Yesterday evening I finally got my pressure canner out to do my first batch of beans for the season. With the garden being pretty dismal this year, I hadn't needed to use the pressure canner yet this summer. I did my usual quick check of the lid to make sure everything was OK:
vent pipe clean and clear
plug moves up and down smoothly
gauge looks normal
gasket not cracked or missing
Then I went about putting my beans into quart jars, adding salt and boiling water until each jar had an inch of head space, released air bubbles and added more water if needed, slapped on the lids and rings, and put the jars into the canner along with two quarts of boiling water in the bottom. I aligned the canner lid on top and rotated it into the locked position, then turned the burner on high.
Everything started out as normal: as the canner heated, steam began to flow out the vent pipe. I let it vent for seven minutes, then put the weight on top, blocking the pipe. After a few more minutes the plug on the lid rose into position, and I began to watch the pressure gauge so I'd know when ten pounds pressure had been reached and I could start timing the beans.
Except the gauge wasn't moving. Ten minutes had gone by and it still hadn't moved. I began to get worried. What if my gauge had died while in sitting in the cupboard since last year's canning season had ended? What if the pressure in my canner was all ready higher than ten pounds?
Well, I knew it couldn't be much more than ten at that point, since I had a fairly good sense of how many minutes that canner needed to reach the desired pressure for beans. A decade and a half of canning beans with it had instilled in me an approximate time frame for that. So I let it go another five minutes, then when the gauge still hadn't moved, I turned the burner off.
It was at that point that DH came into the kitchen.
"Done?" He asked. For some reason, after a decade and a half of me canning beans he still has no clue what the required time table is.
I explained that I didn't think the gauge was working and that I had shut the burner off to be safe. I told him that I planned to let the canner cool, and open the lid once the plug went back into it's down "no pressure" position. Then I would see if I could figure out what's what.
DH shrugged, and went back to the living room where he'd been watching TV. Canning; women's work. TV watching; man's. Or something like that.
Once the plug dropped, I removed the weight from the vent pipe and carefully unlocked the lid. Taking the lid off, I did a quick peek at the vent pipe again, moved the plug up and down a couple of times, then popped the gasket out, looked it over carefully, turned it over and put it back into position inside the lid. Then I removed all the jars, measured out the water in the bottom of the canner--about a quart and three quarters--added enough boiling water to make two quarts again, poured the water back in, put the jars back in, and stuck the lid back on.
I had just locked the lid into position again and turned the burner back on when DH returned to the kitchen. He asked if I had figured out what the problem was.
"Nope, everything looked normal," I told him as steam began to flow through the vent pipe again. I stood up and set the timer for seven minutes.
"And you're still going to use it? How are you going to know if it's safe?" He asked, eyeing the canner warily.
"I'll know in a few minutes," I said calmly.
What I didn't tell him was that I was nervous too. But I had the benefit of knowing about how long it should take the canner to reach ten pounds and I planned to shut the burner down again if the gauge didn't start moving within a few minutes of me putting the weight on the vent pipe.
At that moment the plug jumped up into it's pressurizing position. DH's eyes got bigger, and he took a step back away from the stove.
When the timer went off I put the weight onto the vent pipe, making sure it was seated firmly.
No sooner had I placed the weight into position than the gauge began to move. In the normal time frame, it showed ten pounds and canning proceeded as it has for years and years. I sat in the kitchen and adjusted the burner as necessary in order to not let the pressure go above or below that critical ten pounds for preserving my beans. Meanwhile, DH sat in the living room, anticipating hearing an explosion any minute.
After about ten minutes I took pity on him and called out: "It's working fine, just needed the gasket adjusted."
And they call women the weaker sex. . . yet give us the task of using potentially deadly things like pressure canners. Heck, my grandma's pressure canner didn't even have a gauge, she had to put on the correct weight and know the correct rhythm at which that weight should be rocking in order to not blow herself up or give her family beans with botulism!