Why do I do this to myself? That was my thought while I was putting the last batch of pumpkin in the pressure canner at 3am. The first two batches leeched out so much liquid that most of the jars were suited to the trash. I had little hope for this last batch.
Pumpkin doesn’t have the acidity of tomatoes, nor the sugar of jams, nor the salt of pickles; that makes it an attractive home to botulism, or any bacteria for that matter. Technically, this was my third time working with the pressure canner. My current pumpkin crisis wasn’t a huge surprise. Fluid has leeched out of everything that we’ve pressure canned in the past. It’s just that the prior two sessions resulted in minor amounts of liquid lost to leeching.
When I finally crawled into bed at 5am, I put off dealing with the worthless jars of pumpkin. Because I am morphing into an 80 year-old, sunlight was piercing my skull at 9am and additional sleep was not happening. After some coffee I biked up to Findlay Market for Pho Lang (mega-yummy Vietnamese place) and whined about my less than pleasant experience to my canning partner.
She was just coming off misadventures with pumpkin gnocchi. And this brings me to a point that people don’t often acknowledge. Anyone who spends time in a kitchen will tell you that failure is frequent. I screwed up caramelizing sugar the first four times that I tried. I screwed up strawberry jam, twice, two years in a row. Let’s not talk about the vast number of things that I’ve burned. I can’t manage to make a calzone that doesn’t explode while baking.
She talked me down from throwing all the jars in the trash. She pointed out that I already did the hard work of gutting and skinning the pumpkin. And, indeed, that was no fun. We set about processing them a second time. We opened the jars and added more boiled water. The first batch we pulled pumpkin out so that we left a mix of one inch and two inches of head room. I wasn’t convinced that head room was my problem, but we figured it was worth a shot.
We put the jars back in the canner with extra head room. They came out with little to no leeching. We reprocessed the remaining batches without adding more headroom and just topping off the missing liquid with boiling water. These jars too came out of the canner with little to no leeching.
In the interests of helping others avoid my mistakes, I will tell you what I suspect was happening. I suspect that the jars were a little too hot, ergo too pressurized. On my first round of canning, the contents of the jar boiled on the counter for about 30 minutes after I pulled them out of the canner. On our second session, the contents of the jars only boiled for a few minutes.
What am I going to do differently next time? I will be more careful about checking in on the pressure release valve. It’s only supposed to rattle a couple times a minute. It’s totally plausible that the longer the canner is on the element the more heat builds up in the canner. Will that fix my problem? Who knows, but I know that I will keep trying.