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First time pressure canning

 
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I just pressure canned for the first time. I made a family recipe, a green bean and beef stew in a red sauce. I did blanch the green beans, and browned the stew meat before filling the jars with a half inch headspace. I processed for 90 minutes at 11 lb of pressure or above, as I filled a number of quart jars and a few pint. It seems a lot of liquid leached out of the jars. All jars now have an inch or more of headspace, the water in the canner was very red, but all the jars seem to have sealed. What I don't understand is how they sealed if so much liquid leached out, wouldn't that red sauce ruin the seal? If all the buttons are down, are these shelf stable, and ok to eat?
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Hopefully the real experts chime in soon.  Some questions while we wait for them...

Did you let the canner vent steam for 10 minutes before you put the jiggler weight on it?  Did you let it cool down to zero pressure all by itself (no cheating and playing with the jiggler to let out steam)?  How much water did you have in the canner (above the top of the jars or below)?  Was the stew hot when it went into the canner?

For most pressure canning recipes I've used, they seem to call for 1" of head space.  But maybe my memory is faulty.  I'd keep them in the fridge until you hear one way or another.  You can always open them up, heat them up and recan them...
 
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Congratulations on your first foray into the "forbidden" world of pressure canning!  It's wonderful that you have family recipes to inspire you, and your willingness to keep them alive is an important contribution.  

I didn't have that advantage when I started, so I had to educate myself using current sources, like the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Here is a link to their collection of Vegetable Recipes.  I found excellent information on science and safety for home canners in the publications available from the USDA on their website, which you can download for free from this link: Home Canning Guide  Both will give you information on headspace and those pesky leaks.  

But here's the critical thing I didn't know, and didn't know I didn't know until I did some deep reading on these sites:  A good seal is not what makes pressure canned food safe to eat after being stored.  Botulism spores grow quite happily in a sealed jar, because they don't need air to live.  What kills them in your food product is heat:  The heat must penetrate your jars and all the way into the food inside those jars, to reach and hold a temperature of 240 degrees for a minimum of 10 minutes.  A lid can seal even if the food inside didn't reach or maintain that temperature.  Those jars are dangerous.  The food inside can still be harboring spores.

That's why the recipes you find published by the NCHFP and the USDA give you such specific processing times: Different kinds of foods have different densities, such that some foods take longer to heat through than others. I was stunned to learn that leafy greens need 90 minutes of processing time under pressure!  You can see why combining different kinds of food in one jar - such as your stew - means you have to process those jars for the period of time needed for the "longest" ingredient.

Do celebrate yourself for your undertaking, and your family for having a great tradition.  Do know that there are lots of people who treasure the accumulated wisdom and craft home canning offers - and who have value to offer in knowledge and expertise that make this practice safe and science-based.   They've made their learning available to the rest of us, and are keeping the flame alive.
 
Ryan Ewing
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I did wait the 10 minutes venting steam, and put three quarts of water in my presto pressure canner. The water was just above the top of the pint jars, but not the quart jars. I also let it come down to zero pressure on its own. This wasn't a pressure canning recipe, it was just a recipe that I love. The meat was browned, but still raw and since that was the ingredient with the longest processing time, I processed for 90 minutes as if it were raw pack. I thought this should have fully processed everything, even overcooked the beans which works for this recipe. It's a very long cooking stew, and the beans break down anyway. It was warm when I packed the jars, but it was not boiling hot. I'm sure I should have probably used an entire inch of head space, does anyone have comments on that? The buttons are all down, the jars were boiling for quite some time after I took them out of the canner. I think everything is probably okay inside the jars. I did wash the jars off, as there was red sauce all over them. I'm most worried about residue on the outside, and if that leaching messed with the seal. But like I said all buttons are down and they seem sealed.
 
Mike Haasl
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Sounds like you did it pretty well.  I don't cover the jars, there's a little line in my canner for the "minimum" level and it's only an inch or two from the bottom.  But I don't think that's your trouble.  I'd also be worried about the integrity of the seal with the potential for red goo to have gotten under there.

In my Ball canning book it has a Beef Stew with Vegetables recipe.  Paraphrasing, it says to brown the meat first (not necessarily cooked), combine ingredients with water and bring to a boil.  Ladle hot stew into hot jars leaving 1" head space.  Then process for 75 minutes for pints and 90 for quarts in a pressure canner at 10 psi (sea level).

All my beef directions seem to want it to be hot and to do 90 minutes for quarts.  But if you have a reliable source for canning raw with those times, I guess you're good on that front.

My hunch is the 1/2" head space caused the leakage.  I don't know if that leakage alone is a reason to redo it.
 
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I agree with Mike.  If your processing time was long enough for your product, about which I have no opinion since I've never canned meat products, then the only issue is with the integrity of your seals.  If they're sealed, they're sealed.  Lots of times a bit of food leaking out doesn't prevent a good seal.  

If they were my jars and the seals looked good (top is sucked down like it needs to be) I would put a little question mark half an inch high on them with a magic marker to remind me to inspect the seal when I opened the jars.  Food having escaped *might* increase the chance of a seal failing in storage.  But at that point, your problem is old fashioned spoilage, not botulism.  That's more likely to be unpleasant than dangerous, but taking the extra care to make sure the lid is still tightly sealed when you go to open the jar (something that's actually pretty normal behavior with home-canned foods anyway) is the precaution that seems appropriate to me.
 
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