Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pressure Canning 101

First off, good news. My KA mixer is currently on its way back home from the spa. Diagnosis: stripped gears, cracked housing, and a few other maladies. I was promised repairs would be made and a new metal housing placed to protect them all. The chipper KA staffer also wanted to inform me that all models '07 and later automatically came with metal housing. Grrr....I told her I knew that and purchased my mixer in '07 although clearly was hoodwinked as the box contained an '06 model (insert explicit verbalized silently in my head). She quickly skipped on to ask me how I would like to pay the $91 charge for fixing my mixer. Oh well, bright side is it cost less than purchasing a brand new mixer.

This past week Cowboy and I gathered up ingredients to make soup in anticipation of using our All American pressure canner for the first time. Recipes: Black Bean Andouille Soup and Baked Potato Soup, two of our favorites. Big stock pots simmered aromatically on the stove for the day wafting delicious scents throughout the house.

As they were finishing cooking, I brought out the manual for the canner. I had read and re-read the booklet from cover to cover and it was now thoroughly highlighted with reminder notes in the margins. I had owned a few pressure cookers before but never a metal to metal seal heavy duty canner. Cowboy assisted in the process of ladling the soup into hot clean wide mouth quart jars, checking headspace, guiding bubbles out with my trusty "canning" chopstick, wiping rims, and securing warmed lids with bands. I was familiar and confident performing  these initial steps as they are the same for water bath canning.

Next we added 2-3" of hot water to the bottom of the canner and began to load the jars in, staggering the top jars from the bottom to create good air flow between them.

We set the heavy lid on (which we pre lubed contact points with Vaseline) and battened down the hatches. Heat was increased and we set the timer for the "exhaust" period. When the timer beeped at us we applied the weighted regulator at 15 pounds pressure for our high altitude and watched as the canner built up pressure slowly. We watched, fascinated, as the dial climbed and the gauge began to sputter, rock, and hiss. Heat was decreased to maintain 1-3 "sputters/jiggles" per minute and the final timer was set.

When the timer finally rang out we turned off the heat, allowing the canner (untouched) to come down off pressure gradually. Once the gauge read "0" the regulator was removed to allow any excess pressure to escape. Ten minutes later the lid was removed. Or...attempted to remove. The darn thing had sealed shut and I couldn't budge it. I remember reading that if it seals too tight, use a large flat head screwdriver to gently pry it open. One slight twist and the lid loosened without hesitation.

There were little food floaties in the water and I wrinkled my nose in worry. As I pulled out the jars carefully and set them on a towel, out of the way from any disturbance, I peered at the jars. There was grimy food smeared all over the jars and lids. The contents looked slightly separated, especially the potato soup jars. In fact, the potato soup jars looked down right nasty. It was hard to tell if the process had been successful from first look. I gave the jars 24hrs to cool and seal properly before I started messing with them.

I washed off the jars (crud came off easier than I anticipated) and checked their seals. All lids remained intact and perfectly concave. I peered again at the potato soup jars and made the executive decision to open one and take a peek-see. The lid popped open and inside was a congealed, spongy, disgusting mess.

It smelled fine but did not appear appetizing to say the least.

 Time to figure out what went wrong.

Per the internet, manual, and several of the canning books I owned: do not can foods that use any type of thickening agent, mainly flour. Ooops. For these foods, where applicable, cook according to recipe until the point of adding thickening agent. Can product then, just prior to serving, heat and add thickening agent.

Well, I guess this is a learning process.

Just yesterday we popped open the bean soup and dished some out with homemade corn bread. Delish! The bean soup turned out perfect although I felt I pureed this batch a little too much. Next time I would leave a larger portion with chunks, more like a 60(whole)/40(puree) mix.

Yay for canning!! Next up will be canned meats: ground beef, chunked chicken, and bacon!

So, although you can't can this recipe, I've decided to include my Baked Potato Soup recipe for all to enjoy. It is super simple and absolutely delicious. A true comfort soup.

Baked Potato Soup

4 baking potatoes- baked and chopped
2/3   c. all purpose flour
6 c. 2% milk
4 oz. smoked cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 c. reduced fat sour cream
1/2 c. green onions, chopped
6 applewood smoked bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

Spoon flour into large Dutch oven, gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly. Add 3/4 c. cheese, sour cream, 1/4 c. onions and potatoes. Mix well and cook over low heat 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated- do not boil.

Ladle into individual bowls and top with cheese,onions, and about 1 Tbs bacon. Garnish with cracked pepper if desired. Oh, and do not pressure can:)

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