looking for clarification on pressure canning

dilvishMarch 22, 2011

Hello All, I just discovered pressure canning and have read all the USDA guidelines and those at uga.edu and other extension sites. Also did all of the commercial sites that had canning info or recipes. I have some questions.

Who comes up with these recipes and why those quantities? It seems most recipes are all odd amounts - 7 qts, 9qts, 15 pts, etc. Why aren't the recipes given for the common dimensions of the canners?

A few sites say, "Tap the lid with the end of a spoon. If you don't hear a clear ringing sound it's a bad seal." (Yes, I know something like this only has to be put up on one site and before long it'll be spread all over the net.) So far I have done a few dozen pts and half pts of chili, sausage, and potatoes and not one ringing sound can I produce. Yet the lids are concave and on tight. So what's up with that?

I want to make spaghetti sauce with meat. I can only find one recipe and it calls for 30 lbs of tomatoes. It's not tomato season. The tomatoes (which I believe must be up from Mexico or SA) available now are pretty much tasteless. So I can't make sauce? I can't use canned tomatoes and tomato paste? As popular as spaghetti sauce is there's only one recipe? (Actually some of the cooking sites have so-called pressure canning recipes but I think those must be made up by people who neither cook nor can.)

Thanks for reading.


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Hi Dennis - how big a canner do you have? 7 quarts is pretty standard, though of course you can always cut down a recipe to fit your canner/your produce (keeping the proportions the same).

Don't worry about the ringing sound if the lid is concave and on tight. I think you risk breaking the seal (or the jar!) hitting it with a spoon.

You can still make tomato sauce with meat using canned tomatoes - but why re-can it? If you have canned tomatoes (homegrown or store-bought) just make your sauce for dinner, refrigerate or freeze the leftovers. If you re-canned it, it wouldn't taste like much (texture) when you opened it and reheated it. Wait til local tomatoes are in to make your sauce and can it - or even better, just can it with the spices or plain, then you can use a BWB, add the meat and any olive oil, low-acid veggies when you open the jar for the meal.

Look for the book Small Batch Preserving - it's all (? as I recall) BWB and some freezing, no PCing, but it sounds like you want the smaller batch sizes and there are some really yummy sauce recipes in there. If you're interested, a couple are Tomato-Basil and Multi-Use I believe they have been posted here if you do a search.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 9:37PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I can try to answer a couple of your questions. :)

7 quarts is a standard canner load. Those USDA approved recipes with other odd number of quarts are often based on what would result from the standard market measurements of bulk purchases ie: bushel, peck etc. since that is how most would buy or measure the homegrown quantities. I can't comment on recipes you may have found from other sources other than to say that there are many unsafe sources on the web.

But a recipe given for quarts may be safely canned in pints too. You can always go to smaller jars (still process for the full time given), you just can't increase the size of the jars given in the recipe.

Remember where canning came from, its history. The farming community where canning was, and still is for many of us, the method for preserving large quantities of fruits and vegetables while they are in season. It is that mind-set (for want of a better label) that underlies all the USDA testing and NCHFP recipe development - preserve quantities of basics in season to use in the off season. So the NCHFP spaghetti sauce recipe is an in-season recipe.

But there are so-called niche books available that have refined and pared down those basic recipes for the home canner who isn't as much a traditionalist - Small Batch Preserving is one frequently recommend here.

So far I have done a few dozen pts and half pts of chili, sausage, and potatoes and not one ringing sound can I produce. Yet the lids are concave and on tight. So what's up with that?

The spoon test bit has been around for eons and still pops up now and then. Feel free to ignore it. But I sure hope you used an approved instructions for the things you have canned as they are all low-acid. The sausage especially can be risky.

I can't use canned tomatoes and tomato paste?

Not supposed to in canning. Re-canning previously canned foods is not recommended. There are both quality and potential shelf-storage safety issues. You can use them for fresh eating of course.

As popular as spaghetti sauce is there's only one recipe? (Actually some of the cooking sites have so-called pressure canning recipes but I think those must be made up by people who neither cook nor can.)

There are a few more than one from approved sources but again they will be basic recipes unless you get into some of the trendy books. And yes, spaghetti sauce must be pressure canned because it is a low-acid food.

Do you have a copy of the Ball Blue Book? If not, you really need to have one if you will be home canning.

I hope this helps.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 9:57PM
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Thanks much for the replies, they're most helpful. It might be best if I explain what I'm doing. I'm recently retired. My wife and I are avid campers and I was trying to solve the food problem for our trips. We can go 2 or 3 weeks with our current setup using outfitter coolers with dry ice but we still need to leave camp to find block ice often enough to make it annoying.

Then, a couple of months back, I applied for and much to my shock got hired as a camp host at a lake in the Stanislaus National Forest. The nearest store will be at least 45 minutes away. So now I was looking for some way to take months of food, not weeks. I'm not a fan of dried foods, and the equipment to do double seal vacuum chamber bagging was too expensive. Then I found out you could pressure can meats and vegetables and off I went.

I bought a 16 qt Presto. I made the chili from the USDA Guide 5 recipe and canned the potatoes according to the instructions in Guide 4. The sausage I did by taking a literal interpretation of the ground meat section in Guide 5. I made a batch of my world famous Italian sausage in small links and canned them in tomato juice. I also made some equally world famous breakfast sausage patties but used boiling water instead of the juice. The Italinm sausage is for the spaghetti sauce and the breakfast sausage is for eggs. My idea is to do a bunch of chicken and pork as well, with the veggies that will go with them. I'm also going to take the canner and my smoker along. Since I'm going to be paid to fish all summer I wouldn't want to see any of those tasty critters go to waste.

So the spaghetti sauce was troublesome as I am very fond of spaghetti and I thought it would be an excellent choice. I guess I was struggling with the concept. I was aware that canning had farming roots, but couldn't shake the feeling that today there would be many urban canners who needed recipes and options geared to their needs. As a city boy I only thought of canning as what my aunt in the country did with fruit and jams. (Not sure how many produce stands there might be in the high sierras but that is now also an option.)

However, Plan B works almost as well. I can make my sauce and ground meat from my own recipe and dry it. We tried that last year and it was ok. Not as easy (or as tasty probably) as opening a can and heating it up but those are the rigors of camp life I guess.

I have ordered the Ball book and will also get the Small Batch Preserving so thanks for the tip.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the botulism risk. I understand the spores are in the ground and root crops are risky. But I think meats and non-root crops are equally susceptible to botulism? I'm not understanding why if that is also true.

I also read that pressure canning does not cook the food. At 240 degrees for an hour or more I find that hard to believe. Is that true?

Thanks very much for the help.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 12:48PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Can I start at the bottom? :) No, pressure canning does "cook" the food but only partially. How much so all depends on the food and the size of pieces in the jar. Example potatoes: in cubes they are fully cooked and ready to just be fried up to eat IMO but if small whole ones or large chunks are canned they will still need further cooking to be ready to eat. Meats work the same but further cooking is always advised with canned meats.

The botulism risk: spores are in the air as well as in the ground. They are all around us. The spores themselves are harmless to us and we actually ingest some of them now and then with no harm. The danger is in the lethal toxins the spores produce if sealed in an airless of low-air environment as in a jar of canned food. So while the exposure to botulism spores may be less for meats than for root vegetables, the risk is still there. The double hex they carry in canning is they have no odor, no taste, and they don't break seals on the jars so you have no way to know they are there. Cooking the food after opening the jars destroys the toxin that may have been produced while the food was jarred.

The spaghetti sauce could be a problem for you this time of year given the lack of tomatoes but if you can handle freezer containers of it (got a propane powdered freezer?) I can post the BBB recipes for frozen spaghetti sauce for you since you don't have the book yet. Let me know if you want it. It uses all canned tomato products.

I'm not positive but I think all but 1 of the recipes in Small Batch Preserving are also freezer recipes. The one exception I know of is her recipe for Seasoned Tomato Sauce which is BWB processed. This isn't word-for-word as it is off my own card but it is all there.

12 cups chopped ripe plum tomatoes
1 c chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
2 T red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1/2 tsp pickling salt

Combine all ingredients except salt and vinegar in large pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat and actively simmer uncovered for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours until very thick. Press through a food mill and discard seeds and skins. Add vinegar and salt. Ladle into hot jars with 1/2" headspace. Process 1/2 pints and pints for 35 min. in a BWB. Makes about 7 cups.

The sausage, assuming you cut any casings and used only dried spices and herbs rather than fresh should be fine. If interested NCHFP is the online source for the USDA guidelines and recipes in case you need it while on the road. I'll link it below. Keep in mind that dehydrating ground meat isn't approved. Too much fat and too many bacterial contaminated surfaces for safe dehydrating except for the jerky recipe. Hmmm, jerky spaghetti? Now there is a thought. :)

Sounds like you have a great adventure ahead of you this summer! Good luck with the fishing.


Here is a link that might be useful: NCHFP

    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 3:13PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

I am not sure what you mean by pressure canning does not cook the food. Can you clarify what you read?

There are many strains of botulism (basically A-E), each of which exists in different foods and multiplies/produces toxins under different conditions. So there is no "one size fits all." The most common strains found in canning respond to warmth, lack of oxygen and low acidity, which clearly applies to many home-canned recipes. But there are other strains found which grow in cold conditions and don't require warmth. Witness the prevalence of botulism in fermented fish in Alaska.

Small-Batch Preserving offers several canned tomato-based pasta and pizza sauces. All are higher-acid boiling water bath recipes, often calling for wine to increase acidity. Pressure canning is not within the purview of that book, so all recipes are meatless.

One problem I have with canning sauces using previously canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc. is it seems a waste of resources to re-process products which already have been processed. Out of season, if I happened to run out of home-canned product, I probably would go to Trader Joe's and buy some of their pasta sauces. At approximately $1.00 per jar and with no "oddball ingredients" or gums, corn syrups, excessive sodium, their sauces are the bargain of the century. I'm not even out the cost of the container, much less utilities.


    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 8:48PM
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Carol: I quoted the sentence pretty much as I remembered it, but nothing comes up in a google search for it.. I can't remember exactly where I saw it but it was more than once.. I can guarantee you it wasn't anywhere I would return to for authoritative information.

As for sauces, just speaking personally, I detest store bought sauces. But the point by Dave previously was taken and I am just going to wait patiently for tomato season and do what damage I can do at that time.

I read some of the reviews at Amazon on Small Batch Processing and decided to pass on that work at this time. I think for now I'll just concentrate on learning the principles and understanding as far as I'm able what pressure canning has to offer me in terms of what I'm trying to accomplish. That said, as much as I love tomatoes and wine.. you know I'll be going there sometime in the future.

Dave: I forgot I could just can the ground beef, and in fact, I did that today. In tomato juice so I can just toss a can (do you say jar?) in the sauce when I'm ready. I must confess though that ground beef is no substitute for real Italian meatballs but, you know, at the end of a long day out in the fresh air, even if it is around 5,000', I don't think I'm going to even think about complaining.

We have the dried sauce recipe from A.D. Livingston or one of our camp cooking books and that will work until tomato season. I have been interested in the last couple of years in learning the seasonal cycle of vegetables and fruits and adjusting my diet to conform. Barbara Kingsolver's work Animal, Vegetable, Miracle resonated so deeply with me that I do not have the words to describe it.

You asked if we have a propane freezer. I wish! Those things are megabucks. However, solar panels are now available that can deliver the power needed to run an AC freezer at a reasonable price (much below gas powered freezer prices) but I think I'll be able to afford a 12v freezer with the solar panels needed to keep the 12v battery charged by the end of the year. That, of course, will change things dramatically. I'll have an onboard freezer with canned goods.. and if I can pull off getting a vacuum chamber sealer (which will make canning redundant) I may never have to visit "civilization" ever again.

As for the sausage, no, I did not cut the casings. The guide said to cut the casing to fit the jar. I made the casings to fit the jar. So there was no indication in the USDA guide that I needed to cut the casings if they didn't fit. Not sure if it makes any difference, but I only use natural animal casings, not that artifical crap. I am keen to learn if you believe this is a problem.

Oh, yes, the uga.edu was the first site I visited and have read every word. That's the one you refer to as NCHFP. Those are the guys that started me on this whole thing.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 12:59AM
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hhmm.. Carol. Just in case my response might be viewed differently than what I intended.. I appreciate your response and in no way intended to criticize what you do. Your input was valuable to me. I was just expressing my own opinion about commercial sauces.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 1:12AM
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RuthieG__TX(z8 TX)

What ever you do, don't pass on the Ball Blue Book. It is really a must have for all home canners.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 5:50AM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

I'm not offended. Of course you make the choices best for you and which accomodate your tastes. I mentioned Trader Joe's because their sauces are organic with ingredients which are all "recognizable" and for that reason are a good back-up as well as good value. They have been discussed on Chowhound and eGullet as viable base sauces for rush-hour cooking.

But that doesn't mean they're equal to homemade from scratch, especially when you're working with your own seasonal product. One of the tricks for you will be assessing your annual consumption and adjusting your canning so that you're not running out before the new season or, conversely, ending the year with lots of unused product on the shelves.


    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 1:28PM
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Carol, have you tried Contadina's sauces? We use their cans of tomatoes and tomato sauces for out spaghetti sauce. The tomato sauce ingredients are tomato puree (water, tomato paste), salt, sugar, citric acid, garlic powder, onion powder, spices. They use Roma style tomatoes, whatever that means. The picture on the can sure looks like a Roma plum and the sauce certainly tastes like Romas.. Maybe they're growing a variant and need to use the word 'style'. anyway, the Romas/plums are the best for spaghetti sauce, imho.

In any event, my wife is a big fan of Trader Joe's but I don't like them (well, they do have a really wine selection at our local store that I've been known to visit frequently - except try and find a single sauterne!). My issue with Trader Joe's is their carbon footprint. Their products seem to come from the most distant places possible. I'm making a concerted effort to buy as local as possible (Damn that Pollan!).

Ruth: Thanks, the Ball Blue arrives tomorrow.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 8:37PM
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