Jun 29, 2010

Canning 101: Using a Pressure Canner (Canning Beets)

This weekend, I did my first canning of the season. My "Bull's Blood" beets were ready to harvest, and since we mostly use them in borscht, I canned them right away. As I typed in my earlier post on canning supplies, beets and most other vegetables require a pressure canner. Unlike a boiling water bath canner (sometimes called a boiling bath canner), a pressure canner can be used for all types of home canning.

Whether you've never canned before, or you've only used a boiling bath canner - never a pressure canner - this step-by-step canning tutorial will take you through the entire process.

What You Need:
A pressure canner
Canning jars
Canning lids and screw bands (lids can't be reused, but screw bands can)
Jar lifter
Large pot
Cutting board
Plastic or wooden handled utensil
Cooling rack or bath towel
Food to can (in this case, beets)

How to Do It:

1. Wash the canning jars, lids, and screw bands.

2. Clean an electric coil or gas stove top thoroughly. Any grease or grime on the stove may turn into a difficult-to-remove stain due to the heat of canning. (Glass stove tops are not recommended for canning.) Also make sure the canner is clean, being sure to scrub down the bottom and sides.

3. Fill the pressure canner with water, according to the manufacturer's directions. There's usually a line on the side of the canner to show how high the water should reach.

4. Place the jars in the canner. Place the canner on a large burner, over medium high heat.

5. Prepare food according to a trusted recipe. Two respected sources for canning recipes are the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and the USDA website. Canning recipes require careful testing, or the food could spoil because the recipe's chemistry is incorrect for home canning.

To can beets, first place warm water in a large pot and set it on the stove to boil. Then select beets that are between 2 and 3 inches in diameter. Cut off all but 2 inches of the stems. (Reserve the leaves to add to salads, soups, or stews - or saute the leaves, substituting beet leaves for collards in this recipe.) Clean the beets well and add them to the boiling water in the pot. (The water should cover the beets entirely.) Begin timing when the water returns to a boil, and cook the beets for 15 to 25 minutes, or until the skins easily slip off the vegetable. Remove the beets and pour off the hot liquid in the pot. Add fresh, hot tap water to the pot and place the it back on the hot burner. Rinse the beets in cool water. Cut off the remaining stem and roots, then slip the skin off. Slice the beets.
6. Using a jar lifter, remove one empty jar from the canner. Fill it with food. The recipe will tell you how much "head space" (i.e. space between the top of the food and the top of the jar) is necessary. In this case, I kept 1 inch between the top of the beets and the top of the jar. Then I "hot packed" the food by ladling hot water from the large pot over the beets - always being careful to ensure the head space remained at 1 inch.

7. Using a wooden or plastic handle (from a spoon, spatula, or some other utensil), remove any bubbles from the jar. Use an up and down (not round and round motion).

8. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean, damp towel.

9. Put a lid on top of the jar.

10. Place one screw band on top of the jar. Screw the screw band in place until you just begin to feel resistance. Then screw just a tad more, until the band is "fingertip tight." Don't screw down hard.

11. Using a jar lifter, place the jar in the canner.

12. Repeat steps 7 through 12 with another jar, until all the food is in jars.

13. Place the lid on the canner and lock it in place according to the manufacturer's directions. It may take a few minutes for the water to boil, but you'll know it's boiling again when steam begins coming out of the vent at the top of the canner. Allow the steam to vent steadily for 10 minutes.

14. Place the canner's weight on the vent. (The weight comes with the pressure canner and is a sort of lid for the vent hole.)

15. Most pressure canners have what's called a "weighted-gauge" on their lid. In most cases, wait until the gauge reads 10 before timing your recipe - but always read the manufacturer's instructions and follow them on this point. Set a timer, according to the "processing time" given in the recipe; in this case, 30 minutes for pint jars and 35 minutes for quart jars.

16. Regulate the heat by watching the gauge and keeping it at the recommended pressure level (usually, 10 or slightly higher). If necessary, turn the burner heat slightly up to increase the pressure level, or turn the heat slightly down to decrease the pressure level.

17. When the specified time is up, turn off the burner and let the canner cool. Do NOT remove the lid. Do NOT remove the vent weight.

18. When the canner gauge reads zero, let the canner sit 5 additional minutes. Then remove the vent weight. Unlock and remove the canner lid, letting the steam in the canner escape in the opposite direction from your face and body. (HINT: The lid should come off easily; if it doesn't, give the canner more time to sit, then try again.) Allow the jars to sit in the open canner for 10 minutes.

19. Remove the jars, one at a time, using a jar lifter. Place them on a strong cooling rack or on a towel placed atop the counter. Make sure that as you move the jars, you keep them upright. Don't try to wipe off the jars or lids because this may prevent the lids from sealing properly.

20. Allow the jars to cool, untouched and undisturbed, for 24 hours.

21. After 24 hours, check to see if the lids have sealed: Press down on the center of each lid; a properly sealed jar lid will not move.

22. Be sure to write the contents and the date on each can's lid. The government recommends consuming home canned food within a year.

* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.