On adjustments in canning

Many things in farm life come with orange warning labels, frankly

One thing about canning? You find out what you will eat, usually about a year after you put it away.

It’s crazy canning* season here, and I have been a good girl and have actually cleaned out shelves before I have added more things to them. (Really, I kid myself that I am an organized individual, someone who thrives on order and tidiness. What is closer to the truth is I am an organized individual if I allow myself the time to be one.) So. One look at the shelves says this about our consumption: 1. I put away way too many jars of vegetable stock and 2. nobody including myself really wants to eat canned beet greens and 3. how in the world did I ever think we could eat all that jam?

I will say it’s wonderful walking downstairs to the basement and seeing those sagging shelves. It is so very gratifying. The feeling of panic that I have when I enter the garden (panic that says “you better preserve this, now”) is eased when I see the rows of canned goods: I am getting there, I think.

There are a couple of things I did not can enough of. There is no way one can ever put up enough applesauce. Do you know how versatile that stuff is? My latest use-it-up recipe is applesauce cake, with blueberries. I also did not can enough meat soups, but then again, I was a vegetarian when it was high canning season last year, and this is the first year of The Meat Bird on the farm (and 15 meat chickens are running around outside now) so there’s still time. I never can put away enough dried beans. Another very versatile thing, beans. And I have discovered the truism of one’s bank statement has a canning parallel in jars of tomato sauce: you will spend, or eat, all that you have if you don’t watch it.

There are dangerous things that I can: canned peaches, for example. These are no good at all. I will eat a whole jar myself, whether it’s a half pint, pint or quart.

And there’s another thing I have discovered, now that we’re entering season #4 of farm food preservation. It’s great to do basic stuff; in fact, it’s imperative to have simple cans of tomato sauce and juice, simple pickles and fruit down there. But it’s even better to do special stuff, really out-of-the-ordinary stuff, like peach chutney or corn/black bean salsa, ratatouille or pickled red onions. Oh and roasted garlic jelly, or pear mincemeat.

Anyway, if you are considering canning, start slowly. By season #4 your little hobby might become an obsession, and you will see gleaming mason jars in your dreams.

*I mostly mean pressure canning. I don’t really bother with the boiling-water bath canner much, except when I am making massive amounts of jam.

21 responses to “On adjustments in canning

  1. Hi El – I need to purchase a pressure canner. Can you share the dimensions and brand of yours and whether you like it? Is bigger better?

  2. Hi Angie! Go Cheeseheads: it’s from the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, Manitowoc. It’s model #915 All-American Pressure Cooker Canner. The 915 is 15 quarts: this is big enough for 7 quarts or 9 pints or 10 half-pints at a time. The models range in size from 10.5 to 41.5 quarts(!!). I have been very pleased with mine as far as use and capacity; I don’t think I’d use it much if it were smaller or larger. I have no idea how much it cost as it was a gift but I am guessing it was around $200. It is worth every penny considering how much food I put by. It was very easy to learn how to use. I did learn quickly that I needed to tighten the lids more than when doing a boiling-water bath, but other than that there’s nothing to fear here. Hope that helps.

  3. I wish I could overcome my intimidation of canning. I cannot get past the -If you do this wrong, someone will die. portion of the instructions. Instead I freeze; I hope no one ever warns me about that.

  4. I know, Pamela; it’s a leap of faith, canning. (I say it’s a bigger leap to buy food at the grocery store, but that’s just me being paranoid.) I think it also depends on the books you use to reference for canning. I have listed a few up above in my list and there is definitely a certain legalese/don’t sue me jive in many of them, whereas others are “hey! isn’t this fun? just make sure your stuff is clean” and I would say that’s my canning m.o. That, and I have no compunction about throwing away something I think might be the slightest bit off. Go with your gut, before your gut, uh, goes, I guess.

  5. Once again, I’m always happy to get your advice on canning!! 🙂 I’m working on carrots right now. We traded my aunt one of our turkeys for 50lbs of carrots. I’ll probably be doing a post on it soon, as one my readers asked about my experiences with pressure canning…….resisting the urge to just send them on over to you, the expert! 🙂

  6. I feel the same way as Pamela. It doesn’t help that my husband has said outright that he will not eat anything that I can, so I’ve been freezing. Thanks, El, for your reassurances. And the book “Putting Food By” is extremely helpful.

  7. I need a book that encourages a relaxed approach, as I’d really like to get past the worrying.

  8. El, thanks for this. I might go ahead and buy myself a pressure canner. If I were going to buy one of the books on your list, which would you recommend? I have a pretty good one for hot water bath canning, so now I need one for drying and pressure canning…

  9. Do you water bath or pressure can your tomato sauce? I am trying freezing my tomato glut this time, to replace the cans of diced tomatoes we buy, but have some over ripe tomatoes that may not hold up too well frozen. Which method is better? What I do have is all the stuff for water bath.

  10. Canned beet greens! Oh, well. At least you tried.
    I wanted to suggest eggplant “caviar” for your glut of eggplant.
    (Or maybe I just want you to make some for me.) 😀

  11. You’ve been busy. My few jars of pickles and jam pale in comparison!

  12. I love your comment about spending all your sauce if you’re not careful… it makes me even more excited about putting my first batches away this year! (if my tomatoes ever get red… I have thirty-something plants and have yet to harvest!)

  13. This was my first year of canning and I’m definitely hooked! I love the shelves of jars already! Need to go check on those cucumbers outside….

  14. El, I can completely relate! I’ve been rationing our last two quarts of tomatoes until this year’s crop ripens (damn slow PNW summers). My problem is I like it hot, and I am the only one in the house that does. I put up a whole bunch of spicy green tomato relish last year and am still trying to get through it. I need to find other green tomato recipes that everyone can handle. Good to note about the beet greens, I have been debating trying to can all of the Kale and Kohlrabi greens I have here – not so hot eh?

  15. El inspired me and I got a 23 Quart Presto pressure canner this year from Amazon for $78. with free shipping. It holds 7 quarts, 20 pints or 24 half pints. It’s really about as easy as El says and I go with her m.o., if everything is clean and I follow the directions, it’s more likely one of us will die from something other than eating from our own home grown and canned food.

    After I got it I did a lot of reading on the internet (Jackie Clay writing for Backwoods Home magazine shares a tremendous amount of information about home canning…she even cans stuff I bet El never even thought of canning). I got so inspired I have been canning all sorts of soups and chili and other things that will make really quick dinners. oh, and all the stuff out of the garden…although I did manage to stop myself before I did the beet greens. 😉 But corn, tomatoes and all the variations of tomato sauces, pizza sauce, cabbage, green beans, salsas in various forms, amaranth greens, potatoes, on and on. Once you get started it’s sort of hard to stop.

    I still feel better about eating anything that we have grown and canned ourselves than the stuff in the grocery. You know exactly what is and isn’t in it and then there’s the part where you get to admire all those jars. yes!

    Go for it. When was the last time you really actually ever heard about anybody keeling over from eating some home canned green beans?

  16. Angie, you should blog about pressure canning. I think it would encourage more folks. Plus, expert? No. Just rabidly experimental. And knowing you, and what a fast and fearless learner you are, you’ll be an expert in about a year.

    Jeri, husbands and food sometimes do not mix well. (We can always secretly blame our mothers-in-law, right?) Freezing works just great!! Especially with tomatoes and other soft things like that, and soups. I think Putting Food By is wonderful, but can frighten people with all its admonitions.

    Hi Laura. I have put a couple more books on the list: both are Ball books (the canning people). They also have a home canning hotline (800-240-3340) and a website that is quite helpful http://www.homecanning.com I would say the second, larger one I listed has been the most helpful to me in thinking “oh that sounds good” and me doing things like roasting 18 heads of garlic in the oven one night.

    Jules, it’s my laziness that makes me pressure can. Of course you can boiling-water bath can tomatoes and a whole host of other high-acid foods. I really cannot say which is better; if you are looking for something closest to what it is right off the vine then freezing whole is the way to go. Any canning method will cook things. I know though that cans of chopped tomatoes are very convenient. I’ve tried to duplicate it with just chopping and pressure canning; they do cook in there so the texture goes mostly. I am just fine with that, but if I were really itching for the same texture I would do what the major companies do and pick the things in a non-ripe state.

    CC: Hmm. I will consider it. As it is, I was wondering if I could can baba ghanoush…

    Bobbi, the word is “obsessed.” That, and I have a huge garden.

    Patience, Daisy! A watched tomato never reddens. But I am excited for you as you will love the process.

    See, JimmyCC? One quickly becomes hooked. And I haven’t started my pickles either!

    Hi Maya. Yes, I am in the same boat: there is so much that I love and can that my family does not. I shrug and keep roasting beets. But you know, I made a green tomato salsa not too long ago (mild) and you know what else I made recently? Green tomato chutney. YUMMMM. Your family can get behind sweet and spicy, right?? But your greens: I put away a lot of lentil/kale soup earlier in the season. My plan is to serve it with lots more fresh kale too to get its nutritional content up.

    Yay K!!! See? Sometimes we all just need a little push. I love your attitude! You are quite right in that doing something like getting behind the wheel of a car is about 1000 times more deadly than a can of jam. I *adore* Jackie Clay. What a trooper. I read her back when I was a city girl, and I really wanted to drive up the Gunflint and find her after her husband’s death: I just wanted to go up there and serve them some soup. Anyway. I agree her attitude and expertise are such that she is a modern sage, but…I have issues with Backwoods Home. Tom and I think we have an FBI file out on us because of our subscription, that and the Nation. Why people think homesteading and machine-gun owning go hand in hand is something I will never fathom.

  17. laurendropstone

    I need to get going on learning this … I will have some green beans to put up soon, and if the tomatoes ever ripen I will have a LOT of them. But I am terrified. I have never canned before, though my mom always made (makes) tons of jam. I have a pressure-cooker. I have jars and a jar lifter. But I am so scared of getting started!!

  18. Lauren! Hey: lean on your mom. Lean on anyone who can help you. As it is, it sounds like you already have the goods, and soon you will have the goodies, so…you just need a boost. It really is not difficult. If you can cook, you can can. It is that simple, and I am not exaggerating. It’s even simpler because you don’t have the work of tasting it as you go along! But I freeze my beans. I think frozen beans have a better texture, and I freeze in smaller portions.

  19. Hey! We put up 4 2cup bags of tomatoes in the freezer last night. We probably would have had more, but left some too long for processing. Yippee! It worked. Now…we’ll see how they hold up and how good they are when we go to use them in soups and beans later. Go us! we finally bit the bullet and just did it.

  20. I’ve just found your blog. Its very inspiring! I have about five acres at my disposal and what you are doing is exactly what I want to do with it. I wasn’t sure if it was enough to sustain my entire family. We are vegetarians, but we want to have chickens for egg laying only. Any suggestions as to where to start?

    And canning? Be still my beating heart! My husband calls me a produce nerd. To start canning would keep my fever going all year long. Thank you for this blog. 🙂

  21. Jules! You are a rock star! See how easy it is? (Now you have license to go crazy, start ripping out grass, dreaming about seeds and gardening…eeks!) And you know you can always call your mom or your brother…

    Hi Kim! Welcome aboard. You know, I was veg for 16 years until last October. I really did some hard thinking about the reasons why, and the major reason went away when I realized I, or someone just like me, can raise happy healthy animals. You can read about it in this post. But what’s even more interesting is we don’t eat meat that much at this time of year, like, maybe once a week if that, and even so it’s never the “main event” on the plate. In the winter is when the carnivory kicks in, but, well, I have just ordered my 2nd greenhouse so… we shall see. And hey: better a produce nerd than a, I don’t know, an accordion music nerd: everyone will benefit from your nerdiness!

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