First Time Canner Need Some Advice

ourhappyhome(7B)March 16, 2011

Hello everyone. Today marked my very first attempt at canning. I purchased an All-American 915. I bought it exactly 2 years ago to make Annie's Salsa. But then I read the manual and completely chickened out. I made the salsa and froze it - LOL. Other than reading the manual, I've been afraid to try the doggone thing until today. I'm so glad to have this site as a resource.

Now the question: After reading the manual 3x, researching online and watching you tube videos, I purchased, cleaned and pressure canned 12 pounds of boneless chicken breast. In the middle of my 2nd batch, the water ran out, or so I think. I don't know yet because the canner is still cooling down as I type. The reason the water probably ran out is I let the weighted gauge jiggle too much. I just learned that it was supposed to jiggle 1 - 4x per minute but I let it jiggle a lot more than that because the dial read 10 - 12 pounds of pressure. I tried to research this online but you can see why it was difficult to find an exact answer. How many jiggles are too many? By allowing the weight to jiggle more often, did I underprocess? overprocess? Is the meat likely good to eat? I just want to UNDERSTAND what I'm doing. It's taken me 2 years to get over the fear and give this a try. It's something I've wanted to do all of my adult life. I really don't want this one mistake to send me back to square one. Thanks so much for your help!


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More wise folks than I will no doubt chime in here, but this is my two cents.

The weighted gauge is a primary standard, which means it is accurate when used correctly no matter what the dial gauge reads. Dial gauges need to be calibrated, even when brand new, and even then can be off by up to several pounds in either direction.

So, you should do your canning by using the weighted gauge, not the dial. The dial is just a " rough approximation" of your pressure.

If you let the weight jiggle more than the 1-4 times per minute, your pressure is actually somewhat higher than the nominal pressure on the weight. Your food will be "overcooked" slightly in that it will have been canned at a slightly higher pressure than is needed. This is perfectly safe, AS LONG AS you don't run out of water in the canner. Food can always be canned at a higher pressure and/or for a longer time than the recipe states with no safety concerns, if ALL OTHER FACTORS ARE STILL EQUAL ( proper packing of jars, venting of canner, proper canner cool-down, etc). The food may have quality issues, but not safety ones. Increasing pressure and/or time is never a substitute for proper safe procedures.

On the other hand, if your canner did boil dry, the food is underprocessed, and you risk damage (warping) the canner. Once the canner boils dry, there is no longer the correct amount of steam inside the canner, and therefore the temperature is no longer correct, either.

The safe thing to do, especially considering that we are talking about meat, is to either reprocess within 24 hours (but preferably sooner) those jars that were in the canner when it boiled dry, OR to freeze the meat as soon as it cooled down. But first, check your canner carefully to make sure the canner and lid are not warped.

To prevent boiling the canner dry, remember that you can add more water to the canner initially, especially if you are doing a long processing time. The water level can come halfway up the jars when you first load the canner. After the canner vents and starts building pressure, start turning your heat level down on the stove so that you "coast" up to the correct pressure instead of "blasting" up to pressure. When the canner is running at pressure, you may only need your stove to be a medium, or even lower to manintain the correct pressure.

Fiddling too much with the heat (to get up to pressure as fast as possible, then turning it way down because you are overpressure) causes siphoning, which is when the liquid in the jar is drawn out during canning. So, it is best to find the "sweet spot" on your stove heat dial where your canner will hold the right pressure, and not fiddle with the temperature much if at all during the actual canning. You may want to try canning a few jars of colored water to find that sweet spot on your stove.


    Bookmark   March 16, 2011 at 11:08PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Great info from Sharon! The AA jiggle rate is 3-4 per minute last I read but go by your book. Jiggle rate varies for each brand of canner. A few more - say 5-6 won't hurt for a few minutes while adjusting your heat as long as you put plenty of water in to begin with. As Sharon said, more water is better especially with long processing times. But I shoot for 3 jiggles per minute. And it is the weight that you go by, not the gauge.

As to square one - square one should be several practice runs with jars of water not food and especially not meats. There is a learning curve that takes practice just like learning to swim. :)

As to the safety of your meat - IF the canner did not boil dry (always add water between batches of processing) and IF all the jars sealed well then it should be safe.

If the canner boiled dry I sure hope it didn't warp your brand new canner. If no visible signs of damage then just put 3-4 " of water in it and run it up to pressure to check for steam leaks. Let us know if it checks out ok.


    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 11:02AM
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Sharon, Dave, thanks so much for your help. I'll be adding lots more water from here on out. I didn't know I could add as much as 4" of water. Every example I saw or read said 1.5 - 2". Sharon, I had to read your post twice to really absorb all the information. I'm clipping this post because there is so much there. Thanks for taking the time. I was VERY careful to do everything just-so, so I feel pretty good about the results.

Dave, I searched the manual again and again until I found the information about the weight. It does say 3-4 jiggles per minute, but it says so in the Pressure Cooker directions, NOT the pressure canning directions!! Funny that they didn't bother to repeat that information.

Now for the results. After prying the lid off the canner, I discovered a trace of water in the bottom - whew! No warping thank God. I must have turned it off just in time. As I said before, this was my 2nd batch because only 7 jars would fit. The remaining 4 jars are in the freezer! I read somewhere that wide mouth Ball jars are freezer safe and they are. My chicken is frozen solid. Can't wait to eat 'em with some fresh maters from the garden. LOL

Thanks again you two.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 7:56PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

I think it's easy to misunderstand instructions, which is why Dave's suggestion to do a practice round is such a good idea.

The All-American manual says to use at least 1 1/2" of water. It's unfortunate that these manuals aren't better written because that minimum is often not sufficient for extended processing times and/or higher pressures.

One thing about this sort of canning is it's often done intermittently and it's really easy to forget all the tips, so I make notes in the manual and if it's been a long time since I used the canner, I re-read all the instructions.

I also wrote in my manual a reminder of the 10-minute wait time at the end of processing, as that isn't included in the instructions.


    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 8:12PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Yeah I thought the 3-4 jiggles was right. Glad you found it. It is one reason why I like my Presto over my AA as the Presto weights are supposed to rock slowly but continuously. Easier to monitor.

I didn't know I could add as much as 4" of water.

For future reference there really is no limit to the amount of water you can put in the canner to begin with. Obviously you don't want it overflowing but as Sharon said above you can have the water 1/2 way up the sides of the jars with no problems. Other manuals say things like 2 quarts or 6". But those are MINIMUM requirements and for long time processed things like meats and such, water half way up the jars is a good thing.

Oh and when using canning jars for freezing be sure to leave enough headspace for expansion. Sometimes that means you have to remove a couple of T of the food.


    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 9:04PM
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Practice run today! After everything was done, I realized I forgot to wipe the tops of the jars before adding the rings. Soooo I removed all the tops, returned them to the pot of boiling water. Wiped the jars then replaced the tops and rings. What I learned. It absolutely takes practice to get this down. There's a bit of rhythm required to get through all the steps without forgetting anything. I really wasn't planning to do a trial but when Sharon, then Dave, then Carol suggested it I figured I had to. I'm glad I did.

Carol, I'm a note taker too. Today I started a little canning notebook. I'll keep it in the box with the canner so every year I can remember what I learned and have a place to add new information like the knowledge I've gained here. Thanks for the suggestion. Here is what I have so far:

- Adjust water level for longer processing times. 3" is a minimum.
- Add a dash of vinegar to water before canning.
- Weight should jiggle 3 -4x per minute on the AA canner.
- Never attempt to remove the top or the weight until the dial reads 0.
- Leave plenty of headroom when freezing or jars may burst.
- If in doubt, throw it out! (or freeze it)
- In addition to this, I've written the steps from selection and cleaning of jars, to removing rings after processing.

Love this stuff. Thanks so much everyone.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 4:20PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Never attempt to remove the top or the weight until the dial reads 0.

That needs to be modified. When the dial reads zero, remove the weight. Then wait 10 mins before removing the lid.

If you read the Using a Pressure Canner guide at NCHFP, the recognized authority, it takes you through it all step by step.


Here is a link that might be useful: Using Pressure Canners

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 5:23PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

Remember, the processing time is time to develop a steamy plume + 10 minutes vent time + processing time per product + cool down to zero + 10 minutes wait time before removing lid.

So the total processing time is considerably longer than just the minutes indicated.

Also, if no one mentioned it, when the gauge shows zero, gently shift the weight but don't lift it off. That's a check to make sure there's no remaining pressure. If you get a little whoosh, leave the weight on a minute or two longer. This will help prevent siphoning from the jars.

Do NOT use the processing times provided in the manual. Manuals are not updated and processing times seldom follow current times or protocols.


    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 7:15PM
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