Category Archives: Canning

Garden Tomato Production Outstrips Consumption

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As I expected we found ourselves swimming in lovely fresh garden tomatoes. No matter how many we ate, they ripened faster than we could eat. I decided to get production back to controllable levels by canning three large jars of them for the future. Many years ago when I canned tomatoes, the pressure cooker made me nervous so I used the old fashioned boiling water bath method. Today I am very comfortable with the pressure cooker so I did the cold pack, ten minute method except I went for 20 minutes instead of ten. I find the pressure cooker method much easier. It doesn’t heat up the whole kitchen the way the boiling water bath does. I also added my own onions, garlic and some store bought celery to the jar before canning. The tomatoes are a mix of yellow and red and the yellow ones are considered low acid so I also added a tablespoon of lemon juice just to make sure the acid level is high enough to avoid problems even though, with pressure canning, botulism shouldn’t be an issue. These tomatoes will make great sauce later with the year when the garden is finished. I will put them on the new shelves I have been building in my storage closet/tornado shelter.

There is a lot of personal satisfaction to putting your own home grown food by for later use. It’s only three jars because the I didn’t plan a garden for getting a whole years worth of veggies. I did that for three years in the past when I lived on a farm and we did what was basically subsistance farming. Next year I will consider more tomato plants and maybe more canning. In the meantime the jars are cooling, the colour is lovely, and three jars of stewed tomatoes worth about $15 will end up in my basement after about 30 minutes of work.

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Garden Update for End of August

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The garden is now at the point where I am thinking rather wistfully of frost. This is today’s haul and is typical for a day. The robin has fledged her second brood and so she is no longer on slug duty and they are thick in the garden. I am finding I have to pick the tomatoes as soon as they begin to turn or the slugs eat holes in them. In one of our big winds several of my tomato cages got knocked over so I am also picking tomatoes off the ground even if they are still green. Yesterday I made spaghetti sauce from scratch. I have been giving away excess but I will very shortly have to begin canning tomatoes. I like to make fancy stewed and herbed tomatoes when I can since those are expensive to buy and take very little extra work if you are canning anyway. At the rate they turning by week’s end I will doing my first big batch.

The cucumbers have been a disappointment though not really due to anything they have done. It’s just been too darn wet. I should be at the top of the production of pickles but I am barely getting a small jar a day for pickles. I am also beginning to harvest the carrots, not just thin them, picking as much as we can eat in a meal every other night. Making pickles means garlic and as you can see by the muddy white ball, my garlic has been the best I have ever had. I have begun using it up one plant at a time and I am about 1/8 of the way through what I planted.

The beets and turnips are growing fat and sassy. I am leaving them for later to let them get to a decent size. I actually have corn ripening. The cobs are small but we might actually get a taste.

Some of my potato plants looked like they were giving up and dying, withering away without blooming, so we dug up the three plants.  I planted five different types of potatoes and it would seem the red ones, my personal favourite, are the ones that are giving up. (I didn’t note which ones I planted where figuring I would remember but I didn’t.) The red ones didn’t die in vain since we got some fresh potatoes in the dig, about 4 per plant. We do have enough for a couple of dinner and what is tastier than new potatoes? Note to self, the other varieties are doing just fine so next year repeat that assortment of varieties since conditions can vary so much. I have found the red ones perform well in drought in the past so I think the wet was what made the red ones unhappy this year. The purple and white plants look especially good, still vigorous and spreading and they have not bloomed yet. They must be good for wet years.

And of course there are the zucchinis. One plant is still having blossom rot issues but the other two are putting out at a fine rate. We are still eating our own zucchini for breakfast every day and loving it.

There is very little work in the garden now, just picking and cleaning plants out that are done. I have also decided to try collecting seeds. I planted heritage varieties and a community greenhouse has been put up two blocks away. I will try starting plants from my own seed myself next year and starting my own plants indoors. If it doesn’t work, I can always buy seed and plants at the nursery. If my seeds do work, I will save myself about $100.

Funny how you wait all winter to get the garden in, fuss over every little green shoot in May and stand looking at the garden imagining the bounty in June when all you are getting is radishes. By the end of August you start kind of half hoping for frost so you can quit. Now to wash off those carrots and potatoes for dinner.

Home canned meals are great!

SAM_5876 (1) Hot fresh bread and using up emergency meals. For tonight’s dinner, I made a loaf of fresh honey whole wheat bread to go with my jar of beef stew. The quart jars are a meal but just. Hearty fresh bread rounds them out perfectly. Last summer I was reading up on being prepared for disasters and I researched various kinds of food and considered our lifestyle. I then set about to set us up with everything we would need to sell sufficient and well fed for at least three days. Part of this involved preparing some home canned complete meals we could just open, reheat and serve, or if required, eat cold. By canning at a time fresh produce was cheap and abundant at a local you pick and buying meat on sale, I was able to have one dozen of my own prepared meals to eat. If you have never canned food before, it is important to use a pressure canner if meat or low acid food is involved because boiling just won’t get stuff hot enough to kill nasty spores like botulism. I was very careful to create my meals with that in mind. I also saved some time and energy by making a double meal and eating half for dinner and canning the other half. I made beef stew, chicken stew, spaghetti sauce, chili concarne, minestrone, chicken soup, vegetable soup, beef meatball loaf, turkey soup, turkey stew, mushroom soup,      and beef soup. I used all fresh from the local pick you-own-veggies place with lots of fresh herbs (although I did get a bunch of mushrooms off the clearance shelf). I was very careful to use only vegetables that have a reputation for canning well like corn, carrots, zucchini, potatoes, and beans. I also checked on line to make sure the combinations I used were compatible when canned. The emergency meals are approaching the one year mark and the garden is about to boom with more produce, so I decided we should eat up the old meals in preparation for a new season. So we are working our way through them. I have made one absolutely delightful surprise in this. I always thought those canned meals from the grocery store were horrid because of the pressure canning process ruining the food. It simply isn’t true! Home canned meals taste superb, almost as good as if they were fresh from the pot the same day I made them. They have all the lovely flavour, depth, and texture of home made. In the picture above I show my home canned beef stew with carrots, potatoes, corn, little one bite chunks of meat, celery, parsley, and onions there were used to make the broth and a bit of salt and pepper. I cooked the meat and broth first. I prepared the veggies and then layered them into the jar raw. I poured more hot broth in to fill the jar until I had one inch of head room and then popped it all directly into the pressure canner. I used to use the bread maker for my bread. I didn’t like how the loaves came out so I would use the machine just to knead and then bake it in my own oven and use my own pans. We actually wore out so many bread makers (one about every two years) that we decided to spend a little extra and get a proper Kitchen Aid with the dough hook. I do love using it and that loaf of honey whole wheat bread pictured above is one product of it. Homemade bread is also a great way to use up all kinds of snips and bits of things. For example, in this loaf I added some shelled sunflower seeds that we purchased for salad topping but which were beginning to go stale. The result was a hearty, nut flavoured loaf. Making your own canned meals and bread is one of those things that is a fair amount of work up front but once you get into the swing of it, it isn’t hard. The main issue is you have to be around between steps. For example, the pressure canner has to run for 90 minutes where you need to be in the room monitoring the little bobbing thing on top. So you need to be a stay-at-home type with more time than money to make all this work worthwhile. About two years ago I calculated my bread costs me about 40-60 cents for each loaf depending on the type.  The fancy heavy European style dark pumpernickel Hubby dearest loves costs more than plain whole wheat. Bread with honey cost more than bread with sugar. Still the cost is far far below that of buying in the store. The home canned meals worked out to an average of about $3 each with most of the cost being the meat. They are comparable to slightly cheaper in cost when compared to a can of store-bought stuff. However, the homemade meals really cannot be compared to canned meals from the grocery store. When you pick and can local home grown produce the same day, using only really top quality ingredients, well there is just no comparison. I did not include the cost of my electricity in that calculation since at the time I did those meals, we were in a non metered electric site. This year I will have my own garden produce, which will save some money, but have to pay for electricity which will cost some, so the equation may change. My husband paid me a wonderful compliment a few days ago. He said he eats better tasting food at home than he did in his years as a successful scientist frequenting high priced restaurants as a visiting professor. Isn’t he a wise fellow?

Meals in Jars

This is what I have been busy with this week. Dick and I have continued with our joint book. That is moving ahead. I have also been blogging about being a full timer and handling, or better avoiding, severe weather. This got me thinking again about being stuck somewhere awful, like post hurricane, without access to a grocery store or bank. We normally keep our cupboard well stocked enough that we should be able to last for three days just on what we have. Problem is, I am concerned about what if it was longer than that? Our friend Jack got stuck for more than three days during tropical storm Deborah. I decided the smart thing to do is have a week of food for an emergency. This should be safe, easy to access food that requires a minimum of cooking, just in case.

I looked into MRE (military style ready to eat meals). I decided not for me. They are insanely expensive and don’t look very appetizing. They also seem a bit silly. Honestly, do I really need to keep dehydrated prepared military food? We will never touch them and in 25 or 10 or whatever years we will just toss them. If life as we know comes to an end then a few MREs are not going to help. We old people are the first to die. Military MREs for us are just crazy. If things get that bad I think, I would prefer dying of starvation.

I then considered making my own version of MREs. I started with menus for homemade MREs that are based on ready to eat combos of stuff like raman noodles and package entres. One look at the salt levels and the other gunk in those turned me right off. Hubby dearest pointed out that the portion sizes are also very small.

The next possibility is making my own MREs from scratch. Which begs the question of storage in what form? We live in a travel trailer. Wight and storage are always at a premium. I usually have at least one or two frozen meals for those days I just don’t feel like cooking. Problem is our freezer space is severely limited. I then did a general search and came across a bunch of recipes for “meal in a jar”. These come in two types. Type 1 is a set of dry ingredients that altogether make up a whole meal if you just add the liquids, water eggs milk ect and cook. Those are actually a great idea and I may try some yet. But what really caught my eye was home canned meals. At our elevation anything like a meat stew has to be cooked for an extended period at 10 pounds pressure or risk getting botulism. As luck would have it, it’s also canning season and Canadian Tire had a pressure cooker and canning supplies on sale.

I used to have a pressure cooker. It was big clunky thing that with an old fashioned gauge and weighed a ton. When I sold it at a garage sale to a Hutterite woman, I thought, good riddance. I do know how to use a pressure cooker. I did pressure canning years before in the days when I had a huge garden and very little money. Pressure cookers have improved a lot since those days. One nice thing it this pressure cooker is not a heavy cooker. It’s startling lightweight aluminium. I also found another nice little addition to the canning hobby during my shopping. I have a nice twelve quart stackable holding case. This will give me the stability and protection for the jars that I need so that they travel well. Overall weight is tolerable.

While shopping I found some 30% off chicken breasts on the bone in a large package. I stripped the meat off and put it in smaller portions of meat for stir fry and future dinners. All the bones and scraps I collected in one container for soup. I also searched the supper market for good quality fresh veggies in season and low priced. I walked away with green peppers, celery, spinach, carrots, and then there were a bunch of green onions from what is left of my pot garden. This morning I chopped veggies, and chopped and chopped and chopped again. One bowl of chopped veggies went back into the fridge for stir fry supper. The rest I used to make enough chicken soup with tons of fresh veggies to fill my small crock pot and a single one quart test jar. The pressure cooking is currently hissing and spitting its way through the seventy minute high pressure cycle for killing botulism. One part of chicken soup will be for eating tomorrow when the temperature is supposed to be cold. The other will be frozen for future use. And I will have one sealed quart chicken soup that will require only reheating and will keep for about one year.

The plan is I will keep making soups and stews and each time add more quart jars until I have twelve jars in my container. I will then have good food, in a convenient form, made the way I like it, in storage just in case we hit a hurricane or blizzard and we’re stuck unable to get out. And as long as I keep rotating the jars and keep making more fresh jars as I do, I will also have convenient ready meals for those days I can’t face cooking. And if “life as we know it” does come to end I will have a 12 homemade meals worth eating before the end.