Monday, September 22, 2014

Heidi, Remember That One Time I Taught You to Can Chicken?

We were busy around here this weekend.
Heidi brought Jonah down on Thursday, and Tucker and Karli and Annie arrived Friday to see Ben before he leaves. (Pictures coming.)

Before my kids got home, I bought two boxes of Utah peaches, and Heidi and I decided that a great use of our time together would be to bottle some fruit and stuff. On Friday, we bottled fourteen quarts of peaches and determined that Saturday would be peach jam day. We were discussing the art of canning and I told her how easy it was to can meat--cheaper, yummier, and so easy to open a bottle of chicken to make enchiladas or chicken salad in an emergency. That clinched it--along with jam, we planned to bottle chicken on Saturday.

We were busy--can you tell from the stove? On the front right is the peach blanching water. Heidi is stirring a batch of peach jam, and on the back left is a batch of jam in the water bath. On the back right--our four quarts of chicken in the pressure canner.

Here is where the story begins.

Canning is a crazy process. Stirring, peeling, blending, stirring, measuring, stirring, bathing. It's exhausting and hot and sticky--and fun if you do it with someone else. We got the chicken in the pressure canner first, because once the meat is in the canner, you just have to monitor the pressure gauge and the canner does the rest. I haven't used my pressure canner in a few years, and since the last time I used it, my kids had bonked the gauge somehow and the protective plastic case had come off. The arrow still moved and the valve was clear, so I didn't think about it much. After building up the steam, I dropped the weight over the vent and went back to the jam with Heidi.

We were talking and laughing and jamming it up when I noticed that the pressure gauge hadn't moved much in the past 30 minutes. I flicked the arrow and realized that my kids had bent the backing and the bent backing was impeding the movement of the gauge. I didn't think it would be that big of a deal. Once we got it up to 11 pounds of pressure, I'd monitor it like I've always done in the past.

Then, the weight (which is supposed to bounce around and whistle during processing) stopped moving.  That was odd.

Although it would mean the meat wasn't shelf safe, I thought it best to turn off the canner and cut our losses at that point. I would order a new pressure gauge and try again another day. After turning the burner off, I turned back to the peaches.

Ten minutes later, the weight began bouncing and whistling again, and it was frenzied this time. How could that be? After looking at the stove dials, I realized that I had turned the front burner off and cranked the back burner up to extra-high--the jam in the water bath was cooling and the chicken in the pressure canner was heating up. I quickly reversed the temperatures, and we finished up our jam.

It takes a while for a canner to cool and come down from pressure, and there's nothing you can do until the lock drops down, indicating that it's safe to open the lid. When the lock finally dropped, I removed the lid and the bottles, then took the canner to the counter by the sink. Instead of the canner sitting flat on the counter, it rocked and rolled around.

That was odd.

The bottom of the canner had bulged out during processing and was now convex instead of flat. And instead of dumping the excess water in the sink, I tipped a dry pot upside down.

Yeah. I had boiled off all of the water, and the pressure inside the canner had built to such a high level that the pressure inside the steel pot had permanently pushed the bottom out. Not to sound flippant, but the Boston Marathon bomber had used pressure canners as bombs. That's how dangerous canning with pressure can be, and I'd never given it a second thought.

If I had left the canner on the heat, it probably would have exploded. I still can't believe that none of the four chicken bottles exploded inside the canner. I almost blew up our house. And my daughter, who had been slaving over the stove that morning.

In hindsight, it was dumb to use the canner when the gauge was broken, but I didn't think it was BROKEN broken, just missing the cover.

We were pretty lucky that we walked out of the kitchen Saturday afternoon with fourteen pints of jam and no chicken.

The round-bottomed pot is headed to the dump, and I'll be ordering a new canner.


  1. Holy CRAP. My fear of canning may have just grown a little reading your post. I'm so very glad all is ok.

  2. I'm definitely glad that there wasn't an explosion... And I'm pretty sure Sam and my kids are too.

  3. I've never used a pressure cooker of any type because I'm scared of them. I think your angels were watching that day!

  4. Canning is such hard work, but totally rewarding.........once it's done.

    Yikes on the pressure canner. Good thing you are getting a new one.

    Heidi has got to feel so proud of herself!

  5. Yikes! I canned for the first time last year and have been doing it again this year...but I've always been scared of pressure cookers!!

    So glad everything turned out ok for you guys!!!

  6. i'm happy that my canning season is over. so much joy standing in front of all of my jar'd and canned items on the shelves and ready for the year to come!