Three Letters Re: Canning Food in a Grid-Down World

In response to the question on wood stove canning. The short answer is ‘yes’. However, to can on a wood stove means being able to regulate the heat for extended periods. (Irregular temperatures, especially with the pressure canner, will cause your jars to siphon the juices.) This means a good assortment of dependable wood, a stove that will hold a steady heat and if you’re lucky enough, a separate summer kitchen. (The wood stove in summer will turn the kitchen into an unbearable sauna. That said, I have canned over wood heat for many years with excellent results. And, if I may add, in summer I’d rather can in any other way than on my wood stove. Incidentally, an open fire surrounded by a few concrete blocks and a grate makes a serviceable canning heat. Here, wood can be used for open bath canning with excellent results. Once the learning curve on canning is achieved, then all sorts of innovations may be attempted. Regards, – CCW

Hi James!
Thanks for all the information and inspiration that you provide!
In answer to the question about if it is possible to pressure can over wood heat: yes! it certainly can be done. But it takes much more experience and observation to manage an even temperature on the wood cookstove and the resulting pressure within the pressure canner. Back in my Hippie days in the 1970s, I used to pressure can and cook everything over an old wood cookstove and it certainly does work. I’d even venture a guess that pressure canning could be done over an open fire with frequent fire management.
Managing the correct pressure is much , much more difficult with a wood fire versus the convenience of a gas or electric heat source. With gas or electric, once you find the ‘sweet spot’ on the control of the stove burner that maintains the correct pressure, you can stay busy with other tasks near the stove and only glance at the pressure gauge every 5 or 10 minutes. Then, if the pressure is changing, adjusting the stove control knob slightly up or down as needed will correct the problem with little effort.
With pressure canning over a wood stove, it’s not near that simple. On a wood cookstove, the entire metal surface of the stove has a variation in temperature. To increase the temperature and thereby increase the pressure within the canner, you slide the pressure canner closer to the hottest spot on the cookstove surface (back area above the firebox). If the pressure is too high, then slide the pressure canner away from the hottest spot. A few inches makes a difference in surface temperature on a cookstove. But it takes many frequent observations and adjustments to maintain a steady pressure on your canner. No “checking it every ten minutes”. And all this time, the temperature within the firebox is changing as well.
The temperature changes within the firebox depends on the design and size of the firebox within the wood cookstove,  type of wood you are burning, the size and dryness of the wood, the buildup of ashes within the firebox, the passage of time as your fire burns down, how you set your air vent controls and on an on. If you have never used a wood cookstove, operating one efficiently will seem overwhelming–especially when smoke leaks from every surface of the stove filling your kitchen as you try to build a fire and get the smoke hot enough to rise out the chimney!! Please gain some experience with the wood cookstove before you ever try to pressure can on it.
With experience, all these problems will disappear and you will grow enjoy cooking over a wood stove. Bread baked in a cookstove has a much more wonderful flavor that no electric or gas stove can match. My two aunts continued to do their baking in their wood cookstoves all their lives even after adding electric stoves to their kitchens decades earlier!
So, before you ever consider staking your life or at least your food canning future on pressure canning over wood heat–as with everything–gain experience with the wood cookstove first. Live the lifestyle. Then, if or when you have to rely on a wood cookstove as the center of your kitchen, it won’t be such  a huge culture shock.
One last thing, a physical and emotional attachment develops with a family’s life centering around the wood cookstove unlike any other fixture within your house today. You can’t imagine the sense of comfort and well being that develops.
Picture that it’s winter and bitter cold. You’ve just finished chores outside and feel chilled to the bone. Now imagine, coming into your house, taking off your heavy winter clothing and feeling the warmth of the wood cookstove radiating from the kitchen. Now imagine pulling up a chair close to this warmth, pouring a steaming cup of rosehip and wild peppermint tea from the kettle that’s always on the stove, filling a bowl with hot stew (homegrown ingredients) that’s been simmering for hours on the stove, cutting a slice of fresh baked bread from the warming oven. The whole house smells wonderful from this goodness on the cookstove—I forgot to mention that you took off your winter boots at the door, your toes feel like ice.
Now imagine, opening the door of the oven to let even more heat fill the room, sitting on the kitchen chair, resting your cold feet on the door of the oven and feeling the warmth of the oven start to penetrate your cold toes, the tea and the hot stew start to warm you from the inside out. A feeling that all is well in the world settles over you, until your wife yells, “Get your stinky feet off the oven door!”
Enjoy, and may God bless your efforts – Mountain Firekeeper

Just a quick thought on canning that might help everyone.  My wife and I use the All American Pressure Canner Model 921 21 quart with the metal to metal seal, it is aluminum and we like it.  What we use for our heat source is an old turkey fryer base that is hooked up to a 20 lb propane tank.  I have bought several turkey fryers at garage sale fairly cheaply and these work great.  My wife canned some green beans last fall and I weighed the propane tank before and after we pressure canned the beans and we used about 8-to-10 ounces of propane. So part of our plan has been to have several extra tanks of propane for canning purposes.   

Another thought related to 20 lb propane tanks is that if you exchange them at Wal-Mart you only get 15 lbs of propane but if you bring the tanks to your local gas company then they can fill them to 20 lbs and less expensive if the tanks are in good shape.  How you acquire your extra propane tanks is up to you but I have found Wal-Mart to be very accommodating when exchanging old rusty tanks for new ones the only drawback is the [smaller capacity, affording] 5 less pounds of propane.  Good luck, God Bless – Summer J.

JWR Adds: Because of the greater fire hazard, I recommend that you do any canning over a propane turkey roasting base outdoors. While you won’t have the classic hot grease fire risk often seen with roasting or deep frying poultry, any time you have a large temporary propane burner set up, there is greater fire risk than with a permanent indoor installation. Also, be absolutely certain that the burner is set up on a dead level surface, and that it is very stable and wide enough to accommodate your canning vessel. Having this apparatus tip over while canning would be perilous!