Although I tout the virtues of shopping at yard sales for canning equipment, it is time to give some words of caution. Know what you are buying! All canning equipment was not created equal.
Hot water bath canners are fairly simple to examine. Hot water bath canners are meant to can high acid foods like fruits, jams, jellies, preserves, pickles, relish and tomatoes. Hold the canner up to the light. Can you see any light peaking through? Is it extremely rusted? Is it dented? Does the lid fit? What size is it? Will it hold a double layer of jars? Are the handles made so that it will be easy to lift when full of water?
Hot water bath canners come in aluminum, enamel and stainless steal. Since the water does not enter the jars and touch the food, an aluminum canner is safe to use.
Test a used water bath canner by filling it with water to ensure it does not have any leaks. Leave it in the sink for awhile. Then put it on the stove and heat the water to boiling. If there aren’t any leaks and if the lid fits so that the steam does not escape and if the handles are sufficient so that you can lift it safely, you may have scored a useful find.
When you are finished canning, always dry out the canner and put it safely away in a dry place.
Pressure canners need careful examination and decision making before buying. Pressure canners are used to can low acid foods like vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, soups, stews. Don’t think because the pressure canner is being sold that it is safe. There are many factors to consider. First how old is the canner? What condition is it in? Is the brand name familiar? Is the instruction booklet with it? Is the weight with it? Are the handles in good condition? Are there signs of staining around the seal?
Let’s be more specific. Does the age matter? Yes. If the cooker was made prior to 1960 it was probably manufactured using a process called die-casting. Molten metal, most likely aluminum, was poured into a mold to create the pot. This was the standard manufacturing process during and after WWII, and such pans are not of the same quality as those made today. Modern manufacturing makes pressure cookers from rolled and stamped metal sheet that form the pot from one single piece of metal.
Cast metal is brittle and it is subject to tiny, microscopic cracks or thin spots which weaken the container. Pots and pans take a lot of abuse, they get banged around and they get dropped and may result in cracks in the metal. All these tiny fracture lines or hairline cracks are microscopic and they can only be picked up through industrial X-ray, they are not visible to the naked eye. While you might be able to use that old cooker safely for a while, eventually such a fault will cause a failure, sometimes with catastrophic results.
The only way to be sure if an old pressure cooker or canner is safe is to send it back to the factory for testing. The original manufacturer - although sometimes other manufacturers may be willing or have the special equipment to test other brands. Be prepared to pay a small fee, plus round trip shipping costs to have it tested for unseen faults. Be sure to call the manufacturer first, if they are no longer in service then Presto of Mirro may offer testing on some models.
Also check with your country or university extension office. Often they will provide this service, although it may only be offered at certain times by appointment as the testing equipment travels from place to place.
Check for the brand name. If it is not a common name then it might be difficult to get parts or be able to send it back to the manufacturer for inspection. Stick with an American brand name like Presto, All American, Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry or Mirro. Foreign brands may be difficult to track down and more difficult to get parts from.
If it is a weighted canner is the original weight with it? It is important to use the same kind of weight designed for that model. I collect old weights and there are subtle differences that could affect being able to calculate the correct pressure.
Are the handles in good condition? Older canners had wooden handles and over the years they become brittle and crack. Check with the manufacturer to see if the handles can be replaced and at what cost. I had the handles break on an older canner once while canning and it was extremely difficult to get the lid off and remove the jars. It was extremely hard to pick it up as well once the handles had broken. That canner became a planter in my garden collection of canning pot planters.
Are there signs of staining around the seal? If so possibly this canner leaked and did not seal tightly. Always get a new gasket for a used pressure canner. No matter what story the seller tells you always be on the safe side. Improperly canned foods can be fatal or worse make you sick as a dog. Make sure you can find the model number so you will be able to order the right gasket. Take pressure canners in to have gauges checked annually by your local County Extension Agent. To find your local County Extension Agent go to http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/
Have I frightened you away from buying a used pressure canner? Good that is what this article was meant to do. Study up or better yet do not buy an old pressure canner. Invest the money in a new model and save yourself time, money and most importantly your safety. New models are technologically safer and will inherently have fewer problems.
Please go to http://missvickie.com/ to read all about pressure canning. Miss Vickie is the Queen of pressure canning and pressure cooking information. When I grow up I want to be just like her! Thank you Miss Vickie from the Frugal Fraulein at http://frugalcanning.blogspot.com