I promised a pressure canning post before I was sidetracked by the Revolution. I may be late, but this blog always delivers. This time with a recipe.

Just to set the stage, I’m a pressure cook from way back. So I didn’t even give that water bath method a second thought, since canning under pressure is a virtually foolproof way to can safely. Besides, in the kitchen, I’m all about the gadgets. And committing to pressure canning allowed me to buy the Mutha of All Pressure Canners. We’re talking a serious piece of machinery. One I could probably harness to take the whole ranch off the grid, if I so chose.

Heres the Big Mutha in all its glory.

Here’s the Big Mutha in all its glory.

Yeah, lets look at this thing in context. A Biiiiig Mutha.

Yeah, let’s look at this thing in context. A Biiiiig Mutha.

A little dramatic foreshadowing: I should have followed my own instincts and relied on my years of pressure cooking experience. I made the mistake of reading all the varied and conflicting instructions

Prep includes lubing down the rim of your pressure canner with petroleum jelly. Cause this is one serious piece of machinery.

Prep includes lubing down the rim of your pressure canner with petroleum jelly. ‘Cause this is one serious piece of machinery.

between the two canning books and the pressure canner instruction manual. None of which squared with the things I know and have learned from years of pressure cooking. More on that later. But keep in mind for future reference that pressure canning is just pressure cooking. Only on a bigger scale. So if you pressure cook in your little T-Fal pressure cooker, you could pressure can in one of these Behemoths. Just ignore those instructions that overcomplicate things.

Wait, let me backtrack. Before you really begin, you’ve got to set the stage with the right outfit and the right music. Whenever I’m doing something vaguely counterculture or revolutionary, I favor tie-dye.

Luckily some Deadhead friends forced me to go to a Dead concert while Jerry Garcia was still alive where I scored this great shirt.

Luckily some Deadhead friends forced me to go to a Dead concert while Jerry Garcia was still alive where I scored this great shirt.

Now music: today it was Selena (for my Spanish) and Queen Latifah for attitude.

Now music: today it was Selena (for my Spanish) and Queen Latifah for attitude.

Then whoa, reality check on just how much produce I was going to need. I had seven quart jars I wanted to fill (the capacity of the pressure canner). With my original plan to put up a simple tomato sauce, turns out I would need nearly FIFTY POUNDS OF TOMATOES! To boil down to seven quarts.

My entire ripe harvest this weekend was about seven pounds.

My entire ripe harvest this weekend was about seven pounds.

So regroup, reassess. And switch plans to canning whole tomatoes. Which still required 20 more pounds. That’s where yesterday’s adventure at the vanguard of the food revolution got me off the subject of canning.

Tomatoes secured from a local farmstand, I set out to core and peel them. This is easiest if you blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds, then plunge them in cold water.

After blanching, the peels slip right off without effort.

After blanching, the peels slip right off without effort.

If someone in your house is always stealing your sharp knives to cut grapevines, it helps to mark you utensils.

If someone in your house is always stealing your sharp knives to cut grapevines, it helps to buy a marked utensil.

In no time, youll have a sh*tload of cored, peeled tomaters. A thing of beauty.

In no time, you’ll have a sh*tload of cored, peeled tomaters. A thing of beauty.

Now we get into the sciencey, heavy machinery portion of the program. After you pack these babies into your quart jars (pushing them down and running a non-metallic spatula around the jar to force out air bubbles), you put the two piece canning tops on and screw on the lids.

Now here’s where I’m challenging the Blue Ball Book of Canning. All my experience with pressure cooking has taught me that the whole system works best when you use the least amount of liquid you can, because the “cooking” is done by pressurized steam, not liquid. My instinct said that should have been about two or three inches of water in the bottom of the canner. Enough to cover the rack and the bottom of the jars. That’s what Blue Ball told me to do. But to prep and sterilize the jars, you half fill them with water and stand them in the canner in the simmering two inches of water while you prep the tomatoes. Blue Ball told me to pour that water out into the canner. Which adds about 24 quarts of liquid. That’s way too much. It practically covered the jars. I took out a lot of it, but in retrospect should have stayed with my original instincts to put only 2 or 3 inches of water in the canner.

With quart jars filled, capped and lowered in the canner on a rack, it was time to tune up the machine.

First set the pressure cock to 10 lbs. as per the recipe (note other recipes will specify 15 or 5 pounds.)

First set the pressure cock to 10 lbs. as per the recipe (note other recipes will specify 15 or 5 pounds.)

Then turn on the burner and wait for the gauge to crank up to ELEVEN. Seriously, this recipe calls for the dial to be at eleven.

Eleven on the lower part of the gauge is also 240 degrees on the top of the gauge, where you hold the temp for 25 minutes of pressure cooking.

Eleven on the lower part of the gauge is also 240 degrees on the top of the gauge, where you hold the temp for 25 minutes of pressure cooking.

This is also the temperature that effectively kills all botulism spores. And it’s a temperature that no water bath method can achieve. So pressure canning is the only safe bet for low acid food — and some authorities are downgrading tomatoes to the low acid category.

Now here’s where that nagging doubt about the Blue Ball’s canning instructions became a full fledged panic. It took forever for the canner to get up to pressure. Which makes sense as the more liquid, the longer it takes to reach optimum pressure. Official cooking time doesn’t commence until you reach pressure, but if it takes 45 minutes for all that water to get up to pressure. Well, that’s a lot of “undocumented” cooking time. Again, the trick with pressure cooking is to get the food up to pressure as fast as possible. More liquid, more time up to pressure. Not a good thing.

When I took my tomatoes out of the canner. AGGGGGGGHHHH! Worst fears confirmed.

Jeez! These look like bloody organs floating in formaldehyde.

Jeez! These look like bloody organs floating in formaldehyde.

See too much heating can break down the pectin in the skins of fruit, causing separation. Clearly what happened here as Big Bertha was struggling to get up to pressure with too much water in it. I bet my friend, Kathy Lewinski, who runs the excellent blog, A Good Appetite, didn’t have this problem last weekend when she canned 50 pounds of tomatoes in a water bath.

But Frankenstein-y look or not, the story of my tomatoes has a good ending. Last night I made a homemade pasta sauce with a jar of them that was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had. Seriously.

Two Terrier Tomato Sauce for Pasta

One seven quart jar of whole tomatoes (I would bet you could substitute a smaller can of commercial canned whole tomatoes, since they are packed more tightly than mine were.)

1 large carrot

1/2 red onion

6 garlic cloves

Sea Salt

Olive Oil

One large Italian sausage, cooked separately

Chop the garlic, onion and carrot into small dice and saute in a generous glug of olive oil until they soften and smell sweet.

Add the tomatoes slowly, starting by spooning out the whole tomatoes with a slotted spoon.

As the tomatoes break down into a sauce, use the remaining liquid, spoonful by spoonful to thin the sauce as it boils down. At some point, I added the cooked sausage and let it simmer in the finishing sauce to add flavor.

There is no timing on this recipe. I just cooked it until it reached the right volume and consistency for my tastes.

This is a very fresh tasting pasta sauce, not a rich deep sauce. The carrot adds a real sweetness and a bit of chunk to the sauce, so don’t eliminate that.

Serves two hungry people

I should have taken pictures, but the sauce was devoured so fast, I didn’t get a chance.

So I’ll leave you with the Pointer Sisters. Despite my learning curve here, I’m with Anita, Ruth, June and Bonnie. Yes, we can can!

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