Thursday, September 12, 2013

Canning (my time as a squirrel)

As it has been getting closer to Fall, I feel a little like a squirrel, needing to bottle up as much of this fresh produce as possible before it runs out.  Last year, I canned bread and butter pickles and apple pie filling and froze spaghetti sauce.  This year, I have been much more ambitious.  I got the hang of it a little last year, but this year I decided to go for it.  And thus, I began canning everything in sight (almost).

The steam canner I use.  As I get more involved in canning, I want to splurge and buy a pressure canner.  A pressure canner allows you to can things that have little to no acidity (like carrots, corn and green beans).  Ideally this would be the same time that I am able to plant a big garden and thus able to can my own vegetables.

I made four quarts of bread and butter pickles (pictured) and canned five pints of garlic jalapeno pickles.

We picked 13 pounds of raspberries!  Of that, we froze four cookie sheets = one very full gallon ziploc bag.  I also made and canned 3.5 pints of low sugar raspberry jam.

When we got back from Disney, I knew I was running out of summer and flew into canning mode.  My Grandma brought us a peck of peaches and since we are not huge fans, I canned three pints of peaches in water so we could consume them slowly.  Also, I knew I wanted to make at least one batch of applesauce, so I bought a half bushel of Paula Red apples (25 pounds) from a local market.

I ended up using around 13 pounds for applesauce (the rest made two delicious pies).  After peeling, coring and slicing them, I threw as many as I could into both of my crockpots with some lemon juice and cinnamon and let them boil over high heat for about four hours.  That gave me enough time to get the kids in bed and prep my canning station.  

I actually was able to can 4.5 quarts of applesauce and 3 pints of peaches within an hour and a half.  Once everything was ready (jars warmed in the dishwasher, lids warmed on a pot of water on the stove and steam canner boiling), I was able to move through it all fairly fast and efficiently. 

My biggest goal for this canning year was to tackle tomatoes.  Tomatoes aren't really that hard to do, but it takes a lot of tomatoes to fill a quart (between 7 and 8 Roma's).  And you have to skin them before you can stuff them into their jars.  If you are just starting out, I wouldn't start with too many or you will get overwhelmed, especially if you have crazy toddlers running around (like I did).  Last year, I did 1/2 a bushel and ended up pureeing the skinned tomatoes and freezing the puree for spaghetti sauce.  If you are planning on canning a bunch of tomatoes, I recommend getting an extra hand to help speed up the process.  

I ended up canning a full bushel (50 pounds) of tomatoes and got 14 quarts of halved tomatoes and 5 quarts of diced tomatoes out of it.  It took about 4 hours of actual flash boiling, skinning, cutting and coring, stuffing and processing time.  That was with my sister helping me.  If it had been me by myself, it would have taken drastically longer.

My tips:

-Keep extra pints and quarts around just in case your produce makes more than the recipe suggests.  For example with my tomatoes, I was only supposed to get 14 quarts out of my 50 pounds, but because the tomatoes were bigger, I ended up getting a full five extra quarts.  If I didn't have the extra cans around, I would have stopped and saved the extra tomatoes for when I bought more cans.  It's not really a big deal, but it can be a time saver to have extra cans around.  Also, if you end up with a little extra, it is nice to be able to put it in a smaller can (like a pint sized one) and can that too.  If you don't have a smaller sized can, you can just refrigerate the extra and use it within a week.

-Have all of your tools ready before you even start.  I always put the jars in the dishwasher and start the "dry" cycle before I even start getting the produce ready just to make sure the jars and good and hot.  I get the steam canner boiling and the small pot with the lids boiling before starting the produce.  The recipe I am using is always pulled up on my iPad or phone or the book is out, so I know exactly where to look if I forgot something.

-I highly recommend buying the extra tools to help can - Ball Utensil Set.  It is around $10 and will help you immensely!  The set comes with a Jar Lifter to get the cans in and out of the boiling water in the canner (very important not to touch it with your hands), a Magnetic wand for getting the lids out of the boiling water (without touching it with your hands), a funnel (immensely helpful in getting liquids into your jars without spilling on the sides) and a Headspace and Bubble Remover tool.  I have used all of these every time I have canned anything.

-Read the recipe and the steps and watch a video before you start.  While you can take your time, you do want to have a basic idea of what to do before you start.  The idea is to move fast enough that your jars stay hot and sterilized.  

-Get a friend to help you.  If you haven't done it before and am nervous, ask someone to help you.  It is always fun when you have someone to talk to or to ask questions.  If you are working on a big batch, like tomatoes, it makes the time go by faster and more fun.

-Don't be intimidated.  Canning was a little scary to me at first, but after I did it a couple times I have found a rhythm and now I enjoy it.  I like the idea of having our own stockpile of fruits and veggies that I have canned.  I know everything that is in them and where the produce came from.  I like knowing I won't have to buy them from the store.


I also found watching videos of canning on YouTube helped me get a good understanding of the process, how fast you work and how to get everything organized.

Homestead Acres (one of the best series for everything about canning and homesteading)

And I pinned all the recipes and information I used (from online sources) to my Pinterest board:

I hope this helps any one that doesn't can already get started!
It really gets easier the more and more you do, so don't be afraid!  Jump right in!  

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