Monday, September 17, 2012

Pressure canning - don't be scared!

Canned baked beans
I'm a firm believer that if you're going to cook something, go big. Leftovers can be made into lunches for the following day, recycled into other meals, and in some lucky cases, can be preserved for enjoyment later in the year. Baked beans are one of those items you can can up, and since they do take quite a bit of time and effort it is worth the effort of making extra.

Just a note to people who are more experienced in canning: This blog is for everyone who cans, from the most experienced to the person who's doing it for the very first time. I may mention things that seem like common sense (don't touch hot jars). Don't be insulted. Instead, think about when you were just starting out, and canning seemed like brain surgery and you were afraid of exploding your pressure canner. If I miss a safety tip, PLEASE make a comment below.

Baked beans need to be pressure canned. A water bath will not have enough heat to destroy hidden bacteria, either in the beans or the small amounts of meat in them. The timing for pressure canning the baked beans are for the recipe I used here, and if you use a different recipe (for instance, with tomatoes in it), you will want to check out the times for processing them. The size of your jars also matters, as well as your height above sea level.

Heating the jars
As with all canning, start with clean, heated jars. I like to run my jars through the dishwasher on the "sanitize" mode, but that's because I'm lazy. It's just as adequate to clean them in hot, soapy water and rinse them well. To heat the jars before adding your beans, you need to turn them upside down in your canner, with about two to three inches of water in the bottom. The water should be brought to a boil, and the steam will fill the jars (and some of the water will, too), sterilizing them and heating them.

Don't pick up hot glass jars with your bare hands. Use a jar lifter or tongs, and always use hot pads or oven mitts. Be aware that when you lift out your jars, not only will they be hot, but they'll be filled with boiling hot steam. As you stand the jar upright, that steam will come out, so keep all body parts away from the jar opening until that steam has escaped. Hot steam will burn you!

Hot jar, ready to fill
Place your jar onto a cutting board or safe surface, or into a shallow bowl. This will help contain the mess which often happens during canning. Using a funnel (as I did in this post on canning tomatoes) also helps keep the mess under control. Put a metal knife into your jar, both to help conduct heat away from the glass and to help you get rid of any air bubbles in your beans after they've been added.

Using a large spoon or ladle, fill the jar with the hot beans. The beans should reach the bottom of the neck portion of your jar, which is about an inch or less from the rim. Use the knife (or plastic spatula) to gently move the beans around, releasing any bubbles. If there were large ones, you may need to add more beans to bring it up to the right level.

Cleaning the rim
Once the jar is appropriately full, remove the funnel and carefully clean the rim of the jar with a hot, moist cloth. Visually inspect the lid for any beans or sauce and clean them off if you find any. Place a hot canning lid onto the jar, followed by a hot ring (don't forget those hot pads!). Tighten the ring "finger tight" but don't wrench it on or you may ruin the seal. Put the finished jar back into the pressure canner, right side up this time. Repeat the process until all your jars are filled and sitting in the pressure canner.

Pressure canner with beans
Your pressure canner may hold a different number of jars from mine. Make sure you check your manual (many are available online for free) to be sure you've got it right. Mine, a 21.5 quart model, holds seven quarts or 18 pints (you stack them on two levels of nine jars each). While it's perfectly fine to use the pressure canner with less jars in it, I personally feel that it reduces problems such as breakage when the canner is full. Also, you'll use the same amount of energy and water for three jars as you will for seven, so you might as well process a full pot.

For pressure canning, the water should only be about two to three inches up the sides of the jars. This is different from water bath canning, where you want the jars completely covered. Do not cover (with water) the lids of jars that you are pressure canning, or you will have problems with seal failures.

Locked and loaded
Put the lid on your pressure canner and follow the directions of the manufacturer for sealing it tightly. My All American canner has six screws around the lid which fold up and screw down to hold the lid securely in place. The screws should be tightened in twos, on opposite sides of the canner. Tighten two, rotate slightly, then tighten another two, continuing until all the screws are secured. Then go around once more and re-tighten to be sure they are fully secured. At this point, you can begin bringing up the heat under your pressure canner.

You want to bring your water to a full, rolling boil to start. Once it is boiling, you can lower the temperature until it continues to boil but isn't spitting out liquid. Your pressure canner should be allowed to vent (blow off steam through its vent hole) for 10 minutes before you put the weight on or start your timer. This lets the temperature build up inside, while venting off the air you won't need. After then 10 minutes are up, put your weight on. For baked beans with pork, you want your weight (or rocker, as it's sometimes called) to be at 10 (see picture above). This will keep the pressure in your canner at the right level for your beans.

Now the waiting begins. You want to process your beans for 65 minutes if you have pint jars, and 75 minutes if you have quart jars. Start timing as soon as your weight is on the vent. Your weight should not be bobbing around on the vent like a crazed squirrel. It should be gently rocking back and forth making the occasional "pfffffft" sound as steam escapes. Slowly (very slowly) lower the temperature on your stove until you reach that gentle rocking. Make note of the setting, because next time you can something in that size jar,  you'll have an idea of what temperature to lower it to, making it easier on you.

Labeled and ready for storage
When the timer alerts you, turn off the heat under your pressure canner. Do not move the canner for at least one hour, and preferably not until it is cool to the touch (which may take several hours). When you can touch the canner without a hot mitt, you may remove the weight. Use a hot mitt to remove it, even if the temperature seems cool, because there may be bottled up steam inside. Taking off the weight allows that steam to escape, and lets the canner depressurize and cool down.

When it is quite cool you can open the lid of your canner. Check the pressure gauge to see if it is at zero, and then gently pull the lid off. If it doesn't come off right away, you may need to let it sit a bit longer, or you might need to encourage it with a wooden spoon handle (sometimes the seal doesn't want to let go). Never try to take the lid off before the pressure is at zero and the canner is completely cool to the touch!

Remove your jars, then check the seals on them by pinging them on the lid with the back of a metal spoon. "Pings" mean the seal is good, and a "thunk" means it didn't take. Any jars with bad seals should be immediately refrigerated and used soon.

If they need a wipe, do so with a damp cloth or sponge. Label your jars and  put them away in your pantry. Over the winter, if you get a craving for those sweet, delicious baked beans you can just pull out a jar and heat it up  in a pot or the microwave. You may need to add a bit of water, depending on how thick your sauce was when you canned the beans.

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button).

You may also be interested in:
Canning tomatoes in a water bath canner
Make your own stewed tomatoes
How to care for your pressure canner