Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cautiously Stepping Into Pressure Canning

I've mentioned before that we have an especially large garden this year. It's much bigger than anything I've ever attempted before. So I anticipated that I would need to store at least as much of that food as we eat fresh. To that end I finally acknowledged that I would have to seriously consider canning as a storage method. I weaseled out of this last summer because we had a new chest freezer and a much smaller garden. What little preserving I did went into the freezer because I knew I wasn't set up for proper canning. But the chest freezer filled up alarmingly fast with a side of lamb and a side of pork, some fresh summer vegetables, as well as apple cider and apple butter from our own tree. And then this spring I stockpiled lots of homemade no-knead bread so I wouldn't have to bake any over the summer.

That's the rub with canning: it really needs doing during the hottest part of the summer. And where I live summers are formidable. But with a stiff upper lip, I placed an ad on craigslist looking for canning supplies such as tongs, jars, and a pressure canner. I lucked out right away with a call from someone who wanted to give away two old pressure canners. Free is my favorite flavor, and it's always in the budget! Even better, there was a pair of canning jar tongs included in one of the boxes. Then I picked up about 70 canning jars for just $5 from another caller.

So far, so good. But I still needed to buy the disposable canning lids, a canning funnel, and a magnetic thingamajig to fish hot lids out of simmering water, all of which set me back $27. And since I have no idea how old the sealing rings are on the (quite old) pressure canners, I decided it was a safe bet to replace those. I ordered two new sealing rings for $20, including shipping. So far I'm out $52 for my canning set up. This is not a huge amount, but neither is it insignificant. At least not to me. True, most of it went to buy things that can be used again and again. But even so, I look at that figure, and it's money that is now gone forever. I know it will be a complete waste if I do not follow through with some serious labor. Just to break even, I need to put up a quantity of food whose ingredient costs are at least equal to $52. Any food canned over and above that amount means money saved; I'll start earning a return on money spent out of pocket, and on my own labor in gardening, cooking, and canning. After inventorying my jars, I find we have 57 quart jars and about a dozen jars of other miscellaneous sizes. If I filled all those jars, I think we'd be in the black this year on the canning front.

I've decided that salsa, tomato sauce, borsch soup, and possibly beef stew would be my main canning projects for the summer. Our garden is well stocked with salsa ingredients, and my husband eats a ton of the stuff as a snack food. Tomato sauce is always good to have on hand, and I have a simple roasted tomato sauce recipe that's very quick to prepare. We love borsch soup, that hearty Russian classic that is as good warm in the wintertime as it is refreshing and cold in the summer. We have cabbage and beets from the garden, the primary ingredients in this soup. I put some away in the freezer last year, but it got eaten up pretty quickly. So this year I plan to put up at least three gallons of the soup.

I watched my mother can strawberry jam and dilly beans with the water bath method when I was a child. I vividly remember the steamy, sweltering kitchen. But she never used a pressure canner. So I have no mentor to help me figure out the pressure canning process, which frankly makes me a little nervous. But I do like to read, and I have good reference books on canning as well as the owners' manuals for those free pressure canners. I feel that learning to can is a valuable frugal skill. So I'm going to tackle it, even if I'm a little nervous about it, and dreading the additional heat.

Wish me luck. And if you have any advice, please feel free to leave it in the comments! I'll post updates of my experiments, whatever triumphs or failures are mine, along with recipes that work well, if any.

10 comments:

journeytofrugaldom said...

canning is a huge amount of effort, my wife did it when we were first married but lost interest after a while, Personally I don't find the reward worth the effort.

Kate said...

In what way did you not find it worth the effort? Economically? Culinarily? I realize it will be a deal of work. I'm alright with that right now, even if the financial savings are small. I'm trying to develop a better work ethic and after all, I've got to do something with that garden produce. But if the food turns out not to taste very good after canning, then yeah, I'm going to be very discouraged and loath to do the same again next year.

future reference said...

How's the canning going?

Kate said...

FR, I plan for an update soon. Synopsis is: mixed results so far.

Carolyn said...

I've canned borsch before, and the effort was well worth it! It's only my husband and I now, so making borsch every time we're hungry for it just doesn't make sense. My cabbage and beets are ready now (Spokane, WA) What I think I will do differently this time is freeze the beets and add them when we open a jar. They lost their color the last time and, though the taste was wonderful, I like the pink cast that borsch should have.

Kate said...

Carolyn, I'd love it if you would share your borsch recipe for canning. Mine was definitely a disappointment. The color washed out in mine too. And the cabbage just looked awful. What exactly did you do for yours? Do tell.

-Kate

gardengrl said...

I have never in my whole entire life heard of borsch. What exactly is it? If it will help use up my garden harvest, I am all for trying it.

Kate said...

gardengrl, borsch is a Russian/Ukrainian soup, which has a lot of variations to it. Even the spelling is non-standard. You'll often see it written as "borscht," though the most faithful transliteration of the Russian would be borshch. Most people outside of Russia think of beets and vinegar as the defining ingredients in borsch. But in Russia it's really the vinegar, with cabbage a very close second in terms of essential ingredients. Also, they hardly even recognize a dish as soup of any kind if it doesn't contain potatoes over there. Potato in borsch is much less common in the States, but perfectly acceptable if you want them in there. I was served a "green borsch" in Russia that was mostly fresh dill, mushrooms, cabbage, and potatoes, with the obligatory vinegar. No beets that time.

Typically what you see here is a chunky style soup with beets, cabbage, onions, possibly carrots and tomato, and of course a good dash of vinegar in the broth, usually served hot with a dollop of sour cream on top. It's known here for both hot and cold presentations, and plenty of variation. In Russia they have a different thick, high fat content dairy product that they often, but not always, add to borsch.

I like it quite a bit. It freezes well and it wonderful both hot and cold. Vinegar may sound like an odd ingredient in soup, but I think you'll find it nice if you try it. Borsch provides the virtue of using up a lot of garden produce that is ready at the same time.

HTH

gardengrl said...

Thanks for the speedy response. I have a very large garden this year...and like you said...I have an abundance of fast ripening produce to put by. Do you have a tried and true recipe for borsch. I think my family would enjoy it.

Kate said...

What the heck. I'd been meaning to post on borsch for a while. So check out my front page for the latest post, with a recipe, just for you.