Canning is one of those things that homesteaders look forward to each year with excited anticipation and a slight twinge of dread. Nothing beats the quality and the feeling of accomplishment you get from preserving your harvest each year, and that peach cobbler sure is to die for in the frigid depths of January…but it’s such a lot of work, and most of that time spent is in the preparation. The jars need sterilized ,the lids need boiled, and the magnet fell out of the gosh dang lid grabber again. With all that happens during the canning season there are a few things you can do right now to prepare for next season that will make your life a little easier come harvest time.
- Check and replace the gasket on your pressure canner. Remove the gasket from the lid of your pressure canner and look for cracks in the rubber or signs of disintegration. Bad gaskets will affect your canners ability to reach and maintain proper pressure while in use. Gaskets should be replaced every 2-3 years as part of your canners maintenance regimen. You can pick one up online or at your local hardware store for around $10 or less.
- Get your dial gauge tested (Weighted gauges do not require testing). You can take your dial gauge to your county extension office to have it tested, often free of charge (be sure to call ahead so they have someone on staff to test it for you), . It is recommended to have your gauge tested and adjusted if need be before each canning season to ensure your safety. Gauges that read high can result in under-processed foods that are unsafe to consume. Ones that read low can result in not only over-processed canned food but it increases the risk of dangerous kitchen mishaps. If your gauge tests more that 2 pounds off, high or low it should be replaced. Cracked, broken, or otherwise damaged gauges must be replaced. You can find replacements online for around $15. Other places that test dial gauges include hardware stores and companies like “Presto” that manufacture canning equipment.
- Sort through your collection of can rings. Discard any rusty, worn, or dented rings. Dents can mean an improper seal. Rust can transfer to the lids making it hard to remove the ring from the jar causing the lid to loosen when removing the ring before storage. To avoid rust, remember to always remove the ring from your canned goods 24 hours after removal from the canning vessel before long term storage. Then wash them in warm soapy water, drying them thoroughly to ensure they have a long rust free life. Leaving the rings on the jars can also cause a false seal or rust eating through can lids making food unsafe. Don’t want to just throw away your busted rings? GO HERE AND HERE to see some great ways to re-purpose those rings!
- Inspect those jars. As you work your way through your pantry this winter wash your jars with warm soapy water and while they are still wet run your finger around the rim of each jar to check for any nicks or chips in the glass that would cause an improper seal. Discard any jars with defects, or give them a new life as decorations in your home. I like to use mine as vases for all the bouquets my boys carefully pick for me in the summer months. Store unused jars upright, not upside down. I like to place a hunk of cardboard on top of them to block dust from entering to make cleaning and sterilizing easier next season.
- Watch for off season deals. Keep your peepers peeled at your favorite stores for canning equipment on sale. You can often find great deals on jars, lids, rings, and maybe even that large capacity pressure canner you day dreamed of while you started your 5th load of canned beef this October. Now is also a great time to cruise the ball website for tested canning recipes to try something new and different next season. I’ve found some of my favorite recipes there…even an apple pie filling recipe that earned first place at the county fair this year!