The pressure’s on

bubbling away

bubbling away

With a boiling water bath, or Fowlers Vacola preserver, it is easy to preserve many fruits and tomatoes for 1-2 years storage at room temperature – basically the high acidity levels combined with the high heat kill the bacterias and moulds that would destroy the food. Jams and chutneys have the benefit of high sugar or acid levels making them even easier for mid – term storage. This limits the range of things you can safely store for later, without chewing through power keeping a freezer going or having everything loaded with vinegar or sugar. Also, we don’t have a microwave so defrosting means planning ahead which we don’t always do.

But as soon as you start considering lower acid vegetables (anything really unless you want pickles), beans, meat,  fish or soups, then you need to keep in mind botulism toxins - nasty and potentially fatal. To avoid this, the foods need to be heated beyond the boiling point of water, and it seems for much longer, to make sure everything inside the jar gets superhot for long enough to stop the botulism spores multiplying and making the toxins. Heating the jars under pressure achieves this.

Thanks to some very useful forum posts and articles scattered on the web, and the US government sites with detailed information and guidelines, it actually seems practical to ‘pressure can’ some alternates to the apricots and tomatoes that I’ve preserved in the past.

Pressure Canner arrives

Pressure Canner arrives

The cheaper Australian dollar also made it quite feasible to buy in the requisite toy device from the US.

First Experiment

In doing my research, I’d found a simple looking recipe that ought to suit our tastes: Many Layered Chili. Expecting delivery this week I’d bought the ingredients in preparation. And decided that if the jars exploded or spewed their contents everywhere I wouldn’t be too surprised and I wouldn’t have lost hours of work in prep!

Before pressure canning

Before pressure canning

Many Layered Chili

Many Layered Chili

I did a test run first just with water bringing the canner up to pressure, no jars or ingredients to worry about. That all went smoothly, so I prepped up the jars of chili beans and meat.

After loading up the canner, and getting it up to pressure I realised that I had not put in the bottom rack for the jars to sit on, using instead the jar lifter contraption. So at that point I figured if the jars didn’t explode from the beans swelling up, they’d crack from too much heat on their bottoms. Sigh.

Milly and Ruby

Milly and Ruby

I then realised just how long 90 minutes can be, ducking in and out to the garden, and filling in time with small jobs and pushups so I wasn’t too far away from the kitchen. The kittens just slept.

Success!

After Processing

After Processing

They didn’t taste bad either. We had some for dinner on Friday night to see if we liked the recipe before doing a big batch. Definitely worth repeating with a touch more spice. It felt mighty strange to leave the jars sitting around the kitchen for two days. ‘Shouldn’t they be in the fridge’ asked a little voice in my head. I told it to shut up and ate.

On Friday I did baked beans using Mum’s recipe and referring to the USDA site for timing, and also some chickpeas – much cheaper than buying tinned. Buying dried beans and cooking them ourselves is a lot more efficient in terms of transport – the organic tinned versions I can buy easily are from Italy. I can buy organic dried beans here, cutting down on transport costs. Every so often I’ll cook dried beans in bulk then freeze them but much prefer the convenience of tinned, or now, home canned.

I can see foods like this that are standard meals in our house being brilliant to have in a jar for dark winter evenings, or lazy summer ones.

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