(Or, What I Did With My Pressure Canner Today)
Ages ago, there was a great sale on cryovac meat at the local grocery store. Something completely ridiculous like a dollar a pound, for beef. I bought a lot of it at the time, and when I say a lot, I mean thirty or forty pounds. I figured, for a buck a pound, cut half-and-half with porridge oats (about ten cents a pound) and vegetable scraps from people food preparation (free), we could feed the dogs a whole pile cheaper than the premium dog food that they normally get. My dogs get this sort of stuff (though usually freezer-burnt) as a semi-regular treat anyways, and they love it.
Now, my dogs are big, but not that big. They are also better fed than a lot of people. They could probably have polished those great hunks of meat in a week, but I doled it out, a couple pounds at a time. The big chunks went in the freezer, to await their turn as doggy supper, and a couple of packages promptly made their way into the rift in the time-space continuum that resides somewhere in the bottom of that stupid appliance.
Hubby and I were cleaning and inventorying the freezer last week, in anticipation of new additions from the farmer’s market and garden, and came across about fifteen pounds of meat in the bottom. I thought: “Hey, what a great excuse to try out the pressure canner!”
I got the pressure canner ages ago, last fall, with the intent of canning up a whole bunch of produce, and I sure it would have worked really well, had it fit on our stove. Note to self: when building a house, watch how low you put the exhaust fan over the stove. Fortunately, they apparently did not have over-the-stove exhaust fans in Saskatchewan in 1959…or, at least, not in this house. Bad for indoor air quality, but great for canning. I’ve got about five feet of clearance between the stove top and the ceiling. Which is good, because the pressure canner is about four feet tall.
I am exaggerating, of course, but that monster really is huge. It claims to fit nineteen pint jars, or fourteen quarts, in two layers. It is about the size of a five-gallon bucket. Unfortunately, Canadian canning jars appear to be a different shape than American, as I was not able to fit two layers of quart (1L) jars, but I can do lots and lots of pints (500 mL jars) at once.
My Mother In Law, who was raised on a farm in Alberta, wondered aloud why I would need to spend all that money on a pressure canner. I told her it was for canning meat, mostly. She replied that her mom had always just water-bath canned meat, boiling it for an hour and a half. I know that was common practice, and my grandma probably did that, too, but a water bath cannot get hotter than 100 degrees, Celsius, and botulism spores can survive that. It doesn’t happen often, hardly ever at all, but I have no interest whatsoever in checking out what botulism poisoning feels like. Hubby, of course, has eaten venison that was water-bath canned by one of his Uncles, but I am just waaayy too chicken to try.
Anyways, I took a hunk ‘o’ beef out of the freezer on Friday, thinking it would take a couple of days to thaw. The forecast for Sunday was cold and raining. Of course, that was the forecast for Monday through Saturday, too, but I digress. I cubed up the meat, and was quite surprised to find it only filled six pints, plus the bellies of two dogs. There was quite a pile of trimmings, but luckily they did not go to waste…with these dogs in the house, I don’t need pigs to feed the kitchen scraps to!
I followed all of the instructions in the manual, which I read twice. I checked all the gauges, fiddled with the lid, took a deep breath, and turned on the stove. I have heard horror stories about exploding pressure cookers, including one from Granny that included beet juice on the ceiling and a bad scalding. Hubby and the critters have apparently heard those same stories, as everyone was creeping around the kitchen on tiptoes, as though there was a live rattlesnake on the stove, that would bite them if they walked too close, or made too much noise. I have an All American canner, which regulates pressure by way of a weight over a valve, and the jiggling and hissing of steam escaping drove the cats nuts. Well, actually, it is a slightly annoying noise, and it drove me a little nuts, too, but unfortunately, I couldn’t retreat to a hidey-hole under the bed, as I had to supervise the process. I wondered a bit about the stream escaping from around the lid seal, but apparently that is fairly normal for the first few uses. It looked kind of terrifying, though.
Seventy five rather tense minutes later, I turned the monster off to cool. Half an hour after that, I very carefully opened the lid, and retrieved six pint of well-cooked and still-boiling cubed beef. It actually looks pretty tasty.
I know people do this every day, but I, for one, am pretty proud of myself…