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Buying Guide for Home Canners
Water Bath vs. Pressure
The key difference between the water bath and pressure methods is the temperature at which the food is cooked. Water baths cook food in boiling water (212° F at sea level, and slightly lower temps at higher elevation), and pressure canners cook food up to 250° F.
Water bath canning is best for acidic foods such as fresh fruit, tomatoes, and foods that an acid is added to, such as pickles with vinegar, and jams with lemon juice.
Pressure canning is best for meats and almost all vegetables because these are low-acid foods and acidity or high heat is necessary to prevent bacterial growth which could otherwise cause food poisoning. The higher heat that’s used in the pressure method kills any bacteria that might have remained if you’d simply boiled the low-acid food.
What is Botulism & Food Poisoning?
Botulism is a disease caused by food poisoning from the bacterium clostridium botulinum. Botulism occurs when toxins produced by this bacterium are ingested.
Clostridium botulinum is commonly found in soil and on garden produce. In moist, low-acid, oxygen-free environments this bacterium forms heat-resistant spores that are only killed at temperatures of 240° F or higher.
This deadly toxin won’t grow in acidic conditions (pH 4.6 or lower), so acidic foods such as pickles and fruits are safe to preserve using the water bath method.
It’s impossible to know if a food has this toxin just by looking at it, which is why it’s important to process your low-acid harvest and meats under pressure.
Water Bath Canning
Many of us grew up watching our mother or grandmother put up fruit harvests in a water bath canner each fall, and we’d look forward to the treat of sweet, juicy produce in the middle of winter! Water bath canning is the process of submerging jars filled with an acidic food such as fresh fruit, jam, applesauce, pickles, salsa, chutney or tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water. The jars of food are left to boil for the prescribed length of time, and then removed to cool. The jars seal as they cool. Once sealed, they’re safe for pantry storage.
Pressure canners are aluminum or stainless steel pots with a sealing lid, pressure gauge, and steam vent. Jars are filled with alkaline foods—such as carrots, squash, green beans, okra, corn, etc., or any meat—then placed in the pressure vessel with a few inches of water. Unlike the water bath method, the jars of food inside a pressure canner aren’t submerged in water; the canner’s directions and your recipe will tell you how much water is required to achieve the right pressure.
The lid is sealed, and as heat rises steam collects and air is released through a valve in the lid. Once all the air is released and only water and water vapor (steam) remain, pressure builds and the heat rises to 240° F. After maintaining that heat for the length of time prescribed by your recipe, the pressure is released and the canner is allowed to cool.
A pressure canner may actually be used as a water bath canner as well, by not sealing and pressurizing the pot. Investing in a pressure canner means you’ll be able to preserve any kind of produce or meat, whether it’s acidic or alkaline!
Two Ways to Gauge Pressure
Pressure canners use either a dial pressure gauge or a weight system to indicate the pressure.
A dial pressure gauge requires you to adjust the heat source to maintain the desired pressure, so you’ll need to keep an eye on the dial and adjust it manually if you have this style.
To use a weight system, a 5-lb., 10-lb., or 15-lb. weight is set on the steam release valve and the weight automatically lifts to release excess pressure.
All-American canners use weighted gauges. When pressure reaches the chosen level, the regulator weight makes a noticeable and distinctive sound. Stove heat is then adjusted so the regulator weight jiggles between one and four times per minute. Cooking time is counted from the first jiggle. It's that simple! With a little experience you'll quickly learn where to set your stove’s heat for the recipe you're making, and the needle-type pressure gauge provides another handy pressure indication. Special All-American features include lightweight, super-strong aluminum construction, and precision engineering that makes lid gaskets a thing of the past.
Should Acidic Foods be Pressure Canned?
To make things simpler you might be tempted to pressure-can all types of food, but that would be a mistake. Results are much better for jams, jellies, marmalades, fruit butter, fruit syrup, sauerkraut and pickled foods in a water bath, rather than under pressure. If these kinds of acidic foods are subjected to high heat, their color, flavor and texture will suffer.
Which Canner is Best?
To summarize, if you plan to preserve meats and vegetables through canning you’ll need a pressure canner, which may also be used for the water bath method (by not pressurizing), so you’ll kill two birds with one stone with a pressure canner. If you’re planning to preserve only acidic foods though, a water bath unit is the more economical choice.
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