Thursday, February 26, 2009

Canning & Preserving

Rhonda at Down to Earth is hostessing a discussion on canning foods. I decided to join simply to encourage others to begin canning. I figure that if I can learn to can, anyone can!

Canning was added to the list of things I wanted to learn as Sweetheart and I decided we needed to simplify our lives last year. By simplifying, I do not mean making things easier, but making things ourselves. It's actually been a lot more work, but it has also been more rewarding than I could have imagined! (If you are interested in learning more about what we've been learning and doing, you may search by the labels "Canning, Simple Living, and Simplifying" at the bottom of posts.)

We live in a regular subdivision on the outskirts of Denver. As this was all farmland not many years ago, we are blessed to have a few farms close at hand where we may buy produce in the summer and fall. Some things, I simply bought when they were on sale at the grocery store. I discovered that all the big sales came when certain foods were at their peak~ like peaches & apples & corn. I bought extremely large (to me) amounts.

Some things I bought all at once, like a bushel of cucumbers to pickle. Other things I bought over a few weeks time like 75 pounds of peaches and 80 pounds of apples. This allowed me to pace myself better on the canning. I felt a bit swamped under the bushels of cucumbers and tomatoes that I thought I should space out the other things as I could so they wouldn't rot in my basement while I tried to finish each thing.

I started out early in the year by checking Craig's List for used canning supplies. Don't wait until the middle of summer as it will be hard to find things. Off season shopping is better and people seemed to be more willing to negotiate. I loaded up boxes of jars and just waited until it was time.

When it became our canning season, I bought new lids and seals as well as two things I love: a tool kit and a cookbook from the Ball Jar company. The canning tool kit contained a funnel, a magnet on a handle to lift the metal lids out of the hot water, a jar lifter, and a handy little plastic thing that had measurements marked on it so that you can make sure you have the right amount of headspace in each jar and for getting the air bubbles out.

The cookbook was the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. I found a new paperback copy just at Target. It's worth its weight in gold. It contained everything I needed to learn both water bath and pressure canning including adjustments for our high altitude. I can't say enough good things about this book! For a beginner, it is invaluable.

I did purchase a canning pressure cooker new as well. I used it for several recipes and it was easy! You can can a lot with just a big stockpot though, so don't let not having a pressure canner stop you. I figured it will last for years and be worth the investment.

I was also blessed with several boxes of jars and odd and ends from my stepmother who canned years ago and stopped. My advice--take anything anyone will give you! And, if you are lucky enough to find someone to show you how, take them up on the offer. I plan to invite some friends over this year if they are interested so we can work and learn together. I don't know anyone in my everyday life that cans, so maybe I can get some friends interested.

I'm not posting here how to do specific recipes, or give minute instructions. My goal is simply to try and encourage others to begin canning and preserving. A whole new world has opened up to me now! I've even used my dehydrator a ton more because the cookbook also had lots of ideas for drying and freezing foods besides just all the great canning recipes.

Right now, I've got jars in my fridge of green beans, pickles, tomato sauce, jams, fruit butters, jellies, applesauce and more that we are enjoying everyday. I've got more jars tucked away still unopened in the pantry and basement. I'm trying to stretch things out until spring and summer.

Opening a fresh jar of peaches on a grey February day is like opening a jar of sunshine! It's nice to know that I'm feeding my family foods picked and processed as simply as possible without unnecessary ingredients or odd chemicals preservatives. And yes, we can taste the difference!

I'm looking forward to doing so much more this year. Won't you join me?


Bernideen's Tea Time Blog said...

Canning is very nurturing and gives one a great feeling of accomplishment!

Bonnie said...

I want to reccomend The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest. It and the Ball Blue Book are my absolute FAVORITES when it comes to canning.
I've checked some out from the library, and other than a handful of good recipes, most of them were "fluff" recipes, or just plain awful (my corn and black bean salsa for example).
I have a fantastic chicken and vegetable soup recipe for pressure canning, and also one for a bean and bacon soup that is good too.
Those can both be done "out of season", as I just used frozen mixed veggies to help cut down on cost.
Let me know if you are interested in the recipes, I would be happy to pas them along.

lara said...

Thank you for the book recommendation. I'm going to check the library and see if they have it. I'm planning on canning a lot more this year. Thanks,lara

Rhonda Jean said...

Kimberly, you've written an excellent post here. It's clear, encouraging and generous. Thank you for joining the kitchen table discussion. It's posts like this that make the whole thing work so well.

Jan Hatchett said...

This is my first time at your blog. I found it through the Biggest Kitchen Table discussion at Down To Earth. I love your post and I admire how you were able to master the learning curve for pressure and water canning in a single season!

Taryn said...

80 pounds of apples?! Dang! I canned a few jams last summer. I am pretty proud of them. I guess I should try actual fruit this summer. I did my canning without a pressure cooker because my grandma said she never used one . . . do you think I need one to do other stuff besides jam?

(P.S. Great idea to get canning jars off craigs list. Brilliant!)


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