A Little Pressure

From Left to Right:  Beef, Carrots, Green Salsa, Beets, Potatoes All canned using a pressure Canner
From Left to Right: Beef, Carrots, Green Salsa, Beets, Potatoes
All canned using a pressure Canner

As I was growing up, I helped in the  kitchen quite a bit, especially during canning season.   We had several big blue (water bath) canners that were used for pints and quarts of all kinds of tomato products as well as jams and jellies.  I never saw my mom use a pressure canner.  One day I asked her—why? It turned out that before I  was born, she and her mother  were working with a pressure canner.  They went into the other room for something and forgot to check on it until they heard the pressure value and gasket blow off.  A jar had broken inside and the vegetables had clogged the pressure  valve. The content of canner spewed into the air, all over the kitchen!  Seeing this chaos—and cleaning up the mess afterward—convinced my mom never to can anything under pressure while there were kids around, just in case.

So it wasn’t until I was a young wife that I convinced my Aunt Betty to teach me about pressure canning.  After doing some research, we went together and bought a pretty expensive “All-American” brand  canner.

With a new pressure gauge and careful storing, this 30+  canner is still going strong.
With a new pressure gauge and careful storing, this 30+ canner is still going strong.

It has a metal to metal construction with 6 turn-screws to hold the lid in place.  It is extremely safe.  For the amount of food that I process, it was a wonderful investment.  I think of my Aunt Betty every time I use it.

Here are some safety tips to use if you decide to dive  into the world of pressure canning.

  • READ THE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY.
  • Familiarize yourself with the equipment to make sure that you know exactly how it works before using it to process food.  Be sure you know how much water is needed (a metal yardstick works well to measure the depth of the water) and how many jars should go in a batch.
  • Follow the recipe exactly, at least the first time you are making something new.  The herbs and spices used during the canning process develop as the product cools and is stored.  After opening it, you can decide whether you want to change the recipe for next year’s harvest.
  • Invest in good equipment and treat it with respect.  You don’t necessarily need new equipment.  Garage sales and thrift stores often have sturdy equipment for sale.  Watch for breaks, holes, scorch marks or cracks in the metal.  These are sure signs that the canner has been used for something other than its original purpose.
  • Replace the rubber seals regularly, if your canner uses them.
  • Replace the pressure valve if it is showing any sign of wear. It is important that this part of the canner be accurate.
  • Stay in the kitchen while the pot is cooking. In this case, a watched pot is a good thing. The canner will build up to pressure.  The stove must be adjusted to keep it at the right  pressure throughout the whole canning time.  If the pressure is under the required amount—the food won’t cook correctly.  If the pressure goes over—there is risk of breaking jars and messes in the kitchen.
  • FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS for cooling down the canner.  Remember there are glass jars inside and they are very fragile in this state.
  • Do NOT open the canner until the pressure has naturally gone down to zero, according to the pressure gauge.  This part of the process cannot be hurried.
  • Remove the jars carefully and finish them according to the recipe.  Putting a towel on your table  or counter will keep the area drier and reduce the risk of the jars bumping together.
  • After the jars are cool, inspect them to make sure they have sealed properly.  If any fail to do so, put it in your refrigerator to use right away.
  • LABEL jars with contents and the year, before putting it into your pantry,

All in all, pressure canning is a great way to store your harvest,  You have control of exactly what is in your food.  Many recipes can be adapted for special diets. And, the jars  look so pretty in your pantry! If you have stories about your pressure canning experiences or any questions, please share them by adding your comment to this post or contacting John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Preparing for Planting

It may seem a bit odd to talk about planting in the middle of winter, but this is actually the time that many avid gardeners, especially those interested in self-sufficiency, begin to think about the planting season. Of course, the planning process starts in the larder. Even though there is a catalog in your hand at the moment, the catalog doesn’t do any good until you know what to order and your larder contains that information.

As part of the preparation process, you should go through the larder, ensure all of the oldest items are in the front of the shelves, verify that all of the jars are still sealed, and wash the jars to keep them clean. Make sure all of the jars are properly marked with both food type and year canned as well. The process of organizing your larder and keeping it clean is important because doing so will make it a lot easier to determine what to plant. Once you complete this task, you can perform an inventory to determine what items are in short supply. These are the items that you need to order from the catalog.

Sometimes you can use your larder as a jumping off point for dreams of things you’d like to try in the future. For example, until last year, our larder lacked pickled asparagus—now I wouldn’t be without it. However, before we could pickle the asparagus, we had to grow enough to make the effort worthwhile, which meant planting more asparagus and waiting several years for it to get old enough to produce a decent crop. Yes, the larder was the start of our dream and the catalog provided us with ideas on how to achieve our dream, but in the end, the realization of our dream happened in the garden and in the kitchen.

Our larder also holds our canning supplies and equipment. This is the time of the year when you should perform an inventory of these items as well and ensure they’re in good shape. For example, the seal and pressure relief value on your pressure canner requires regular replacement—we simply make it a practice to replace these items before the start of the canning season because doing so is inexpensive and reduces the risk of mishap in the kitchen later. No matter where you store your canning supplies and equipment, now is the time to maintain them.

Writing your needs down as you discover them is a great idea. Check out the various catalogs you receive starting this time of year to determine which products will best suit your needs. It’s unlikely that you’ll completely fill your garden with just the items you need from the larder. The catalog will also supply ideas for new items you can try. Sometimes we try a new variety of vegetable or fruit just to see how it grows in this climate. Over the years we’ve discovered some items that grow exceptionally well for us (and also experienced more than a few failures).

Don’t just address your main garden, however. It’s also time to check into herbs and address any deficiencies in the orchard. This is the time for planning. Trying to figure everything out later, when you’re already engaged in preparing the garden, will prove difficult and you’ll make more mistakes than usual if you wait.

It’s also important to start ordering as soon as you know what you need. The catalog companies won’t send you product until it’s time to plant. However, they do use a first come, first served policy. Other gardeners are already order products. If you wait, you may not get your first choice of items and may have to reorder later.

Planning is an essential part of a successful year in the garden and orchard. However, I also enjoy starting the planning process this time of the year because it makes winter seem a little less severe. A little spring in winter is like a breath of fresh air. What sorts of things do you do to prepare for spring? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Engaging in the Fall Cleanup

For many people, fall is a time when they cut the grass the last time, take their car to the mechanic for winterization, check for air leaks in the windows, and ensure the furnace will run. These common chores affect anyone involved in self-sufficiency as well. For example, you still need to get your car ready—assuming you have one.

However, fall cleanup requires a lot more from anyone engaged in self-sufficiency because there are more facets to their environment. For example, fall is the time when you need to ensure your animal cages are completely cleaned. (Yes, you also clean them at other times, but fall is when you take everything apart and really clean it up.) If some of your animals are outdoors, you need to ensure they’ll have sufficient cover for the winter months. For us, that means scrubbing down every one of the rabbit hutches and letting them dry before we put a rabbit back inside. In addition, we add any manure under the cages to the compost heap. The chicken coop needs to be cleaned completely, the old hay replaced, and the windows closed. I also make sure I wash the window so the chickens can see out. It turns out that chickens like a nice view too.

Of course, you take the garden down after picking any remaining goodies and plant your winter rye to prevent erosion. The fall is a good time to look for potential soil issues and possibly get a soil test so that you know how to deal with problems the following spring. Likewise, your herb and flower gardens require attention so that any perennial plants will make it through the winter. However, don’t put mulch on immediately. Wait until the garden is frozen and then put the mulch on. Doing so will ensure that the plants are properly prepared for the winter.

You may not have thought of it, but all of your equipment has taken a beating during the summer months, including all of the equipment used for canning. This is a good time to scrub your pots and pans up and ensure they’re in good shape before you put them up. Make sure your pressure canner receives particular attention. Check to see if the gasket is in good shape, along with the rubber plug used for emergency pressure relief. Your stove will need a thorough cleaning and may require maintenance as well. Make sure everything is put away correctly so that you don’t have to waste a lot of time trying to find it in the late spring when you begin using it again.

Don’t think you’re finished yet. Now is the time to start walking the grounds looking for problems in your orchard. For example, it’s relatively easy to find pests that hide on trees during this time of the year. Make sure you check trees for problems associated with stress. For example, pear trees are prone to crack at the joints. You might need to mark some areas for special pruning in the spring. If a problem seems especially serious, you may want to address it now, rather than later.

Being self-sufficient means ending as well as you began. During the spring there is an excitement that builds that makes it easy to prepare for the new gardening season, but by the end of the season, all you really want to do is flop down in front of the wood stove. The time you take to prepare now will pay significant dividends in the spring. Let me know about your fall preparations at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.