Canning foods is a wonderful way to preserve the harvest or even a great deal you find at your local farmers market or grocery store. But are you doing it correctly? Which is the best way? Water bath canning or pressure canning?
When done correctly, canning is a wonderful and safe way to preserve foods and the basics are pretty easy to learn. Besides growing your own food, canning is often the first step for many new “homesteaders.” But no matter how easy, we still need to make sure we’re canning the right way.
Most of us are very familiar with moldy foods. That lovely container you forgot about in the far reaches of your refrigerator… The dirty plate your kid hid under his bed so he wouldn’t have to carry it all the way back to the kitchen… Molds, yeasts, and bacterias are all around us and part of everyday life. While not all are harmful, some can be deadly in the right condition in your home preserved food.
We can food in jars not only to heat it and kill much bacteria but also to create a vacuum inside your jars to keep out other bacteria and molds. Any canner will tell you of their love of the “ping” when their jars seal up tight.
But what should you water bath can or pressure can? What’s the difference? Does it really matter?
The reason for the two different kinds of canning comes down to acidity. Every kind of food contains natural acid. There are high acid foods and low acids foods. Think lemons versus potatoes. Fruits are typically high acid (Tomatoes are also included on this list). Foods with added vinegar are high acid (sauerkraut, etc.) You must process low acid foods in a pressure canner, such as vegetables, meat, seafood, poultry, mushrooms, and soups. Want to make sure you’re preserving a certain food the correct way? Check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Water Bath Canning
Use water bath canning for high acid foods. Water bath canners are typically large kettles with a rack of sorts on the bottom to keep the jars off direct heat and to allow the water to completely surround the jars. The water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches and the kettle must be large enough that the water does not boil over. You’ll need a tight-fitting lid for your kettle.
Your jams, jellies, chutneys, sauerkraut, rhubarb, some pickles, and relishes are all boiling water canned.
Pressure canning requires specific equipment and is a must for low acid foods. These canners are heavy duty kettles with lids that are clamped down or locked down. The lids have safety valves and a type of pressure gauge. Pressure canners come with either dial gauges or weighted gauges for measuring processing weights. Weighted gauges provide 5, 10, or 15 pounds of pressure when processing. Dial gauges need to be checked on occasion, and this can be done at your local Extension office. Pressure canning processing foods at a much higher temperature than boiling water processing.
Pressure cookers or saucepans are not the same as pressure canners and cannot be used in their place. You must pressure can meats, soups, seafood, vegetables, and mushrooms. Any mix of low and high acid foods must be processed as low acid food.