As a follow up to my How to Can Dilly Beans post, I'd like to share with you how to pressure can vegetables - in this case, beets.
Beets need to be canned in a pressure canner because they are a low-acid food. Low-acid foods (vegetables, meat, seafood, and dairy) can contain botulism, a deadly neurotoxin. In a pressure canner, high temperatures are achieved (250 degrees F and up), which kills any botulism spores that may be present. So please; don't mess around, and can your vegetables in a pressure canner. If you don't want to invest in a pressure canner, freezing is always a safe alternative to canning.
Here's my pressure canner: a 16-qt. Presto weighted gauge. The lid locks into place once all the jars are loaded inside, and the weight sits on top of the pressure vent in the middle of the lid. Newer models have emergency safety vents so they don't explode if they become over-pressurized.
Here's the weight, which can be changed to achieve 5, 10 or 15 pounds of pressure. A dial gauge is a gauge that reads the pressure inside the canner and displays it on a dial face, much like a tire pressure gauge. These gauges should be tested for accuracy yearly, so if you are buying a new pressure canner, I recommend a weighted gauge, since it will always be accurate.
Right away I noticed how pressure canning was different- you start by preparing your recipe. There's no big pot of water to boil and no sterilizing of jars needed. Just start washing and chopping vegetables.
First, the beets had to be boiled for 30 minutes to be able to peel the skins off. My recipe said the skins should peel off easily, but I found some skins slipped off easy and others flaked into pieces and were hard to remove.
Once I had all the beets peeled, I sliced the bigger beets into 1/2" slices and packed them all into jars, leaving 1" headspace.
I topped off the beets with some water that had been heated to a boil and applied the two-part lid and screwband. After preparing the beets, I followed the manufacturer's instructions for operating the pressure canner.
To operate the Presto canner, place the jars in the canner and add enough water to reach the first fill line. Lock the lid into place and turn the heat to high. The water will turn to steam and the canner will start to pressurize. When the canner reaches a certain pressure, a lock will pop into place, preventing the canner from opening until it is fully unpressurized.
The canner will begin to vent steam out of the vent in the top of the canner lid. When the steam is in a steady steam, start timing for 10 minutes. Once 10 minutes has passed, add the weight to the steam vent. The canner will come to pressure and cause the weight to rock back and forth. When the weight is rocking steadily, start your processing time, in this case 30 minutes at 10 lbs. of pressure.
After processing time is up, turn the heat off and wait for the canner to cool. The lid will open when the canner has lost all pressure, which was about another 30 minutes in my case. In total, pressure canning beets took three hours! I used 4 lbs. of beets and got 5 pint jars worth.
While pressure canning was a fun experience the first time, I don't see it becoming a part of my canning repetoire. It just took too darn long, and anyways, I can freeze most vegetables that need to be canned. And beets are available year round in Maine, anyway. But I hope that if you are interested in pressure canning, that you give it a try, since it can't be nearly as scary or hard as you might think it is.