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How to Pressure-Can Homemade Custard (Plus Illustrated Recipe With 4 Variations)

Joy has been a goat lover and cheese lover for 20 years. She enjoys experimenting with making her own cheeses and dairy products.

I was ecstatic the summer I learned that I could can custard, as my children and I love it!

I was ecstatic the summer I learned that I could can custard, as my children and I love it!

Pudding Is Simply Wonderful!

When I was a child, we sometimes had homemade vanilla pudding as a lazy supper, enhanced by sliced bananas and laughter. This is a fabulously warm and comforting memory, full of camaraderie, good smells, and happiness.

So when I realized I could preserve pudding by canning, made the way I like it, I jumped at the chance to experiment. I had an abundance of home-raised chicken eggs and goat's milk available, so I had nothing to lose except time, supposing I didn't like the results. While making and using my first three batches of canned pudding, I learned some dos and don'ts, which I'll share with you today. The process is fairly straightforward, but there are a few things to bear in mind.

Please, No Waterbath Canning!

A source I found early on, which seemed reputable given the woman's many years of experience, informed me that I could process dairy products in a boiling waterbath canner. Don't do it! Fortunately no one got sick (or dead), because my family and I didn't take time right away to try my new delicacy. But I lost six-and-a-half quarts of pudding, 3+ hours of work, and much morale over that project. Each and every jar came unsealed through unwelcome bacterial action, aka, spoiling.

I had followed the woman's instructions to the letter, had stored my canned pudding appropriately, and had used excellent ingredients . . . so I was a bit puzzled at first why such spoilage occurred. Education came to my rescue.

At the time, I hadn't known that all low-acid foods must be processed at high heat to effectively kill bacteria which cause spoiling. Even a long, regular boil won't do it. Why an otherwise steady person came to recommend processing dairy in a boiling waterbath canner, I'll never know. But there it was in print, surrounded by actually good advice. So don't take a homesteader's recommendation merely because they apparently got away with something risky.

Never use a steam or boiling waterbath canner for preserving dairy products! Always use a pressure canner, which generates enough heat to effectively kill the yuckies.

Safety First!

Never use a steam or boiling waterbath canner for preserving dairy products! Always use a pressure canner, which generates enough heat to effectively kill bacterias which lead to spoilage.

Let's Talk About Canning First

Since custard recipes abound, and this article's focus is on how to can pudding or custard, I have chosen to show the canning process first, and the recipes afterward. So you will find four custard variations with tips and substitutions after the main presentation below, beginning with the heading, "Recipe for Traditional Custard, and Variations."

Secondly, I have had to substitute a few photos from another canning session featuring goat's milk, as I have been unable to complete my photo series for pudding. The process for milk is similar to that required for pudding, and should present no problems . . . except for having too white an appearance. If I am able to finish taking photos featuring the process for custard, I will substitute these. Let's begin!

Quick Reference for Canning Pudding or Custard

  • Processing time: 10 minutes (after 10 lbs. pressure is built)
  • Pressure setting: 10 lbs. (may be 12 lbs. at high elevations)
  • Overall time per full canner load: 4 hours (from filling jars to emptying cooled canner)
  • Jar size: Quarts, either wide or regular mouth; Pints, either wide or regular mouth
  • Storage term: 1+ years normally (depends on storage conditions, such as humidity)

Canning Equipment

Wash (sterilize if necessary) and examine all jars (chips, cracks), rings (bent, excessive rust), and lids (misaligned rubber).

Wash (sterilize if necessary) and examine all jars (chips, cracks), rings (bent, excessive rust), and lids (misaligned rubber).

Gently simmer the lids (don't boil!), or set them in a cake tin and pour on boiling water to cover, to scald them.

Gently simmer the lids (don't boil!), or set them in a cake tin and pour on boiling water to cover, to scald them.

Canning Equipment Needed

Have ready all of your equipment (clean, of course), except jars, such as:

  • Pressure canner in good working order. (Do not try to use a regular pressure cooker designed for cooking small amounts of food. These are usually not rated for canning, and may not work correctly.)
  • Cooking pot for cooking your pudding—a shallow saucepan with room for evaporation works best
  • Ladle, for filling jars
  • Canning funnel (has a wider mouth than normal funnel), usually optional
  • Tongs or a magnetic lid lifter
  • Clean, damp cloth(s), or paper towels, for wiping jar rims once they are filled with product
  • Jar lifter, for lifting the hot jars in and out of the canner
  • Canning jars, quarts or pints (do not use regular "recycled" jars, which are of a lower quality)
  • Canning lids of an appropriate size(s)
  • Cake tin or saucepan, for scalding canning lids
  • A clean towel and an out-of-the-way, heat resistant surface on which to set the jars once they are finished (we use a bath towel, as we often process many jars)

    Once everything is in readiness, you can proceed to wash and fill your jars.

Step 1: Prepare Jars and Equipment

Select Appropriate Canning Jars

Select only proper, brand-name canning jars. (Pints or half-pints usually work best for this project. You can decide if you'd rather use wide mouth or regular tops, however.) Inspect them for chips, cracks, or other weaknesses. (A regular jar, such as a pickle jar, might not be able to take the heat and pressure during this process, and may break.)

Wash the Canning Jars

Wash each jar thoroughly in hot, soapy water, paying special attention to the threads around the top, and the bottoms of the jars on the inside, especially if they have been used before. You may also prepare them in an automatic dishwasher, or by sterilizing in an oven. 200* F. for 20 minutes per batch is a general rule. If your jars have been stored in a basement or outbuilding in which vermin have been allowed to run, you would be wise to soak them in water to which a bit of chlorine has been added.

Dry the Jars

Set the jars aside to dry. Have ready the number or rings and lids you estimate you will need, and wash them.

Step 2: Fill the Jars

  1. Using a ladle and canning funnel, if desired, fill all jars with pudding to within about a 1/2" of the rim. This measurement is called the required headspace, and allows the product to expand during boiling.
  2. Set aside each jar, dribbles and all, and proceed to fill as many as your canner will hold (usually seven), or until you run out of pudding.
  3. With a very clean, damp cloth or paper towel, wipe each jar's rim, and any dribbles down its sides.
  4. Using the tongs or magnetic lid lifter, lift one lid at a time from the pan of hot or simmering water, and place it on the jar without touching the lid with your hands, if you can help it. Adjust two-piece caps, screwing the bands on finger-tight. This will allow for proper expansion during processing.

Step 3: Prepare and Fill Your Canner

  1. Put two quarts of water in the bottom of your pressure canner, and place the jars in it—six around the outside, and one in the center on a wire rack.
  2. Put the lid of the canner on, aligning the two marks on the lid and body of the canner (on the front), and tighten the screws down in opposite pairs, snugly. Go around at least twice, checking the screws for tightness, before turning the fire on under the canner.
  3. Use good judgment when deciding how high to turn the heat. On some stoves, "high" is not too hot or fast, while on others, "medium" would be pushing it. Whatever you do, now is the time to keep a close eye on your canner.

Should You Use Vinegar for Hard Water in Your Canner?

Most of the time, it is advisable to add a dash of white vinegar to the canner water, to ensure that minerals do not make rings on your jars and canner interior. However, milk products make a mess when they come into contact with vinegar. The acid curdles the milk, creating a form of queso blanco cheese which then cooks to a gooey mass or web on the outsides of the jars. Skip the vinegar for this recipe!

Step 4: Process

Once the heat is started under your pressure canner, the wait for it to come up to temperature and build proper pressure can be long. This should not be hurried too fast, because of the danger of damage or breakage to your jars. They need to warm and expand gently, and a full canner load can take a while, especially if your product is cool to start with. So plan something you can do which will keep you within hearing of the kitchen.

You will know your canner has reached a full boil when steam begins blowing from the safety valve in the lid. Allow the valve to steam for 10 minutes before placing the weight on, set for 10 lbs. pressure. You will need to wait a few minutes more for pressure to build. Once it does, adjust your heat to allow for one jiggle of the weight every several seconds. Many jiggles per minute means that your heat is too high; fewer than four means your heat is probably too low. Experience will teach you the "magic" setting to maintain precise pressure, so check your gauge often. Too low a pressure means your product will not have been heated to a safe level for long-term storage.

Step 5: Cool Down

The canner needs to cool until the weight stops jiggling, and the gauge reads “zero”. Then remove the weight and allow the canner to continue cooling another few minutes, to further equalize pressure within it. Finally, remove the lid, and let jars sit five minutes, to allow them to adjust to cooler air, before removing them to their resting area, using a jar lifter.

Set them on a towel or board in a draft-free area, and allow them to sit still several hours or overnight, until they are cooled throughout. Check lids for a good seal (there should be no "give", and they should be sucked down). You will probably hear the lids " ping" as the milk cools, and pressure changes in the jars. Any that have not sealed may be refrigerated and used within a couple days. Alternatively, you may wipe the jar rims very carefully, replace the lids with new ones, and reprocess them . . . but if you've been careful in the first place, you'll seldom have a jar fail to seal.

Step 6: Clean Up

You will need to scrub your jars and canner in hot, soapy water, once they are quite cool. (Jars should sit several hours, or overnight, in a draft-free area.) Of course, you will need to wash all your other equipment as well.

You should remove the rings from your jars and wash the threads well. (Some people prefer to store jars without rings, anyhow, so they know more easily whether a jar has come unsealed and begun to spoil.) You definitely don't wish to attract vermin with sticky jars.

How to Store Pudding or Custard

Home-canned products like cool—but not cold—environments, with even temperatures. An underground cellar or unheated basement is ideal. Any severe temperature change in the atmosphere will cause the pressure in the jars to change and may make them come unsealed. If this happens, you will have spoiled food in your storage.

It is a good idea to check your jars periodically, even if you have no serious doubts about their environment. You may not be able to avert a problem entirely, but you may be able to head it off before it blooms into a disaster.

Inviting Disaster With a Waterbath Canner!

This is a picture of what NOT to do! Never use a waterbath or steam canner for dairy products or other low-acid foods! It will not kill bacteria which causes spoilage.

This is a picture of what NOT to do! Never use a waterbath or steam canner for dairy products or other low-acid foods! It will not kill bacteria which causes spoilage.

Procedure Is Important!

Luckily, when my first batch of pudding spoiled, I had stored the jars in a highly visible location, which allowed me to detect the spoilage almost immediately. I lived at the time in a small house with an unfinished basement, but no proper canning cellar. The basement had frequently been flooded, and had few "safe zones". Moisture, vermin, mold, and crumbling cement made storage of anything a challenge.

So the pudding was stored on wooden shelves at the foot of the stairs, where it would be the least likely to be submerged in the event of a flood. In this position, I had occasion to observe the jars often, and developed a habit of gently pressing the lids as I walked by, to ensure that they were still sealed. Alas! the day I noticed they weren't - a mere ten days or two weeks after canning them. I learned my lesson, and from that day forward, always used a pressure canner for low-acid foods!

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

5 min

15 min

20 min

6 1-cup servings

Ingredients for Traditional Custard

Dry Ingredients:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar, or other granulated sweetener
  • 6+ tablespoons cornstarch or potato starch
  • 3/8 teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs yolks separated, slightly beaten
  • 6 cups milk, your choice of type
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. In large pot (wide and shallow), blend sugar, thickener, and salt.
  2. Beat together milk and egg yolks, and gradually add to pot. Alternatively, add egg yolks to dry ingredients, and whisk until sugar is absorbed. (This will make a thick, doughy mass.) Then add milk, and whisk to combine well.
  3. Over medium heat, cook and stir constantly, until the mixture boils for 1 minute.
  4. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Stir in fruit, if desired, or wait until pudding cools.

Variation 1: Chocolate

Follow original recipe with the following exceptions:

  • Increase sugar by 1/3 for dark chocolate, or by 1/2 for a milk chocolate taste.
  • Add 1 cup cocoa to sugar mixture at the beginning. Omit butter at the end.

Variation 2: Butterscotch

Ingredients

  • 3 cups brown sugar, or to taste
  • 6 tablespoons corn starch/potato starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 6 cups milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Method

  1. Mix sugar, corn starch, salt and eggs in pan.
  2. Stir in milk until well combined. Cook over medium temperature, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  3. Stir butter and vanilla extract.
  4. Serve hot or cold, as desired.

Changes From the Traditional Recipe:

  • Increase sugar by two times, if desired, substituting brown sugar for white.
  • Decrease vanilla by 1/2 the amount in the original recipe.

Variation 3: Coconut Milk

Coconut milk may be substituted in any of these recipes, and is delicious! There are no method differences when using a milk substitution. Your product may at first seem more watery, but should thicken sufficiently as it cooks.

(Coconut Milk Custard) Step 1: Dry Ingredients

Whisk together sugar, thickener, and salt.

Whisk together sugar, thickener, and salt.

Variation 4: Whole-Egg Pudding or Custard

For a whole-egg variation, use the original recipe, with the following exceptions: Use 4 whole eggs in place of the 6 egg yolks. All other procedures are the same. The texture will be less creamy, but no less palatable. This is a good solution if you are short of eggs, or if you forget to use the whites for other things!

Fun Additions

Bananas

Mango

Mandarin Oranges

Raspberries

Blackberries

Blueberries

Coconut

Cilantro

Dried Apricots, snipped

Cinnamon

Cardamom

Cookies

When to Add Fruit

These additions probably are best added right before serving, as fruit juices, fibers, and acids may change how custard reacts during the heat of processing. Acids, for example, are likely to cause the milk solids to separate and form a curd, yielding an interesting soft cheese...but not a pudding! (This can occur somewhat through natural processes if the milk you use is not absolutely fresh, as well.)

Substitutions

Almond or Soy Milk Instead of Dairy or Coconut Milk

I have not had the privilege of experimenting with most kinds of nut or non-dairy "milks" in custard making. If I find out how these work, I will include my results here. If any of you have experience with these, please comment with your results, and help the rest of us learn!

Coconut Oil for Butter

This sounds yummy, but I have no experience with coconut oil in this capacity. Do you?

All-purpose Flour as a Thickener

This yields a grainier product, which picky eaters might find less appealing...but will work in a pinch.

The Pros and Cons of Canned Custard

For the most part, home canned custard may be used however you might use any purchased or boxed custard. But there can be differences, and with experimentation you may find ways in which you prefer to prepare, use, or fix your own.

Pros

  • Your custard is ready when you are
  • Your product is made and cooked to your specifications, with ingredients you selected and prefer.

Cons

  • Pudding or custard is sometimes watery after being in storage a while. This liquid is whey, the non-solid part of milk. You may attempt to mix it back in, or drain it off for a thicker product.
  • Any "dark", strong, or bitter flavors may intensify in storage.
  • Improper processing, handling, or storage methods may lead to spoilage, and possibly to illness of those who eat such foods.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do you think this process for canning custard would work for fruit curds, as well? One has to work in such small quantities because they don't keep, and can't make the best use of seasonal fruits (Seville orange curd is fabulous). Not that I can afford a pressure canner, but it would be something to aspire to.

Answer: I've wondered the same thing, and while I haven't tried canning fruit curds, I think this process would work fine. The ingredients are essentially similar. I'll let you know with an article update and modified answer here if I try curds.

Question: I’m new to pressure canning. I keep reading that you cannot safely use thickeners in pressure canning recipes. They say it keeps the food from being properly sterilized. What do you know about this topic? I’m dying to can chocolate pie filling to send to my son stationed overseas.

Answer: I don't know why using cornstarch/flour/etc. in a pudding would compromise the canning process. I have successfully used thickeners this way, with no noticeable ill effects.

I suppose the idea behind this is that it makes the liquid too thick for thorough boiling to the center of each jar . . . but the jars continue to boil for quite a long while after coming out of the canner, so this isn't 100% true.

You'll have to go with your gut on this one.

(Sorry, just had your question show up late after repeated checking.)

© 2019 Joilene Rasmussen

Comments

Joilene Rasmussen (author) from United States on July 04, 2020:

Sandra, thanks for sharing your expertise. I'm sure many of us have intended to try canning fruit curds. I keep thinking I'll put up a batch of lime curd while my hens are still laying alright.

Sandra Christianson on July 03, 2020:

I have made lemon curd in a pressure canner. It came out good.