Even before we purchased our acreage, it has always been my dream to have a huge garden and stock the pantry with everything we grew. I have been water bath canning for a few years and have always had good success with it. I knew though that if I wanted to can vegetables, I’d have to graduate to a pressure canner and truth be told, I find them to be very intimidating. With the pressure gauge, the dial, and the bolts the mechanism looks to me like stockpot meets Frankenstein.
Not to mention the fact that all those dials and gauges have to be carefully monitored lest one blows up one’s kitchen: something I was sure would happen on our first attempt.
Knowing though that there was no way to (safely) can without the help of a pressure canner, husbie and I decided to bite the bullet and initiate ourselves to the process of pressure canning. We chose a Saturday afternoon when he would be free to help me with any lifting, or at the very least, to just be available for moral support.
Now, I have always been very ambitious and have a tendency to plunge into learning new skills starting at the advanced level instead of working my way up from beginner. This was no exception. Rather than choose something very simple such as… say…green beans; I decided I wanted my first attempt to be a canned roast and carrots. Go ahead and laugh. It’s funny.
So I set to work. I cubed about 5 pounds of locally raised grass fed chuck roast I had purchased on sale, chopped up about 8 cups of carrots I had on hand, and coarsely chopped about 3 cups of onions.
Now, I really wanted this to be canned in a gravy; but upon researching recipes I learned that gravies are too thick for the heat to evenly permeate the mixture and are therefore not recommended. So I decided instead to just use beef broth and thicken the sauce to a gravy when we serve it. I browned the beef in a stock pot, added the vegetables, covered with the broth, and brought it to a boil.
It was about this point that I learned canning is not the sort of thing that an obsessive compulsive type can really enjoy. There was the whole bit about the jars. “Mixture must be ladled into hot jars.” Well, ok. How hot? Hot as in warm to the touch? Hot as in melt a laminate countertop? HOW HOT?? I remembered my grandma loading her jars into a warm oven and decided to go that route, hoping all would be well.
I ladled the mixture into the “hot” jars, wiped the lids, and proceeded to seal them. The directions said to seal them tight (HOW TIGHT??) and put them into the pressure cooker that had been filled with 3 inches of water. (I know it was three because I got out a ruler and measured).
The big moment had arrived. I locked the dogs (who love to be in the kitchen and eat off the floor as I cook ~ I make such a mess…) in their little room so they wouldn’t get underfoot and took a deep breath.
Husbie and I placed the lid on the cooker and, as directed, screwed down the lid working the knobs directly opposite each other. I did one side, husbie did the other. Then we turned on the stove and waited. Our manual said to place the petcock after releasing steam for seven minutes.
Me (squinting at the vent): “Do you see that? Is that….is that steam?”
Husbie: Not sure.
Me: THAT! That, is that steam?
Husbie (squinting at the vent from the other side): “I think so…”
Me: “So ~ do we start timing seven minutes now? Is that enough steam?
Husbie: “Yyyyyyeah…yeah. Set the timer now. I think.”
Me: “What happens if I’m wrong and we don’t let off enough steam?”
Seven minutes later we set the petcock. Directions said that we start timing the process after the first “jiggle” and keep the heat at a temperature to where it jiggles 1-4 times per minute. Husbie and I stood about one foot away from the stove, hands on knees, squinting at the pressure gauge and the petcock.
Me: “Do you see that? Was that….was that a jiggle?”
Husbie: “Hard to tell…”
Me: THAT! That, is that a jiggle?
Husbie: (constulting instruction manual)
Me and Husbie: “IT JIGGLED!!”
We set the timer. And I began to calculate. “One to four jiggles per minute…four jiggles into 60 seconds per minute…that means one jiggle every 15 seconds….THERE! It jiggled again. ONEmissisippiTWOmissisippiTHREE…”
I watched that pot and that gauge like a hawk. I didn’t leave it for a minute. I didn’t even look at Facebook. I did relax enough at some point that husbie felt he could go for a run. And…ninety minutes at ten pounds of pressure later…I lifted out seven quarts of canned roast and carrots.
Canned roast is not quite as pretty as canned jam or canned peaches but it is a meal in a jar. One less meal I will have to cook when we get busy with our move and our garden, and they all sealed.
In spite of the experience being so nerve-wracking for my obsessive compulsive self, I’ve decided to try again shooting for one canning project per weekend. I figure the more I do it, the more I will get used to it.