Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tomato Soup Part 2

With the big move, I completely forgot to post about my experience with pressure canning tomato soup. I know that it's a little late in the season to can tomato soup at this point, but I thought that I should still share because there is still a lot of produce in season that should be pressure canned. I want to emphasize that it is EXTREMELY important that you only follow the manufacturer's instructions that come with your canner. If you have lost them, most companies put their manuals online so you can check the manufacturer's website for either a downloadable manual or a number to call. This post is not meant to be instructions for pressure canning; it is simply for anecdotal purposes.

I bought a Mirro 22 qt pressure cooker with a canning system. After researching a few different canners/cookers online, I decided to go with this one for its affordability and versatility.  It comes with two canning racks, so if you are using pint jars or smaller, you can stack two layers of jars. It also can be used as a cooker to cook enough food for my whole family (for those of you who don't know, I have a pretty big family when all of my brothers and sisters and their kids and significant others get together.) It ran $89.99, and had reviews just as good as the more expensive cookers.

First I followed the recipe for the tomato soup I made earlier for my family, leaving out the chicken stock, heavy cream, and corn starch. I will add these items when I cook the soup later, similar to how I would with commercially canned tomato soup. I didn't have much of a reason for doing this, other than it seemed to be the easiest.

 Then, using a wide mouthed canning funnel, I filled quart sized canning jars to about a quarter inch below the lid threading (where the ring screws on.) Since doing this, I have found that there are actually specific measurements for each item that you can, and there is a tool that you can use to make sure you fill your jar to the correct height. If you fill a jar too full for pressure canning, the contents will be pushed out of the jar and you will not get a good seal. This would leave your food prone to bacteria. Also, when I canned my blueberry jam, I had said that the one tool I wished I had bought was the funnel. After that experience, I went out and bought the funnel for $1.29 at Meijer. And I am so glad that I did, it made canning the soup a lot easier!

 I put the canning rack into the canner and filled it with the proper amount of water and a tablespoon of vinegar. The vinegar keeps the canner from getting mineral stains from the water. I found the proper amount of water to use in the instruction manual that came with my canner.

My canner fits five quart sized jars. I had six jars of tomato soup, so I processed the five that would fit and used the sixth for dinner that night!

 I put the lid on the canner and made sure it was securely sealed, after checking to make sure the safety valves were all cleared of debris. This is where I began to get a little concerned. The instructions said to heat the canner until a continuous stream of steam began to come out of the valve. The purpose of a pressure cooker or canner is to keep the steam in to create a lot of pressure inside. When steam is escaping the valve, it means the canner is ready to begin making pressure. I let the steam come out for five minutes, as it says in the instructions, and then I put the pressure regulator on.
 The pressure regulator, or as some people call it the "weight" controls the amount of steam that is kept inside the canner. I used the 10 psi regulator as per the instructions. This means that the regulator only keeps enough steam inside the pot to create 10 psi of pressure. If the amount of steam exceeds what is needed to keep that pressure, it releases the steam. One of my favorite childhood memories is coming home from school early in the fall and hearing the "caching caching caching caching" of my dad's pressure cooker making corn on the cob into perfection. The "caching" noise that I remember so vivedly was the regulator doing it's job. As the steam was released, the regulator rocked back and forth on top of the cooker. I have simulated this many times for children using dry ice and a quarter. If you've ever seen the experiment, the gases from the dry ice escape from around the quarter making it wiggle back and forth, and you can "hear George's wooden teeth chatter" I tell the kids. The same concept is seen here.

But the scarey thing that happened was, my regulator never went "caching caching caching." it never rocked back and forth gently as the instructions said it would. Instead, it would let out a quick and sharp burst of steam every few minutes. I am trying to figure out why it behaved this way before I attempt to can anything else.

I did process the jars for 45 minutes, which is the recommended processing time for tomato products in a pressure canner. The cans were nicely sealed. But although there are several safety releases for the steam, in case the regulator isn't working properly, it still makes me nervous that the canner wasn't behaving as it should. I've asked a few friends of mine who have canned with a pressure canner, and they all have told me that's not normal. So although I did not blow anything up, and my cans are sealed, I am not counting this as a "victory" yet.

Once I do figure out what was going on with the regulator, my next canning challenge will be pickled jalapeƱos!

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