How to properly store your canner and supplies for the winter.
Written and lived by Stephanie Dayle.
With the garden processed and put to bed for the winter heavy frosts are descending on our property every morning now. Many people who practice home canning are getting ready to put their canner up for the winter to make room for the holiday baking season. At the farmstead following harvest, we spend a brief period of time canning venison from hunting season, canning chicken stock from parts that have been saved during the summer and canning beef from the current year’s beef steer. Then the canner is put up until next summer, as I prefer to spend winters baking, making soap, and working other on projects.
However before packing up and putting away the canners and other supplies, there are a few chores that need to be done in order to maintain the equipment that we depend on. These chores are important for safety and will prevent any delays in food processing next summer. They will also help our expensive investment last longer. Here is a quick check list to run through.
- Start with your pressure canner, clean the vent. To clean the vent, draw a clean string or narrow strip of cloth through the opening, sometimes a small pipe cleaner can be used.
- Clean the safety valve. Remove any noticeable obstructions and and check to make sure it operates freely. Since all models are different check the product manual for instructions on cleaning and maintaining the safety valve on your canner.
- Next, inspect the gasket, if your pressure canner has a gasket (which is the big rubber band-like device that helps seal the edges of the canner and lid to prevent steam from escaping). If the gasket is removable, remove it and clean it per the manufacturer’s directions found in the product manual.
- Stock up on gaskets. New gaskets can be ordered from the canner manufacturer, online or found at hardware stores. Now is a great time to check your gasket inventory and get more if needed. Store spares in a ziplock bag so they don’t dry out. If you habitually go years between using your canner remove the gasket all together and store it in the same bag. This will keep it from drying out between uses. Gaskets will last longer when the canners are habitually used.
- Have your gauge tested. If your canner has a dial gauge, now is a good time to take the gauge in for testing. Contact your county extension office (click here to find one near you) for assistance checking the accuracy of the gauge, this is a free service that most extension offices provide. This should be done well in advance of the next canning season so that if the gauge tests off by more than 1 pound of pressure at 5, 10, or 15 pounds, it can be replaced without causing a delay to your processing efforts.
- Purchase an extra gauge. Most gauges that lose their accuracy need to be replaced and cannot be fixed as most gauges are made to replaced and not fixed. A spare gauge is also a handy thing to keep in storage just incase. Check the product manual for your canner to find the correct part and model number before ordering.
- Care of the sealing edges of your canner. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for care if your canner has a metal to metal seal instead of a gasket. If your canner has a dial gauge, be careful not to immerse the gauge when cleaning.
- Clean your canner before storage. 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 until the dark deposits disappear. Sometimes stubborn deposits may require additional cream of tartar. Empty the canner and wash it with hot soapy water, rinse and dry. (Hint: deposits from hard water on the inside of the canner and on the jars may be reduced if you add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to the water in the canner while you process your jars.)
- Store pressure canners with crumpled clean paper towels under and around the bottom under 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. Some people find storing their canner in the box it came more convenient, I lost that box long ago so my canner just goes up on a shelf now.
- Wash your water bath canner and store it the same way. Wash the canner, lid and rack in warm soapy water and allow to dry completely. Repeat the above process of adding some paper towels under the rack for storage. For granite enamel water bath canners this also prevents the rack from wearing down the finish on the inside as it’s bumped or reshuffled in storage. Again, store the canner with the lid on upside down in a dry area.
- Inventory jars and two piece lids (or reusable Tattler lid combinations). If properly used and stored, glass jars can last indefinitely. As you empty jars during the winter, check for any chips or breaks, then wash and store them in a safe place. Two-piece lids consist of a flat metal disc and a separate metal screw band. After canning, bands should be removed once the jars have sealed otherwise they will rust directly to the lids making removal a pain. Wash and store the bands in a dry place, they can also be reused. If you are rotating your food storage the only thing you should need to replace is lids.
Finally, designate a clean and dry storage area for your canning equipment and utensils. Make clever use of organizational accessories, like clear plastic boxes and racks to suit your space and equipment. Organization like this is best done in the late fall or winter, it keeps your mind off of the weather. When summer rolls around you will be ready for another canning season!
Click here to read another article on canning safety: (click here to read Why Can’t I Can That?)