I'm sure we have all heard those horror stories from back when our grandmothers and great-grandmothers pressure canned and had things exploding and accidents happen. Now pressure canners are made so much safer, and have many safety precautions in place. If you follow the instructions for your canner and keep an eye on it during the whole process, then you should be just fine.
Gas stoves are preferable, because you can control the heat easier and it goes quicker, but they are NOT necessary.
In fact, when we had our canning weekend, we did most of the canning on glass stovetops. I personally have a gas stove, and so when I have canned on it, I notice that my canners tends to get up to pressure quicker, and the heat is a little more sensitive, so it is easier to control small changes in temperature to get the pressure at an exact spot. But we had absolutely no problems when we canned on the glass stovetop. Just be sure to lift the canner, versus dragging it, when on glass, so that it won't scratch the stove.
To can anything other than fruit (and some tomatoes), you must use a pressure canner.
A hot bath or steam bath method can not be used for beans, meats, vegetables, etc. The reason is, that the acidity in these is not high enough, so the food can easily spoil unless it is canned under a high pressure. So don't risk it, use the pressure canner if you are canning low acidity foods!
The raw pack method is so awesome!
Up to this point, the raw pack method is all I have done, and I love it. I know there are pros and cons to it, but I have some great things to say about it. In case you don't know what the raw pack method is, it is canning your food uncooked. For instance, you can chicken totally raw (in this case, you don't even need to add water, it creates it's own juices when cooking). The chicken will cook while it is being pressure canned. How much easier can you get? There are other options to can with pre-cooked food as well, if that is what interests you, or you have a lot of leftover food that is already cooked that you want to preserve.
Use the internet and books to research.
As for so many other things, the internet is full of advice, tips, recipes, etc. when it comes to pressure canning. Of course, make sure that you feel comfortable with what is being said, and the most reliable sources are those that are research based and legally able to give exact advice (so, technically, I do not fall under this category, of course!). I have also heard really great things about the Ball canning books, and they are quite inexpensive--I plan on investing in one soon!
I had someone offer to come do a small trial run on some pressure canning, and it made all the difference to me. It put me at ease since she knew what she was doing, she gave me some tips and tricks that worked for her, and it helped to physically watch someone handle the pressure canner and the other components. I am sure you all know someone that could help you. But if you don't, then check out youtube, tons of great videos to give you similar results!
Every state has a state university that is given money to do research on agriculture and all sorts of other food-based research, including food preservation. Arizona's university to receive this funding is U of A, however there are many extension offices in each county. They are a great resource. You can call in and ask questions, go in and get your pressure gauge checked, and use their website for helpful advice and guidelines. You can visit the Maricopa county website, here.
Canning can be pricey to start out, but will pay itself off quickly.
I started out by price checking many stores for their canning goods, to see which place sold the jars cheapest. It was easier to find used quart jars, but very hard to find used pint jars for sale (via craigslist, garage sales, thrift stores, etc.). I found the cheapest place to buy pint jars, was Costco, running at $5.99/dozen (I do believe they are just carried there "seasonally", but I'm not positive). WalMart also has some competitive pricing, and they also have their own store brand of canning jars (I used them for half pints to can raspberry jam and they all sealed and worked just fine). Gathering your jars, lids, rings, can start to feel pricey, but don't forget--you can reuse the jars and rings! So after getting a large supply together, you will only have to buy new lids when you want to can something. Also, it is recommended that after jars have sealed and sat for 24 hours, that you remove the ring to prevent it from rusting onto the jar. If you do that, then you really don't need a ton of rings either, because they can be reused instead of sitting on the jars on the shelf.
My pressure canner.
I own the Presto 23-quart pressure canner, and I have loved using it so far. You can stack 2 layers of pints (I think I can do 18 or so pints each batch), or one layer of quarts (I believe it is 7 quarts each batch). It was the most bang for your buck, from what I could tell. It cost me $70 on Amazon, which I felt was a very reasonable price. I also like that this has both a weight for the pressure, and a gauge. Some just have a weight, and so you have to monitor the rocking of the weight to estimate about how many pounds of pressure you are at. I like having the gauge to take some of the guesswork out of it. A lot of people really like the All American brand. My sister in law has one that we used over the canning weekend, and it works great too. The price point is significantly higher though, and so I opted for the Presto and don't regret it at all. I know eventually I will have to replace the $5 plastic seal on the lid to maintain pressure (over time they wear out), and on the All American, they don't have one (it is metal-on-metal), but that doesn't really deter me since it is such a small cost to maintain it. Did you know most Ace Hardware's carry canning supplies? I had no idea! Good for replacing small parts like that! My other sister-in-law had a Presto brand pressure canner, but hers was smaller, so we could only do one layer of quarts or pints each batch, so you had less done each batch. I would splurge for a few bucks more to have double the capacity. You won't regret it when you can make twice as much with the same amount of prep time!
Hope these few tips help motivate someone to dive into the world of pressure canning. I am loving it so far! If you don't want to invest in a canner just yet, see if you know of anyone that has one you can borrow. Try it out! See if you like it. It is fun and a great way to contribute to your family's self reliance.
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