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Monday, January 6, 2014

Rolling over the New Year in Canning

Just before Thanksgiving, I canned the last of my ripened frost tomatoes from my garden.  I still have a small box of tomatoes that are slowly changing to red, but they won't be enough to can.

After canning these tomatoes, it was time to give my canner a little break.  My extra time was spent decorating our house to celebrate Christmas, as well as doing some baking and candy making with the kids.
Our cookie baking project was quite rewarding for me this year as I watched our 9, 8, 5, and 2 year old mix up the cookies by themselves, a first for them. I was blessed to see the kids work together to read a recipe, gather and measure the ingredients, and figure out ways that all 4 of them could take part in the preparation of the cookies, all while enjoying each other.

Trust me, not all days and moments are played out this well, but I treasure the ones that are!

Our kids spent a whole afternoon mixing dough and stashing it away in the fridge to be pulled out over the next few days, ready to be baked into holiday cookies and decorated.  We then added the candies we had made, put our cookie plates together, and delivered these plates to our neighbors, accompanied by a handmade card from the kids and our contact information to be referred to if an emergency arises or a cup of sugar is needed.

Now that the Christmas season has given way to the New Year, it is time to start my canner back up.  This is the time of year that I can my broths, seasoned beans, and meats: shanks, hocks, and stew birds.  I will also sort through the produce in the storm shelter/cellar as I am able, dehydrating apples, canning apple sauce, and canning any squash or root vegetables that I feel the need to can.

With the New Year, I will also restart my canning count and look over my count from 2013. From the notes I made back at Thanksgiving, after I canned up my last frost tomatoes, I was at 522 quarts worth of canned, frozen, or dehydrated products this year - 445 of which were Crooked Gap Farm products, the other 77 of which were from local fruit trees, gardens, and fields.

This, by far, is the most I have ever canned.

In 2012, the combination of Ethan's achilles tendon tear and the record setting drought that stretched our finances and my sanity (trying to keep up with the chores on my own as well as the garden, house work, and care of our children) made me realize how important and valuable the preserved food I had on hand was.  Not only was it food that didn't have to be purchased from the store, but it was food that helped make a quick meal in a year where I referred to meals more as survival fuel than as a meal.

This kicked in gear an extra drive to put as much away as I could from our garden in 2013.  Last year was also the first year our garden was completely established since we first plowed it up, moved pigs through, and fenced the livestock out, which all contributed to preserving more than I ever have. 

The 2013 bounty from our farm now fills our pantry, cellar and overflowes into our hallway, where boxes and tubs of CGF produce await a new storage area to be constructed in our mud room.

This fall I was looking through my notebook of canning records, and I also came across an old post of what I had canned in 2007, while we were still in town. As I read this post, I kind of chuckled at myself and how proud I was of comparably few jars I canned that year. 

But then I stopped and reflected. 

I was proud.  And I had every right to be proud.

Really, those jars were a bigger accomplishment that year than the canning I did this year.  You see, for 3 years I had kept a pressure canner hidden away in my house, scared to death that I would blow the thing up, or even myself, if I tried to use it. 

But I wanted to learn, and so I gathered up some bravery, did quite a bit of research, and gave the thing a try. 

That's kind of how this whole homesteading/farming journey has been for me. Ethan and I have farmers in family tree and both visited family farms while growing up, but neither of us had much training in the arts and skills of farming and keeping a homestead.  Even before we felt called to farm, I remember how overwhelmed I was with all of the skills I wanted to learn and do, and I still am overwhelmed with what I would still like to accomplish.

With the recollection of my canning journey, I am reminded that some of the biggest accomplishments are those first steps, and although some of these first steps might come with some tumbles, they all are steps in the journey as I learn and grow.  One of the biggest dangers to not taking those first steps, or even the next steps ahead, is trading the readiness to learn and grow into the fear of failing.

So I want to encourage you.  Are there any skills you would like to learn? If you are like me, there are many!  Pick just one.  Do a little research, and take the next step.  Don't be afraid if it doesn't turn out like you had planned. Learn from your experience. Then try again.

And while you are at it, bring someone along with you on your journey.

A child, a friend, a neighbor.

Learn together. Share together. Enjoy together.

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Tools of My Trade

Much of what I preserve is pressure canned due to their low acidity in order to kill all bacteria that would cause dangerous foodborne illnesses. They can be safely canned by using the recommended times and pressures given for your altitude. I have a couple older Mirro pressure canners given to me that work wonderfully, and my mom has a newer one that she loves as well. If you do some asking around, you might find someone who has given up canning and has one available, or you can look for one like the one pictured below. It should hold around 9 pint jars or 7 quart jars.

This book is a wonderful book for beginning pressure canning.  It includes the science behind safe canning, tools needed for canning, the method of canning, and is filled with tons of recipes that will help you can anything from produce from your garden to meats and broths.  I still enjoy flipping through my book to find new recipes to try!


Heather said...

Thank you forbthe encouraging words. We are starting our farming endeavorand much like you, we have never farmed, but have farmers on both sides of our families. We are excited and a little overwhelmed by what we need to learn. Exciting times. Thank you again forthis blot and your husband's podcasts!


I loved this post. I am at the point you were in 07. I can what I have from our small town garden + farmer's market + coop purchases + Amish farm purchases + am not above those "please come get this out of my yard/garden" calls :) However, I freeze most of it for a couple of reasons & one is that I am scared of the pressure canner :)

The Gaertegang Homestead said...

I listen to Ethan's podcast and just learned today that YOU have a blog!!! Our families are so much alike! I enjoy canning as well, but usually finish up before we start school in September. I look forward to visiting again soon!

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