Canning With a Pressure Cooker

A few months ago I bought a pressure cooker, or as I began to consider it, my “pressurized canister of potential death, dismemberment and/or disfiguration normally reserved for the preservation of foodstuffs.” I cooked a huge, 6-quart batch of chicken tortilla soup, and all I got out of it were four, seemingly extra large quarts of soup. This is what I get for buying off-brand. I’m going to spend the extra $1.50 next time and get Mason jars, I would recommend you do the same. These jars were like quart jars with giantism. They weren’t really the next size up, but they weren’t quite quarts either. They were quarts after a nice, big Thanksgiving dinner. The big black pot in the back, normally reserved for water bath canning, was used to boil 4 quarts of water to fill the bottom of the pressure canner. Four quarts of water is a lot, it’s 16 cups. That’s a LOT of water. Here’s a picture of my soup jars in that massive amount of water.

And then I had to figure out some geology to see how long the things had to stay at 11 psi. Are we > 2000 ft above sea level? I hadn’t the slightest idea. Oh how I envied my mother-in-law, who lives at the beach and would know for sure that she is, in fact, NOT 2000 ft above sea level, or my best friend who would know that she is > 2000 ft above sea level because they live at a high altitude, like 400,000 feet above sea level. I know that when I get brownies and there are special “high altitude” instructions I laugh and ignore them, but this was important, we could get botulism if I chuckled at this. So I had to look up our altitude. We were about 1100 ft above sea level, or maybe 800. I couldn’t really read the graph, I had my contacts in and they’d dried out. But I know it was less than 2,000. I was to set the timer for 25 minutes. At least that was easy.

I had apparently put something together wrong, and I didn’t realize it until the water in the cooker was already boiling. So. I had to take it apart (DEATH!) and then unscrew some stuff (BURNS!) and then rescrew it on (INSANITY!) and then let it heat up again. But finally, after – good gosh – like, and I am not kidding, four hours the pressure started to rise. Not. Unlike. The. Pressure. Of. My. Blood. (which had been going up for the last FOUR HOURS).

After that you just have to wait for it to cool down before you can start another batch. Which means you can’t do anything with it until the next day if you’re using large jars or much later in the day. So it effectively took six hour to can four jars of soup, only three of which actually sealed properly. sigh But it worked, I checked my soup the other day and it’s still sealed and good to go whenever I am ready to use it (which will be never because it took so much work). I feel confident that if I tried this again it would be much easier, the second time will be the charm since the first was definitely not, and more of a lesson in how NOT to use the cooker. I’ve got it figured out now, and hopefully you have too and will not repeat my mistakes.

Since this canning endeavor, I’ve cooked spaghetti with meat sauce in the cooker. It sped things up considerably, I was able to cook sauce that would have normally required hours of slow-cooking in about 25 minutes. If you decide to cook a meal, particularly a sauce in your pressure cooker, I would recommend increasing the amount of liquid. Your user’s guide should indicate the amount, I believe it’s at least 1/2 cup to a cup.

Happy canning!

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