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Posts Tagged ‘preserving’

We picked two big mixing bowls of strawberries, today.   The berries were huge huge and sweet and still warm from the sun.

 

acreage strawberries

 

I chopped seven cups for the freezer.  Martha Stewart would freeze them nicely on cookie sheets, then package them up once they were frozen, so they didn’t stick together.  I am not Martha Stewart.  I pre-measure the packages to the sizes my recipes call for, throw them in vacuum-sealer baggies, and go to town.  We just break them up and throw them in the blender for smoothies, anyways, or thaw them for baking and such.

 

acreage strawberries

 

This is way beyond the hundred mile diet.  This is a zero mile diet.  Those berries came from literally just out my front door!

 

 

Standing on my front step; the little round strawberry patch is to the east of my door

Standing on my front step; the little round strawberry patch is to the east of my door

 

 

Standing on my front step; this little round strawberry patch is to the west of my door

Standing on my front step; this little round strawberry patch is to the west of my door

 

We planted about 100 plants in four little patches, in 2011.  We got fifty of an everbearing variety, and fifty of a June bearing variety.  For whatever reason, all of the plants are going nuts right now.  Last week, we put seven cups in the freezer, plus I took strawberries to work for lunches.  This week was much the same; seven cups for the freezer, plus plenty to eat!

 

eating strawberries

The taste is incomparable.

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In the admin statistics for this blog, I have a record of search terms that led people here.  There are the expected searches, like things relating to goats, or root cellars.  Some are a little surprising.  The top terms that bring people to Rural Dreams are searches for a recipe for rose petal jelly, and searches relating to dogs eating tampons.

 

Then there are the ones that make you wonder.  “Pictures of chickens when defecating”?  Really?  Or “chicken with raggedy bum feathers”?  “Do sun city palm desert garages have rebarb”? Huh?  “Porn”?  When I read that last one out to Hubby, he laughed out loud, and said my blog must have been the very last click on a totally epic night.  How many pages in would you have to be in on google to find this blog with that search?!?

 

Some of the search terms make me wonder if the seekers found what they were looking for.  I even have good answers for some off them, but I don’t know if they’re really typed out, here on the blog.  It’s been bugging me, here are some of the questions, and my answers.

 

How long can you keep unwashed eggs in a root cellar?

 

We’ve kept them in the root cellar for several months, even in the summer.  It does depend to an extent on how cool your root cellar is, but even if it is a cool-ish room temperature, you’ll have a couple of months at minimum, as long as the eggs were fresh from the chicken when you put them down there.  In the UK (and possibly other parts of Europe, though I wasn’t paying enough attention in other countries), they don’t refrigerate eggs at the store or in homes – they are often kept on a basket on the counter.  Of course, the UK doesn’t experience the same sorts of summer temperatures as, say, Texas, so your location does play a role.  However, most root cellars will keep a reasonably stable cool temperature right through the summer, so you should be fine.

 

Also of note, if you have any question about whether your eggs might be good, drop them in a glass that is three- quarters full of water.  If they float, discard them.  If they sink, they’re probably fine.

 

How to melt winter snow quickly for toilet flush?

 

Well, first, don’t flush the toilet if it’s only pee.  That’s a waste of good water.  It takes a few gallons for a satisfactory flush, and it takes something like eight or ten gallons of snow to get one gallon of water.

 

We found the most effective way to melt snow was in large pots on the stove.  One trick, though, is to melt one pot full by continuing to add snow as things melt and compact, then let it get quite warm.  Pour that into a five-gallon bucket of snow (if you have one), and the heat from the water will melt a lot of snow very quickly.

 

If you suspect you will need to flush a number of times, it is efficient to scoop up pots and buckets of snow in the evening and bring them in the house to melt overnight.  Then you can heat the resulting water to melt a bigger bucket-full for flushing.

 

What to do with 20 pounds of cherries?

 

I recommend eating as many as you can.  I am happy to eat both sweet and sour cherries out of hand, but I am odd that way.  They are a pain in the neck to pit.  If you have a cherry pitter, it is a little more manageable, but it is still an awful lot of work.

 

If you are still determined to preserve them, the best way of doing so depends on whether you have sweet cherries or pie (sour) cherries.  Sweet cherries freeze fairly well, especially if you have a vacuum sealer.  Sour cherries are best canned, in my opinion.  I have tried making jam from sweet cherries, and found it fairly bland; pie cherries make a delightful pie filling or jam.  You could also make them into pies, and freeze them that way.

 

Can homemade ice tea stay out on the counter?

 

Yes, but not for more than a couple of days if it is sweetened, especially if it is hot out.  It will, in fact, go off.  Even if it is unsweetened, molds can grow in plain black tea, though unsweetened iced tea would probably last longer than the sweet stuff.  If in doubt, give it a sniff, and you’ll know.   However, to me, the whole point of iced tea is to have a refreshing cold drink, so we normally keep it in the fridge.

 

How long will my infant goat live without food?

 

It depends on the age of the goat kid, but if it is still exclusively nursing, then you probably have hours, not days.   The baby goat gets its liquids from the milk, as well as its nutrition, so the main issue here would be dehydration.  By the time a goat kid is a couple of weeks old, it will start experimenting with nibbling hay and grain, but it may or may not be drinking from a bucket.  If you are desperate, dip your finger into some water, then drip it in the goat’s mouth, or give it some in a baby bottle with the nipple sliced a bit to make the hole bigger.  This will buy you a little time to figure out what to feed it.  If it is a brand-new newborn, however, it needs colostrum right away, which gives it some antibodies to keep it from getting sick.  Without that colostrum, it does not have a very good chance of surviving.

 

Pics of dreaming cute baby?

 

Yup.  We can do sleeping:

 

cute sleeping baby

 

Or waking up:

 

cute baby waking up

 

 

 

 

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We did not have much of a garden in 2012 – everything kind of conspired against us.  Me being hugely pregnant, Baby M’s birth being so traumatic, his allergies (and constant screaming), and that big storm in late June that knocked over an awful lot of our little plants.

 

However, we did manage to harvest a significant amount of carrots (maybe forty or fifty pounds) about the same of potatoes, and a lot of onions (we planted 500 sets).  In the autumn, we bought some cabbages, beets, and turnips in bulk, and also we picked up some pumpkins and spaghetti squash from the farmer’s market to round out our winter vegetable supply.

 

In 2011 / 2012, the root-cellared carrots were done by mid-February.  This year, however, we’re still eating them from our root cellar.  Some have rotted, and the texture is not as crisp as when they were harvested, for sure, and there is some fuzz on some of them – we peel them now, instead of just scrubbing them – but we ate some in our soup tonight, and they are still entirely edible.  The potatoes are also fine, and the cabbages as well, though you have to peel off several layers of dessicated leaves to get to the good stuff.  The beets, like the carrots, are softer, but still edible.  The squash is fine.  Squash lasts forever.   Some of the onions are starting to sprout, but the rest are still as good as the day they were harvested.

 

The difference between this year and last year, for the carrots at least, is that we managed the humidity better.  Last year, some of the carrots got dried out quite early in the year, and got too dried out and bitter to eat much earlier than they should have.  Others of our storage carrots last year were too damp, and rotted early, as well.  This year, we kept the carrots in a plastic Rubbermaid tub, with a plastic bag draped over top, which we adjust when we’re down there – pull it off a bit if things seem too humid, or pull it more closed if things look like they might be drying out.  It appears to be working quite well, considering we’re still eating last September’s carrot harvest, on May first.  While the root cellaring books I have read suggested storing them in damp sand or sawdust, we haven’t found a good supply of either of those things, and are happy that our rigged system appears to suffice.  I am quite delighted to be eating our own local produce, eight months later!

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Washing, peeling, chopping, and bagging fifty pounds of mangoes gives a girl a lot of time to think.

 

I was thinking about why, exactly, I would wash, peel, chop, bag, and freeze fifty pounds of mangoes.  On top of twenty pounds of blueberries, and as many sweet cherries, plus the peas, and the beans and peaches and other produce that’s still to come.  And the canning and dehydrating and cheese making and all the rest.  One friend asked if I was getting ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.

 

It’s not about the zombie apocalypse.  Honest.  There are a lot of very vocal, very well-armed people on some of the forums I frequent, who are waiting (somewhat impatiently) for the collapse of society and ensuing zombie invasion.  I don’t really get that attitude.  First, I like modern conveniences like, say, medical care, running water, and sewer systems.  Secondly, I’m not that fond of guns.  Besides that, society in my particular corner of the world shows no signs of imminent collapse, thank goodness.  I like my neighbours.  I’d hate to see them shuffling up my driveway with arms suspiciously raised out front, clamoring for brains…

 

I do happen to like having control over what I eat.  When I dehydrate mangoes, I know that no chemicals made their way in.  Same with making my own jam:  fruit-pectin-sugar is okay; fruit-flavor-color-glucose-fructose-preservatives is not really my cup of tea.  I like growing organic peas and carrots and potatoes; these are things that will be made into baby food for our little guy, not to mention nourishing ourselves.

 

I am also cheap.  I like things like blueberry smoothies, and at $2 per pound (what I paid for the ones I froze myself), I have no problem making blueberry smoothies three times a week.   At $7+ for 600 grams, blueberry smoothies would be rationed for special occasions.  Jam is five bucks for a little jar of the decent stuff, these days; chokecherry and crabapple jelly cost me about fifty cents for the sugar in an eight-pint batch, plus a couple of enjoyable hours of picking and canning.

 

I like to be ready for various eventualities.  I keep a well-stocked pantry, which saves on time and gas for last-minute runs to town for forgotten ingredients, saves us money (by buying in bulk), and gives us a cushion for those times when the paycheque, for whatever reason, doesn’t quite stretch to the end of the month.  More than once, I’ve had to rely on the pantry when I was unable to work for periods of time, and I think unemployment is something everybody could potentially face at some point.

 

We also have things like an epi-pen to treat severe allergic reactions, even though neither of us has a life-threatening allergy.  A few of our friends do have serious allergies, though, and we’re a long way from the hospital.  We are not, however, armed to the teeth awaiting a zombie invasion.  We occasionally get accused of survivalism, which, to be honest, isn’t really our cup of tea.  Too much emphasis on guns and zombies, and not enough on gardening, canning, milking goats, and hanging out with the neighbours.

 

While we are not survivalists, I do buy into the philosophy of preparedness.  I think there are plenty of legitimate reasons to have a few extra things on hand.  Things like flashlights, candles, a couple of sleeping bags, a jug or three of water.  A wind-up radio.  Extra food.  A camp stove.  A first aid kit.  You know – basic supplies for run-of-the-mill emergencies.

 

So far this year, we’ve been through a couple of minor power outages, a medical issue causing my inability to work for a couple of months, being snowed in for a couple days, that big wind and four-day electricity interruption, and a boil water advisory.  But no zombies.  We’ve got fifty pounds of mango in the freezer, now, and there’s still hope for the garden.   For the likely scenarios for emergencies around here, we’re fairly well prepared.  For the Zombie Apocalypse, not so much…

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There are lots of things I like to eat that don’t grow around here.  Mandarin oranges, for instance, and sweet cherries.  Coffee, chocolate, mangoes, cinnamon.  If I am going to eat these, I don’t really have much choice but to buy them at the store.  Back in Alberta, I could at least buy BC fruit (cherries, peaches, plums) from grower-run stands, but I have yet to see such a stand here where we live.   So, the grocery store is my supplier.  As much as I would like to keep my eating local, I also want to be able to enjoy food I can’t grow; I feel that growing our own or buying local for things that grow here, but continuing to indulge in ‘far away’ treats is not entirely unreasonable.  However, I still try to follow the seasons with my non-local food purchases, so I can get it as close to home as possible – peaches from B.C., for instance (in season shortly), versus peaches from Mexico (which is what you’d get in January).

 

Then there is the stuff that we could grow, but haven’t got a harvest of yet – blueberries, for instance, and apples, and plums.  Sour cherries, also, and pears and hazelnuts.  We have planted all of these, but the trees and bushes are not yet bearing, and mostly won’t be for some time yet.  Some of these things, we have gotten lucky and found a local source for – apples and raspberries, in particular.  However, we have never found someone selling local blueberries, nor pears, nor sour cherries, which is a shame, as we would really like to buy these things from a local seller, since we are going to buy them anyways.  Especially with pregnancy last year, and now with a baby who will be starting on solids in the next 6 months, I am not going to be a purist about eating only what we can grow or acquire locally.  Being healthy and well-nourished trumps heroic efforts at local eating, or even making political statements, for me.   However, I do find it sad that there is so little opportunity to buy local varieties of things that actually grow very well here.  Once we get a transfer down to the farm, and have the space and irrigation water to do so, we plan to BE the local supplier of several things, but I digress…

 

All of this is a long lead-in to the fact that I have seventy pounds of random fruit sitting in my kitchen that needs dealing with, not counting the 20+ pounds I have already put up for the winter.  Now is the season for sweet cherries, as well as blueberries from the West Coast (local blueberries are much later – more like the end of August, I believe).  I have no idea what the season for mangoes actually is, but they are on sale by the case right now, and were on sale by the case this time last year, so I assume that means they are in season somewhere right at the moment.   So I bought 50 pounds of them, as well as 20 pounds of sweet cherries and 20 pounds of West Coast blueberries.  Ninety pounds of fruit…sounds a little excessive, doesn’t it?  But we managed to chew through a lot more than that last year, and now we are three, so I am erring on the side of having too much, rather than too little.

 

So what do you DO with fifty pounds of mangoes?  Well, last year, we dehydrated a ton of it, as well as freezing some.   We found that, while we enjoy the dehydrated mango, we don’t eat that much of it, but we do love mango smoothies, and had to ration the frozen mangoes, so this year, it will all go into the freezer.  You could also can it, but Hubby and I agreed that it would probably be too slimy for our tastes (mango is a little slimy at the best of times), and we couldn’t think of how we might ever use canned mango, so frozen it is.

 

The cherries will also mostly be going into the freezer.  If  I had been able to find sour cherries (also called pie cherries), I would have canned up a bunch for pie fillings and maybe jam.  However, sweet cherries don’t make nearly as flavorful a jam, and are too sweet for making pie filling (in my own opinion), so they will also mostly be frozen.  I am making an exception to try a recipe for cherry preserves that I think might be nice with yogurt, so 2 or 3 pounds will end up in the pantry, but the rest will be frozen for making smoothies and eating over yogurt and ice cream later, or possibly flavoring some applesauce that I plan to can in the fall, time and energy permitting.

 

Most years I would make blueberry jam, and even canned blueberries in light syrup (for pies and muffins), but I went overboard making both of these things last year, so this year’s berries are also being frozen.  We absolutely burned through the frozen blueberries last year, so I am putting much more away.

 

We have picked most of the peas that we are likely to get from this year’s garden, and frozen those, too.  While the harvest was rather disappointing, it was entirely our own fault…we had to excavate the peas from under a mat of thistles and nettles and other weeds before we could even harvest them – the garden got away on us, again.

 

The raspberries should be coming soon, as well.  We won’t be able to harvest enough to meet our own needs for the entire year, but we’ll still get some, and there is a fellow from a nearby town who sells them for a reasonable price, so we’ll be buying some for…you guessed it…freezing.  I would normally make jam and raspberry preserves, but we do still have plenty of those put away.  I did not realize how much jam we were giving away in a typical year in Alberta, so we seem to have a glut.

 

You may be beginning to notice a pattern, here.  It has been between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius for the majority of the last few weeks (save a few days when it has rained), and the idea of boiling anything on the stove for any length of time at all is not appealing.  Freezing is a relatively quick and easy way to preserve seasonal fruit, especially if you like smoothies like we do, or if you like yogurt and fruit (my usual breakfast at work).  It just happens that the fruit that is in season right now lends itself well to being frozen, though the peaches will be coming soon, and we generally like to can a bunch of those – however, when I was pregnant, I was less interested in eating the canned peaches and pears, so we still have a respectable stash of both, and I am debating whether or not to can any new ones this year at all.   In the end, it will depend on the weather and my overall energy level, I suppose.  It is amazing how much produce you need when you are planning for an entire year of eating, but I would rather be eating frozen blueberries that I bought for $2 per pound than paying $7 for per pound later for frozen berries, or $4 or 5 for a tiny clamshell package of berries in winter when we’re having a craving…

 

 

 

 

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Last spring, I had hubby make me up a bunch of nice round beds in the front yard, to plant herbs and flowers in.  Then I got enthusiastic, and ordered 100 strawberry plants – 50 June bearing and 50 everbearing.  I had planned to build raised beds for them, but did not get around to it in time, so they wound up taking over my herb gardens.  Then, Hubby kindly dug me another herb bed this year, but I saw some strawberry plants on sale this spring, and…you get the picture.  Someday I’ll have a herb garden, though, I swear!

 

The June bearing berries had a great crop, but unfortunately a lot of them rotted on the plants, as I was in the hospital and then slightly distracted with the newborn and C-section recovery, and we just had our hands full.  We did pick several large containers, though, and get them into the freezer for future smoothies.  The everbearing plants have also been doing well, with great, big, sweet berries.  I thought the everbearing plants would never really bear enough at one time to bother with making preserves or digging out the vacuum sealer, but I was wrong.  A couple of days ago, I picked enough berries to put 8 cups in the freezer, with plenty left over for us to eat fresh.  And, there were still a ton of nearly-ripe berries still on the plants that we’ll probably have to pick tomorrow or so.

 

We freeze the strawberries in 2-cup containers, as that’s the amount I use to make a batch of smoothies.  I will also freeze some (chopped smaller, mind you) in 2.5 cup containers, as I have a fruit coffee cake recipe that uses that amount.  It is much easier to freeze the berries in appropriately-sized packets in the first place.  Martha Stewart types will tell you to freeze them first on cookie sheets, then package them (they won’t stick together so badly that way), but I never have enough cookie sheets (or freezer space) to do that, so I just pre-measure them and quit worrying about it.

 

I am really impressed with the yield on these plants, despite neglect and lack of picking.  Next year, we should wind up with even more, as this year’s new plants will also come into production.  As usual, I may have over-estimated how many plants we really needed.  On the other hand, though, we really like strawberries, and somehow managed to demolish about 70 pounds of various types of home-frozen fruit over the winter, so maybe 125 plants won’t be overkill, after all…

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Well, another new month, another fact-finding trek down to the root cellar!

 

As of today, a few of the potatoes are starting to go a little soft, but the majority are still firm and basically perfect.  Potatoes are amazing.

 

The beets are mushy, and pretty much done.

 

The cabbages are still firm, but have developed some white mold on the outermost leaves.  They are still fine to eat, once you peel off the few outermost layers, however.

 

The onions are still fine, but there are not many left, and we will be running out soon, despite our efforts at conserving.

 

The pumpkins all went mushy in the last couple of weeks, though the spaghetti squash are still going strong.

 

We are starting to go through the canned fruit more now, as we’ve run out of frozen.  It got to the point that I am now buying any fruit that is on sale at the store, and chopping and freezing it, as I still want my smoothies, but I struggle with paying $7.50 for a little baggie of frozen peaches.  Unfortunately, this totally blows our local eating thing; the six pounds of strawberries I cut up and froze last week were from California. This is not going to stop me from doing that, however, or from buying other long-distance fruit (fresh or frozen), as I am not willing to run any risk of compromising baby’s health over a matter of principle.  We will plan better (or at least put more fruit in the freezer) this summer and fall, and chalk this up to a lesson learned.

 

I don’t imagine we’ll have much left by next month, but I sure am curious how long those darn potatoes are going to keep on keeping on for…

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Continuing from January and February, our monthly food storage report:

 

The root cellar is starting to look a little more bare.

 

The carrots are now completely done; actually, they did not make it past the first bit of February before we weren’t really able to find non-bitter carrots.  I didn’t mind them being wrinkly, especially if we were using them in soups and stews, but I don’t tolerate bitter very well.  The goats are enjoying them as treats we dole out, however, so it is not a total waste.

 

The cabbages still look more or less fine.  As in last month, the outer leaves have dried out and discolored, but the heads themselves are still firm and tasty.

 

About half the remaining beets are fine – still firm and not sprouting too much.  The other half are starting to go soft, but are still completely edible.

 

The potatoes are fine.  I am still amazed by the potatoes.

 

The onions are going strong, but we are running out.  We are down to the little ones that are a pain in the butt, because you need 3 or 4 for a recipe.  Next year, we plan to plant 50% more – 600 sets, instead of 400.  It does not appear that they will rot before we can use them up, even the tiny ones, which is great.

 

The squash seem to have hit a wall this month.  About half of the remaining pumpkins, as well as a couple of the spaghetti squash, sprouted black gooey spots and mold in late February.  I am not certain if they just hit their ‘use by’ dates, or if it had something to do with us moving them into a different room of the house (they had to be moved, as we were painting the room they had been in).  The new room is just as cool as their former location, but may have had higher humidity.  Also, they wound up being more bunched together, rather than being spread out on the floor, simply due to the fact that we were putting a lot of stuff in that room in order to be able to paint the other room – air flow may have been an issue, as well.  At any rate, they were not a total waste, as the chickens really appreciate the squash, so we cut out the black and mushy bits to compost, and fed the rest to the poultry.

 

So as far as veggies go, we’ve already started having to buy carrots, and will be buying onions soon.  We’re fine for potatoes and cabbage, and the beets are so-so.  Suddenly, I am really noticing how well-suited the basic Ukrainian diet is for this region – perogies are flour dough, potatoes, onions, saurkraut, and cheese – things that store well here.  Same with borscht – beets and cabbage and sour cream.  Something to keep in mind when you’re planning your winter meals, anyhow.

 

As far as the other food storage goes, we’re starting to run out of some things.  I made too much jam and jelly this year, or did not give enough away, or something, but those shelves are still quite full.  We have not used any of the fruit syrup we made, though we’ve given some away, and it was very appreciated.  We still have lots of pears, peaches, and raspberries, but those are ones that always last fine through the winter and disappear in a flash come hot weather.  Salsa, however, we’re rationing, as we’d rather not have to buy it – it’s expensive, and not nearly as tasty from the store.  I should can several times as much this fall (if I can find the energy!).

 

The frozen stuff is much the same.  We have plenty of some things (corn, peas), too much of others (wax beans), and not nearly enough of a few things (peaches, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mangoes).  I don’t think I miscalculated that badly on the fruit; I just seem to be having smoothies a lot more often than I used to.  I blame it on the pregnancy – I crave cold stuff frequently, but don’t want to load up on ice cream, so I make a nice, healthy smoothie, instead…almost daily…and have decimated my frozen fruit supply in the process.  Next year, we’ll put up extra, especially with the extra freezer downstairs, although it is fairly full with chicken, right at the moment.

 

Overall, we’re doing not bad.  I am not too happy about the squash crashing like it has, and we’re spreading them out better in an effort to get better air flow to the survivors.  I suspect that squash could store a whole lot longer, anyhow.  I’m still very happy with the potatoes, cabbage, and beets, and I have some ideas for how to stretch the carrots next year.  Onions – like I said, we’ll be planting a lot more come spring.  And we’ll adjust what we plant for the freezer (more peas, fewer beans) as well as making more of an effort to get fruit in the freezer, and spending maybe a little less effort on the jams and jellies.  We’ll get it all figured out eventually!

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For me, it all started when I moved into a house with apple trees.  You see, I simply could not let all those apples go to waste, even though I couldn’t possibly eat them all, either.  In the end, I learned how to can applesauce, and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

Mom made jelly and chokecherry syrup when I was young, but I did not really grow up on home-canned food.  I taught myself from books and the internet, with occasional advice from folks I knew.  I still quite clearly recall the trepidation I felt, the very first time I ate a jar of applesauce I had made myself.  Had I done it right?  Was I going to die?  Luckily, Hubby grew up on home-canned food, and had no reservations at all – he just dug right in, and I drew courage from his example.

 

Now, I’m no canning guru.  I make a few dozen jars of jam every year, some pickles, some salsa, a few dozen quarts of peaches and pears…just a little of this and that.  I certainly don’t feed the family exclusively on home-canned goods, but I do have to say, we don’t buy canned fruit, either.  I recently started to learn about canning more exotic goods, like meat and beans, which are going on the to-do list, though we’ll see how soon they actually get done.

 

I hang out on a number of homesteading forums, and I see a lot of questions posted about canning.  It’s clear that more and more people are getting into it, whether it’s the bad economy or the do-it-yourself attitude that’s been catching on, and I think that’s a wonderful thing.  Unfortunately, though, there are a lot of people spreading dangerous misinformation, and I am afraid that, sooner or later, there is going to be a tragedy (or several) as a result.

 

You see, back in my grandmother’s day, everything was canned in what is called a water-bath canner.  Basically, jars were filled, water or sugar syrup added, the lids put on, and the jars were boiled in a big pot for varying lengths of time, in the hopes of killing off the fungi, yeasts, and bacteria that would spoil the food.  That works fine for high-acid foods, like applesauce and peaches, but it is not sufficient for low-acid foods, like meat or beans.   However, there are still lots of people who can that way – they boil the meat for two hours, or three hours, and call it safe.  And these people are posting their recipes on the internet, and commenting that they have been ‘doing it this way for years’ (and they have), and ‘nobody has ever gotten sick from my canned chicken’ (also probably true).  The thing is, even if nobody has ever gotten sick from Auntie’s canned chicken recipe, does not mean that nobody ever will.

 

The problem is botulism.  Botulism comes from a spore that can survive boiling temperatures (100 degrees Celsius) for basically an indefinite amount of time, which means it does not matter if you boil something for twenty minutes or three hours, you won’t kill it.  Now, in acidic foods, that does not matter much, since the spores won’t hatch in an acidic environment (a pH of less than 4.6), so even if the spores exist, they are effectively neutralized.  The spores themselves don’t cause any problems; it is when they hatch and start to produce toxins that they become an issue.  Botulin, the toxin produced by clostridium botulism (the botulism bacteria) is extremely potent, and it does not take much to make someone very, very sick, or even kill them.  You can’t see it or smell it, and the food won’t appear spoiled.  Luckily, botulism is rare, and only hatches under pretty specific conditions – it is an anaerobic bacteria, which means it can’t survive contact with the air, and it does not tolerate acidity.  So, really, you only have to worry about it in low-acid, anaerobic conditions.  Like canned chicken.

 

In order to safely can low-acid foods, you need to use a pressure canner.  A pressure canner has a lid that locks on, and uses steam and pressure to reach much higher temperatures that you can get from just a pot on a stove – they can get over 121 degrees Celsius, which is the temperature required to kill the botulism spores.   Unfortunately, pressure canners are expensive, and I suspect a lot of people (especially people who are taking up canning in order to save money) will be tempted to use Granny’s recipe for canning beef by boiling the jars for three hours, since nobody’s ever died from Granny’s canned food.  Yet.  Remember, botulism is rare, but then again, so are house fires.  That does not stop most people from taking basic safety precautions, and maybe getting some insurance, right?

 

So please, if you are new to canning, do your research, and take the time to understand why things are supposed to be done one way or another.  Only use recipes from a reliable source, like the Ball Blue Book of Canning, or the USDA Guide for Canning, which can be downloaded for free.   Don’t just take someone’s word for it that their Auntie / Mother / Grandmother canned this way for years – it’s a risk that’s simply not worth taking.

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Last month, I posted about how our stored garden produce was doing.  I’ve decided to update things:

 

As you may recall, we harvested most of our garden in the second week of September, due to frost.  So we’re now at the five-ish month mark for our produce.

 

In the root cellar:

 

The carrots are still hanging in there…barely.   They are getting pretty shriveled, and you have to dig through the baskets to find the good ones.  We may or may not still have any truly edible carrots by the end of the month.  We planted two different varieties of carrots – Red Cored Danvers and Scarlet Nantes Coreless, and we have not noticed any difference in how well they keep.  As I mentioned in January, we have had issues controlling the humidity, and that probably shortened the storage life of the carrots significantly.  However, five months is decent, all things considered.

 

The beets are now starting to soften.  They are still completely edible, and are showing no signs of rot, but they are not at their peak, anymore.

 

The potatoes are still in great shape.  They are not quite as crisp as when they were harvested, but they are in no danger of going bad.  The store-ability of the potatoes is impressing the heck out of us.  We have four different varieties in storage, and so far there is no variability between them; they’re all doing very well.

 

The cabbages that we purchased sometime before Halloween also continue to do well.  The outermost leaves are dry and papery, but the heads themselves are still solid and edible.

 

The non-root cellar crops are also doing quite well.   We went through all of the squash, which we have been keeping in a spare bedroom that we had closed the furnace vent in.  About five squashes (four pumpkins and a turk’s turban gourd) had moldy spots, so we cut out the mold and fed the rest to the chickens.  All of the spaghetti squash are still fine.  The acorn squashes are starting to go orange, which I think is a sign of being over-ripe, but they show no signs of mold or softness.  In all, we removed about 10% of the squash (from our original harvest of around 50 squashes of various types).  We are pretty impressed, given how little attention we have devoted to storing and managing the squash.

 

The onions are also going strong.  We have found a few that needed to be discarded, but they represented a very small percentage, overall.  We have been storing onions in two different locations, to test what works best:  we kept a large basket of onions in the cool, dry spare room with the squash, and a couple of braids in a warm store-room.  Both groups seem to be doing fine, though the onions in the warmer location have fared somewhat worse, with a couple of rotten onions out of maybe twenty, versus a few rotten onions in a basket of a couple hundred.  We planted 400 onion sets last spring, and, surprisingly, are starting to be in danger of running out.

 

Next year, we will do a better job of managing the overall humidity in the root cellar, as that seems to be what has done in the carrots, and, earlier, the turnips.  However, in all, it does seem to be viable to expect to be eating at least some of our own root-cellared produce right up until spring, even with our inexperience and imperfect storage conditions.

 

 

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