Canning hooligan — my first attempt at canning
Iwas about to get my first lesson on pressure canning. Richard and I had gotten some hooligan (a small herring-like fish that comes up Cook Inlet in the spring. You catch them in a net). We went to Rig Tenders Dock very early in the morning and immediately had our net full.
We were always looking for new ways of doing things. Richard thought that we could can them in pint jars to eat in the middle of the winter, mixing them with mustard and various other hot items, similar to sardines. We took the little fishes back to the trailer park, cleaned and washed them, stuffed them in the jars. By that time of morning (5:30) it was time to open the new Texaco Service station that Richard had built and owned (now Steve’s Chevron). He gave me my fast lesson on how to put the lid on the canner, told me how to bring the pressure up to 10 pounds of pressure and let it cook for 90 minutes.
First of all I was afraid of the propane stove that was in the trailer we bought. Second of all I was deathly afraid to use a pressure cooker, that has the potential ability of blowing up like a bomb! Richard was a pressure vessel welder and later became the first Pressure Vessel Inspector in the state Alaska. He understood all the logistics of pressure and assured me that if I did everything right I would have no problems and out the door he went to open the service station. I screwed the lid on, tightened it down, and turned the propane stove on, having to light “that darn stove” as I referred to it, with a match.
What he did not tell me was, exhaust the canner for 5 minutes! I just started to bring “the bomb” up to 10 pounds of pressure. About 8 minutes into the “project” something blew and started a loud hissing. Steam started spurting out of the little hole on top of the canner. I was about 2 feet from it with my eyes glued to the pressure gauge when it blew! I jump 3 feet the air, dropped to my knees, reached up and turned off the burner, crawled to the door, open it, stood up and ran!
I ran down the dirt trailer park road, hollering for my friend Jo Anne. I seem to remember people in their trailers peeking out the windows wondering what that crazy lady, so early in the morning, was doing running down the road in her green paisley hip huggers, screaming at the top of her lungs, “Someone call Richard … someone call Richard! The canner blew up ... the canner blew up.” I hit Jo Anne’s door still screaming “The canner blew up!
She must have heard me coming, because, I think she had already called Richard, having one of the only phones in the trailer park, or someone along the way called him! Jo Anne turned me around and we ran back to my trailer to see if things were OK. We were almost to our trailer door when Richard come tearing into the park in the pickup. He had just opened the station when somebody called and said something had blown up at his house and he better get home.
He had driven in the “excess of 100 miles an hour” to get back down to the park, about 6 miles away. He skidded to a stop, creating great clouds of dust, ran up the steps, flung open the door to the trailer. There on the stove sat the canner with its lid on, in perfect condition! No big gaping holes in the ceiling, no fire and no bomb had exploded. Nothing! He walked over to the canner, looked at me and said “you did not check the soft plug — it must have not been set in right.” “What soft plug?” I said with tears running down my face. “The one that lets the steam out if something goes wrong — it must have not been seated right. (Actually he DID forget to tell me to exhaust the canner — but that is an argument I did not win!)
He undone the lid, put the soft plug back in the little hole, turned on the burner and said “Now exhaust it for 5 minutes, flip this little petcock on the pressure valve and bring it up to 10 pounds.” His stern “out of patience” voice was all it took! When he looked around at me, I was crying and shaking so badly, he walked over and put his arms around me and said “OK, OK, I’ll stay and show you — it is not going to blow up!” I said “BET me!” He stayed until is was exhausted and came up to 10 pounds and told me to watch it, keep it at 10 pounds for 90 minutes. I canned my first pressure canner full of hooligan standing in the living room, shaking like a leaf, not taking my eyes off it the through whole 90 minutes, waiting for it to explode at any time.
Later, every once in a while Richard and JoAnne would laugh and tell me how scared and funny I was. This put Jo Anne in a fit of laughter all over again. Everyone up and down the road and in the trailer park was concerned about what exploded in our house. I had to tell them that it was just a soft plug on the canner — it provided many, many laughs. I think about it to this day when I get my trusty canner out. I have canned for 45 years and never had an episode like my first canning experience.
And now it is time to go down to the dock at Rig Tenders and see if the hooligan are in — oops — cannot get to the dock anymore! Darn! The king salmon are in Homer and the hooligan will be here soon. I think I will have to find my canner! And find a place to get some hooligan!
Next week: Clam digging. It’s that time of year!