Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pressure Canning - Buy Now & Why You Should Use This

Now is the time to buy canning supplies – it’s the end of the standard canning season and sometimes you can buy up a year’s supply (for next year in advance) at a reduced price. Even if you have to pay full price, buy now because the prices will surely be higher next year. It can save you money in the long run.

Now is also a great time to glean canning finds from yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores, etc. They don’t want this stuff sitting around until next year and sometimes you can get fantastic buys. We bought a gently used (it still looked brand new) pressure canner for $20 a couple of years ago. It had the book and everything with it.

Now, speaking of pressure canners, I want to take this time to tell you why you should be using one if you’re not already.

MYTH BUSTER! There is NO need to be afraid of them . . . just make sure you follow the rules about removing the lid AFTER the pressure has been reduced. Remember this one simple rule and you will have no fears. It’s really easy to do and pressure canning is the only way to safely preserve meats and items containing even small amounts of meat.

*What pressure canner should I buy?

  First, remember that this is a canner and not a cooker. You could cook a large roast or other items in it, but it needs to be large enough to hold multiple quart jars. A canner is specifically made to withstand canning under pressure and make it easy to can anything successfully. A pressure cooker will look like this (see below) and have a single weight that sits on top.

Most of the recipes do not require 15 pounds of pressure for canning and you will over cook your recipes which can result in poor quality.

 Next, pressure canner specifications are based on the fact that you will be using regular mouth canning jars. You may not fit them all in if you use wide mouth jars.

Next, pressure canners will have either a pressure gauge or a pressure weight. The weight can be shifted to cook at 5, 10, or 15 pounds of pressure.

Most canning recipes will show the proper amount of pounds for a 
gauge rather than a weighted gauge. Should you opt for the gauge,
you can have (and should have) it tested annually at your local
extension office. Generally there is no charge for this, but it is
crucial that it be accurate for successful canning. 
I borrowed the chart below from SBCanning. Thank you for doing
that research for me and others. It contains the research done for
the three most popular brands available.  You can find some of 
these at retail locations but all are available online.

  23 quart
~ $82 
Dial Gauge
20 pints (double stack)/7 quarts
  16 quart
Dial Gauge
10 pints/7 quarts
All American
21 1/2 quart
~ $200
Dial Gauge
19 pints (double stack)/7 quarts
All American
15 1/2 quart
Dial Gauge
10 pints/7 quarts
22 quart
Weighted Gauge
16 pints (double stack)/5 quarts
16 quart
Weighted Gauge
9 pints/7 quarts

The capacity for pints is for a single layer at the bottom of the canner,
sitting on a rack. You can purchase an additional rack, place it on top
of the first layer of pint jars, and then fill the second rack with pint jars
as well. This can also be done with half pint jars. Only the larger
canners have the ability to double stack this way.

Make sure that you have proper clearance above the top of the
canner when on your stove top if you have a range hood or 
microwave above the cooking surface.  Measure your space 
before ordering.

The difference between a gauge and weight are mostly preference.
You can set your gauge for 11 or 12 pounds if that is called for, and
the weight will create an audible noise. I’ve always preferred the
weight myself because I can tell by the number of jiggles per minute
if the heat is correct for the process without being in the same room
during the cooking time. ALL pressure canners have a venting 
system and a safety ‘valve’ built into the canner for your protection.
Just don’t leave the house while canning so that you can monitor it and
adjust the heat if needed.

Both the Presto and Mirro canners have a lid gasket that helps secure
the seal. It may need to be replaced after a few years, however the one
I’ve used the most was only replaced last year and I have been using 
since the 1980’s, my mother used it previously and her friend who
gave it to her used it before that. Both companies sell replacement
parts for their canners. The third brand, All- American does not
have a gasket.

* Some canners are not approved to work on ceramic or glass
cooktops. Be sure to check your manufacturer’s handbook
regarding this. At one time I had a glass cooktop and was 
not able to use it for canning so I had to come up with an 
alternate source for canning.

I love the convenience of having canned meats, chili, spaghetti
sauce, soups and more on hand. Whenever I make a large batch
of a variety of recipes, I make enough to eat for a day or two and
then to have a canner full of filled jars for later. It is much more
economical to buy your meats, etc. on sale and process them 
yourself than to purchase canned meats. There is NOTHING
safe about water bath for meats!! A pressure canner will also
save you a lot of time when preserving low acid vegetables.
Water bath is safe for acidic fruits, vegetables, jellies & jams.



Thursday, September 15, 2011

Grain Prices Rise and Shortages May Result - What Can I Do Now?

 While I'm still recuperating from pneumonia, I have been spending a bit more time on the computer. I came across this article from Mother Earth News and I feel strongly that every one of us should read this and then decide what we can do about it.

The essence of the article is something that I have been watching with interest for some time. Grain prices are rising! And at an alarming rate.  Read this for yourself and see that weather, natural disasters and using up to 30% of our grains for fuels are all behind these increases. 

You may not feel that you use many grains but if you eat bread, cereal, crackers, pasta and a host of other items and if you buy food for your pet, you are using a lot more grains than you think. Everyone has noticed the rising prices over the past year or so and if my guess is right, they will continue to spiral upward.

The other thing that concerns me are the shortages that are on the horizon. Even if you have money, you can't eat it. The wise steward will stock a supply of essentials for personal and family use . . . and if you can, enough to share with others when the situation arises, and it surely will.

If your resources (money) are tight, then start small, but work steadily to build up your storage. Storing items correctly will be a boon as well. If you don't store it properly and have to throw it out, well . . . that would be a low down dirty shame. For dry items, check out my very first blog post on canning crackers (and anything else dry including popcorn, nuts, pasta, flour and meal, and the list just goes on). Take advantage of BUY ONE - GET ONE FREE deals. This week, I bought 4 boxes of graham crackers that way. I now have 4 half gallon jars filled with them.  We opened up a jar of crackers last week (because the ones in the pantry were stale) and they were as crispy and fresh as if we had just opened a brand new package.
* The stale ones have been revived by microwaving them, allowing them to cool thoroughly and then storing in an airtight container.

If you find the Mother Earth News article helpful, then research the topic online and you may be surprised at the deluge of information out there.

While you will pay more at today's current prices to build a food storage, you will never be sorry for investing your money in something so necessary for yours and your family's well-being. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reusable Canning Lids . . . a novel idea that has met its time!

Okay, so for most of this week I have been trying to get over the ‘crud’ also known as allergic sinusitis and bronchitis. Needless to say, I have not been too perky nor has creating a new blog post been at the top of my list. Therefore, this one will be short and sweet.

A few weeks ago, a dear friend put me onto these: Reusable Canning Lids. What a novel idea and with the cost for canning supplies skyrocketing (along with everything else), I want in on the action. They are a bit pricy and truthfully, I have not ordered any as of yet because I keep at least a one year supply on hand but when they start running low at the end of the next canning cycle, I plan on trying them out.

Do you know anyone who has actually used them? If not, then you can be the first and report back to the rest of us your honest opinion of them.

Actually years ago, they used reusable canning lids because disposable ones hadn’t even been invented yet. I can remember my great grandmother and my grandmother canning with them. Remember those old blue tinted Ball canning jars? They used a rubber ring (which needed replacing periodically) and milk glass like lid. These new ones are plastic, however, they worked fine in the old days, so why not now?

Here’s the link: Now it’s up to you!
Check out! Tattler Reusable Canning Jar Lids Home Page - Never Buy Home Canning Jar Lids Again! Tattler canning lids are the only known source of plastic, reusable canning lids in North America.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Saving Seeds: An Ancient Practice

Saving Seeds:

I dearly love a variety of string bean called “Little White Greasy Beans”. I suppose they are called ‘greasy’ beans because the outside is shiny and appears to have been waxed. They are so tasty and good, but I have not been able to find a source anyplace to buy them. About 10 years ago, when I visited the county of my birth in southeastern Kentucky for a family reunion, I stopped and bought some of these delicacies at a local produce stand. I bought enough to eat a good ‘mess’ of them and enough to allow for drying out and shelling  so I could save the seeds. I recently dried some of this year’s crop so I can replant them again next year.

The art of saving seeds has been practiced for a very long time. . . long before commercial seed producers and sellers ever hit the market. In fact, many of the vegetables and flowers we have today owe their existence to the fact that early gardeners saved the seed of their best plants, sowed them the next year and so on . . . Many of the Europeans and other immigrants to this country saved and brought seeds with them to be planted in our New World.

In recent years, the responsibility for maintaining and improving vegetable seed has been assumed by seed companies; however, it is still possible for home gardeners to save their own seed. To do so successfully, they must be familiar with the basics.

Plants in the garden come from either seed or transplants. True seed possesses an embryo in a dormant state. Under the right conditions, it breaks dormancy and produces a plant based on its genetic makeup. Transplants, on the other hand, are living plants or plant parts that begin to grow under favorable conditions without benefit of an embryo. In this group are bulbs, tubers, corms, cuttings, slips and whole living plants.

It is still common practice for home gardeners in cold climates to dig dahlia and gladiolus before the ground freezes, however, it is not so common for gardeners to save the seed of flowers and vegetables. This is perhaps because seeds have been relatively inexpensive and seed producers have a reputation for selling seed that germinates well and is true to the variety named on the package. However, when I went to buy seeds this past spring I was surprised at how much the price has risen and I see it continuing to rise rather than falling in our near future.

Root Crops:

Not all garden plants produce their seed at the end of the growing season. The most noteworthy exception are the biennials. This group, which includes most of the root crops, grows vegetatively the first season. To obtain seed, the roots are dug in the fall and stored between 32 and 45 degrees F through the winter. As soon as the weather permits, replant the roots to produce seed stalks and seed. Examples of these are:
Brussels sprouts
Florence fennel
Kohlrabi Leeks
Radishes, winter
Swiss chard

Harvesting Seed:

Modern seed producers have developed some very ingenious equipment for harvesting, extracting and cleaning seed. The home gardener, however, will have to do with available equipment. Seed is extracted from fruit after it ripens and before it rots. Leave summer squash and cucumbers on the vine until after frost, just like winter squash and pumpkin. Separate the seed from its pulp and dry at room temperature.

Leave pod props on the vine until the pod dries. Harvest before the seed is dispersed. Similarly, harvest seed heads after they dry but before dispersal.
To dry the seeds, simply spread them out in a single layer on waxed paper, newspaper or an old dish, etc. Make sure they are completely dried before you seal them in an airtight container otherwise they will mold or rot and will be worthless.


Once the seed is dried, gently hand rub to rid it of any chaff, then store in an envelope, plastic sandwich bag, empty baby food or jelly jar, or any other airtight container. Be sure to label each container because I guarantee you won’t remember for sure what is what next spring if you save more than one variety of any vegetable or flower. Store in a cool, dry, rodent-free place. The seed will germinate best the following year. Thereafter, its germination percentage declines in accordance with the storage conditions, seed type and original seed quality. It is, therefore, best to replant every year and then select the best plants for seed. I have also stored seeds in the freezer successfully for a couple of years.