Sunday, December 28, 2014

Canning My Own 'Convenience' Foods

For me canning is somewhat romantic. It gives you pause to think of simple or weighty things as you wait for things to boil or gain proper pressure. It gives you the comfort of an exact routine each time you fill a jar and prep it for processing. And, it praises you with clear vessels showing you beautiful food waiting to be enjoyed. Yup, for me canning is just something I enjoy. Since I didn't can at all this summer I was feeling a bit bummed like I missed out. Well I was reading an old cookbook my mom gave me a few years ago in my renewed quest of simpler yet tasty food, and I ran across instructions for canning dry beans so that they are ready just like store bought canned beans. So I wanted to give it a try as well as get some stock in the pantry ready to go.

I started with stock. We are slowly getting our chickens butchered so I had a carcass from one bird I roasted and one I had stashed in the freezer from a previous chicken dinner. I put them in the really big stock pot with onions (skin left on for color), celery, carrots, bay leaves and peppercorns, covered with water and set on the wood stove for several hours. I them strained it and left it in the fridge to cool overnight so I could skim the fat off the next morning. I then returned the stock to the big pot and the wood stove to come to a boil while I got everything ready for the canner. My husband's bosses were kind enough to lend me their pressure canner for my projects! I have yet to get my own but, one will be coming my way as a housewarming present from my grandparents, I just need to pick it out. Anyway! Stock is just about as simple as it gets. You just heat it to a boil, pour into hot jars, seal and process. I ended up with 10 quarts plus a little more which I just poured into my moose stew. I will caution you from using too many herbs or flavorings in your stock if you are going to can it because canning will intensify the flavor. One quart jar is equivalent to one standard box of stock minus the MSG, plastic lining and mystery ingredients. I hope to get a good stash of beef stock put up before I return the pressure canner. We have a ton of moose so I often needs beef stock to make stews and quick gravies to accompany steaks. I could make stock from the moose meat but I just can't bear to boil that beautiful meat to death!

Wednesday I canned the beans. I had recently bought an assortment of dry beans for the pantry since I am restocking (more on that later), so I canned a pound each of navy, pinto and garbanzo beans. I soaked them all overnight so they were fully re-hydrated yet not softened. Each pound filled a bit over 3 pint jars so I made a combined jar of pinto and navy beans. The garbanzos got cooked and went to the chickens because I forgot about them and they cooked unevenly (my bad). I chose to can pints because they hold about the same as a standard can which I thought would serve my pantry better. I am not to going to give instructions on how to can beans but there are plenty of resources which I used available either on the internet or in books. From the looks of things from the outside of the jars the beans might be slightly mushy. I read after the fact that softened water can cause this which is what we have. It might also be because the pressure was higher for a bit while I was trying to find the sweet spot for maintaining the proper pressure.

I would really like to try canning soups and things like baked beans as well in the future. Why bother? Well, right now we have about 300 pounds of moose and deer in the two deep freezers in the basement and the upstairs freezer is a drawer style in the fridge that always seems to be packed with odds and ends. Needless to say I do not have much room for stock and ready made items. Also, I am not real good about remembering to take things out of the freezer ahead to thaw. When I want some stock it's nice to just pop a top like the store bought stuff. Just way better.

So the kitchen has been busy! Not only with canning but I also made venison jerky and was on a quest for the perfect gluten free cinnamon roll. Add in making 3 meals a day and I have pretty much been spending all my time not nursing the baby in the kitchen. And, sometimes I nurse the baby in the kitchen. I have food prepping problems...

I'll be sharing about my pantry and how I am trying to both simplify and stock it up soon. In January I will be giving the Pantry Challenge another go to encourage me to use up bits that have been hanging around too long or are just hanging out because it's easier than figuring our what to do with it. So, I will try to blog daily on the challenge to share how I make it work beginning January 1st!

Til next time!

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