Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pressure Canning on the Wood Cookstove

Several years ago, I was reading an article about canning in one of my homesteading/country/hobby farm magazines.  I was excited about the article because it was written by a fellow who is considered a recognized authority on wood heating and cooking.  All was going well until he wrote that pressure canning on a wood cookstove was impossible because you couldn't adequately control the pressure in the canner.  I was amused and a little angry, to say the least.  Apparently, he has never tried to maintain a constant pressure on an electric push-button stove--now that IS a challenge. 

I'm here to tell you that pressure canning on a woodburning cookstove is not only quite possible, it is pretty easy.  In fact, the Presto canner that my mother and grandmother bought at Minden Hardware in 1979 came with instructions on how to can on a "constant heat stove."  It is just about knowing where to put everything on the cooktop.  Furthermore, it only makes sense to me that the farm that produces much of my food should also be able to produce the energy needed to cook and preserve it. 

Below, I'll show you how I pressure can on the wood cookstove.  I want this blog to be helpful for people who want to know more about using a woodburning cookstove, but I don't claim to have all of the answers.  My hope is that by showing others what I do, they will have a better chance of finding success with their own stoves. 

This post assumes that the reader is familiar with the pressure canning process and focuses on how it is accomplished on a wood cookstove.  If you aren't familiar with canning, resources about it abound in both print and electronic forms.

I start by building a hot fire of small sticks and pieces of what I think of as "biscuit wood."

Small pieces of wood burning in the cookstove.

Once the fire was burning nicely, I closed the oven damper halfway.  All I need in this particular case is intense heat over the firebox.  The rest of the cooktop doesn't need to be all that hot, and I'm not going to be baking anything at the same time, although I have done that before, so the oven doesn't need to be evenly heated.  I'm going to be canning green beans (courtesy of my mother-in-law's beautiful garden) for this post, so the first hot item that I need is boiling water to pour over the beans once they are in the jars. 

Boiling water in the teakettle to the left.  Canner and lids on the
cooler part of the stove on the right.

I start with the various vessels arranged on the cooktop as shown above.  Directly over the firebox at the back (usually the place with the most heat) I have the teakettle with water coming to a boil for the beans.  In the pink saucepan in the front, my canning lids are warming up.  The base to the canner already has water in it, and it is warming over the coolest side of the cooktop, which of course, is still way too hot to touch.  The white coffee pot in the back has water in it and is there simply to absorb some BTUs since the outside temperature was in the 90s.

While I wait for the water to come to a boil, I fill the canning jars with the produce.

When the water in the teakettle has come to a boil and I'm ready to start putting it in the jars, I move the warm canner over to the top of the firebox so it can begin heating more.

Jars are then filled, lids are adjusted, canner is filled, and the lid is put into place.

Putting the lid on the pressure canner.

Now here comes the fun part.  This canner belonged to Ruth Nickle, my wife Nancy's grandma.  As near as I can tell from the instruction book that came with it, she purchased it sometime in the 1940s.  Ruth had only a wood/coal stove until the early 1950s, and I can tell from the bottom of the canner that she frequently removed a lid from over the fire and placed the canner right over the fire.  With the other pressure canners that I've used, I've always tried to keep their bottoms in pristine condition.  This one left pristine condition in the dust over three score years ago, so I'm going to speed things along and follow Ruth's method.

What is it about men always wanting to cook over flames? 

Above, the canner isn't centered over the eye of the firebox, just so that you can see the fire.  As soon as the picture was snapped, I moved the canner forward so that the eye was completely covered; otherwise, removing the lid is pointless because it spoils the draft and cold air rushes right by the canner to the fire.

As this is a dial guage canner, it has to exhaust for about ten minutes over high heat.  At the end of that time, I closed the petcock so that it could begin to build pressure.

In a few minutes, the canner had reached the correct amount of pressure for our elevation. 

Thus began the 20 minute countdown for pints of green beans, and thus began "the dance" of moving the canner to a location with less intense heat to just maintain the correct pressure level.  In the following sequence of pictures you can see the clock above the warming oven and notice the location of the canner as the twenty minute interval progressed. 

Canning on the wood cookstove.

The canner didn't have to move much because I only added a small piece of wood once. If I were going to can more after this batch, I would probably have kept the fire hotter in order to bring another teakettle of water to a boil, etc. Therefore, the canner would have had to be moved farther to the right to a cooler portion of the cooktop so that its pressure did not continue to rise.  If the fire slows, I move the canner closer to the fire so that it doesn't lose pressure.

I could tell that the fire was not going to get too hot or too cold very quickly, so I didn't stay right with the canner the whole time.  I went outside of the summer kitchen and weeded the gladiolus and sweet peas, but I didn't go far.  I wouldn't go far from a pressure canner on any kind of stove, for that matter.

By the end of the canning time, it had gotten quite dark in our summer kitchen.  Since it has no electricity, the lamp that you see in the last picture was necessary when the camera wasn't flashing.  You can also see that the fire had burned down to just coals.

Once the correct amount of processing time has elapsed, I move the canner completely off the stove so that its pressure can go down.  Once the pressure is gone, I remove the jars to a towel on the countertop for them to cool, and I begin waiting for that all-important and rewarding sound of canning: the ping of a canning lid sealing.

I got a little artsy with the camera while I was waiting.

Vintage cookstove in the lamplight.

All of this batch sealed.  Canning with a pressure canner on a wood cookstove is not only possible, it is easy.

Update: For more information about pressure canners and wood cookstoves, please see this post.
If you want to pressure can on a wood cookstove with two pressure canners simultaneously, check out my post about that.


  1. What a wonderful post this is! I cook on a wood cook stove most of the time, but have never canned on it. I always feel I don't have the ability to keep it hot enough to keep my pressure canner up to 10 lbs.

    Your stove is beautiful! Do you do all your cooking on this stove?

  2. Katlupe,

    Thanks for your kind comments! The stove that is in the blog so far is in our summer kitchen, so we only use it occasionally. Until June, we did the majority of our cooking on a Qualified range which we had in the house. We are currently remodeling our kitchen, and it will have a new Margin Gem in it.

  3. I'm so happy to have found this blog! We're moving into a very small cabin next year, and will likely be choosing a small stove for our cooking and heating needs. Right now I'm leaning towards a two burner Boxwood style. Do you think it would be possible to use a pressure canner on such a small stove? I have never used a wood stove or a canner, so any advice would be appreciated.

    1. Umble Wife,

      Thanks for stopping by! I hope that this blog will help you as you transition to heating and cooking with wood.

      I hesitate to say that it would be impossible to pressure can on a boxwood stove (I've read articles in homesteading magazines which detailed how one could even pressure can over an open fire), but I do think that it would be much more of a challenge. I have had only limited experience firing a two-burner, cabinet-style "kitchen heater," which would be pretty similar to the principle of a boxwood stove. The problem that I foresee is that you won't have the wide range of temperatures which are available on the cooktop of a true cookstove. However, clever use of trivets and careful arrangement and management of your fire may be able to compensate.

      You won't have any trouble exhausting the canner and reaching the appropriate pressure. The challenges will come when you need to maintain the proper pressure since that really doesn't take that much heat.

      Knowing that space will be a concern (and if you're like us, money is always a concern), I would still encourage you to look into purchasing a small cookstove. Several are available, and I think that your cooking and canning experience will be much more rewarding--especially if you aren't planning on having a modern cooking appliance also.

      If you need more information on what kinds of stoves are on the market, let me know. I'm not a salesman, but I am a fascinated researcher. Keep me posted on what you decide to do and how it works out!

    2. Wonderful article.

      Which stoves would you recommend for use as the primary heat source (for a small stone cottage), as well as for cooking and canning?

    3. First some questions:
      Can you give me the square footage of the cabin?
      How important are looks to you?
      Is budget a concern?

    4. I apologize for the delayed response.

      Total square footage is around 400.
      I would place functionality above appearance.
      Budget is a moderate concern, but I could be flexible.

      I am attempting to restore an early 20th century stone cabin in southern Missouri that, from what I can tell, was originally heated by a wood burning cookstove--it is all quite rusted I'm afraid.

    5. Well, first let me repeat that I am not a salesman, and I don't stand to gain anything from anyone by stating my opinion here. Furthermore, I am doing exactly that: stating my opinion.

      If it were me in your shoes and I had no concern about budget, I would opt for the Heartland Sweetheart. If I wanted to save money, I would then look at the Heartland Blackwood. If I wanted to save even more money, I would probably look at the Baker's Choice or the Magnum.

      The reasons that I would consider the Heartland Sweetheart the ideal choice are as follows:

      1. I feel like it would offer the widest range of cooktop temperature flexibility for canning in the class of stoves its size. This is important for canning.

      2. It is equipped with a warming oven, which I find very convenient.

      3. The oven size is pretty good for stoves in its size range.

      4. It can be equipped with a water reservoir for providing you with convenient hot water.

      5. It is air-tight, which will allow you a full night's sleep.

      6. The firebox is large, which will also help you with the full night's sleep. The firebox can also be fed from the top or the front (important while canning so that you don't have to move the canner to refuel).

      7. I like the way it looks--a lot.

      8. It will be able to provide you with more than enough heat for the size of your cabin, but its footprint isn't huge.

      9. It can also be purchased with a heat shield, so that its clearances can be reduced.

      That said, you might be looking for different features than I would be, so be sure to research everything thoroughly.

      Best of luck to you! Please contact me again when you get whatever stove you choose hooked up and running. I would love to see pictures and find out what you chose and why.

  4. I'm so excited to find your blog! I do most of my cooking and baking with a Margin Flameview and up until now I was concerned about melting the handles off my All American pressure canner. Thank you so much for taking the time to write about this.

    1. Welcome, Penny! Please feel free to comment or add information to posts from a Flameview owner's point of view. I'm glad to find another wood cookstove cook with whom I can compare notes.

  5. I love your blog. It is my dream to one day have a wood burning stove to cook on... I've got to learn all I can now - so when the day comes, I am ready! Thanks! I will be checking back often!!!

  6. Going to try pressure canning tomorrow .... hope it works! A bit nervous!

    1. Good luck! Be sure and let me know how it goes.

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