is intimidating and unlike 100 years ago when pretty much every house had a canner in the kitchen, it isn’t the norm and not many people do it anymore. That means that most people just don’t know enough about them and a lack of knowledge causes trepidation and resistance to something new.

I joked that water bath canning is the ‘gateway’ to pressure canning, but there is real truth to that statement. Water bath canning is used on high acid foods (pickles, jams and jellies, etc.) and pressure canning is for low acid (vegetables, meats, etc.).  I liked the idea of making pickles so I decided that I would start there.

WOW! It was incredibly fun and very satisfying making those first batches of pickles. I then moved on to making jams and jellies and have expanded since. Needless to say, I was completely hooked and ready for the next step. Though I was still nervous about it, it was time to at least learn more about pressure canning and see if the fears I had were founded or if it was more of a fear of the unknown. The answer to that is both!

Sure, there are risks when it comes to pressure canning. There are also risks when stepping outside your front door, lighting a propane grill, and going to the gym.

If you know what you’re doing and understand what you’re working with, the risk is considerably lessened. When it comes to pressure canning, the more I learned about canners and how they function, the less nervous I was. Worry turned into excitement as I thought about all the possibilities that can come from having this one item in my food preservation arsenal.

There are several layers of safety built into pressure canners and you would have to take special measures to make them fail. I’m sure many of you are thinking about the Boston Marathon bombing that used pressure canners. Those boys went to some serious lengths to make it actually explode, the least of which was removing or disabling all the safety features that are built in, shown below.

Pressure Canner Safety Features - Backdoor Survival

Getting to Know the Safety Features of Your Canner

1.  Pressure canner lids lock in place. Even if there is pressure inside, it will not blow the lid off or come undone.

2.  For additional locking, once pressure has built up inside another lock kicks in which will not allow you (or anyone else) to open the lid while there is pressure inside.

3.  The gauge tells you what level of pressure you are at but in the event you stepped away and forgot (heaven forbid!), there is another feature called the knocker. Generally speaking, most knockers are rated for 15 pounds of pressure. When it reaches that level, the weight begins to rattle or ‘knock.’ This is an indication that “pressure is getting higher and you may want to check it.”

The only time I have ever seen or known of something that actually needed that much pressure to process was at higher elevations. Most people don’t need to go any higher than 12 pounds of pressure.

4.  The rubber plug is the last of the safety features and is the end-all, be-all of making pressure canning safe for just about everyone. Should your canner ever build up too much pressure to the point where it wants to burst, this handy little guy will come flying out and release the pressure instead.

I cannot stress this enough: you would have to actually go out of your way to make a pressure canner or cooker explode. So, unless you are intentionally trying to sabotage your canner, your worries can be laid to rest. You got this!

I highly recommend starting out with water bath canning. It can be done with a pressure canner/cooker, a ‘water bath canner,’ or simply a large pot with a good lid. It will help you gain confidence and start getting the muscle memory down for the process of sterilizing jars, warming lids, filling and sealing the lids, and of course, storing them away.

I can say from personal experience that there is little more I find as satisfying as pulling out jars of food that I processed myself. Opening your cupboard to be greeted by clear jars filled with the bright colors of carrots, green beans, and corn makes you feel secure. A taste of summer goodness from strawberry preserves or blueberry jam in the middle of winter is incomparable to buying it at the store.

The best part? You know exactly how it was processed and what is it in it.  Plus, you now have the skills to preserve food that can be stored and safely consumed even after a year or two. That is very empowering and liberating stuff!

Gaye’s Note:  To learn more about LeAnn and her website Homestead Dreamer, see About LeAnn Edmondson.

The Final Word

Now that my fear is abated, I have some additional challenges.  My garden is not large enough to produce food that can be preserved.  In addition, the farmers market’s in my area is ridiculously expensive.  By that I mean $5 for a bunch of carrots and $3 for a single tomato.  Still, I intend to can my own soups, chilies, and, thanks Ms. Jimmie (you know who you are!), meatloaf.

As a warm up, as LeAnn mentions, I am going to make pickles, or, given that the cukes are not ripe yet, pickled something.  Sure, I don’t need a pressure canner for that but I want to familiarize myself with sterilizing jars and lids and dealing with the basic process of heat sealing.  I am going to use the basic recipe in LeAnn’s pickling eBook, A Primer on Pickling: Learn How to Pickle Food in a Single Afternoon! so if things go wrong, I can blame it on her.  Just joking of course because I really do not expect a blooper.

After that, I will move on to my pressure canning using my new All American Canner.  I am so excited about learning this new skill and hope you will join me as I share my progress, for better or for worse!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye

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Bargain Bin:  Below you will find links to the items related to today’s article.

All-American Pressure Cooker/Canner:  This is the canner I purchased for myself.  It is at the high end when it comes to canners and certainly is not the only option.  Mine is the 15.5 quart size – small.  On the other hand, it fits nicely under my range hood so I am pleased.

Presto 23-Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker:  This is another good option when it comes to pressure canners.  It is so popular that it is the #1 best seller on Amazon.  I initially purchased this Presto Canner but it was too tall.

Norpro 6 Piece Canning Set:  You are definitely going to want an inexpensive canning kit.  The wide neck funnel that came with this kit is used almost daily. I just checked and I can get an extra canning funnel for less than $4.  Even if you do not plan to do any canning, your will want one of these.

The Organic Canner: Some of you might remember this book from a recent book festival.  The author, Daisy Luther, is going to be my coach as I learn how to can.  How cool is that?  I just wish she were closer so my “training” could be hands on.

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: Many consider this Ball Canning Guide to be their canning bible.  I have the eBook version but if I really get into this, am considering the spiral bound version as well.

Simply Canning: Survival Guide to Safe Home Canning:  You can read more about Simply Canning here.  This is another good one to add to your canning library.

A Primer on Pickling: Learn How to Pickle Food in a Single Afternoon!: Want to follow along as I make some pickles? This short how-to by LeAnn Edmondson will get you on the right track.  Do not let it’s brevity deter you.  This gets you where you need to go without a lot of fluff.

Granite Ware Water-Bath Canner with Rack: I still need to purchase a water bath canner but need to get some measurements first.  I have a number of existing pieces of Granite Ware so this is going to be the way to go.  I was going to use an existing stock pot but don’t have a rack.  A standalone rack costs as much as the entire kit.  Go figure.

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Comments

How to Overcome The Fear of Pressure Canning — 33 Comments

  1. I was inspired to start pressure canning after reading Kathy Harrison’s “Just In Case”, and quickly modified recipes to can family favorites. I pressure can to rely less on the freezer, for stored convenience of our family recipes, and to enhance my skill set. I write down what I did, so that I can repeat the success (or avoid another failure), though I have never, repeat never, had a seal fail. As my gardening improves, I’ll use pressure canning to preserve my harvests. I have taught my daughter-in-law how to pressure can, and we occasionally spend a pleasant and work-filled day canning on-sale chicken thighs in quarts for her growing family. I canned cooked, crispy bacon to prove to myself I could. Be prepared to spend the entire day devoted to canning — from raw food prep, cooking, sterilization, packing, and maintaining proper pressure, to clean up and that satisfying (and quick!)sound of “pock!” of another jar sealing after removal from the canner. I had no mentor, but following directions sedulously produced safe and consistent results. Go for it!

      • I use a 23 quart Presto Pressure Canner, and have had no difficulties. I know that the All American canner is the gold standard, but getting started for $80 rather than waiting for a $250 canner made sense to me. My Presto can accommodate 19 regular mouth pints (stacked) or 7 quarts (not stacked).

  2. Gaye – I had the exact same concerns about canning, and just bought a pressure canner (Presto 17 qt) as well! I haven’t actually used it yet… Can’t wait to hear how you progress – keep us posted!

  3. Thirty years ago, first canning experience….
    Made huge batches of applesauce and apple pie filling after much note taking and instructions from my sister-in-law. I proudly called her to talk of my grand accomplishment and she mentioned to just make sure all my lids were sealed and were concave before storing away. I promptly made my way to the kitchen where my little jewels were cooling and pushed down all the lids!!!! I called her back and told her what I did (just so darn proud of myself) and she said ” now the last step is to throw them all out !!” How was I supposed to know they sealed themselves!! Fear of poisoning loved ones to death has plagued me since! I will dehydrate, but canning and especially pressure canning are beyond my capacity to overcome!!!!!!

    • Oh don’t be afraid of canning.. there is an excellent book for the beginner called.. Growing and canning your own food by Jackie Clay… here is the link to get it.. http://www.backwoodshome.com/store/files/jc01.html
      I started to can just about ten years ago for a hobby and fell in love with it right away..the thing to remember is different foods need different temperatures and pressure to make sure any contaminants in the food are out.. If you follow the book.. you will learn quickly to love it.. the only problem I have had is in my pickles.. they always turn out soft not crunchy like the ones my mother canned.. I now have a different recipe for them so we shall see..

  4. HI Here is another tip that a lot of people don’t realize.. you can can using a programmable pressure cooker.. we got ours a couple of years ago and I swear use it every day for something. My new project is to do retort canning.. which you can also do in a programmable pressure cooker. what I have found to be true is to take your foil packs to be canned and make sure you put several in a basket stacked sideways this way in the process of pressure canning the seams won’t pull apart breaking the seal.http://www.powerpressurecooker.com/ there are several models of the programmable and sizes the same as pressure canners.. here is a good basic guide to retort canning. It is similar to the guide for using the pressure canner… enjoy http://www.deejayssmokepit.net/Q-View/RetortVacuumSealerBags.pdf

  5. Gaye, I’m 70 years old (don’t tell anybody) and just started pressure canning last fall. A great source of information is the Washington State University County Extension office. Here in Spokane, they are GREAT! I canned chicken when it was so cheap last year (.89/pound) and pork as well. I has been great having meat ready for a quick meal or sandwiches all winter and still into the spring. I hope you get as much satisfaction as I have gained in seeing those jars on the shelves.
    PS: meatloaf? I want your recipe 😉

  6. Just remembered something else, although you probably have been told before, ALWAYS remove the rings before you store your jars and NEVER store one jar right on top of another . If they do loose their seal, you do not want them to reseal.

      • If you keep the rings on and loose the seal, the rings can reseal the jar leaving you in jeopardy for botulism. If you loose the seal you have to throw the food out! Don’t taste it, don’t cook it. THROW IT OUT!

        • If you do have a suspicious jar that you think is BAD its really dangerous to open it to check it out. Put on gloves and treat it like you would EBOLA! honestly call your extension office STAT! you need specific instructions on safe disposal. You cannot just open and dump in the sink or toilet, you risk spreading Botulism spores all around your kitchen.

  7. I have a All American canner, still sitting in the box from 2 yrs ago, scared to try it, Ive named it THE BEAST, because it looks so scary. You have inspired me to get it out, I just need someone to hold my hand…:)

  8. Great subject, I too am scared to death of pressure canning, but I am saving for one of the All-American canners and a hot plate to use with it. I have flat top stove and according to manufacturer can’t use pressure canners on it. My grandmothers canner blew when I was young and helping to put up tomato spaghetti sauce. It went all over the place. Her sunshine yellow 20’s kitchen looked horrible, as Grandpa said to her as he came in to help clean up, who’d ya murder in there? I think if Grandma hadn’t been so upset, she’d have been on the ground laughing. I know my mom, aunt and I were trying not to laugh out loud (and make her even madder). SO am VERY interested in your progress. I have only done hot water bath canning before.
    One suggestion, if you have a dishwasher (not Shelly) run the jars and lids in the dishwasher, If yours has a heated water button use that as well while running a full wash cycle. When washer is done, leave the door closed on the jars and use them one at a time. I found that it freed up the stove from having to have a simmering pot of water on it for the lids and rings and it kept the jars hot-warm and sterile.

  9. Great post! Last year was the first year that we had a garden so I made the leap and purchased a pressure canner. The only thing I pressure canned was green beans. I was not so scared that it would blow up, but completely terrified I would kill everyone that ate the beans. They turned out fine and am hoping to add to my canning experience. I also bought the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. This book is phenominal. Love! Love! Love it!

  10. I’ve been homesteading and pressure canning for over 5 years now. I’ve got pickled peppers in the water bath canner as I am typing this. Pressure canning is an addicting habit! I’ve “put up” all kinds of stuff from my garden…green beans, collards, mustard greens, spinach, tatsoi, carrots, potatoes, okra, tomatoes, and even bananas! I buy meat on sale and can that, too. It becomes second nature after a while, and not scary at all. Keep at it, folks! Also–I invested in 500 Tattler Reusable lids and highly recommend them. The only thing I had a small issue with was when I canned some meat using them. My guess is there may have been a bit of fat escape during the canning process that prevented a good seal. So I use regular lids for meat processing, just in case. I use the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving as a guide and I make notes in it (such as One gallon of whole green beans = 4 pints canned). Happy Canning!

    • My Master Food Preserver group has been trying the Tattler lids this year. Are you wiping the edges with a paper towel dipped in vinegar before you put the lids on? And are you leaving enough headspace? with meat products its usually One inch headspace.
      The group has noticed the Tattlers tend to loose suction after a while.

      • Be sure you aren’t buying a Pressure Cooker vs a Pressure Canner. I don’t think they are safe for canning food, but call the manufacturer and ask-if they can tell you definitely yes okay if NO stay away, save your money and buy a good pressure canner- like All American or a Presto. you want somethning you can buy replacement parts for.
        Check out another safe source for cooking with it. Don’t risk your glass top stove-I Know.

  11. I started pressure canning in the 70’s when gasoline and interest rates were sky high! As newlyweds we couldn’t really afford a lot of groceries. My grandmother gave us a pressure canner as a wedding gift and we decided we had to do something to save money. We only bought meats, fruits, veggies, rice, pastas, and pinto beans that were on sale. For 40 some odd years now we eat everything we pressure-can or water bath-rotating by dates. And to some that may sound gross, but that became almost exclusively what we ate. Our 4 children and their friends ate huge amounts of our “homemade cooking” and their friends would love to come over for dinner. We would just “dump” a pint of whatever bottled sale meat we felt like eating that day along with canned potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, green beans, etc. that we had also purchased when they were on sale and then bottled. It was instant home stew. And bottled foods taste fresh – not like store cans of food. Or we would add the meat to rice, pastas, or beans. And even though all the children are grown and gone now, and we are financially in better shape than back then, that is still the way we shop and eat. We know that we will not have a problem with what we have to eat if TSHTF because we’ve been doing it for so long. And because we are better off financially since it’s just the 2 of us, we really stock up on those sale items and have a nice size larder now. We do get weird looks when we are at the checkout with 20 bags of carrots because they are on sale for 4/1.00 and the rest of the basket is full of plastic containers of strawberries for half-price Friday, but we get a kick out of bringing them home and preserving them for our future- hard times or not! Don’t be afraid to can. It’s the best thing that ever happened to us. The food is ready – just needs warming up (even bottled pinto beans)so in hard times we won’t be wasting fuel for cooking time…just warming up time. And yes, we have replaced the wedding pressure canner three times now and have one of the newer and safer models. Love your blog, Gaye!

  12. Pressure canning can be a bit intimidating if you are unsure of your skills. I would recommend that you learn from someone experienced first. If that is not available, there are plenty of videos on YouTube you can watch to get a better idea.

    But I strongly recommend that you start off with some easy recipes in the Ball Blue Book of Canning and Food Preservation.

    In there you will find an easy recipe to pressure can beans. I use this recipe all of the time and will can about 20 to 30 jars every year.

  13. Last year I took the Master Food Preservers course through Washington State University and the Clark County Extension Office. So there are some safety tips I would like to share.
    !. You need to have your gauges checked for accuracy EVERY year and EVERY TIME you buy a new gauge. If your gauge is off by less than 2 lbs. you can make adjustments to your pressure. This is really really the most important thing you must do. Contact your local extension office and they can direct you where to get it done. It’s cheap, usually about $5.00. Your food has to be heat treated 260 degrees to kill the Botulism spores. Compare that to a stay in a ICU starting at $10,000 a day or a funeral.
    2. Use only tested and approved recipes from a reliable source, grandmas old way of doing it may not meet current safety testing. Bacon is not tested or approved for pressure canning. There are a lot of things that can affect the ability of the pressure canner to penetrate the food and kill the spores. Beans for instance, need to be canned whole and in lots of water not like refried beans.
    WSU, Georgia State, Iowa, Oregon and Colorado all do a lot of recipe testing. Ball Blue Book is good, there is a new version this year. Don’t use recipes or books from before 1990.
    3. learn the steps to “venting” your canner before the pressure builds up, usually ten minutes. Then watch really WATCH your pressure gauge-if it drops you have to start all over again.
    4. WSU offers a good on-line class for Food preservation. It’s the same as Iowa State. wsu.edu it’s really reasonable, do it at your own rate and you can use it up to a year.
    5. Call your local Extension office if you have any questions- there are Master Food Preserver members and staff available to help you with your questions. They can go over your recipes and help you figure out if its safe or not, and guide you to a similar but Safe recipe. We really are talking about keeping your family health here. Don’t think Grandma is going to come back and haunt you because you tweeked her canned string bean recipe here. I would love to have my Grandmas canned beef, but I wouldn’t eat it now because it wasn’t pressure canned.
    6. Don’t risk cracking your flat topped stove with a pressure canner-mine cracked I’m guessing from water bath canning. only cost $2000 to replace. Your burner needs to fit the bottom of your canner by no less than 2 inches all around. And if you do it on a camping stove that is greater than 10,000 BTU’s you risk ruining your canner.
    7. Not all canning book writers follow current USDA standards for safety. Get to know the standards (extension office, university courses and sites, Ball etc). So you can see the errors in their ways.
    8. Don’t use old jars, they get microscopic nicks and can crack or leak, take the rings off to store. I use a wire coat hanger to store my rings.
    9. Worrying about a canner blowing up isn’t the most important thing in canning, but if it does DUCK!!!!!!
    10. You can do it, do it safely and have fun.

    • This a a fantastic list of tips, Kelly. Since I live in Washington State, I am planning to check out some of the resources you have listed. I am such a newbie at this. Do you happen to know when the new Ball Book of Canning will be published? I have not seen it.

      • Yes, Gaye I believe it is. You can also get lots of pamphlets off of the wsu.edu web site on various subjects. you can buy them or download for free. There is a good one on pressure canning. Also check if you have a Wilco store for gauge testing.

        A couple of books that we used in the course are “So Easy to Preserve” by Cooperative of the University of Georgia”. and USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. which is Agriculture information Bulletin no . 539 I think you can buy these through the extension office.

        For phamplets check out http:/pubs.wsu.edu phone 800 723-1763
        Idaho 208 885-7982 calspubs@uidaho.edu
        Oregon ph. 800 561-6719 http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/

        I’d encourage your readers to check out what their states offer, go to local events like the county fairs and look for Master Food preservers at County Extension office.

        The booklet for canning is PNW421 at the above sites. I am still learning my self and use this book to refresh my memory.

        My sister gave me her All American 22 qt canner and I was delighted. I have a old Presto also. Just because a canner is older it can still be useful if and Big IF you have the gauge tested and rubber gasket checked. Nice thing about All American is that they are gaskets

  14. oh and meatloaf-I’d check the problem with density in pressure canning. Better off making ground meat recipe.

  15. I live at 7,000 feet and we pressure can at 14 pounds of pressure……and add 15 minutes to the processing time for water bath canning. Please watch your altitude……entries in our county fair won’t be judged unless the label gives the elevation and the time/pressure used in processing the item.

    The best possible classes on canning are taught at the County Extension Offices. If you can’t get to some of those, the bible on canning is So Easy to Preserve by the Cooperative Extension at the University of Georgia. http://nchfp.uga.edu/ I use the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving too…….and hey, if you need to can walrus, there are instructions on the Alaska Extension Office website…..yes, really!

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