Care of Your Pressure Canner:
First, start with your biggest investment, the pressure canner. For safe operation next season, clean the vent and safety valve. To clean the vent, draw a clean string or narrow strip of cloth through the opening. Check to make sure the safety valve is free of debris and operates freely. Clean the valve by removing, if possible, or following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Next, check the gasket. It is the rubber or rubber-like compound that helps seal the edges of the canner and lid to prevent steam from escaping. Gaskets are removable for cleaning or replacement by following the manufacturer’s directions. If needed, new gaskets can be ordered from the canner manufacturer or found at hardware stores. (Some canners do not have gaskets and use a metal to metal seal instead.)
If your canner has a dial gauge, go ahead and mark your calendar now for a time to have your gauge tested in early spring. Contact your County Extension Agent for information on checking the accuracy of the gauge. This should be done well in advance of canning season so that if the gauge tests off more than 1 pound of pressure at 5, 10, or 15 pounds, it can be replaced.
Follow the manufacturer’s directions for care of the sealing edges of your canner. If your canner has a dial gauge, be careful not to immerse the gauge when cleaning. The darkened surface on the inside of an aluminum canner can be cleaned by filling it above the darkened line with a mixture of 1 tablespoon cream of tartar to each quart of water. Place the canner on the stove, heat water to a boil, and boil it covered until the dark deposits disappear. Stubborn deposits may require the addition of more cream of tartar. Empty the canner and wash it with hot soapy water, rinse and dry. (Hint: Deposits from hard water may be reduced by adding 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to the water in the canner while processing jars.)
Store the canner with crumpled clean paper towels in the bottom and around the rack. This will help absorb moisture and odors. Place the lid upside down on the canner. Never put the lid on the canner and seal it.
Care of Your Canning Jars and Lids:
Take time to inventory jars and two piece lids. If properly used and stored, jars can last indefinitely. As you empty jars during the winter, check for any chips or breaks, wash and store in a safe place. Two-piece lids consist of a flat metal disc and a separate metal screw band. After canning, screw bands should be removed once the jars have sealed, instead of leaving them on the jars during storage. Wash and dry screw bands completely and put them away in a dry place. Bands can be used over and over, unless they rust. The flat lid is used only once and then discarded after the jar of food is opened.
Designate a clean and dry storage area for your canning equipment and utensils. Use clear storage boxes, stackable racks, and other organizer accessories to make a food preservation storage center. Come spring, you’ll be ready for another year!
Care of Your Freezer
Manual-defrost freezers need defrosting at least once a year or when there is more than one-fourth inch of frost over a large area of the freezer. Accumulated freezer frost reduces storage space and increases operating costs. Defrosting should be scheduled when the food inventory is relatively low and defrosting can be completed within one to two hours.
A manual-defrost model should be disconnected from the electrical supply before defrosting. Frozen packages should then be placed in large cardboard cartons or insulated ice chests. If using a cardboard carton, use several layers of newspapers for extra insulation.
Clean the freezer as quickly as possible, following your manufacturer’s instructions. A few manufactures recommend placing pans of hot water in the freezer and closing it. Then remove the frost as it loosens and replace the water as it cools. Make sure the freezer is completely cool before restarting it. Other manufactures do not recommend using pans of hot water because in their freezers, refrigerator pressure could build up in the evaporator, making restarting the freezer difficult. These manufactures recommend allowing the frost to thaw naturally or with the aid of a fan.
Place towels in the bottom of the freezer to catch water and frost. The loose frost can be removed using a wooden or plastic scrapper. When all the frost has been removed, sponge out the interior with a cleaning solution made of one tablespoon of baking soda per quart of water. Sponge with clean water and dry with an absorbent cloth. Turn the freezer on and close the door to allow the freezer to become chilled (15 to 30 minutes) before returning the food. If food packages are frosty, scrape or wipe them to remove frost or moisture before placing the food back in the freezer in an organized manner. Mark these packages for first use.
Care of Frost-Free Freezers:
A frost-free freezer does not need defrosting. However, it should be cleaned once a year or more often if dirt or food residues are visible. In cleaning the freezer, sponge out the interior with a cleaning solution made of one tablespoon of baking soda per quart of water. Sponge with clean water and dry with an absorbent cloth or towel. Turn on the freezer and close the door to allow the freezer to become chilled (15 to 30 minutes) before returning the food.