Canning Food in a Grid-Down World, by Christine C.

We all know how possible a grid down scenario is.  While we have been stuffing our pantries and freezers with food to sustain us, what happens when there is no electricity to run that freezer?  If it is winter time in a northern place then it would be fine and we could use Mother Nature.  But what if you live in a southern area where the temperature does not remain below freezing?

One solution would be to home-can your food. Also home canning is a very inexpensive and frugal way to add to your food stores.  Not to mention you know exactly what goes into those jars.  No bug content in my catsup like there is with the commercial type.  If you have worked in a commercial cannery then you will understand why I do not want to feed that stuff to my family.  It is horrifying to see what is actually deemed “acceptable”.

Let’s start out by talking about the equipment needed.  First thing you would need a good quality canner.  They can be purchased pretty much anywhere.  Most require a rubber gasket between the lid and the pot in order to produce a seal and build the required pressure in order to raise the temperature to a point that pathogens are destroyed inside your jars.  But then what do you do when the gasket fails (they generally last 3-5 years) on your canner and you have no store to go buy another or the internet to order one?   My suggestion would be to invest in a canner that does not require a gasket, or to stockpile several spare parts and gaskets for your canner.  There is one brand of canner that does not require a gasket.  It is the “All American Canner”.  They are quite pricey to buy initially but when you figure many years of service without replacement gaskets the price goes down.  This canner has a machined rim that is so precise that it does not require any kind of gasket.  You have to be careful to not boil it dry and warp it.  But with careful use and care it should last your lifetime.  My canner is 31 years old and still going strong.

Then there are those pesky metal lids that can only be used one time.  Wal-Mart generally carries these lids.  I say generally because last fall my Wal-Mart in our town decided it was past canning season and sent all of theirs back to the warehouse.  Then when I went to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in the next town they were out.  I finally found some at the hardware store in town.  The prices have also gone up on these.  They were .99 cents a dozen a couple years ago and now the cheapest I can find them for is $1.63 when Wal-Mart has them and $2.49 at the hardware store.  So what happens when the grid is down and no stores or internet is available to buy any?  The solution to this is tattler reusable lids.  I have some and plan to buy a lifetime supply soon.  I have experimented with them and they have proved reliable over and over.  They are pricey for the initial investment but over the long run they pay for themselves quite quickly.  They are a 2 piece plastic lid with a rubber gasket.  As long as you do not damage the gasket they will work over and over.  You have to be careful when opening your jar so that the gasket does not get cut with your opener.  They are also tricky in that you have to get used to not tightening the rings down on them until after processing.  The trick is to tighten the ring down and then back it off about ¼ of an inch.  Then you process according to recommended times and pressures.  When you take the jars out of the canner use mitts and tighten each ring down on the jars.  Set your jars on a towel and allow them to cool.  After they have cooled completely then you can remove the rings.  The only other drawback is that you can not write on them.  Since they are reusable writing on the lids would cause a problem the next time you used them.  So after they are cool and you remove the rings make sure the jars are clean and place a small piece of masking tape on the lid and write on it.  Or you can write on the jar itself with a magic marker as this will wash off the glass.  You can get them in a bulk deal for about .50 cents a lid.  Since the metal ones are about .20 cents a lid you can see how fast they would pay for them selves.   It is as easy as picking up the jar once you removed the ring to be sure they have sealed.  If they have not then the lid will come off in your hand and the jar will stay on the counter!


The other equipment you would need is reusable and you would not need to worry so much about replacements.  They are:

Jar lifter
Small pot for boiling the lids
Jar funnel
Water bathing pot for processing pickles and fruit, you can also use your canner without the lid for this, but I like a separate pot to water bath in.
Pot holders or oven mitts
A large ladle for filling jars
A canning book (I like Putting Food By) There are many different ones available.


Now that we got the boring equipment part out of the way we can move on to the good part…

There is a great satisfaction to having your cabinet full of what I call convenience foods.   I like to can food in a way that I can open the jar, heat it up and Presto dinner is ready.  I love to make soup and when I do I make it 5 gallons at a time… I do not add any pasta to it when I make the big batch then I will remove only what we are going to eat for that meal to add the pasta.  (Pasta does not can well it only gets mushy).  Then I can all of the leftovers in quart jars.  Meat loaf, meat balls, barbecued meat, roast in gravy, taco meat, spaghetti sauce with the meat and even left over gravy in jars makes for a very speedy meal and can even be prepared by the less culinary gifted people in your home should you be unable to cook.  Remember that what ever you can always process it for the recommended amount of time for the ingredient requiring the longest processing time.  For example I made venison soup a few days ago.  It had venison, barley and vegetables in the soup.  The venison would require the longest processing time, (90 minutes at 15 lbs for our altitude and for quart jars).  So that is what the soup got processed for. 


When you can meat it does change the flavor and texture a bit.  Using this meat is as easy as opening the jar and draining the liquid.  You can process meat either hot pack (already cooked) or raw pack.  Canned chicken flakes easily for making things like enchiladas and you can buy the lesser cuts of beef that would normally be tough; after you can them they are very tender.  Any kind of left over meat can be canned for use at a later time whether it is the roast and gravy or taco meat.

Canning meat (Raw pack)
Raw pack is the easiest way to can meat.  Simply cut the meat into chunks and pack into the jar leaving about an inch of headspace (the distance from the top of the meat to the top edge of the jar).  Wipe the rim of the jar (you must make sure there are no food particles, grease or chipped rims or it will not seal).  Place a boiled lid on top and screw on a ring.  Then process at the recommended time and pressure. We are at a little over 1000 feet.  I process meat for quarts 90 minutes at 15 lbs and pints for 75 minutes at 15 lbs. You can NOT process meat in a water bath.  It MUST be pressure canned.  When processing raw meat you do not add any liquid.  The broth is made as the meat cooks in the jars.  Begin timing after your canner has reached the correct pressure per your specific canners instructions.  After the timing is over slide your canner to a cool side of the stove and allow it to cool.  Do NOT try to reduce the pressure rapidly by running water on it or helping the pressure to escape.  This will cause seal failure.  After the canner has cooled and there is no longer any pressure inside it then remove the weight and lid.  Using a jar lifter remove the jars to a towel on your counter.  Remember they are VERY hot at this time and you will see the contents still boiling.  If you are using Tattler lids this is the time to tighten the bands down.  After the jars have cooled off (over night) then remove the lids and wash the jars.  The jars may have grease on the outside of them from processing.  Always write on the lid or tape what the contents are and the month/year of processing.  Home canned meat should have a shelf life of about 5 years if done properly.

Canning meat (Hot pack)
This is the way you would can any leftovers.  Heat what ever you are going to process up (Soup, meat and gravy, taco meat, etc).  Then using the jar funnel ladle the food into the jar leaving about 1 inch of headspace.  Then follow the directions above.  Remember to always process for the time required to process the longest amount recommended for any one ingredient.

Canning Meatloaf (Raw pack)
You must use wide mouth pint jars for this.  Otherwise the neck of the jar will not allow your loaf to slide out.  Do not add eggs or fillers (oatmeal, bread crumbs, etc).  Mix your ground meat with the seasonings you wish.  I mix sausage and hamburger together with a can of drained diced tomatoes and a bit of Italian seasoning.
 Then pack the mixture into the jar leaving an inch of headspace.  Wipe the rim. Place on lids and rings then process the recommended time/pressure.  When it is done you will have a nice loaf of cooked meat in a broth with fat on top.  When you are ready to eat it open the jar and drain the liquid.  I like to slice the meatloaf to make sandwiches.

Canning Meat Balls (hot pack)
Make your meatballs (mix meat and seasonings).  Do not add any eggs or fillers.  Bake them in the oven to brown them.  Then place the balls into jars and cover with liquid (I use half strength V8 juice) Process the recommended time/pressure.  The meat balls make a great snack for kids and easy to make meat ball subs, spaghetti, etc.

Canning soup or roast (Hot pack)
Make your soup or roast.  Make sure if you are canning roast that it is cut into small enough pieces to fit into the jar and then come back out easily.  Do not add any pasta to your soup prior to canning.  If you are going to want pasta in your soup then wait and add it after you open the jar.  It is very easy to open the jar heat it to boiling then add a handful of noodles and cook them in the broth.  If you try to can pasta it only gets mushy. 

Canned Gravy: Depending on what you use to thicken your gravy it may thin out and need to be thickened with corn starch after you open the jar.  Corn starch will break down if it is cooked too long so corn starch thickened gravy will also thin back out with processing.

Creature Soup:
Soup has long been a way to cook food for multiple people at a minimum of cost and difficulty.  Soup is a very easy meal to prepare and you do not need frozen or box mixes from the stores to make it (Contrary to popular belief).  The limit to the kinds of soup you make is only limited by your creativity and availability of food stuffs to put in the pot. You can make it with meat or without, with grain, pasta or rice or without, or even with or without vegetables. The art of soup making has literally been around since we discovered fire and started cooking our food.  It really is just a matter of putting various foods into a pot of water and cooking it together.  It can be served hot or cold.  It can be preserved by canning it or freezing it.  It can be cooked on any heat source including a camp fire.  If using an open fire then place the pot over rocks or bricks set over a bed of coals.   Placing it directly over the flame would be too hot.

Remember that in a survival situation Soup has many advantages over canned, store bought ready to eat foods:

  1. It can be made with anything you have on hand, can catch, shoot or forage
  2. It provides liquid at the same time as the meal to decrease dehydration
  3. The salt content of home made soups will be a lot less than that of store bought (excess salt consumption will increase you water requirements)
  4. It provides a nutritionally balanced meal that is filling and warming.
  5. It can be eaten hot or cold
  6. It can be preserved by canning or freezing
  7. It can be kept warm on the back of a wood stove or camp fire for your whole family to eat at will.


  1. You have to cook it
  2. You need heat to cook it


Equipment Needed:
Large soup pot with a lid (Mine holds 5 gallons), the thicker the bottom the better
Long wooden spoon, you want to be able to stir and scrape the bottom when the pot is full
Heat Source
Any kind of meat, vegetables, grain, seasonings


Creature Soup (Recipe)

You will need:
1 large soup pot
1 long wooden spoon
A heat source for cooking (camp fire or wood stove will work just fine)
1 creature killed, cleaned and cut into pieces (any small mammal: rabbit, squirrel, raccoon, or even a piece of a larger creature such as a deer shoulder, etc)
Water to fill your pot
Vegetables (any kind will do) or cat tail shoots cleaned and cut up
Grain (any kind barley, steel cut oats, cracked wheat, rice etc)
Spices (what ever strikes your fancy and is available i.e.: Onions, celery, peppers, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, thyme, rosemary, etc)
Pasta if you want

Place your creature, seasonings and water into the pot.  Make sure there is enough water to thoroughly cover the creature by several inches.  Cook slowly over a low heat with the lid on.  In order to make a rich broth and have tender meat you will need to simmer it (not boiling) on low for several hours.  Keep adding water as necessary to keep water over your meat by several inches.  Once you notice the meat falling off the bones take it out and set it aside. By now the broth should smell yummy and have a nice rich color to it.  If it is too weak for your taste you can add some bouillon.   Tomatoes make a nice broth also.  Add your grain to the pot at this time. Continue cooking slowly at a simmer.  Stir frequently, as the grain cooks it will have a tendency to stick on the bottom and burn.
When the creature is cooled enough so that you can handle it remove all the meat off the bones, cut it into small pieces, across the grain of the meat and replace the meat into the pot.
Watch the grain.  It will take a couple hours at a simmer to cook the grains until they are soft.  If you are using fresh vegetables, add them when the grain still has a bit of a crunch to it.  If you are using canned vegetables then add them when the grain has cooked to a soft texture and continue to simmer only to heat them up.  Add pasta last as it only requires a few minutes of boiling to cook.
This soup will provide a filling nutritious meal.  Any leftovers may be canned into quart jars for eating at a later time. Always process your jars for the recommended time for the ingredient requiring the longest processing. If you are cooking it on a woodstove the soup pot can be kept on the back corner so as to keep it warm for several hours.  Stir and add water as needed to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot or drying out.


You can even can Bacon slices, bacon bits, etc.  What you put into jars really is as great as your culinary skills and imagination.  It is a great way to utilize leftovers so that they are not wasted and a great way to add to your food stores without spending a lot of money on store bought canned meat.  Just remember to always process the safe time and pressure for your altitude for the ingredient that requires the longest processing.  Also remember that spices tend to get stronger after canning.  So if you think there is a little too much oregano in your meat balls you need to add more meat before you process or your meat balls will really have too much oregano when you are done.

Problems with canning:

Then there are the problems that will arise while you are canning.  You know it is always easier said than done.  Trouble shooting a canner can be frustrating if you have no idea what is wrong and there may be no one you can ask.  The first thing you need to do is to get familiar with the various parts of your specific canner.  Generally most canners have parts that are similar.  You have the pot and the lid.  The pot is just that the pot.  It has locking lugs that align with the lid in order to lock down the lid and keep it from blowing off during processing.  The lid however has many parts:  The lid, the handles, the stem, the weight, possibly a gasket, possibly a gauge, a high pressure relief, a locking mechanism, possibly wing nut clamps.

Here are some problems you may encounter and possible causes and solutions:


Problem:  The lid will not fit on right
            Possible cause and solution

  1. The locking lugs are not properly lined up
    1. Place the lid on top of the canner with the lid handles a little off set from the pot handles.  Line up the lugs by sliding it back and forth until the lugs fit together and the lid slides down.  Then turn the lid until the handles on the pot and the lid line up.
    2. If your lid doesn’t not want to slide easily once it has seated on the lugs then coat the gasket with a small amount of vegetable oil to help the gasket to slide on the pot.

Problem: Canner will not reach correct pressure.
Turn off your burner and Slide the canner to a cool spot to cool down before trouble shooting the problem.

Possible cause and solutions:

  1. Gasket not sealing
    1. Soak gasket in hot water for 15 minutes
    2. if gasket seems loose on the lid then you can stretch the gasket by working your way around with both hands pulling on it
    3. try a coating of vegetable oil
    4. Replace gasket
  2. not enough heat
    1. Increase heat
  3. If you have a canner with wing nut type clamps then it is possible one of your clamps is not tight.


Problem: Old faithful erupting on stove. 
Steam is pouring out from under the lid.  Slide the canner to a cool spot to cool down before trouble shooting the problem.


            Possible causes and solutions

  1. Lid locking mechanism did not lock
    1. Try Jiggling the lid to get the mechanism to lock.  Some canners are very picky about the lid placement and this mechanism.
  2. Food is hung in the lid lock mechanism
    1. Make sure your lid and jars are clean before processing.
    2. Check the gasket, under the gasket and the lid lock mechanism for pieces of food.
  3. Gasket not sealing
    1. Soak gasket in hot water for 15 minutes
    2. if gasket seems loose on the lid then you can stretch the gasket by working your way around with both hands pulling on it
    3. try a coating of vegetable oil
    4. Replace gasket if it is dry, hard, cracked or torn.
  4. If you have a canner with wing nut type clamps then it is possible one of your clamps is not tight.


Problem: The high pressure valve just popped
(Hurry and throw a damp rag on top of the valve so that you do not lose your jars, do not get your hand in the way of the steam it will burn you).  Slide the canner to a cool spot to cool down before trouble shooting the problem.

Possible causes and solutions

  1. Stem is clogged
    1. Always make sure your pot and lid is clean before you use it and make sure your jars are clean when you put them in.

Problem: The pressure regulator quit jiggling and is now just blowing a steady stream of steam
            Possible cause and solution

  1. Too much pressure in pot
    1. Turn down your fire a bit, this will take trial and error to get just the right amount of heat

Problem: The pressure regulator quit jiggling and is not blowing steam out
            Possible cause and solution

  1. not enough pressure in the pot
    1. Turn up your fire a bit, this will take trial and error to get just the right amount of heat


Problem:  You just bought a new gasket for your Mirro Canner and now it won’t seal or the gasket only lasts a few times of running the canner before it fails again.
            Possible cause and solution

  1. Turn your pot over and look at the manufacturing date.  It will generally be stamped on the bottom of the pot somewhere. The Mirro 22qt made before 1983 requires a different gasket than is sold at the hardware store now.  You probably have the wrong gasket.  There are several sites on the internet that sells the older replacements.  You can call the manufacturer to make sure of what part you need.  Gaskets that are used regularly should last 3-5 years.  Usually what causes them to fail is not using them and they dry out.


Problem:  Lids not sealing
            Possible causes and solutions

  1. Rims not clean when lids are placed on
    1. Wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth before placing your hot lids on them
  2. Pressure being dropped too fast
    1. Never drop the pressure artificially.  Allow the pot to cool on its own.  By dropping the pressure it causes negative pressure in your pot and will pull the jar contents out into the pot from under the lids.
  3. Using used metal lids
    1. Never reuse a metal lid.  The only lids suitable for repeated use are Tattler lids with gaskets.
  4. Not enough headspace
    1. Leave about ¾’s of an inch between the top of your food and the top of your jar.  The jars will boil in the canner and if you do not have enough empty space in the jar then the contents will be pushed out of the jar causing grease and food to get under the lid.
  5. Rings not tight on metal lids
    1. Tighten rings over metal lids prior to processing
  6. Rings too tight on tattler lids before processing or not tightened down after processing.
    1. Tighten and then back off the rings over a Tattler lid ¼ inch then tighten the rings after the jars are processed and removed from the canner.  Use an oven mitt the jars are HOT!!!

Remember: if at any time you lose the pressure in your pot you have to start re-timing the food from the time you rebuild pressure!!

Remember: Always let the canner vent steam for at least 10 minutes before placing the weight on the stem.  This allows the air to evacuate the pot and makes sure the stem is clear.

Remember:  Always make sure your canner is clean and the jars are clean before canning or you can clog your stem.  Inspect it before each use.

Remember:  Always make sure you have enough water in the pot to run the entire processing time.  If you let a canner run dry you will warp the pot and break your jars.

Remember:  NEVER drop the pressure purposely by removing the weight or running cold water over the pot.  Always allow the pot to cool naturally by only sliding it to the cool side of your stove or counter.  Failure to do this can cause steam/burn injuries, broken jars and seal failure.

Remember: Any time there is a problem with your canner gently and carefully slide it to a cool place and then leave it alone until the pressure has subsided.  If too much pressure builds it will make a howling sound from the steam escaping the escape valve or from under the lid.  The escaping steam will burn you!!!