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For low-acid foods (meat, poultry, vegetables, and seafood, for example), pressure canning destroys bacteria that would not otherwise die in a typical hot water bath system. Obviously, the first step in pressure canning is finding a good canner. While you can find pressure canners second hand, I usually tell people to get one new for several reasons. First, sometime in the future you may need parts, and this way you’ll have both a warrantee and owners’ manual to resolve that situation.

Secondarily you can’t always be sure of a used system’s overall accuracy and condition. When it comes to things you eat – I always err on the safe side.

Once you get the canner home, wash it out and do a trial run. Nearly all manufacturers include instructions on testing the pressure gauge. This is also a good time to read through the information provided by the manufacturer on care, adjustments necessary for altitudes, etc. Unlike some products, canner instructions don’t read like stereo instructions! Additionally, I recommend investing in at least one good pressure-canning book with a variety of tested recipes. This will give you a great starting point for success.

As with hot water canning you need jars that are sanitary and free of any cracks, good lids and screw tops. Follow the instructions for the item that you’ve gathered from books or websites and then place the jars into the canner with three inches of headroom. Check the canners instructions as to when you put the top securely in place, and then the pressure necessary for purification (as well as duration in the cooker).

As tempting as it may be, DO NOT open the pressure cooker when the time is completed. You have to turn off the stove and let the pressure decrease to zero. At this juncture you can take off your valve and open the lid (tipping it away from you as there will be hot liquid condensed on the cover). Move your jars onto a toweled surface, with space in between for cooling and then test the lids for a secure fit.

There should be no give at the middle of the lid when cool or the jar is not sealed. At this juncture, open the jar, wipe the rim, try a new lid and you can reprocess if you wish. Otherwise refrigerate the item and use it within a couple of days.

Wash off any lingering exterior dirt from processing, tighten the cap, label and put away in a cool, dry place. Note that even the best processing can sometimes go awry. Always check your canned goods for any signs that the seal has been broken. Even if it doesn’t appear that way, odd aromas, mold, and internal bubbles are all a huge warning sign: when in doubt, throw it out!


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