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Why am I even thinking about pressure canning? I live in the suburbs with numerous grocery stores within a stone's throw. Am I crazy?
I've been gardening with more and more momentum over the last several years. Each year's garden gets better, bigger and has less user error (ahem...). At the same time that I've been placing a higher value on food that I've grown myself, I've been placing a higher value on food that's been grown without pesticides and herbicides. That has landed me in the middle of the organic aisles of my grocery stores. The frightening part of that has been the price tags sticking out of that section. They're significantly higher than the non-organic prices.
Now that I've spent many summers growing things without using herbicides and pesticides, I know exactly the amount of time necessary to battle the weeds (where herbicides usually come in) and to battle the bugs (where pesticides usually come in). So I'm acutely aware of the time and labor required to grow those organic products that carry those justifiably higher price tags.
Understanding why the prices are higher doesn't mean I have more money in my wallet to buy them. I so wish it did. Anywho, I don't. So stretching my organic-food-buying dollar has become a focus in my family grocery budget. Food preservation (in this case, canning!) is one of the answers to this pricing dilemma. If I can preserve the foods that I like and can either grow for free or buy in bulk when they're in season (and cheapest!), then I'm winning. In fact, I'm winning in a few ways by pressure canning! Read on!..
Why Should I Pressure Can?
ANSWER: To win in all of the following ways!
If you're already a devoted canner, then I'm preaching to the choir. If you've never thought about it before, it's a great time to consider it! Whether it's harvesting season in your own garden, at the farmers' markets or at the grocery stores, or whether you want to squeeze every preserved teaspoon of food from next year's garden, it's never too late to dip your toe into canning. The sooner the better!
What is a pressure canner?
What exactly is a pressure canner anyway? The dictionary defines a pressure canner as a pressure cooker that's been modified to accommodate canning. You've most likely heard of Instant Pots. They've been the rage for a few years now. If you know what an Instant Pot is, a pressure canner is an Instant Pot type of cooker that's been widened enough to accommodate several jars with lids, annnnnnnd, maybe even made tall enough to be able to accommodate two layers of jars with lids. The best pressure canners in my opinion accommodate as many jars as humanly possible. When you go through the canning process, you want to finish with as many jars as possible.
How does a pressure canner work?
For the chemistry nerds among you, ok, ok, among US, keep reading. If the words "boiling point" queue up high school tests and general suffering, skip to the next section. I will say that the better you understand the science of how a pressure canner works, the more comfortable you'll be with one heating up in your kitchen. You'll also trust the preserved food more completely because of the science behind it. The more you think of the canner as a magic black box, the more you'll fear the machine, and the more you'll worry about enjoying your canned yumminess months later.
The normal boiling point of water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit (or 100 degrees Celsius). When you're boiling water on the stove to cook pasta, the water will never rise above 212 degrees Fahrenheit because the water turns to water vapor (steam) at that temperature. That is at normal atmospheric pressure though. The magic of water is that we can increase the pressure in the environment (the pressure canner chamber), and then the water has to reach a higher temperature to evaporate. We can use this higher temperature to cook foods and kill bacteria. This process also extracts flavor more efficiently from foods. A whole lot of magic because of water's chemical properties.
We use pressure canners to preserve foods that don't have a naturally high acidity like meats and meat sauces, but they can be used to can absolutely everything (including the high acidity stuff like vegetables and fruits from the garden).
Why a pressure canner versus a water bath canner?
Bottomline, a pressure canner can can anything you want to can, but a water bath canner cannot. (Remember, water bath canners only reach 212 degree Fahrenheit, thereby only being appropriate for high acidity foods) If you can only afford to invest in one type of canner, you kill two birds with one stone (sorry, birds!) by investing in a pressure canner. Hopefully I've given you some solid answers in the affirmative as to "Why Should I Pressure Can?"
Do you already pressure can? I'd love to know your favorite go-to pressure canned meals! We all would!!