Conundrum

First, let me say that it is Wednesday and it’s the first day since last Friday that my back has not been limiting my movement and activity. I can finally think about getting back out in the garden, among other things. I know there are more green beans to be picked but I think I’ll have to figure out a way to do that other than bending over at the waist, otherwise I’ll wind up immobile again.

So, the conundrum? My green bean crop, or more precisely, canning my green bean crop. To can green beans you need a pressure canner, and I have one. Actually, I’ve had it for many years, since the late 1970s in fact. I went for broke – almost literally – when I bought my canner. I wanted the best so I bought an All American, large capacity, cast aluminum canner, which was a significant investment at that point in my life. Heck, look at the prices on them today; they are still a significant investment, suitable only for someone who is serious about food preservation.

The pressure in a canner is usually managed one of two ways. The first is with a steam vent that has a weighted regulator that sits on the vent. Usually the weight will accommodate 5, 10 and 15 pound pressures, though not always. This system works by letting the steam escape through the vent tube in a controlled fashion. You know that the amount of pressure is right by listening for the number of times per minute that steam escapes from the vent with the regulator weight in place.

The other way to regulate pressure is with a gauge. The gauge displays the pressure in the canner and you have to keep a sharp eye on the gauge and keep adjusting the heat under the canner to keep the pressure in the right range. Unlike the weighted regulator that lets you know by sound what the pressure is, you cannot do something else in the kitchen while using a gauged canner because you must keep your eyes on that gauge. With many years of experience, believe me when I say that the second you take your eyes off the gauge, the pressure will go wrong.

Nowadays, a great many pressure canners have both weighted pressure regulators and a gauge, but the pressure is supposed to be regulated by the weight. The gauge is used more as a reference, particularly when the canner is cooling down and you need to know when there is no more pressure in the canner. Why don’t you use the gauge to regulate the pressure? Because they can be inaccurate, and proper pressure can mean the difference between good food and food poisoning.

My pressure canner has only a gauge, which was common when I bought it. To use a gauge alone to regulate pressure, it has to be checked to make sure it is accurate. Everything you will read says that this should be done yearly. The truth of the matter is that I have never had the gauge on my canner checked and it has never failed me. But I have not used the canner for many years and I do not want to trust the gauge alone. I need to get the gauge checked. Usually the recommendation is to contact your County University Extension office, and I have, but mine doesn’t currently check pressure gauges. So what to do? Buy the parts to turn my dialed pressure canner into a weighted canner.

This is pretty simple to do. With the gauge arrangement on my canner, there is a petcock that vents the canner. Once the canner is producing steam, you let the steam escape for ten minutes and then shut the petcock, which allows the pressure to build in the canner. Current models have a steam vent instead of the petcock. To convert, you need to buy the steam vent and the regulator weight. Depending on where you buy the parts, this will probably cost you at least $25., plus whatever shipping, tax, etc.

I had been planning on using the pressure gauge on my canner to put my beans up this year, but the more I thought about it, the less I liked the idea. After failing to find a local source, I fired off my order for the conversion parts to a online merchant whose web site said the parts were in stock, and were reasonably priced.  You’ll note that I harvested my first green beans on July 27th, but I didn’t place the order for the parts I need until July 30, and I wasn’t about to pay for exorbitant express shipping, either. This obviously meant that I would have to wait to can my beans, and hope that they would still be in decent shape to can. And then on the 1st I picked more green beans, still with no parts in hand.

As is almost always the case, just when you count on something being “in stock,” you are sure to be told that something has been back ordered. Damn! So I get the steam vent in the mail on Saturday, the 3rd, but the regulator weight isn’t expected in stock again until that same day, so I’ll have to wait for that part to ship, too, before I get a chance to do any pressure canning.

Do I just wait until the part gets here, or do I do something else? No, I just can’t feel good about using the gauge alone. I would if I could have gotten it tested, but not without. The only other alternative I can think of is to buy another pressure canner. Well, if I got a smaller canner, that could be useful for smaller batches, rather than having to drag out the big canner.

Off I go on a hunt, and wind up right back where I was. Yes, I could buy a decent pressure canner locally. The best price for what I would consider to be an acceptable canner runs around $89.00. Do you have any idea how many cans of green beans I could buy at the store for that much money? The idea is to be saving money, not investing in something new; something that I would probably not be able to come out ahead on in the remaining years I have left on this earth. Nope, makes no sense.

So here I sit, waiting for the company to tell me when they get the part in. I’ve sent an email to them today, hoping to get some info, but so far, nothing. I’m playing a waiting game here. I would hate to lose all the green beans I grew (except those that my neighbor and I have eaten) but if that’s what happens, so be it. At least I’ve had the pleasure of growing something.