Wifey Disaster… Again

Scarily enough, the classic wifey disaster is becoming an annual occurrence. Hopefully, this will be the last big one, but knowing my culinary experimental tendencies, there are probably more coming…

My latest endeavor was to make and can my own homemade jam. My mother gave me a Ball Home Preserving book for Christmas and I had purchased some quart canning jars at a garage sale a while back, so I figured I was set. All I needed was berries and sugar. I know it’s probably cheaper to wait until the end of the season and go pick the berries myself, but I wanted to try a small scale version of home canning before I went whole hog. So, I cheerily bought raspberries and blackberries and sugar, borrowed a pressure canner from an aunt, went home and got to work. By the way, it takes a while for jam to cook until it reaches the “gel stage”. Also, I apparently need more practice in recognizing the gel stage, because after tasting the jam I did salvage from the ruins (keep reading), I discovered that it was cooked far too long; it tasted like burnt, over-sugared, cake filling. Definitely not fit for even toast.

Anywho, I thought we had reached the gel stage, turned off the burners, and began filling my sanitized and heated Ball jars. I had four quart-sized jars filled with (what I thought would be delicious) jam, sitting prettily in the borrowed pressure canner, waiting to be pressure sealed in their carefully researched and measured amount of water. I was following the canner directions and everything, from which I would usually stray; I figured I should at least try to know what I was doing since were were dealing with pressure and hot things. I set the seal and locked the lid on the canner and turned the burner on so it would begin its pressure process. I patiently waited ten minutes while the pressure vent cleared itself and then set the pressure gauge to the correct amount and left it alone. I was instructed by the manual to wait until the pressure gauge “jiggled” to set my timer. So I waited. And waited. And eventually began my ironing while I waited. And I finished my loads of ironing while I waited. And as my sister and brother-in-law showed up for dinner, the gauge finally started jiggling…an hour or more later. I though this was an awfully long time for a pressure canner, but I’ve never pressure canned before and I was following the directions, so no worries, right? Wrong. Four minutes into my canning time (set for 8 minutes after the gauge “jiggled”), a dark liquid started bursting out of the pressure vent, spraying the wall behind the stove and filling the apartment with smoke. I panicked, not entirely sure what was happening. Do I wait and maybe it will stop and I’ll still be able to save the jam? Do I turn off the burner before something catches on fire? Why is there smoke everywhere? WHAT IS GOING ON?! Fortunately, my sense quickly kicked in and I covered my arm before reaching into the liquid spray to turn off the burner. My husband quickly came to my aid as he saw the smoke and we opened windows and doors to air things out. About a half hour later, our eyes stopped watering from the smoke, nothing was burning anymore, and we gratefully figured out that it was jam spewing from the canner and not oil from one of the canner’s mechanisms. The pressure seal was either faulty or just plain didn’t work, but since I’m a newbie at pressure canning, I didn’t recognize the signs that it wasn’t functioning properly. The verdict: due to the faulty rubber seal, the canner was never sealed and the canner never fully pressurized, so the gauge never “jiggled”, thus boiling the jam jars so long that the lids busted and the water boiled out of the jam itself, eventually bursting and spewing out the pressure vent. What joy.

Meanwhile, dinner had been forgotten in the crisis of it all, happily burning itself to the bottom of the pot. My family was gracious enough to eat it anyway, not even mentioning the ashy, burnt aftertaste that inhibited my husband’s and my enjoyment of it. Happy Father’s Day dinner, Dad… at least the shortcake and salads were tasty and unscathed.

The end result of the canning adventure? Five ruined jars of jam, half a can of oven cleaner, copper/steel wool, and a few days later, we’re still trying to remove the jam that is cemented to the bottom of our aunt’s canner. It’s looking like she is going to get a brand new canner! I guess I should consider it a blessing that the canning was unsuccessful, otherwise I may never have known that the jam had been cooked too long to begin with. Maybe, maybe not. At least it makes for another good cooking disaster story, right?

Next time, we’re sticking to water bath canning. None of this high-tech pressure stuff =-)

One response to this post.

  1. there there- it was a huge (messy) learning experience. I appreciate your efforts!


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