Is your garden overflowing with sumptuous green beans, carrots and peppers? If there's no way your family and friends can consume the bounty you've harvested this summer, you might be considering canning, preserving, or as we say in the South, "putting up" some of your vegetables. The only safe way to preserve low-acid foods like vegetables is by using a pressure canner. Here's how you can "put up" your veggies without fear of the dreaded botulism bacteria invading your precious jars of goodies:
- Buy a good quality pressure canner. If you must borrow a canner or use one handed down from your great-grandma, be sure it has a clean exhaust valve (where the steam comes out) and a rack to keep the jars from touching the bottom of the canner. Check to be sure the top of the canner has an airtight seal.
Rinse your vegetables. There is no need to soak them in water -- you would just lose valuable nutrients. You're only trying to avoid canning garden soil and ladybugs along with your veggies.
Steam your vegetables. Do not overcook, again to avoid losing precious nutrients and preserve flavor. Boiling vegetables washes away the vitamins, whereas steaming keeps them intact. At this point, you may season your vegetables with salt if desired.
Use a food funnel to carefully sort your vegetables into the canning jars. The correct funnel has a large enough opening for the food to go through without being compacted and can be found in the canning section of your grocery store. You want to pack the jars loosely. Do not press the food down.
Add a small amount of the steaming liquid -- or if you run out -- boiling water to the jars. Leave about a 1-inch airspace in the jar. A small amount of this airspace will be removed to create the vacuum required to kill the botulism spores. Use a silicone spatula to be sure there are no air bubbles trapped along the sides of the jars before closing.
Close the jars, using new flats and rings. Used rings may be used if you are very careful about checking for rust, dents, or any other damage. Any damage to the seal can cause the pressure to drop, allowing botulism to grow in your food, endangering your family! For this reason, new rings are highly recommended.
Place the rack and 3 inches of water into your canner. Open the valves to let steam escape. Use a jar lifter to place jars inside on the rack. Close the lid of the canner, being sure the seal is absolutely airtight.
Heat canner on high until you begin to see steam from the vents, and then for 10 minutes thereafter. After the 10 minutes, close the exhaust valves.
At this point the pressure will build up to 10 - 11 lbs. depending on your canner. Use the chart that came with your canner, or at Make-Stuff, to determine how long you must maintain the correct pressure for the vegetables you are canning.
After the required time, turn off heat and allow the canner to slowly cool and depressurize until the pressure gauge reads zero. Then stand back, open the lid away from you, and use your jar lifter to remove hot jars onto a towel.
Allow jars to cool completely, preferably overnight. The lids will depress in the center as they cool and a vacuum is created. The next day you may remove the rings and label your vegetables!