Last weekend, I tried my hand at pressure-canning.
I’ve been so excited about doing this, I’ve delayed actually doing it for, well, decades.
I admit it; I’m afraid. I read all the stories about exploding pressure cookers, botulism, paralysis and death or just plain disgusting results — “You kept this stuff for 17 years? It isn’t wine!”
So I enlisted my friend — I’ll call her … “Lynette” — to hold my hand. Babysit me, if you will. She had nothing else to do, I told her. We’ll can … tomatoes! I’ll make pasta sauce! With sausage!
Then I remembered from a Canning for Bonehead class I took this spring that tomatoes and meat are the “riskiest” foods to can. Sigh.
I tried following the recipe; I really did. But the first ingredient? Twenty pounds of tomatoes. I looked at my tomato patch. Sure, it had taken over the entire garden, but how many cherry tomatoes makes 20 pounds?
I gathered them all — except the few that were rotten, because I don’t want to give anyone botulism.
“You have a mill, right?” Lynette asked.
“What do I look like, a lumberjack?” (Translated: What’s a mill?)
“Well, you DO have a food processor?”
“What do I look like, a chef?” (No.)
“What are you going to use?” she asked.
“My blender. The one I make smoothies in.”
Dead silence. “Okaaaay.”
After two days of prep, I had a pot of what looked and smelled like spaghetti sauce. And no, I wasn’t going to taste it. I was too afraid.
I hauled it all over to Lynette’s house, where we debated about where to cook.
“Out here on the wooden deck?” Lynette asked. “You’re the firefighter; you tell me.”
“Retired firefighter,” I said. “Here is fine. It’s either that or the living room, and I don’t think you’re supposed to use propane inside.”
Not that it mattered. The paint burning off the new stove was enough to kill anyone within a 5-mile radius.
Anyway, I put lemon juice into the jars to counteract the pH of tomatoes — “Hmmm. I’ve never heard of adding lemon juice,” Lynette said. I shot her a look before ladling pasta sauce — “Are you sure I don’t need to reheat it to a boil?” I asked. “Are you sure just warming the jars up in the dishwasher is adequate?”
Oh, the questions I had. My babysitter was quite patient.
“How do you know when it’s hot enough?” “What if we run out of propane?” “What if the little rattler stops rattling? Do you smell that? Is it botulism?”
Lynette babysat me, and we babysat the rattling, boiling, pressurized, botulism-killing pot. Seventy minutes. I don’t think my eyes left it, as I timed the rattles. Six times a minute, Lynette instructed.
“Was that six? Or one long five? And oh! That was seven! What now?”
“Oh, you’ll die,” Lynette said. “It means the pressure’s building up too much. It’s going to explode.” She left.
“Rattle, rattle,” rattled the pot.
“Rattle, rattle,” rattled my nerves.
The timer went off, I turned off the gas. Silence.
“Now what?” I asked.
“We wait. Like, an hour. It needs to cool and depressurize.”
“Oh. Can I take the ratt —” “DON’T TOUCH THAT!” she shrieked. “You take that off and it’ll depressurize so fast, all your jars will break.”
Oh. I retreated to a corner of the deck. FYI? A watched pot doesn’t cool, either.
In the end, I had seven pints of spaghetti sauce — but later, I realized I hadn’t added enough lemon juice to each jar! And I’d given a jar to a FRIEND! I was going to kill her! I called Lynette.
“Iwassupposed toadd 2TABLESPOONS not twoteaspoons andnowevery oneisgoingto getbotulism and dieand it’llbeallmyfault!!!” I gasped. “I’ll go to … HELL! Or worse, PRISON!”
I must’ve gotten on Lynette’s last nerve.
“Oh, yes, then,” she responded. “You will die. And everyone you feed it to will die. You will be shunned from everyone’s kitchens and will never being able to bring a dish to a potluck.
“You shall forever be known as Botulism Jane.”