Sunday, March 1, 2009

Canning and Preserving

Well, thanks to Rhonda at Down to Earth for bringing up the idea of having a round table discussion of how to can and preserve foods in different regions, and even continents!

I began canning and preserving around 20 or so years ago when I was a relative newlywed. I also picked up quilting at the same time (notice a trend?). Even though I had never been very interested in anything domestic, I was drawn to these things as skills that I had watched my Mom and Granny do so many times. It just felt like it was time to begin to learn about them.

Of course, it definitely helps the budget to do such things if you keep an eye on expenses throughout the process. But, if you don't--watch out!

I started with peaches (I am a Georgia girl, by the way) and tomatoes. I borrowed my Mom's old enamel (black with speckles) water bath canner and some old mason type jars (various brands) to get started. I purchased the peaches from a local pick your own farm and the tomatoes by the case load at the farmer's market. I purchased a $3 Ball Blue Book from Wally World and followed the directions inside to the letter.

I was in college and minoring in Biology, so I had a pretty fair idea of the necessity of being absolutely sterile in handling jars, food, etc. I used only gorgeous, unblemished fruits and just followed directions. My Mom thought I had lost it. Wasn't it easier to purchase from the store?

That was not the point. Everything turned out beautifully and I was so excited to have the shiny jars on the shelf when I needed them. The peaches were lovely over pound cake. The tomatoes made wonderful soups, stews, and marinara sauce. I beamed with every jar consumed!

The following year, I branched out into salsa (hubby's Mom is from Mexico. We go through salsa like crazy!), and jams. I made a cranberry-pear conserve from a recipe in a magazine (I lost the recipe and I haven't been able to track it down) that was phenomenal! I learned how to take a free windfall of figs and cook them with sugar and strawberry flavored gelatin to make a mock strawberry preserves that was so good. Many of these free or inexpensive jars of salsa and jams could go directly into gift baskets for Christmas and they were an absolute hit! This saved us untold amounts of money during the holidays. It was a Godsend for our budget and our nerves! Christmas shopping for almost everyone was finished in July and August!

A few years later, we bought our first home and it was less than 1/2 mile from a wonderful pick your own farm. We could walk down the road with a wagon and pick strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries--all of the very best quality. We froze some and made jams, jellies, and syrups with the rest. I still needed only the water bath canning set up. I had a freezer and could deep freeze sale priced meats, etc. So, it worked out. I didn't can whole meals, but the ingredients and could throw together a meal in no time. I was still putting by windfall fruits and tomatoes that were given to us and occasionally purchasing case loads when the price was low enough.

It was after my oldest child was born, I began to feel the need to be a bit more adventurous in my preserving adventures. So, I began to read up on pressure canning. I found a pressure canner at a wonderful price and tried my hand at putting up vegetable soup and some other lower acid foods. I made sure to cut my veggies to consistent sizes (as much as possible). The rest was pretty similar, keep everything clean and sterile. Make sure jars aren't cracked or chipped (I was using primarily older jars that had been refilled many, many times. I have one jar that is older than I am!).

The first thing that I learned about my pressure canner is that it had a rack to go in the bottom and it was taller than the water bath canner that I had. I had to water bath quart jars on the deck with a propane burner because the boiling water would spill out of the canner if I covered the jars with 1 inch of water like was recommended.

So, I began using my pressure canner for water bath canning also. It has been a great, rust-free way to go.

Eventually, I was able to learn to can chicken and other meats that I could obtain cheaply at the time. But, the biggest time and money saver was when I discovered that I could can dried beans and have them ready to go for quick meals for pennies. I could bring the beans to boil for an hour and ladle them in with a pinch of salt and plenty of juice into a quart jar and pressure can them at 10 psi for 1 hour and 15 minutes. At this point, the beans were fully cooked and not mushy. This was a fabulous boon for us. We were working, had kids, and were still involved with family and church. This meant fabulous bean burritos, refried beans, chili, and more in a fraction of the time! Even if finances were really pinched and I was making tortillas, it could be done in around 45 minutes, tops!

After learning that DS12 was mildly autistic, our lives changed dramatically with therapy appts., doctor's visits, etc. At this time, I didn't do much canning. I missed it, but I was swamped with other things.

But, this fall, I got a huge windfall of pears from my mother's trees. They are hard and grainy (I like them, but most folks want the soft, creamy ones). They canned up beautifully as pear butter and pear jam. The jars sparkled and I beamed.

I gave most of these jars to others as Christmas gifts and really wish I had the time to do more of them before I had to return to school after the break.

Okay, sorry that I have been so long winded, but canning and preserving has been a big part of my progression from spoiled young girl to family minded wife and mother. Since I really couldn't cook when I married, it helped me to gain a sense of pride and skillfulness that helped me to refocus my life. Now, I feel pretty darn competent--well, most of the time! LOL

1 comment:

Hippy Goodwife said...

Hi Jan,

Thanks for visiting my blog! I loved reading about your adventures in canning. I have a son, 10, with mild Asbergers symptoms. He loves the process of canning and making butter. It's like a magic show. He is not so much concerned with the end product, but loves the processes.

Thanks for the tip on the beans, that would be a wonderful thing for us too.

Good Luck!