Wow. I think I’m turning into a gear hog. *chagrin* I keep buying things that are not, strictly speaking, necessary for home food preservation – but which I hope will help scale up home food processing to something above “one woman and a kettle” but not quite “$10,000 of commercial equipment on a small assembly line.”
I buy it and review it so you don’t have to. How’s that for a justification? :)
So! The electric canner. It’s essentially a giant 8 gallon stainless steel pot with an electrical element in the base, a rack, and – key point – a thermostat. Because it turns out what this baby does best is not canning, but pasteurizing just below boiling. You can get them with or without a spigot; I’ve found the spigot to be very helpful.
How it works
Just fill it with water, turn the thermostat to the desired temp, and wait. I filled it deep enough to can quart jars and I think it took 45 minutes to boil – comparable to an electric stovetop. Do be sure to turn the dial all the way as far as it will go – don’t stop at “simmer.” It also appears that wrapping it in a towel to contain the heat doesn’t work so well – though I might try that again once I’ve got it boiling.
What it does pretty well
- Canning. Since all you need to can is a deep pot of boiling water, it would be hard to screw this up. And it does a fine job. It holds 14 pints or 11 quarts at a time, and probably a couple dozen half-pints, if you stack jars. Keeps the kitchen cooler than doing canning stovetop, too, especially if you have a gas stove. (I bet gas boils faster, though.)
- Extending your available “stove” space. What convinced me to buy this was not home use, but use at the Grange, where we are very limited by having only 2 stoves to use on canning days. This puppy allows us to run three canners at a time instead of two – a big time savings, especially for tomatoes, which boil for 45 minutes.
- Cooking stuff. Take out the rack, and you can use this to stew four or five chickens at a time. We used it to cook down the salsa at our salsafest, and it was ok, but not great. Burned a little bit of the salsa on the bottom of the pot, and since we were doing so much at once, it took forever to cook down – but I think that’s just physics.
What it does really well
Having a thermostat is da bomb for anything that needs to be kept below a boil for a long period of time. This thing was made for pasteurization. For example:
- Home brewing. Pasteurize your cider before pitching yeast. Keep your wort warm. Halt secondary fermentation by pasteurizing your bottles after capping. This thing is brilliant – just set the dial, wait for the light to go out (indicating it’s up to temp, and yes, we checked the accuracy with a thermometer), and start the timer.
- Low-temp pasteurizing of pickles. If you think boiling your pickles for storage makes them too mushy, try low-temp pasteurization: ~170 for 30 minutes (see the Joy of Pickling for details). Again – it’s so nice not to have to watch the stove and thermometer!
- Demos. I could do a canning demo or workshop anywhere with a counter and an outlet with this – no lugging propane tanks, cast-iron burners, and finding a place to work outdoors.
- Cheesemaking. You can actually buy these (sans spigot) from Cheesemaking.com – does a great job keeping large batches of milk at temp for as long as you like.
I don’t think I’d buy one of these just to put up a few dozen jars of tomatoes – it’s just too expensive and not enough of an improvement over a kettle on the stove to warrant it. However, if you need portable canning, extra canning space, or to hold liquids at a set temp for long periods of time (hot cider for 100?), it might be worth it. This would be a great community resource, available to loan out when needed. (If you’re local and need one, e-mail me and we’ll talk.)