Recently, I decided to pull the trigger and finally buy a pressure canner. I have wanted to buy one for the past few years as it is a great tool to ensure food security within your own household and can save you money in the long run. The only things holding me back from purchasing a pressure canner sooner was overall upfront cost, brand selection, and understanding the proper stove I needed to operate the canner. After I did a little research and internal motivation, I decided that I just needed to purchase the canner and learn as I go, because the cost of these tools has only been increasing since I first discovered their existence.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a big eye opener for me personally. I assume everyone reading remembers when everyone was panic buying canned goods, frozen foods, meat, and toilet paper. For a while we still felt the effects of the labor shortage and distribution issues after the pandemic as well as the war in Ukraine. This is all a sign to take advantage of when resources are available rather than be at the mercy of whatever makes its way into your local stores on a given day as the resources may not be here in a time of national or global emergency.
Now that I have listed some examples of when it would have been beneficial and less financially stressful to have a pressure canner, I will further describe what a pressure canner is for those who aren’t already familiar, the purpose of a canner, the benefits of canning, how you can learn how to can, and some words of caution about the process.
1. What Is a Pressure Canner/Cooker
A modern pressure canner is a typically a large pot with either a locking lid that either has a rubber gasket or a metal on metal way of sealing. This difference is commonly seen in the two most common brands currently sold in the canning industry today. The common brand that uses a rubber gasket is known as Presto and the other common brand that doesn’t use a gasket is known as All American.
The canners require a heat source and a few steam gauges or weights you can use as a way to measure the amount of heat/pressure being applied to the food in the canner. Pressure canning has been around since the 1800’s and is built upon the discovery of pressure cooking which has been observed since 1679 in Europe. It is said that in the United States about a third of all households had at least one pressure cooker in their residence. The difference between pressure cooking and pressure canning is that a pressure cooker is meant to only cook food and not preserve it; the dimensions of the average cooker do not meet specified safety protocols in regards to the pressure they are able to generate.
The invention of pressure cooking eventually traveled across Europe and traveled to the “New World” with European expansion. From there it eventually created the invention of the pressure canner. The pressure canner took off in the United States in the late 1800’s and making its way into the kitchens of many Americans in the early 20th century.
2. Purpose of Canning
Now that you know the overall history of pressure canning and the difference between a pressure cooker and a canner, I will now explain the benefit of this invention. The sole purpose of a pressure canner is to preserve food in jars for long term storage. Pressure is used to both cook the ingredients within the jars (if raw packed) and to kill off dangerous microbes that can survive past boiling temperatures in low acid foods such as meat and vegetables.
There is such thing as water bath canning as well, though, this is typically reserved for recipes and foods that have a relatively high acidity already like fruits and acid based stews, though sometimes when canning tomatoes it is recommended that you add either a bit of lemon juice concentrate or citric acid.
There is evidence of canned food being good in some instances for over a decade, though it is assumed that the quality and nutrition of the canned good is no longer as good as it initially was, though it would offer some form of sustenance.
3. Benefits of Canning
The benefits of canning are already made clear in the previous paragraphs. It allows for you to harvest resources when they are available and preserve them at room temperature for years on end. When canning fresh meat or fresh goods from the garden understand that if canned in a reasonable time from when you harvested, despite losing the initial nutrition through the canning process, canned goods from your garden and foraged finds are still more nutritious than some of the FRESH goods you can buy at the store.
Having the skillset of canning allows you to develop your own emergency bundle so that if/when emergency strikes, you are not left to the scraps at your local grocery store. Learning how to can also makes you change the way you think about food. It makes you understand the ways between in which humans have lived for almost all of human history as humans have either taken advantage of when food was abundant during growing seasons or they have followed the food year round as to secure their meals year round. To forget these things is to be ignorant to the ways which kept our ancestors alive.
Canning is a safe way to take advantage of sales on produce at the store as well. If you find the right deals and assemble the right ingredients you can secure weeks if not months of food for a significantly cheaper and healthier alternative to that of store bought canned goods which contain preservatives and excess amounts of sodium.
4. Who Should Learn How to Can
I believe that everyone should learn how to can. It is a good, low cost way to increase your household’s food security. It allows you to take advantage of the time of excess that we currently live in as historically it isn’t normal.
The way our agricultural system is set up we have the illusion of abundance, though many do not realize that with climate change, poor soil health/management, and slacking regulation of pesticides/herbicides in the United States, we cannot ensure that in the near future we will have the food security that we have today. Home canned foods are also more sustainable for the environment, especially if you grow/harvest your own food. It cuts out the amount of transportation needed to move goods from a farm to a processing plant and allows you to do it from your home. Glass jars are also reusable, though the lids/seals are not unless you buy reusable lids, but you will still need to buy extra seals for said lids.
For those like me who have taken the steps to learn how to forage, grow, and harvest your own food/meat, canning should be a skill that you should learn sooner rather than later. It allows for you to use all of your rewards from the earth and reduce the amount of wasted energy from the season. The upfront cost of canning is relatively small so why not start this month or year.
5. Words of Caution and Warning
Though canning is a great skill to have and I deeply recommend learning for all of my readers, there are a few risks that I will make note of. The first risk being that not all canners work on all types stoves or appliances common in the average household. A lot of canners can weigh a lot after adding full jars and can break glass top stoves. It is important to check with the stove manufacturer to make sure you are able to can prior to buying a canner and to know what the weight capacity is.
Another thing to consider is the risk of contamination. Botulism is a real and deadly threat as the bacteria can survive boiling temperatures. To ensure that you are safe be sure to sanitize your jars before canning and check seals after canning. It is important to follow recipes and adjust the pressure requirements based on the altitude you live at. Steam pressure gauges also need to be tested by local ag extension office prior to initial use and on an annual basis to ensure accuracy in the pressure readings. Some people use weighted pressure gauges so that they do not need to rely on the accuracy of steam gauges.
Make sure to follow tested recipes that are found in reputable books or supported by the USDA as they have their own free digital recipe book in the link here or you can buy a printed version through amazon. Lastly, remove the rings from your canned goods after the first day or two after canning as to ensure that the seals are all good to prevent a bad egg from sneaking into your pantry.
Pressure canning is a great means of preserving food in your home from your own garden. It gives you the freedom to take advantage of the abundance when it is here for the times when it is not. It is a skill that I believe that every adult should have, though I understand why they do not. The history of canning is interesting and part of American culture and represents American resilience.
There are many benefits to canning, but with those benefits lie some risks. The risks are easy to avoid if you listen and learn prior to canning. The information is always out there. Take advantage of it while it is here.