Happy New Year, friends!
There’s plenty I’d like to leave behind in 2017, but sometimes it’s nice to hold onto things a little longer. And that’s why, just before the calendar ran out, I did a little pressure canning.
Now, first of all, you should know this was my first time undertaking such a project. My pressure canner was a Christmas present and while I grew up in a family that made tomato and apple sauce in a yearly fit of seasonal prep work, it all was put in tupperwear and crammed into a chest freezer. Canning wasn’t on the agenda, which might have something to do with the fact that my great-grandfather once used a pressure cooker to make tomato sauce and blew the whole thing up – but who can say!
On the other side of a full canning run, I can honestly say I don’t know how anyone ever determined you COULD pressure can anything. The science makes sense , sure – if you want food to kill off bacteria, you need to achieve temperatures above boiling, and that takes pressure. But in practice, it starts to feel a little crazy.
First, there are the supplies. The jars are easy. and the various tongs. I kept my lids and rings warm and clean in a large measuring cup while I worked. Really the only “weird” thing you need to pressure can is the canner itself. But it doubles as a pressure cooker and you can be sure I’ll make thorough use of that.
Things really get complicated when it’s time to start loading up the canner. Mine takes 3 quarts of hot water to start and from there, in go the hot jars, filled one at a time with freshly reheated and skimmed stock. Then the lid goes on.
Sealed up, you have to bring the whole mess to a boil and vent the steam for about 10 minutes so that the canner can reach sufficiently high temperatures. That’s not too bad. That’s because the pressure hasn’t built up yet. But once your done venting, on goes the funny little pressure weight.
Let me tell you about this weight: when you look at the pressure cooker, it all looks like one piece. Even when I first tried to place that weight on, it looked like it should snap in somehow. Nope! It just sits on top of the vent and as the steam builds up, it rocks back and forth and rattles. When you lift the lid, it can fall off.
The weight keeps the pressure relatively stable during the canning process, but because the canner is filled with extremely hot water and rattling cans and oh so much pressure and steam, the whole thing rattles during the 20-25 minutes each canning sequence takes. I honestly felt as though I was going to blow up my tiny basement kitchen. The second round was a little less stressful, but the whole thing tends to feel like a bad idea in a way that’s just… visceral. Sure, I want to store my food, but I have to use a terrifying device and also contend with potentially deadly bacteria in the process. I reiterate: how did someone decide we could do this at home?
Alright, enough worrying. It can be done. I have books and websites and now cans of stock that say it’s possible. I only broke one jar, and it happened while I was filling the pot and the bottom just exploded out from the hot water. I may have live tweeted my anxiety. And now the chicken bones I had stored up are neatly stocked in my pantry. It feels like a big accomplishment.
Honestly, after the sort of year 2017 was, it seems fitting that something made from scraps, from bones and leftovers and the seeming threat of explosion is my closing accomplishment. And every so often, I’ll open one up and make something even greater from it. Isn’t that how we move forward?