Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Preserving by canning your food

There is another method to preserve your summer bounty and that would be canning.  Canning has had a resurgency in resent years as people have been looking for ways to save money and keep their food preserved to be used at a later time. Some may remember their grandmother pulling out the old canner, a load of mason jars and lids and bands. Mine never did so I had to learn how to can myself and I have been using this method for many years now. I don't can a lot of different items but stick to preserving all of my stock that I make so the family can make fresh soup any time they want. I do occasionally can some extra spaghetti sauce, beans or soup so we can use it later or the kids can have some pasta for lunch. I do find it interesting that we call it canning when we use jars to preserve the food in and not tin cans. I am pretty sure this comes from the fact that  the Ball Jar Company was originally in the tin can making business and branched out into making glass jars.

Canning is not really very difficult to do and in a method I will describe shortly, gets even faster and easier. There are two methods of canning- pressure canning and water bath canning. Which method to use is determined by what you are canning. With pressure canning you are heating the food in jars (specially made, thicker glass jars) under pressure so the steam generated will get the food to a higher temperature and kill any bacteria that will make you sick. Water bath canning puts this same jar under water that is boiling and the heat goes no higher than 212 degrees (since that is the temperature water boils at). Water bath canning is used for highly acidic or highly sweetened foods, such as tomatoes or jams and jellies. Pressure canning must be used for other foods with a low acid level such as meats, soups and the like.

To be sure which method to use, I highly recommend anyone wanting to can to buy The Blue Book Guide, by Jardan Home Brands. It is called The Blue Book because it always had a blue cover on it and anyone that has canned, is familiar with it. Jardan are the makers of Ball canning jars and this is the bible of canning. It has LOTS of recipes and methods on how to can everything. The book has been in production since 1909 under one name or another and it's procedures for canning are tried and true and if followed properly, will ensure you will not get sick. It is currently in it's 37th edition.

Water bath canning is pretty easy. In general, this is the method- place hot food in hot jars, remove air bubbles, place hot lids on the jar and close with band to hand tight. Place the filled, sealed jars in a pot of hot water so that the water completely covers the jars. Boil these jars for the recommended time (see the recipe in The Blue Book) and remove from the water after this time has elapsed, placing on a dish towel on the counter until the jars have cooled, which will take a couple hours.

Pressure canning is done almost the same way as water bath except you must use a special pressure canning pot. The hot filled jars are put into the canner with only enough water to go half way up the jars. The lid gets sealed and the pot must boil until the prescribed amount of pressure has built in the pot. Only then do you start to countdown the amount of time it needs to cook. Recently, I heard about a new type of electric pressure canner that I just had to try out. I highly recommend the Cary DPC-9SS Pressure canner. Having compared it to other electric pressure canners, this is the only one that has a large enough cavity to fit 4 quart sized jars. Once you get the hot food into the hot jars, you basically set the timer on the unit and let it go. It monitors the pressure and the time and you're done. This has actually helped me get a lot more stuff canned since it has made it so much easier to do. It is a far cry from having to adjust the heat from your stove (which is rather difficult with an electric stove) to be sure the proper pressure is maintained.

Using the proper jars is essential. They come in all sizes and some have pretty designs on them. You will usually be using pint or quart sized jars for most of your canning. They also come in regular or wide mouth, depending on how big of an opening you need to get your food into the jar. You do not want to use old "mason" jars (a competing brand of canning jars with Ball) that you find in a thrift store. Using grandma's old jars is good for keeping dried goods in, but not to pressure or water bath can. These old jars could have cracks or chips that will effect the stability of the glass under pressure and cause them to explode. Start out with a fresh case of jars from almost any store. They sometimes have lids and bands with them to get you started, if you buy a case that has them packed with the jars. Once you have a supply of jars, you can reuse them indefinitely. New lids need to be used anytime to can to ensure they get a good seal. Bands are what hold the lid to the jar and you can reuse these time and again until they start to rust and then they need to be replaced.

This has been a primer on canning and perhaps I will post again, more in depth about the methods and recipes. Again, I recommend that you get "The Blue Book" to get you started. Read up on the recipes it has to give you new ideas for putting away your extra foods to be used later.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Freezing excess vegetables

It that time of year where anyone that has planted a garden has to face- who am I going to give all of these tomatoes and zucchini to? When I plant my garden, I usually plant about 20+ tomato plants of different types and some zucchini, as well as several other kinds of veggies. When they all start to produce their fruit, I have to figure out what to do with all of it. Eating 5 pounds a day of tomatoes can be a bit much for any family. What I am going to go over is some ways to store this bounty for those drab days of winter when fresh vegetables are hard to come by or expensive at the store.

There are a couple of different ways to "put up" your harvest for another time. There is freezing, drying and canning. These are the most used ways to get the job done. In this post, I am going to cover freezing. Look for new posts later on canning and drying. Freezing involves preparing the vegetables by cleaning, trimming and blanching and putting in the freezer until they are frozen through and then portioning them to meal sized portions for future use.

What fruits and vegetables are suitable for this ? Freezing works well with denser items that have a lower amount of water content to them. Carrots, okra, green beans, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, winter squash, berries, apples, pears, blueberries, tree nuts and peppers are just some that take to freezing well. Items that do not are summer squash-zucchini and yellow squash, cucumbers, some tomatoes (more on that later) and potatoes.

Here is the best way to prepare your harvest for freezing. Wash and trim any blemished veggie. Get a pot of salted nearly boiling water ready on the stove. When the water is about 180- 190 degrees, drop in batches some of your veggies. Allow to be in the water for about 30 seconds. You are just using this to ever so slightly cook the veg and kill any bacteria that is on it. Remove after 30 seconds and drop the veg into an ice water bath. This will stop the cooking process. After the veg has been thoroughly cooled, remove from the shock bath and allow to air dry for a few minutes in a colander so excess water can drain off. After the veg has air dried for a few minutes spread them out on a sheet pan that has been lined with wax paper. Put the sheet pan with your veg into you freezer and allow to freeze for a couple hours until frozen solid. After the veg has frozen solid, remove from the freezer, loosen from the pan by lifting the wax paper. Put your frozen veg into zipper bags, I recommend quart sized bags. The pint sized bags will yield about a pound of veg, depending on what it is, and will be enough for a family sized meal. Use quart sized bags if you want about a 2 pound bag for storing. Burp the air out of the bags, flatten and stack back in your freezer for use as needed.

You will not need to do the blanching step when processing fruit like berries, cherries, apples or pears. Just make sure they are ripe and free from blemish, then lay out on the sheet pan and freeze. After they are frozen, remove from the sheet pan, bag and put back in freezer. Frozen fruit is excellent for making smoothies. The frozen fruit will add body and coldness to the smoothie. Some tomatoes are okay for freezing. Juicy, slicing tomatoes are NOT good for this as they are usually a little more delicate and will not freeze well. Roma type tomatoes work good for this and I have put up lots in the past and used them in stews and soups. The consistency of the tomato will get a bit mushy when frozen but goes unnoticed in a stew or soup or when an ingredient in something. Canning type tomatoes are acceptable when frozen when used the same way. Just skin the tomato after blanching, destem it and cut up as you will be using it, like rough chopped for a stew or soup.

Tree nuts, like almonds, walnuts and pecans are easy to freeze. All you have to do it get them out of the shells, make sure they are free from any bugs or rot and put them in zipper bag and pop in the freezer. Take as many as you want out of the freezer and put the rest back in. Keeping them frozen will keep the oils in the nut from going rancid and keep them fresh a lot longer.

Even if you are not able to have a garden, let someone else do the growing and get their bounty at a farmer's market or grocery store when the item is on sale and freeze and store for later in the year when these things are more expensive. All you will have to do then is go to your freezer and open a bag. I have done this when there is a lot of produce on the mark down rack at some stores and it still looks acceptable for use.

I hope that helps you prepare for winter and save a ton of money in the process. You will be thanking yourself in winter for the little bit of work you did in the summer.

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