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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Beginning Presure Canning :: Filling Your Pantry

I hope that you have had time to try out The Pressure Canning Process and that you are feeling comfortable with your pressure canner now.

If you are just jumping in on my series on Beginning Pressure canning, I invite you to read my first post about Understanding Pressure Canning, followed by The Pressure Canning Process which gives you a step by step tutorial on becoming familiar with your pressure canner.

If you you feel like you are getting the hang of your pressure canner, it is now time to start filling your pantry! 


Preserving the Harvest

When most people think about filling their pantry with pressure canned products, they often think of jars filled with produce from the summer's garden.  Pressure canning is a wonderful way to preserve the bounty of your harvest, especially if you don't have freezer space or a root cellar to fill.

Low acid produce such as green beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, carrots, peas, asparagus, and even onions and peppers can all be safely preserved to enjoy and cook with throughout the year.

Although fruits and tomato based food with a high enough acidity (sauces, salsa, tomato juice, stewed tomatoes, etc.) can be safely canned in a water bath, they can also be pressure canned with a reduced processing time compared to the water bath.

Whenever you select produce to can, make sure that you use produce that is free of blemishes (which could contain more of the organisms that spoil food) and that is not overly ripe (for the best flavor, nutritional quality, and longevity for storage). 

What if you don't have a garden?  (To see my post on Gardening to Feed a Family, click here.) Don't let that stop you!  Here are just a few ideas on how to acquire delicious produce to pressure can:
  • Join a CSA - Community Supported Agriculture farms will supply you with weekly shares of their harvest throughout the growing season.  
  • Farmers' Markets - Farmers' markets allow you to select the types and amounts of produce that you would like to preserve.  Make sure to talk to the farmers about the origins of their produce, however, since many farmers' markets allow individuals to sell produce that has been shipped in. 
  • Produce Auctions - Produce auctions are a great way to buy bulk produce for canning. If you search around on Google, you might be able to locate produce auctions in your area. My mom and grandma often frequent the Wapsie Valley Produce Auction in Hazelton, located amongst the Amish near my hometown. More Iowa produce auctions can be found here. Although most of the produce is grown locally, it is still a good idea to ask about the origin of the produce.
  • Check with Friends and Neighbors - There are many gardeners out there who garden just as much to get their hands dirty in the garden as they do to consume their crops, and there are many land owners who have fruit trees but do not eat all of the fruit.  These gardeners and landowners often have more produce than they can handle. Don't be afraid to ask them if they ever have an abundance to sell or barter for.  You might even be able to exchange some garden or fruit picking up labor for crops. I know of many individuals who have spotted plentiful gardens or fruit trees on walks or drives and have ended up with large amounts of produce.  Don't be shy! :) 
  • Purchase from Stores - If you aren't able to grow or purchase any local produce, you can always purchase your produce from the store.  This allows you to have foods on hand and ready to go without a trip to town, and you can also get nice sales on certain crops when they are in season.


When There Isn't a Harvest

The gardening season is not the only time that you can have foods to pressure can.  My pressure canner runs regularly throughout the winter months as well, which is a great time to can. The heat provided by the canner is actually welcomed, unlike in the summer months.  There are also many jars available that are being emptied of summer produce. These jars can be filled with ready to go meals or with ingredients for meals. This significantly cuts down on your meal preparation and clean up.  Many of my winter canned goods are my "fast food" canned goods. 

Here are some of my favorite things to pressure can in the winter:

  • Meat - What would I do without my canned meat?!  I have almost forgotten how to cook with meat from the freezer.  Pork shanks are cooked down to fill jars with tender pulled pork to be used in sandwiches, soups, seasoned with my homeade BBQ sauce, and seasoned with my homeade taco seasoning for tacos or fajitasHam hocks are also cooked down for ham for scrambled eggs, casseroles, ham and beans, pizza toppings, ham sandwiches, or ham and noodles.  The same goes with chicken, turkey, and beef, all waiting to be added to casseroles, soups, or to be used in sandwiches.  Canning meats can be so simple and so rewarding, especially on those evenings when you want to provide a hearty meal in a short amount of time. It is also a great way to turn lesser cuts of meats into ingredients for a wonderful meal!
  • Broth - Pork, beef, chicken, and turkey broth are a staple in my pantry. Broth can be made from soup bones, bones left over from a roast or broiler bird, or from the extra liquid used when preparing meat to can. The nutrients pulled out during the process of making broth are very healing and nourishing to your body. Broth is wonderful to use in soups (no more of those MSG filled bullion cubes!) and to cook noodles in or rice in for extra flavor and nutrients.  Save whatever bones are leftover from your meals to use for broth or check with your local farmer or butcher if you are in search of bones to use.
  • Beans - I once turned my nose up to cooked beans, but now I am constantly canning dried beans: black beans and mixed beans for soups and various dishes, beans flavored with my homemade enchilada seasoning (to be mashed and used in burritos, taco dips, or as refried beans), beans flavored with my homemade chili seasoning (ready for my 4 jar chili meal), beans canned as baked beans, and even a few other seasoned bean experiments. Cooking with beans started as a necessity to add protein into our meals when we need to sell much more meat than we ate. I don't ever recall eating any beans besides baked beans when I was growing up (nor did I want to), but now our family has really grown to enjoy not only the savings of using beans in recipes, but also the flavors of all of my seasoned beans.  Plus, if you use broth as your liquid, you take away much of the "reputation" that comes with beans
  • Soups and Stews - Soups and stews can be made up specially to be canned, or you can multiply your recipes to allow for extra soup to can. Jars of premade soups are wonderful to have on hand for days when there is sickness in the house or when you need a filling meal in 10 minutes or less. One of the best parts about these meals is that the only cleanup you have is the jar, pan you heated it in, and the bowl and spoon you used to eat it with (if you even bothered using a bowl!)
  • Food From the Cellar - If you are blessed to have a root cellar and produce being stored over the winter months, don't be afraid to can some of it up if it is still in good shape, especially if you are nearing the end of the season.  Potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, and carrots are all wonderful crops that can be pulled out and canned.  It may seem a bit silly to can them, but the convenience of having them precooked is well worth it. I often open a jar of pumpkin squash to make a quick batch of pumpkin bread for the kids' snack, and the flavor of my fried potatoes when using canned potatoes beats the fresh potatoes hands down!
  • Produce From the Store - If you are just getting started pressure canning and are planning on canning produce during the upcoming growing season, you just might want to try heading to your favorite store's produce department, picking up some veggies, and giving them a try in your pressure canner.  You probably won't be saving much financially, but the practice could save you considerably (time and money) when the bounty of fresh produce comes on fast and furious from the garden or a local producer.

Giving it a Try

Since this post is coming out in February, here are a couple links to some of my photo tutorials that can be tried out now.
Also, recipes and instructions for each of the areas of canning listed in this post can be found in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving

And since canning meat is such a help to me, I thought I'd add a quick tutorial of one of the easiest ways to can meat. This can be done with cubed meat or stew meat.  This meat can be used in casseroles, soups, stir fry, or spaghetti sauce. It is so quick, so easy, and so helpful to have on hand!

Purchase or thaw cubed stew meat. I used approximately 15 lbs to give me 18 pints worth of meat.
Add just enough hot water to cover your meat.  Bring your meat to a boil. During this time, you will want to prepare your canner, jars, and lids if you haven't already.

Once your meat has been brought to a boil, turn off your heat and begin filling your jars.  I like to use a slotted spoon to lift out the meat, and then I dip out enough liquid with a measuring cup to fill the jar to the proper head space, both of these done with the aid of a canning funnel.

Process your jars according to time and pressure given with your pressure canner.

Here is a photo of my finished jars.  The jars on the left are fully cooled, and the jars are the right are still cooling.

A note on fats: You may notice the lard that has rendered out of the meat, which has solidified at the top of the jars on the right as they cooled.  I have recently been leaving more fats in my meat since it is a healthy fat from our pasture raised animals and is an important part of our young childrens' diet.

When I prefer to remove the fats, I use my fat separator (aff link) when I add in my liquids or I chill the meat overnight to remove the fat as shown in this post.  After the fat has been removed, just reheat your meat back up and continue on.

Now What Do I Do?

If you have read about Understanding Pressure Canning, have gathered your materials, and are comfortable with The Pressure Canning Process, here are some next steps you can take.
  1. Think about where you can purchase crops or meats for canning.  If you can't grow or raise them yourself, try to find a local producer so that you are working with fresh products.
  2. Try something simple.  Flip through the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and find a recipe that you think you would enjoy and one that doesn't require too much work.  This is a great way to build confidence.
  3. Determine what types of canned goods you consume the most.  This is a great place to start since you will quickly see the rewards of pressure canning your own food. 
  4. Look forward to my next post on Organizing Your Canning!

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Tools of My Trade
You can check out the aff links below to learn more about these canning tools, and you can also read about them in the first post of my series, Understanding Pressure Canning, where I talk about how to pick out and find good used equipment.

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