HOW TO PRESSURE CAN SHIT AND NOT DIE (PROBABLY)

Introduction

Okay, let's get this out of the way first. I kind of lost my pressure canning book, but I've pressure canned stuff for a while, so I'm pretty sure I can remember most of it. Besides, I always thought that stupid book didn't have enough swearing and hardly any jokes. I can do better. Here goes.

Oh, and a warning

There's going to be some cursing. It's a tense subject.

Another introduction

So you want to can things in a pressure canner. Pressure can things. Ideally, you want to do this without having the pressure canner blow up and kill you and the dog and everyone in a five-mile radius. There are a few simple rules that can help you in this process.

THE STEPS OF PRESSURE CANNING SHIT SO YOU WON'T DIE (PROBABLY)

Step One

Get your shit together. You'll probably want to have it on the stove, boiling or simmering or whatever the hell. Concurrently, get your receptacles, probably Mason jars, in the hot water in the pressure canner. At this point the lid should be on the pressure canner but not screwed on like serious biznizz, just enough to encourage the water inside to boil and sterilize your Mason jars. Once your food is good to go, and your water in the pressure canner is boiling and has sterilized your Mason jars, you should be good to go. The water inside your pressure canner should be at a pretty good level -- about half-full, let's call it. There are little steel markings inside for min and max water level. Min is good. You don't need max thanks to displacement, which is future science we will get to later.

Step Two

Get your jars and lids out of the canner. Use tongs or whatnot and empty the hot water out. Shit's hot, man. Crazy hot. Get your hot jars close to where you've got your hot stuff on the stove. Using a canning funnel, put your hot shit into the hot jars. Make sure you stop somewhere around where the bottom of the screw part of the jar starts. Put your lids on your jars and screw the rings on, not super tight. Just kind of to the point where it's getting kinda tight.

Step Three

Put the jars in the hot water in the canner. Since they were empty jars before and now they are full jars, you should make sure water level doesn't get crazy high. Bail out water as necessary. Holy shit, that's a lot of stuff in the canner! Good on you for making it. Now for the part where you probably won't die.

Step Three and a Half

Before we go any further, a quick reminder, in case this hasn't been made clear to you yet: the pressure canner hates you. No, wait. Let me rephrase that. The pressure canner hates you. It will not be content with killing you. First it wants to destroy you. Maim you. It is in it, as we say, to win it, and the pressure cooker's definition of "winning" is "boil your eyeballs out before blowing up with the fury of a thousand suns". Just... remember that. Bear it in mind.

Step Four

This is the part where you screw the canner lid on tight, by the way. After a while, the water inside will start to boil, and the jars might clank around a little. This is good, and does not mean that they are about to explode and kill you. Probably. You may want to wear a helmet or something just in case. At any rate, there should be a little pipe that steam comes out of on top of the canner lid. After a bit, steam will start to come out of it.

Oh, wait. I forgot to ask you something. Back before you started, you held the lid up to the light to make sure absolutely sure nothing was blocking that little pipe, right? And made sure this little pipe was totally clear and full of obstructions?

Oh, thank God. I'm glad you did that.

If you didn't do that, run. Just run. Forget the house, forget the cat, forget the kids. Just run in one direction for an hour and never look back. Never, ever look back.

You're gonna get a little job. Some job a convict can get, like scraping off trays in the cafeteria, or cleaning toilets. And you're gonna hold onto that job like gold. Because let me tell you, Jack, that job is gold. And when the Man walks in at the end of the day and he comes to see how you've done, you're not gonna look in his eyes. You're gonna look at the floor. Because you don't want to see the fear in his eyes when you jump up and slam him to the floor and make him scream and cry for his life, so you look at the floor, Jack. And then he's gonna look around the room, see how you done. And he'll say oh, you missed a little spot over there. Jeez, you didn't get this one over here, and what about this little spot? And you're gonna suck all that pain inside you, and you're gonna clean that spot. You're gonna clean that spot until you get that shiny clean. And on Friday, you'll pick up your paycheck, and if you can do that, and if you can do that, you can be President of Chase Manhattan. Operations!

...wait, what? Sorry. Runaway train of thought.

I guess you could always turn the burner off, wait for all your shit to cool down, disassemble everything, check that the damn steam pipe is clean. Or, right now, even though it's not exactly best practices, stick a straight piece of wire like the unbent head of a coathanger down there and wiggle it around a bit. Jesus, that was a close one, huh?

Step Five

Once steam is coming out of that little pipe, make sure it's coming out steady and strong for at least a couple of minutes. You can wave your hand over it like a stage magician to see how it feels. Don't hold your hand over it! Christ almighty, that's steam. What's the matter with you? Anyway. Once the steam is coming out strong and steady for a while, put the rocker, that heavy knob thing, over the little pipe, then dive-roll out of the way. This could be the moment where it all goes wrong. Horribly wrong. Ever see that movie The Man Without A Face? "The man who didn't dive-roll when he put the rocker on the stem vent of his pressure canner," more like it. Turns out he's a racist or something anyway, so fuck that guy.

Once the rocker is on the little steam pipe, this little rattly gubbins on the lid will start to rattle. Rattle, rattle, rattle. It's fucking nervewracking because it delivers a very strong consistent shit is about to go down signal without any shit actually going down, it just rattles and little bubbles pop out around it and just when you think you're going to take a hammer to it screaming GOD DAMN IT YOU'RE NOT MY FATHER AND YOU'LL NEVER BE MY FATHER it'll pop up and you'll realize you have some weird-ass stepdad issues. That's when the pressure in the canner will start to rise. Now we're in the Danger Zone.

Step Six

Now that the rocker is on the steam pipe and the little rattling gubbins has popped up, let's go over some ground rules. You're in the Danger Zone. Of course there are ground rules.

  1. Do not take the rocker off the steam pipe. Jiminy Fuck. There may be some jokey shit going on here but this is super solid serious.

  2. Do not dick around with the rattling gubbins. You may be thinking "hey, it popped up, I wonder how much force it would take to push it back down". That way lies Nothing Good. Don't dick with it.

  3. Don't touch the outside of the canner for any length of time. It is hot. Hotter than you'd think. Would you lay a hand on the outside of a pot full of boiling water on the stove? Of course not. Just because the whole thing is made of crazy solid steel and you can't see inside it doesn't mean it isn't filled with a superboiling hate fluid. Don't touch it. Dumbass.

  4. Actually, you know what's simplest? Don't touch Jack except for the burner dial until you're done. Keep your grubby goddamn hands to yourself and away from the whole apparatus until a really long time from now. Okay? I can't believe we're letting you operate this thing. Hell.

  5. Whatever recipe you're using for canning will give you a pressure you need to can at, and a time you need to can for, depending on the size of the jars you're canning. There'll be a bunch of shit about high altitudes and stuff but frankly, I don't know anything about that because I'm a lowlander and I don't have any intentions to can beans in the fucking Alps or whatever. Just do what the recipes says. It will probably be for (a) a pressure between 10 and 15 PSI and (b) a fuck of a lot longer than you want to hang around your kitchen keeping a nervous eye on a pressure canner and micro-adjusting the burner in the futile hope that you can second-guess the laws of goddamn physics. Oh, and speaking of that...

  6. If you want a tip, it's that operating a burner for a pressure canner, with like a shitload of crazy hot water in it, is more like steering a train than steering a Ferarri. Anticipate changes you need to make wayyyyy earlier than you need to make them. If you need to can at 11 PSI and the needle is coming up on 10, now's the time to start backing off that heat, not when it gets to 11. Similarly, if you're trying to back it off from 15 PSI and what we in the canning game call the MURDER ZONE, keep an eye on when it's falling to within 1 PSI of your target zone and turn that heat back up a bit then, or it will drop below your target pressure and you'll have to start the whole. fucking. thing. all over again.

Step Seven

This is the worst step, because you're about to spend over an hour of your life in a hot steamy kitchen keeping a wary eye on a device that wants to murder you. Seriously. Pressure canning is like those stories where the guy has the demon from Hell and he's all ah ha ha you're in the salt circle so you can't hurt me but then the family dog pees on the salt and the demon is all like ah ha ha you're boned, Sailor. Pressure canning is kind of like that but instead of a demon it's 10 litres of boiling ragesteam barely sheathed in a creaking mass of metal that due to the laws of phsyics and time will one day fail. So yeah.

The important thing is that you really do need to make sure your pressure stays in the target zone for your recipe. At heart, you're basically trying to eradicate every chance of disease forever by creating some sort of hot sealed vacuum hell for germs and bacteria inside the jars containing your delicious shit. And, as we all know, you can't create perfect hot sealed vacuum hell without breaking a few hot sealed vacuum eggs. In this case, the hot sealed vacuum egg is called "the next hour and a bit of your life". You're now dedicated to the cause, and the cause is making sure your pressure gauge stays above your target PSI while not exceeding far over 15. At 15 PSI, your rocker will start to rock. That's why it's called a rocker. If it were called a Mod, it would be wearking a zoot suit and riding around Brighton Beach in 1979 with Sting, who is secretly a bellboy. But it's a rocker, and its sole purpose for existence is to inform you when your pressure canner is at 15 PSI. If you hear it rocking, and then it stops, but you haven't turned the heat down, read the above advice about running but do it twice as fast and for twice as long.

Or just turn the heat down, but seriously, don't let that shit get above 15 PSI for like a super long period of time. No bueno.

Step Eight

Once the appointed amount of time has passed, turn the burner off. Remember all the above "do not touch" shit? Jesus Christ, of course it's all still in effect. You don't need to keep an eagle eye on this homicidal fucking murder wagon any more, but you shouldn't put your filthy hands on it until that pressure gauge is at zero and the rattling gubbins has dropped back to its original position. If the pressure guage is at zero but the rattling gubbins has not dropped back down, don't fucking touch it. Just keep the fuck away from this thing until the gubbins tells you it's okay. Trust the gubbins. Love the gubbins.

Once the gubbins has dropped, approach the canner cautiously and shout something vaguely pleasant and appeasing, like "A MIGHTY FINE DAY FOR A PROMENADE, IS IT NOT" and see how it reacts. If it doesn't explode, killing you and everyone you know, try poking at the rocker with a wooden spoon. If there's no reaction, you can consider cautiously removing the rocker, and if steam doesn't gout out of the steam vent, you can even think about removing the lid. Hold the fucking phone, Seymour. Did you think you could just pop that lid off? Oh, sunshine. I hope you enjoyed the days when you had a face, those halcyon years before all the subcutaneous fat in your beautiful visage was boiled inside your skin. No? Well, lift the lid away from you, so the loggerhead of steam that's built up inside flows out the far side of this bastard machine, not directly up into your baby blues. Lid removed, steam vented, you can now... with great trepidation... look inside. The water will still be crazy hot. When you pull your jars of shit out, it will probably still be boiling inside. Mental, right? Put them down on a towel and you can gingerly tighten the really tight rings a bit now if you want.

Step Nine

Against all odds, you've survived. But know that while you may be basking in the flush of triumph, this is only part of a long and elaborate campaign the canner is waging on you. It's waiting for you to drop your guard, you see. It wants you to feel safe. It wants you to get lax and then, the one day you forget to check the steam pipe for accumulated shmutz, or you're watching Hannibal and don't hear the sound of the rocker rocking, it will get you. That's what it's for, you see. The canner can be patient. The canner can outlast you.


The canner, unlike you, has a plan.