I bought my pressure canner and all the necessary tools to go with it a few weeks ago, but wasn't going to try it out until our schedules settled down a bit. Let's face it though, one thing or another is always coming up and things never really settle down, do they? So I just decided to give it a whirl this afternoon.
I pulled my canner off the shelf, washed it inside and out, washed all my tools and had Yeoldfurt bring me one of the flats of quart jars from storage. I decided to make a double recipe of Spring Skillet Dinner, an easy but very hearty ground beef and fresh veggie stew, for my first adventure in pressure canning. I figured doubling the recipe would give me four quarts which, in my opinion, should equal four meals for the two of us. Left to his own devices, Yeoldfurt would prefer his own quart all to himself for supper ...but, hey ...if we're ever actually living off of our stores, we would be foolish not to be rationing. So four quarts, four meals.
I have a large crockpot I used to cook the two pounds of lean ground meat. In a separate skillet, I melted a cube of butter and added all the chopped fresh veggies ...6 large stalks of celery, two cups of sliced carrots and 1 large white potato, cubed ...added salt & pepper & garlic powder, then sauteed them all in the butter until the celery and potatoes started to look translucent. Then I added 1-1/3 cups of white rice to the veggies plus 3 cups of water, covered and let it simmer on slow heat for about 30 minutes until the rice was done and the liquid was absorbed. While the rice was cooking, I added six tablespoons of flour to the ground beef mixture in the crockpot plus two cups water and let it thicken. When the rice and veggies were done, I stirred them into the crockpot with the meat and gravy and left the heat on low.
Now for the canning part. I had my three quarts of water boiling in the canner already and my jars and lids were washed and ready on the drainboard. The instruction book said to put hot water in the jars until you're ready to fill them ...that was the part of the instructions I didn't remember from my early experiences canning. Maybe it is something unique to pressure canning but I followed the instructions and filled each of the four jars with hot water and put the lids and rings in a bowl of hot water until I was ready to use them.
I have a small kitchen with very limited counter space, but I wanted to organize things as much as possible before I started filling the jars. I checked the level in my canner ...the water level was 3 quarts exactly and was at a soft rolling boil. I set my crockpot next to the sink on one side and my hot water filled jars next to the sink on the other side. The lids and rings were in the bowl of hot water in the second sink and I used an over the sink cutting board to place the jars next to the crockpot when I was ready to fill them. I left one inch of headspace in each jar, per the instructions, and tightened the rings only finger tight on each jar after it was filled. Then I placed each of the four jars around the perimeter of the canner, not touching each other, not touching the sides of the canner and equal distance from the center. I put the lid on the canner and vented it for 10 minutes, according to the instructions. I set the ring and regulator to 10 pounds of pressure, brought the heat up until the regulator was rocking gently and set the timer. The canner has been officially processing for one hour ...thirty minutes to go. When the processing time is complete, I will remove the canner from the burner and let it cool down on its own. I'm just hoping that all is well inside the canner and I will have succeeded at my first attempt at pressure canning.
I honestly did not think I would feel quite so unsure about all this. I helped my mother can when I was a youngster and my grandmother and I did some canning one summer when my own kids were young. But I have only ever canned fruits and jellies and I honestly do not remember it being this complicated. Maybe it just feels complicated because back then I was just helping and someone else was in charge who knew what they were doing. I kept having to read (and re-read) the instruction booklet today and won't be sure I did everything right unless and until everything turns out all right when the process is done. I'm more tired than I expected to be after canning a mere four jars of stew. But if no jars are broken and my four quarts are properly sealed when I finally get to open up the canner, I will be happy. Rather tired, but very happy.
However today's adventure turns out though, I at least learned a few lessons today....(1) Do not begin a canning project in the afternoon ...at least until you're a pro and more efficient at it! and (2) Prepping is not for the lazy or faint of heart!