You may have a canner handed down from generation to generation, with great love and care. But is it the right canner for your use? Over the next few articles, I'm going to explore different canners based on safety, ease-of-use, and engineering.
Older canners usually have a "weighted gauge" on top. Some people call that the "jiggler" because the weight rocks side to side, creating a jiggling noise when it reaches the PSI you set. I like this gauge a lot. It's like home to me. From 30 feet away, the canner "speaks" to me, jiggling too fast and frequently when the pressure rises too high, and growing quiet if the pressure decreases too much.
My older canners are Mirromatics. Maybe you have one or two in your basement? They are tough as nails, and just about as heavy as a bag of them, too! These canners are not appropriate for smooth top stoves, and stove manufacturers always write disclaimers to that purpose. The wide bottom of the Mirromatic canner spreads the heat well beyond the boundary of the stove's heating element, and that high heat can crack the glass. I've heard of some people trying this anyway, but I've also met a couple of folks who've been very, very sorry they tried.
I always say that if you really want to use that older canner and don't have gas or coiled electric elements on your stove, buy a camp stove from Pro Bass, REI, etc. They look like a waist-high turkey fryer, and are energized by propane. The downside to these stoves is that the propane can be tricky to regulate. You should cook on this type of stove a number of times to become familiar with its heating capacity.
I walked into a friend's garage one day when she was using her camp stove to water bath can apple pie filling in quarts. The finished quarts sitting on a side table looked gooey, and although they had sealed, the seal wasn't strong because a lot of sugary syrup had pushed its way through the lid and dried.
"What's wrong with this," she asked. "Why does this keep happening?"
I told her that she was running her stove way too hot. Although she could have attained a boil at a lower temperature, she had cranked the temperature dial all the way on high. The water probably would have come to a rolling boil on medium. The extra high heat caused by use of propane had caused her apple mixture temperature to rise so high that it expanded well over the capacity of the jar.
She immediately cranked down the stove temperature. The water continued to boil, but the resulting jars were clean as a whistle on the outside!
So imagine not knowing your propane stove well, like my friend, placing an older pressure canner on it, and cranking up the heat. What might happen? The weighted gauge will tell you the pressure inside the pot, but if you walk away from the pot, you risk the temperature rising and the pot exploding. Propane is highly combustible, and gets very, very hot. So if you want to use your older canner on a propane stove, plan on these safety tips:
1. Experiment with your stove first. Cook some bacon on it in a cast iron skillet. That will show you how hot it gets real quick! Get a feel for how hot it can get, and how quickly it can reach that temperature. It sure doesn't respond like a residential-grade flat top!
2. Plan on babysitting your pressure canner. You can't start an outside stove with propane, and then decide to go inside the house to make dinner or watch the news hour. Instead, get a magazine and a lawn chair, and park yourself close enough to hear the weighted gauge speaking to you! It will "tell" you when the temperature is getting too high, but if you aren't within hearing distance, you'll miss it!
3. I would never run a propane stove in the middle of my garage. Put it on the edge, or even better, outside! It can be dangerous, and is a serious fire hazard. In the same vein, don't let your kids close to the canner.
When I was 4, I was permitted to ride my tricycle in a garage on the 4th of July because it was raining outside. The garage door was open, and my parents' friends were grilling on a Weber charcoal grill that they placed in the garage door opening, just barely out of the rain. Of course, in such close quarters, it was only a matter of time before my trike careened right into that grill, and to this day I have a dark oval on one arm where the grill seared me. Quite a painful 4th of July!
Pressure canners get so hot that just a touch can melt your skin. (Yes, I know that for a fact, too!). Keep the children away from them!
Thanks for reading this. I love to share my canning adventures, and will write more thoughts on pressure canners very soon!
The Jam and Jelly Lady