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Canning It: Working under pressure

April 28, 2011 |  4:47 pm

Pressure Canner by Rachael Narins
When most people think of canning, they think of boiling water canning; taking food that has been placed in jars and boiling it for a recommended amount of time to make it last.

When you make fruit jam or pickles that way, you have something to eat and perhaps some handsome gifts to give away. But there are limitations to what can be boiling water processed and you can’t really feed your family on jelly and pickles. This is where pressure canning comes in.

Pressure canners (which are different than pressure cookers) are huge industrial-looking pots that have clamps and gauges, weights and valves and 12-page instruction manuals that are downright intimidating.  But don’t let that stop you. It’s simpler thank you think. All you have to do is follow the directions.

What that pressure canner does is create a high-heat environment coupled with high pressure. The combination kills potentially hazardous bacteria and microorganisms and renders the food in the jars shelf-stable. This is especially critical when preserving low-acid foods such as fish and zucchini.
A pressure canner can double as a stock pot, can be used as a pressure cooker and you can hide a standard watermelon in the larger ones if for some reason you need to.

Pressure canning is economical once you buy the start-up tools, truly sustainable and another way to eat with the seasons. It’s perfect if you enjoy making large batch recipes and it’s a brilliant way to make sure you have a reliable food supply in case of an emergency.

Stephen Rudicel, a master food preserver trainee, first started pressure canning after making a large batch of Italian-style eggplants and peppers he had grown then cooked last summer. “I made more than we could eat and I don’t have room in my freezer for more food. I decided to can it so we could have it whenever we want.” All he had to do was find a recipe that was similar and calculate the canning time. To do so, he just chose the ingredient with the longest processing time and proceeded as if he was just canning that.

Once you’ve committed to learning the basics of how to use it, what a pressure canner offers is a chance to experiment with a huge array of food that keeps. The rules are you cannot can vegetable or nut purees of any sort, baked goods or anything with flour, dairy or high-fat foods. What you can make though is plentiful: soup, stock, ground meat, chicken (on the bone or off, just remove the fatty skin), chile con carne, salsa, pasta sauce and more.

It takes time to can, sometimes a few hours, but as chef Ernest Miller says “Canning is not time-saving, it’s time-shifting.” You may have to take the afternoon to can your home-grown tomatillo salsa, but then you can enjoy it right from the pantry all year long. Pressure canning truly can open a whole new world.

Los Angeles Master Food Preservers are trained and certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension in food preservation. They are volunteers who provide information and technical assistance to home preservationists in L.A. County. The Master Food Preservers can be found on Facebook.

-- Rachael Narins

Photo: A pressure canner. Credit: Rachael Narins