Carolyn Ainslie and Elizabeth Andress
National Center for Home Food Preservation
With frost on the pumpkin, many home food preservers are storing canning equipment until spring. Before packing up and forgetting about those items that served you so well this past preserving season, take time to give them a little tender loving care! You will be so glad you did next year when you see those first signs of vegetables in the garden and fruits beginning to ripen.
First, start with your biggest investment, the pressure canner. For safe operation next season, clean the vent and safety valve. To clean the vent, draw a clean string or narrow strip of cloth through the opening. Check to make sure the safety valve is free of debris and operates freely. Clean the valve by removing, if possible, or following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Next, check the gasket which is the rubber or rubber-like compound that helps seal the edges of the canner and lid to prevent steam from escaping. Gaskets are removable for cleaning or replacement by following the manufacturer’s directions. If needed, new gaskets can be ordered from the canner manufacturer or found at hardware stores. (Some canners do not have gaskets and use a metal to metal seal instead.)
If your canner has a dial gauge, go ahead and mark your calendar now for a time to have your gauge tested in early spring. Contact your County Extension Agent for information on checking the accuracy of the gauge. This should be done well in advance of canning season so that if the gauge tests off more than 1 pound of pressure at 5, 10, or 15 pounds, it can be replaced.
Follow the manufacturer’s directions for care of the sealing edges of your canner. If your canner has a dial gauge, be careful not to immerse the gauge when cleaning. The darkened surface on the inside of an aluminum canner can be cleaned by filling it above the darkened line with at mixture of 1 tablespoon cream of tartar to each quart of water. Place the canner on the stove, heat water to a boil, and boil covered until the dark deposits disappear. Sometimes stubborn deposits may require the addition of more cream of tartar. Empty the canner and wash it with hot soapy water, rinse and dry. (Hint: deposits from hard water may be reduced if you add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to the water in the canner while you process your jars.)
Store the canner with crumpled clean paper towels in the bottom and around the rack. This will help absorb moisture and odors. Place the lid upside down on the canner. Never put the lid on the canner and seal it.
Once your canner is properly stored, take time to inventory jars and two piece lids. If properly used and stored, jars can last indefinitely. As you empty jars during the winter, check for any chips or breaks, wash and store in a safe place. Two-piece lids consist of a flat metal disc and a separate metal screw band. After canning, screw bands should be removed once the jars have sealed, instead of leaving them on the jars during storage. Wash and dry the screwbands completely and put them away in a dry place. Bands can be used over and over, unless they rust. The flat lid is used only once and then discarded after the jar of food is opened.
Designate a clean and dry storage area for your canning equipment and utensils. Use clear storage boxes, stackable racks, and other organizer accessories to make a food preservation storage center. Come spring, you’ll be ready for another year!