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A pressure canner can be a prepper’s best friend, especially if there is access to home grown fruits and veggies, or a local farm community that will sell you “less than pretty” items for a song. On the other hand, mention the phrase “pressure canning” to someone who has never canned and they will start to shake and shiver with fear.
I know, because I did. The reality however, is that canning using modern methods is very safe. With a modicum of diligence, there is no need to be afraid and a lot to be gained in the process. Heck, my good friend Daisy Luther is a canning maniac and cans for relaxation. She even wrote a book about it.
Because canning is important and because canning equipment is expensive, it pays to keep your canner in good shape. I know there are those of you that are using canners that were handed down by your mothers so you are the experts at the care and feeding of pressure canners. You are doing everything right.
And the rest of you? I hope that you will be able to pass your canner on to future generations. Keeping it in good repair is the first step and to help us along, I have called upon Susan Gregersen, a popular author in her own right. She has written an article on the maintenance and storage of pressure canners, and, with her permission, I am sharing it with you today.
Maintenance and Storage of Pressure Canners
I wish I had a picture of the safety overpressure plug that I threw away several years ago, from one of my pressure canners. I was naïve and didn’t realize these things needed replacing from time to time. I’d use my pressure canners and when I was done for the season, I’d wash them well and store them in a shed where I kept cases of empty jars and extra rings and such.
This particular safety plug was literally crumbling. The rubber was aged and eaten away from it’s edges. I’d started a load of jars through the canner and air kept escaping around the plug. I tried (foolishly) to pack a towel over it and weight it down, but it just soaked the towel with steam. I shut the canner off and let it cool down, then finished my canning with my other canner.
Next time we were in town I stopped at the Hardware store and showed them my plug. They sold me a box with half a dozen plugs in it for a few dollars.
The years passed and then one of my canners started leaking around the seal. I tried holding the handles down tight, to stop the escape of steam. It worked sometimes. While I held it down tight the pressure would build and then the canner sealed and I was able to continue that load of jars.
I tried oiling the seals to buy time. These are the old seals made of rubber. Oiling did work…for a while. Then the seals were so stretched it was hard to keep them in the lid as I put it on the canner. sometimes it took a few tries to get the lid on with the seal in place. That was stupid. I should have gone straight to the hardware store and bought new seals.
Even though it seems like the canner is up to pressure and the weight eventually jiggles and everything seems to be going right, it’s possible those old seals or plugs are not really letting the canner reach it’s proper pressure, and without that, the contents of the jars may not reach a high enough temperature to safely preserve the food.
Nowadays I take that seriously. As preppers we should always have spare parts stored away for when we need them, but for anyone who uses pressure canners (or anything else important to their survival), it’s nice to have the parts on hand when you need them! Then you don’t have to stop in the middle of canning a batch of something to run to the store to buy what you need.
My canners are made by Mirro and have the model number stamped on the bottom. It’s good that they do, because it’s not in the book that came with my canners. I hunted all through the book and finally found a page with replacement part numbers.
Read more: How to Overcome The Fear of Pressure Canning
It was buried at the end of the section in English, right before it went into other languages. My canners are from the 1980s, before there was internet, and it assumed you would order parts directly from them.
They’re considerably cheaper than the hardware store, and more likely to have the part you need in stock.
Winter is a great time to look over your seals and safety plugs, and see if you need to order any replacements. It’s a good idea to order extras to stock up and have on hand.
When my extras arrive I check to see that I have the right ones, then I put them back in their box and vacuum seal them in food saver bags to slow down oxidation. Then, just like the food that I preserve, I store them in cool, dark places. Heat and light can break down the material just like it does to food.
Some newer seals are made of silicone or plastic and don’t need as much care to maintain them. The old rubber seals like my canners use can dry out and crack over time. The old wives tale of soaking them in water isn’t really effective. Rubber doesn’t absorb water. If you feel the need to “soften” or preserve them, spread a thin layer of cooking oil (any type) on them. Wipe excess oil off with a paper towel before use.
The Mirro company warned (in my instruction book from the 1980’s) not to over-do the oiling of the rubber seals, but didn’t explain why.
My standard practice for storing my canners over the winter was to put a light layer of oil on the seal and the safety plug.
I have a vacuum sealer now, but I don’t use it for this because I never know when I’ll randomly acquire something to can, or decide to do up a batch of beans (from dry) or something. So I still just put them in a Ziploc bag.
Then I toss it inside the canner and put the lid on. My mother always said not to store the canner with the seal in place and the lid on tight. Again, she never said why. My speculation would be that it might compress the seal, sitting in storage, and reduce it’s lifespan.
I store the pressure weights elsewhere, in a safe location in my kitchen. They’re too expensive to replace. Around ten years ago I misplaced mine.
It’s no badge of honor to be able to brag that you got ten years out of a gasket seal for your canner, or that you’ve never had to replace the safety plug.
Canning is more than a hobby, or a necessary activity for food preservation or survival. It’s a serious issue of safety and proper management. Be sure to include extra parts in your storage, and store them for the longest shelf life possible.
If you would like more from Susan, consider one of her books including this one, Poverty Prepping: How to Stock up For Tomorrow When You Can’t Afford To Eat Today. Like Susan herself, it is full of practical, no nonsense tips for prepping on a budget.
Want to learn more about those old Mirro pressure canners? You may find this vintage Mirro Pressure Cooker & Canners Instructions Manual & Recipe Book just what you were looking for! It is a free download.
The Final Word
Where do I personally weigh in on canning? Lest I be labeled a fraud, my shiny new All-American pressure canner is still sitting in it’s box, waiting for me to find something, anything, to can. This is definitely a case of do as I say and not as I do.
My excuse, so far, is having nothing to can. Like I said, an excuse. I surely am able to can some baked beans, spaghetti and meat balls, and chicken when it is on sale at 99 cent a pound. My excuse is no excuse at all.
Canning is on my summer bucket list, without a doubt.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Below you will find the items related to today’s article.
Food Storage: Preserving Everything, Every Way!: Three of Susan’s most popular food preserving books have been combined in one volume! “Preserving Meat, Dairy, and Eggs”, “Preserving Fruits, Nuts, and Seeds”, and “Preserving Vegetables, Grains, and Beans” have been compiled to give you over 300 pages of information. Available in both print and eBook format.
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. Other sizes are available here.
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. 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. 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.
15 Responses to “The Care and Feeding of Pressure Canners”
I got my pressure canner off Craigslist. $15. Harvest Gold, from the 70s I think. My first thing I canned was water. My PC has the 3 piece weight. Now I don’t have to babysit a gauge. I can even hear the jiggling from the basement. As long as you folloe the directions, you are good to go.
I acquired a pressure canner a couple years ago from my daughter. Her mother-in-law told her it needed a gasket, so I could have it. Turns out, it was an All-American. It was old enough that it had a petcock, but I replaced that with a weight. Then I had my very first experience with pressure canning. It worked great and I’m hooked!
There is a really good recipe book in the manual of the all AMERICAN canner. Try one. Seriously, you cannot screw it up if you read the manual before you start and as you go.
My canner from Presto doesn’t have weights! Some of those other parts I did not know about – but my friend that I bought it from (an elderly friend at church who was downsizing) saved the original instruction book. Knowing her age, I am thinking the canner was made in the 1950s. Pre zip code! And it is HEAVY much heavier than similarly sized canners on the market today. Reading the old instruction manual, makes one realise how much some things have changed — some of the supplies to put up the food such as the jars with bails or tin cans, aren’t in use, and apparently the jars with two-piece lids, standard today, were new then. And the instructions mention use of a wood or coal stove!
One thing I do know is you MUST follow the instructions exactly — you can become quite ill and even die from botulism which is a hazard. Follow USDA guidelines! //nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html
I look quite often in the ads for pressure cookers to try to get a great buy. The last one I purchased was from an elderly gentleman where his mother had just died. He said he had the owners manual and I went to buy it. I did. The owners manual was from Montgomery Wards. Now how old is that?
In the comments of the other canning article, Kathy says, “!. You need to have your gauges checked for accuracy EVERY year and EVERY TIME you buy a new gauge.” I wonder how many people actually do that, and, is there a way to test the gauge yourself?
My All-American has been sitting in a closet, too. I got it used, the gauge was rusted, Daisy said to replace the gauge, I bought a new gauge, and there it sits, waiting to get worked on. I don’t feel so bad about that now, seeing that I’m not the only one with a caner in hibernation.
Let’s make a pact to can some pintos this summer. We can do it together then compare notes 🙂
Absolutely on the pintos. My daughter has canned pineapples and told me it was great. We had pineapples for $.99 at Rulers, so I canned 6 of them. I just had a tooth pulled and cant eat solids and my wife has eaten all of them. She said they were great also. My daughter just found asparagus at a good price somewhere and has made 2 cannings of them. My canner doesn’t go in the closet. It sits under the bar where I can get to it.
I will pencil that in.
This is a very good piece about canners. I grew up helping with the water bath canning, potted meat canning, and pressure canning. I inherited one canner from my mother-in-law. Handle is broken but still very usable. Works like a dream…Will be passing it down to a third generation. Well worth its money and care. Nothing to be afraid of if you use common sense and not push the envelope.
35 years ago I went to a flea market and found an old, very old, All American pressure canner. The young lady said it had been her grandmother’s and she didn’t know if it worked or not. $5. The lid handle was broken off and 2 of the lid tighteners lips were off. I used a piece of pipe strap to make a new handle, and I have been using it ever since. I only reoiled where the lid met the pot. The canner is far better that the 2 mirrow canners I have.
Tell all your readers if they are going to do any serious canning, All American is the only way to go.
That was quite the find. Five bucks, wow. I have a brand new All-American that I paid full price for sitting in my garage. I really need to do something about that. Do you have a good recipe for old fashioned baked beans? I want to try that first since as far as I know, no one gets sick from baked beans. And besides, store bought are too salty and too sweet.
I have finally gotten my daughter into canning. I convinced her to buy an All American. Now anything that is on sale at the grocery gets canned. She has canned many things that I have not even thought of canning. I’m not one to can many things that take different seasonings. Therefor, I dont can baked beans. Pintos are different tho. I eat lots and lots of pintos.
As far as getting your gauge checked every year. I’m guessing mine is over 50 years old and has the original gauge. It originally had only a gauge and you had to keep adjusting the heat source to keep it at the correct pressure. I went online and bought a jiggler to put in one of the holes in the lid. Now I see the gauge always say 11 lb when it starts jiggling. Im satisfied that my gauge is correct. If a gauge is all that I had, then I would have it checked quite often.
Thanks for that feedback about the jiggler, John R
That’s reassuring to know.
Thank you, for the reminder, about pressure canners, and cookers.