Under Pressure

Today turned out to be a day of food preparation and preservation. Which is great, because I think we own almost every device for food preservation known to man. Trust me, if there’s ever some disaster that closes all grocery stores in the US, head on over to our house. We’ll have loads of granola and dried fruit, jams and jellies, bottles of homemade root beer and approximately 30 gallons of pickles to subsist on.

We try and give each preservation device its proper amount of kitchen use. Today was the maiden voyage of my shiny (and big!) and highly coveted Christmas present given to me by my ever-thoughtful husband – a 23-quart pressure canner. After re-reading that last poorly formed sentence, I’d like to clarify: my husband is not a 23-quart pressure canner, but a real live human. And other people can see him, too, I swear!

Anyway, since I’ve taken up canning in the last few years, I’ve limited myself to canning jams, jellies, and fresh fruit from the summer months. Peach butter is my favorite. Yum!

Peach butter

To can jams and other acidic foods, you only need a water bath canner, which is a fancy-sounding term for nothing more than a giant pot of water with a clever rack that sits inside so that the jars don’t sit on the bottom of the pot. All else needed is 3-piece mason jars full of tasty jam or fruit, and some boiling water (hence the name “boiling water canner” – so clever those marketers!) It’s a very easy and deliciously rewarding process. You should try it!

Anyway, lately I’ve always wanted to be able to make hearty soups and other concoctions that can’t be preserved in a water bath because of their acid level. So enter the pressure canner and my lentil soup.

See, to make a long story short, there’s this über-scary bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. If you’re like me and somewhat science-challenged, it sounds scary because it’s in Latin and in italics, and if you actually try to pronounce it sounds a lot like botulism. You know, the disease that comes from bloated aluminum cans from the grocery store, can be used to make bioweapons, and is, well, just the most powerful toxin known to man? Or, if you like to live dangerously, can also take away your wrinkles and leave you with a new, ever-smiling outlook on life?

In order to avoid such a fate, and to kill all of said bacteria by bringing the temp of the food well above 212° F, today saw the cooking of a large pot of lentil vegetable soup, and the release of The Beast:

Pressure canner

Because these things have been known to explode due to, well, high pressure, resulting in serious scalding and other unpleasantness, Ryan and I approached the process with much trepidation, reading and re-reading instructions, doing additional web research when the instructions were unclear, and in general, hovering around the kitchen every 5 minutes while this thing did its work.

So to recap: botulism, scalding, explosions, bioweaponry. Doesn’t pressure canning sound like a blast?

Just a few minutes ago, it finished its hour and a half of high-pressure wonderment (it’s so unnerving to not be able to pop off the lid and see what’s happening in there!) Now we leave to cool, pricking up our ears with each sealing “pop” of each quart jar.

Posted by robyn on January 20th, 2008 under cooking, crafts

7 Responses to “Under Pressure”

  1. Sharon B Says:

    Hi – nice to see all those tools are going to a good use. Remember your in-laws up in Maine should those stores ever close. BTW – clostridium is the ugly bacteria that is forever “bugging” Milos.

    Great pressure cooker – the one on the stove, not your husband.

  2. Dori Says:

    Wow. That is industrial looking. Sign me up for some pickles!

  3. Ryan Says:

    The soup was bubbling in the cans for at least 60 minutes after being removed from the (then cooled) pressure cooker. Must be some strange physics going on there: it was about 240 degrees inside the jar – sealed vacuum tight. It couldn’t draw in more air as the small headspace (about one inch in a quart jar) cooled.

    We’re eager to see how the 90 minute pressure session affects the soup. I think I might try canning pot roast: that can’t possibly be overcooked!

  4. Asheen Says:

    Ryan, we used to do experiments in such sealed pressure vessels in our physical chemistry labs — it’s called bomb calorimetry. We’d close one up with a water bath, an electric fuse and some benzene, explode the benzene, and measure the rise in water temperature to calculate the energy of combustion. This is like the same kind of experiment, except you then proceed to eat the results.


  5. Kim Says:

    I am currently wearing a Robyn-made hat. It’s cozy and warm with fashionable eggplant and sky stripes. My head loves it!

  6. http://edbehandlung.men/ Says:

    Don't through it all out the window. In a very very generalized way, I think there is something to when we were born and how the planets were aligned at that particular time. We are all just a bunch of 'energy' which comes from the 'big energy ball in the sky'…..yeah it just might have an influence on us and our personalities. I'm a Cancer and fit my 'chart' to a tee as does my hubby.

  7. http://www./ Says:

    En voilà une belle initiative, il faut que je vois si il y a une association comme ça par ici.J'aime bien les côtes blettes !!As tu regardé l'emmission sur france 5 hier soir ? "200 km à la ronde" ou comment 5 familles essaient de de venir locavores, amusant mais aussi instructif.bises et bon week end

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Handmade High Tech

I'm Robyn. Thanks for stopping by! This is my craft blog.

Contact me at robyn [at] dognamedbanjo [dot] com.

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