Posts Tagged ‘Canning’

The Incredible, Edible Canning Adventures of Laura Bruno

Perhaps I should begin this post by admitting that it is ever so much easier to be a Lazy Raw Foodist than an Amish poseur/faery homesteader. Indeed, spiralizing, Vita-Mixing and dehydrating have nothing on canning when it comes to complexity and sheer multitasking brain power. Nonetheless, I’m having fun with it and thought I’d share some tips and mishaps that might either encourage and help others or maybe send them running for the nearest Whole Foods salad bar. Whichever.

First, the gear. You’ll need:

1) A large canning pot
2) Clean canning jars with brand new lids
3) Several other pots, depending on your recipe — one or two for whatever’s going into your jars, plus one to warm the lids
4) A funnel that fits into your jars
5) A clean cloth to wipe the jar tops so you get a good seal
6) A mini spatula to help release air bubbles from each jar before sealing
7) A jar picker-upper
8) Magnetic lid lifter
9) Timer
10) Towel to protect your counter from very hot jars
11) Large ladle
12) Produce scale
13) Recipes designed specifically for canning. Unlike raw food, canning is not forgiving of substitutions and changes to ingredient proportions. It’s chemistry, baby, and changing the acid balance could leave you with botulism, so express you’re inner rebel in some other food venue. Canning requires exactitude.

(You can sometimes find most of the specific canning items bundled together in a complete canning kit and a set of new jars with lids. My canning kit came with some other tool that I’ve still not figured out what it is or why it’s there.)

Optional, but very helpful:

1) One or more silicon gloves for BBQ-ing, so that you can reach into the pot of boiling water without scalding your hand, as well as keep a good grip on the jar picker upper without getting scaled by steam as you lift the jar.

2) A hair tie if you have long hair

3) An apron. Because … in my kitchen anyway … canning is rather messy:

Laura in apron

The Good News.

Canning is bizarrely addicting in a pain in the elbow, completely overwhelm your kitchen and kill three hours kind of way. It also uses up bumper crops or cheap bulk purchases from the Farmers Market. In our house, it means being able to customize canned foods with foodie flavors and healthier ingredients than we’d ever find on store shelves. I’ve primarily used recipes from the book, “Put ‘Em Up,” as well as an online Jalapeño Jam recipe using Pomona Pectin, which allows you to sub birch sweetener, honey or other alternative sweeteners for the sugar, as well as lowering the amount of required sugars. Canning also makes for fun little gifts for friends and family — a way to share your garden harvest with people who can’t just pop over for some fresh tomatoes and kale.

The Slightly Frustrating and Humorous News

Did I mention multitasking? Get your brain on straight, and don’t even attempt canning if you’re tired, have brain fog, sore muscles or a lot of distractions. Certain parts of canning require uninterrupted concentration and perfect timing, so don’t be trying to answer the phone, make sandwiches and play on Facebook at the same time.

David snuck this photo when I was concentrating so hard I didn't even know he was standing there.

David snuck this photo when I was concentrating so hard I didn’t even know he was standing there.

You really do need to have a sense of humor, because sometimes a few details slip — like the time I heated up the lids but forgot to put water in that pot. Doh! Can you say, “Burning plastic melted onto the metal pot?” We did. Toss any questionable lids. It’s a waste, but they won’t seal properly if you’ve mangled them or used them previously. The rings and jars can be reused, but not the lids. We get BPA-free lids from Ball.

I’ve not canned that many times, but each time has brought some kind of unexpected (or several unexpected) things to deal with in the moment. We have very hard water here and use a water softener. All but our cold water faucet in the sink gets softened. One time, I forgot to fill the big canning pot with hot water, so not only did it take eons to heat, but all my jars had a lovely hard water mineral film on them after processing. David’s former home-ec teaching mom gave those jars the safety approval, but they look pretty grainy on the outside!

When I made the jalapeño jam, I neglected to wear gloves while chopping fourteen incredibly hot peppers from our garden. I did wash my hands, but apparently, not enough, before putting them into the silicon gloves. At first, I thought the gloves were leaking, because my hands just burned whenever I got near the canning pot. Then, I realized it might have something to do with the peppers, so I washed my hands again. And again. And again. They finally felt better, until I put the gloves back on — gloves that were now coated with jalapeño oil. To make matters worse, I had little paper cut-like slivers in both hands from wrestling with a tomato plant the day before.

Let’s just say that by the time I finished canning that jam, I was actually hopping up and down in the kitchen and blowing on my hands to cool them. I tried vinegar, as recommended online, soap, cold water, aloe, MSM cream with peppermint oil. Nothing worked for more than about 45 seconds. In the end, those hands just burned for about 14 hours. The next time I put on the gloves as a test, the fun began again! Ohhhh, the fun. There’s nothing quite like having your hands burn so bad that you can barely move your fingers. I washed and washed out the silicon gloves, and I’m happy to report, they’re fine now. Sheesh, though! Potent lesson. Wear latex or some other kind of disposable gloves when you chop hot peppers, especially if you’re going to stick those hands in heat resistant gloves. Trust me when I say, “You will feel quadruple the heat of both the peppers and the hot water if you combine those experiences.” O.M.G.!!!

Moving on now … that was three canning adventures ago. 🙂

Tomato salsa’s a bit tricky. You really need to lift those air bubbles out before putting on the lid. Otherwise, you’ll have a lava lamp looking salsa to wow your friends. Oh, yes, we do.

Today’s canning really took things to a new level in terms of mishaps. I decided to make the pickled beets with cumin and cloves recipe from Put ‘Em Up. I boiled the beets until slightly tender, just like it said, chopped them into 1/4″ slices, just like it said, although not how the photo looked. Hmmm … Then I neglected to trust my intuition that told me a double recipe of that would fill 7 pint sized jars not 6 like it said. Sure enough, I got the six filled and had just enough beets to fill a 7th jar, which I heated and prepared like the rest.

The trouble arose when I poured the brine over the beets. Um … I doubled the recipe for brine, but it only filled half my jars. Check, double-check, triple-check. OK … it’s the acid ratio that’s key, so I made another batch of the vinegar-birch sweetener-water-salt brine and poured it over the beets. That worked perfectly.

Then, I sealed the jars lightly, also as recommended. You’re not supposed to strangle the lids with those rings, so I didn’t. While texting with my sweet friend Tania Marie –who had just opened a goodies package I’d sent her earlier– I commented about how good our kitchen smelled while those jars were processing. (Once the jars are sealed, you really don’t smell what’s in them.) I also mentioned that my friend Tim Glenn had alerted me that Jupiter was exactly squaring my natal Uranus at 6 a.m. this morning. “Expect the unexpected,” he advised “… and don’t push it.” Those two lines of texting should have clued me in as I waited for the timer to count down on those jars, but no.

Sure enough, when I opened the lid after the ding, what to my wondering eyes should appear? A whole messa beets, that’s what! All over the canning pot. At first, I thought a jar exploded. Great Jupiter energy, but no. It was more of a wacky Uranus thing, since one ring had unscrewed itself to free the beets. Here’s the creepy looking scene after removing the other 6 jars:

beet mishap

What a mess! The good news is that I had been thinking I needed to put vinegar in the pot to clear out the rest of the mineral crust from the hard water mishap. Done! I had also been thinking I wished I had just saved some beets for myself to have on my artichoke, raw goat cheese, mixed green salad. Also done. The vinegar from the pickles has done a lovely job dissolving those minerals, and I must say, that well-earned lunch totally rocked. Super awesome. Plus, we now have 6 jars of cumin and clove pickled beets:

pickled beets

Like I said, it’s a lot easier to be a Lazy Raw Foodist than a pretend Amish woman/faery homesteader. Of course, I do have the star — a favorite of Amish homes and witchy gardeners alike. When David’s dad saw it, he said, “That’s the closest thing to an Amish hex sign I’ve seen around here.” Why, yes, it is. Only good faeries and happy friends and family are welcome in my garden. 😉

Star hex

Star hex

The Joyful Prepper

Since I don’t own a tell-LIE-vision, I’ve never watched the show “Doomsday Preppers,” but from what I understand, that show aims to cast people who prepare as some kind of antisocial, selfish, kill or be killed freakshows hellbent on causing the very chaos they claim to fear.

As Oscar the Grouch said, “Scam!” “Get lost!” “So close your eyes and dream of all the wonderful Trash that’s yet to come. You too. There’ll be more Trash tomorrow.” Although I’m on friendly terms with Oscar, I’m not that kind of prepper. 😉

Oscar

I prefer a more joyful perspective. Yes, I want to have access to food, water, good community, and reasonable levels of amenities should the trash hit the fan … but not from a place of fear. Although the precarious state of our world flickers across my brain and influences some decisions, in the interests of sanity, positivity, and living in the ever present Now, I view prepping as a way of improving life regardless of what Congress, Obama, X-Class Solar Flares or Mother Nature decides to throw my way. Some examples:

Berkey

Many people have asked me what kind of water filter I recommend. I have no stake in this company, but after much research, I decided to buy a Travel Berkey with the optional fluoride and arsenic filters. This filter can purify water from streams, rain barrels or contaminated taps, uses no electricity, just fits under our cabinet doors, keeps the good minerals in the water, and — most importantly for day-to-day pleasure — Berkey filtered water tastes amazing! I used to struggle to drink our home-distilled water. My body just didn’t want it. Nor did I enjoy Brita or bottled water. Ever since we set up our Berkey, I love drinking water! It just tastes so fresh, and I have peace of mind that were any kind of water issue to occur, we’d be fine.

(I do still keep about 10 gallons of bottled water on hand “just in case,” but we generally run through those for the waterpik, since the minerals in Berkey water would clog that thing up fast.) On a daily basis, the Berkey gives me pleasure and good health, regardless of what happens (or not) “out there.”

Fall Winter Bed

Fall/Winter plants starting to grow

Fall/Winter plants starting to grow

Yes, my original motivation to start gardening in 2011 arose from concern about how my raw food loving self would handle packaged FEMA meals in the event of an emergency. Given how clean I eat, I think the preservatives might send me to the hospital faster than refusing to eat for the duration of most events. I actually feel that way about most “food” on grocery store shelves, so it’s not really about FEMA. I just love real food, fresh food, and hyper local food. Since I began gardening two years ago, I’ve discovered the true joy of digging my hands in the dirt — of watching tiny seeds spring to life.

I’ve also gotten completely spoiled with the freshest produce harvested just minutes before eating. I decided to plant a winter garden bed with attachable cold frame in part due to a possibility of food supplies being disrupted, but mostly because I didn’t want to give up the level of yum to which I’ve grown accustomed. Books like Four-Season Harvest have me already salivating over turnips, mache and spinach, not to mention winter hardy kale, collards and root veggies. If nothing else, we will have a whole lotta yum and access to hard to find, fresh, local greens in January and February.

We’ve also got fun, functional decorations:

Jalepenos

And tomatoes upon tomatoes for preserving in all manner of ways — dehydrated (both electric and solar), frozen, and soon to be canned:

tomatoes

canning

My friend Patricia taught me how to can a few weeks ago and short-term loaned me her pot. David’s mom offered to loan me hers, but David’s sister has now gotten so excited about canning that I didn’t want to interfere with her enthusiasm. We’ve acquired tons of free jars from various former canners, and my friend Leah suggested two no-sugar, high “foodie” appeal canning books: Put ‘Em Up! and Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry. I’ve not received them yet, but based on Leah’s extreme endorsements, I’m looking forward to experimenting with unusual flavor combos and some non-frozen ways of preserving bumper crops. [UPDATE: I received the books. Put ‘Em Up! does use sugar, but not in all the recipes. It’s also a book that includes multiple methods of food preservation, including pickling, drying and freezing.]

I have so enjoyed the Lavender-Infused Dandelion Preserves (with birch sweetener) from my first canning experience with Patricia that I’m embarrassed to call myself a dandelion hoarder! I don’t eat honey, but this stuff is the most floral, delicious “honey” I’ve ever tasted. I’ve been eating it with almond butter on sprouted multi-grain tortilla chips with fresh sage leaves. Weird? Yep. Awesome? Uh-huh.

still hot from the pot, freshly canned lavender infused dandelion preserves

still hot from the pot, freshly canned lavender infused dandelion preserves

Then there are the herb crafts — the teas, the homemade dandelion blossom vinegar to increase mineral absorption from cooked foods and flavor salad dressings:

Dandelion blossom vinegar ... also not pictured, various herb vinegars like oregano vinegar for salad dressing an immunity building

Dandelion blossom vinegar … also not pictured, various herb vinegars like oregano vinegar for salad dressing an immunity building

People worry they don’t have enough money to prep, but shopping with a prepper mindset can actually save you money. My mom used to laugh at me whenever she visited, because my cupboards and fridge were all but bare. I shopped almost every day, because I liked fresh food. I still love fresh food, but I “shop” from my garden, and I stock up on pantry items when I find bulk items on sale. Instead of spending a premium for canned beans, supplements or specialty curry pastes, I keep a running list of things I know I will eventually use. When those things go on a super duper sale, I’m there, stocking up on items I’d buy anyway, but saving sometimes 60-75% off.

I know many people prep from a sense of scarcity or lack: “OMG, I won’t have this, or what if I can’t get that?” By all means, if you’re going to fixate on the potential lack of something, go ahead and get a backup (or three) just so you can free up that energy for something more enjoyable and productive. For me, though, prepping emphasizes abundance. I plant with an idea of having “enough to spare and enough to share.” I love giving away free produce, and I love entertaining people with food I’ve grown and infused with love. Wild food foraging also adds to the sense of abundance. There’s nothing quite like Mother Nature’s free smorgasborg to remind you that God/dess provides. “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them…” Personally, I enjoy sowing and reaping, but wild foods offer intense nourishment on several levels at once.

Part of my joyful prepping stems from how it has inspired my own growth. I have learned so many new skills, so much information, and met so many amazing people through my research! I’ve also become far more in tune with Nature, natural cycles, and that mysterious balance between going with the flow and influencing the flow. Yes, we can do many things to feed the seeds we want to grow, but some things remain outside our control. The dance with Nature both humbles and empowers.

I’ve also grown through evaluating what makes me feel vulnerable or secure. I know many preppers swear by guns and ammo, and when I was on Facebook, some of my more politically aware FB friends used to laugh at me for saying I’d use prayer and magic over guns. I don’t judge people who want to protect themselves and the ones they love. I totally understand that impulse. I’d just rather pay attention to signs and my intuition so that I know when I need to shift the energy around me or temporarily shift my location. To me, that, along with interactive prayer, feel more effective, far more in alignment and infinitely easier than learning to shoot someone who wants something I have. I live by my intuition and engage in nonstop communion with the Universe, so for me, it really does feel infinitely easier to recognize the energetic breach before the physical one occurs. This may not be true for most people, but for me, honing and amplifying that process has encouraged my own spiritual development.

I’ve also enjoyed delving deeper into my Runic and yogic studies, learning ways to amplify, protect and shift the energies around me, and I remain in awe of the powerful ways that Nature Spirits have worked with me to avert damage during storms or even redirect and dissolve them. On other occasions, I’ve asked for rain and felt them dancing it into being. The sense of connection I feel when a “crisis” forces me to get creative and to tune in to all my resources makes me feel incredibly alive. I have gathered together ancient and traditional knowledge that has turned out to feed my soul, grounding me in ways I never expected. This process has transformed “the world as I know it” into something even more magickal and loving than I imagined possible. So many preppers worry about TEOTWAWKI (“the end of the world as we know it”) or when the SHTF. I welcome those changes. I read the “S” in “SHTF” as “shift,” and it’s high time we got on with this love-o-lution.

Am I prepper? Yeah, and I know that puts me on a US terror suspect list along with “people who want to make the world a better place” and “people who don’t like paying taxes.” You know what, though? I can handle that. I do want to make the world a better place, and the joy of learning, imagining, doing and communing has already made my world a better place.

“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” ~Mary Engelbreit

“You must welcome change as the rule but not as your ruler.” ~Denis Waitley