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Product Review: Presto Pressure Canner and Cooker

I've long been interested in growing my own fruits, vegetables and herbs. Even though I have only a small garden plot, the bounty of produce that comes from it is often greater than our combined appetites. In the past, friends, family and coworkers have been  the grateful recipients of our overabundant plants. The rest, unfortunately, was left for squirrels to scavenge or to rot.

The canning of food was once considered a necessity for farmers and city folk alike. These days, canning food at home is truly a labor of love, and can extend the life of your homegrown produce.

Not many years ago, I began canning my garden tomatoes as a way of trying to save some of the harvest for use later. As a child growing up, I had watched my grandmother doing it, but these days canning seemed to be a lost art, especially in a world of supermarkets full of quick and easy ready-to-microwave entrees. Still, as a lover of homegrown tomatoes, I was interested in tasting some of that delectable juiciness in the dead of the winter months.

There are many web sites available that have recipes and helpful tips for canning. At first, I preserved my tomatoes by canning them in glass jars using the boiling water bath method. This entails preparing the fruit or vegetable and then processing in a large pot by boiling at 212 degrees or more for a certain amount of time, usually around 15 minutes for tomatoes. Canning is necessary to kill the bacteria which are present in all food.

The boiling water bath, the method of choice for my grandmother, is a somewhat risky venture. There is always the possibility that the attempt at preserving is not successful. Some reasons for failure to properly can include weak or old jars, uneven rim edges, bent lids or debris inadvertently left on the rim, therefore causing a bad seal. If food is not properly preserved, it is necessary to use it immediately before bacteria has a chance to grow, thus causing the bigger problem of botulism.

Last year, I canned several dozen jars of tomatoes and hot peppers, and this year looked to be even more productive. With that in mind, I decided to take the plunge and invest in a pressure canner/cooker. After researching various canning products online, I decided on the Presto Pressure Canner and Cooker, which I purchased from Home Depot. Since receiving the product, the Presto Canner has become a most necessary kitchen gadget, well worth the amount of money paid.

First of all, the Presto Pressure Canner and Cooker is a massive and well-built pot. It comes equipped with a pressure dial gauge, pressure regulator, and canning-cooking rack. The dial gauge, which is important in measuring the exact amount of pressure inside the canner, should be checked yearly by the local county extension office to make certain it is working properly.

Among one of the smaller canners, the 23-quart model can comfortably preserve 7 quarts, 10 pints or 12 half-pints at a time with room to spare. When filled to capacity with jars of tomatoes and water, the canner is too heavy for me to lift, which is a good thing because Presto does not recommend lifting or moving the canner after the canning operation. Sliding it on stove burners could cause damage to the bottom of the canner, or can damage your cook top. In addition, it is dangerous to lift a pot that hot that weighs that much. After the canning operation, the contents of the canner must cool down gradually. This sometimes takes several hours. Pressure inside must subside before jars are taken out and stored, and the canner thoroughly cleaned.

The accompanying manual is easy to read, with technical information on using the canner, and includes suggested processing times for various fruits and vegetables. Canned food is broken into two different types based on acidity, and the processing time is dependent on the type of food being preserved. In addition to commonly canned items, like fruits and vegetables, it is also possible to can seafood and fish, meats, and poultry. Pressure canning is the only safe method for preserving these types of foods. I have also canned homemade bean soup, pickles and spaghetti sauce.

In addition to its job as a canner, the Presto Canner and Cooker can be used to pressure cook food, including desserts. By the looks of the recipes included, the amount of food that can be prepared in the pressure cooker would be more than enough to feed a small army.

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