Sunday, April 26, 2009

About Pressure Canners

While Jim was at the beekeeping course in a nearby town, I spent the day with my niece, Barbara. She'd invited me to teach her how to pressure can the chicken soup she's been making from the Coop to Soup day a couple of weeks ago.

By expressing an interest in pressure canning, she was able to score the 'family' pressure canner that her husband's grandmother had owned, then passed down to his mom. Imagine our surprise when we found the pressure gauge still sealed into its original package! That pressure canner had been sitting in its box for at least thirty years by the looks of the packaging and accompanying booklet, though there was no copyright date anywhere in sight.

I'd taken my camera, intending to write a How To on canning with a pressure canner. Instead, the main focus will be about pressure canners themselves and what to look for if you're thinking of purchasing one.

First, the reasons for owning one. If you would like to can (or, as it's called in Europe, 'bottle') food that is non-acidic in nature, a hot water bath canner is not sufficient. Most of you are familiar with a hot water bath canner. They are thin and are typically made of lightweight black metal with a loose-fitting lid. This type of canner is perfect for processing tomatoes (usually adding a small amount of acid to each jar is a good idea, either vinegar or lemon juice), pretty much any fruit, pickles, fruit juice, jam or jelly. The acid enables these foods to seal safely if immersed under boiling water for a specified period of time, which varies by product and jar size.

I used to borrow my mother-in-law's pressure canner for a few weeks once or twice a year until Jim and I found one at a flea market and picked it up. We've added a second one since then, both the same brand and style, though one is big enough for regular one-quart jars, and the other holds taller two-quart jars. I use my pressure canners mainly for meat-based products such as soups, stews, fish, and chilis; for legumes such as black beans, kidney beans, and garbanzos; and for other garden produce such as carrots or beans. These foods don't contain acid; even the soups that contain tomatoes don't have enough acid to safely can using the hot water bath canner. Enter the pressure canner, which uses pressure to raise the temperature at which the jars seal, increasing the safety margin for home preservation.

A pressure cooker is not the same thing as a pressure canner. Cookers are great for quickly cooking potatoes or for softening tough stewing meat, but the amount of pressure cannot be regulated, so they aren't safe for canning foods for storing in the pantry.

The pressure canner that my niece has inherited looks like this:

It seals with a rubber gasket, and the lid turns and locks into place.

My pressure canners are made by All American and has these features.

The lid on mine also turns and locks into place, but there is no rubber gasket. Instead the metal of the lid tapers into the metal of the pot itself, and the six toggles swing into place and tighten the lid into place.

Another important difference is the gauge on each. Here's the gauge on the Wearever pressure canner:

The gauge has three ways it can be mounted on the vent hole: as five pounds, ten pounds, and fifteen pounds pressure. Now it's all one gauge, so the weight of the gadget does not vary. Instead, each has a different depth of hole that covers the vent hole to a different height. The five pound hole in the gauge is shallower, allowing more of the vent hole to vent steam, where the fifteen pound hole is the deepest, sealing in more of the steam.

Here's the gauge on the All American pressure canner:

It has a gauge that shows you exactly how much pressure is currently being amassed inside the canner. I got out my canner just for these photos, so the needle is pointing at zero, as it is not under pressure.

The key to pressure canning is to hold the correct pressure for a specified period of time--check your canner's guide for details. On the Wearever, you need to listen to the amount of steam sputtering from the gauge. The directions say that there will be between one and four 'sputters' a minute if the pressure is correct. On the All American, you just look at the gauge and see if the pressure is right or not.

In either case, the temperature on your stove will need to be adjusted, possibly many times, in order to keep the pressure within the correct range for the specified time. Here's where I love my gas range, as the heat change is instantaneous. An electric range's elements take noticeable time to heat and cool, making the fine-tuning of the temperature a much greater hassle. Flat-glass range tops are not recommended for either variety due to the weight of the loaded canner.

Once the time has expired, you turn off the heat and allow the canner to reduce pressure naturally. This can take quite awhile, maybe half an hour. On the All American, I can play with the vent cock a little to allow the steam to dissipate faster. On the Wearever, I popped a fork under the gauge and lifted it ever so slightly to speed the venting. When there is no more pressured steam (and on the All American, the gauge reads zero), you can remove the lid carefully, tilting it away from yourself so you don't get scalded by whatever steam remains. Remove your jars with a lifter, and place them on a padded surface away from any draft until they seal and cool.

The upshot of which style of pressure canner to purchase should you desire one? Truly, I would stay with All American. I like the toggle bolts that hold down my lid (they make me feel secure!), I like that there is no rubber gasket that may fail, and I LOVE the fact that I can read the gauge and see exactly how much pressure has built up.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Today I took the first of three days of a beekeeping course. It covered the development of the bee, hive construction and comb types. About bees and drones and how the hives work. There's the queen and all the workers which are female (as it should be). All the drones have to do is fly, catch a queen, have sex, and die. What a way to go. Drones don't sting, they have no defenses. If the workers are full of honey they can't sting either, because they have to bend their abdomen to sting.

I didn't know that honeybees were not native to North America. They were brought over by the Europeans when they brought over fruit trees and orchards which are not native to North America, either. There was no natural pollinator for the fruit. Bumblebees were too busy with their natural niche of berries and crabapples to be interested in the new varieties. I didn't know that and I thought it was kind of cool.

Sometimes wasps kill honeybees. One guy in our area lost a whole hive to wasps. Can you have organic honey? Unless you own thousands of acres that you know you keep organic, it's virtually impossible to claim organic honey. I kind of figured that. Bees go out about five miles from the hive so you'd need to have ten miles you know is organic. You can say it's natural honey. Made by bees for bees.

Interesting stuff. Something we're looking at doing on our farm. You need a permit in B.C. and your hives have to be inspected. I'll keep you posted after next week's lesson. There's lots more to learn. I've always been interested in entomology. It's interesting when you can mix food production with something else you enjoy.

Val found an interesting YouTube on beekeeping:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Coop to Soup

This weekend was chicken soup weekend at the farm. Forty laying hens should've kept laying eggs regularly because the ones that don't? Off with their heads. That's a fact of life and food down home on the farm. When we got the opportunity to attain these birds, we called in the troops. Hanna and Craig (daughter and son-in-law) and my niece Barbara and her husband Blair came for the day. (I got to be B&B's baby Micah's babysitter!)

Here Blair and Craig admire the haul of birds:

Here Jim shows Blair where to chop:

Then the hen is immersed in not-quite-boiling water for a minute or so, which makes the feathers much easier to pluck:

Here a bird is losing her feathers (and then her guts, which apparently no one took a picture of):

From there the birds are rinsed out and then up to six at a time hit the big canner for cooking down into soup:

I brought the batch to a boil, then turned the element down low and left it overnight, about 14 hours. Once the birds were cool enough to handle, the tedious task of separating out meat from bones took place:

Then the meat and broth went back in the pot with onions, garlic, and spices and cooked for awhile longer before I began to put it in jars to pressure can it. Here's a photo of the first pot's worth of results:

This is the base for old-fashioned chicken noodle soup--meaning that just heating and adding noodles is a meal in itself. Or, of course, the cook can add vegetables, rice, or whatever else is desired on that day. There's nothing like the taste of home-made chicken noodle soup, but as you can see, it's a big job to get there!

If you're looking for recipe details, they're here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lemon Pepper Pasta

Not only did we make mozzarella today, we borrowed the pasta rollers for the KitchenAid from Jim's folks and made a batch of lemon pepper fettucine. The basic recipe is 2 cups flour, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup water (we could've substituted lemon juice for a bit of that water), the zest of one lemon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, a good grinding of black pepper, and 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Here's Hanna starting the pasta through the rollers:

She rolled the pasta through several times, adjusting the rollers tighter each time:

Here are the paper-thin pieces waiting for the next stage:

Then we changed to the cutting roller:

Here's the *nests* waiting for cooking:

Jim made a seafood sauce with butter, garlic, fresh garden chives and white wine with scallops and mussels to serve over the pasta.

We served this with fresh French bread and home-made mozzarella. Mmm, good.

30 minute mozzarella

This weekend Hanna and Craig came over for Easter...and a variety of cooking experiences. After church today, we got busy starting supper. We started a batch of French bread and mozzarella using the 30 minute recipe from Home Cheese Making.

I have to admit to not following the directions. I used lemon juice instead of citric acid without looking up the ratio, and didn't put in enough. We added the rennet at the right temperature, nothing happened, Hanna looked it up online, we cooled the milk, added more lemon juice (3 ounces total), reheated it, added a few specks more rennet, and carried on reasonably successfully, all things considered.

Also, we'd bought our rennet (and all our current supplies) from Danlac Industries, our nearest cheese making supplier. Their ingredients don't translate straight across, so there was some guess work involved there too. Here Hanna is checking to see if the curds are starting to set.

The answer is yes!

Hanna squeezed out the excess whey:

And then began the process of folding it over and over with a wooden spoon, heating in between times:

Jim had taken about a fifth of the curds to do without salt at all (as an experiment for a family member with kidney disease). Here he is testing the stretchability of the mozz.

Working the cheese makes for hot, red hands!

Here's a bunch of tasty little mozza balls. Turned out pretty decent, if I do say so myself!

Smoked Ribs

Jim's been asking for a Bradley Smoker for several years. At Christmas in '08 I broke down and got him one. Our weather has been so cold and nasty that yesterday was the first time we got it out and tried it.

I'd taken 2 slabs of pork ribs out of the deep freeze and Jim hunted around on the internet for the perfect recipe. He decided to try this one: Smoked Pork Ribs.

Check the recipe! We made up a wet rub and applied it.

We wrapped them back up to marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours, then into the smoker.

Jim loaded up more of the smoker *biscuits* (We used special blend.)

They stayed in the smoker for about four hours.

Check out this cross-cut!

This recipe got eight thumbs. Why yes, four people sat at the table! I found it a little hot, though still scrumptious.

If you have access to a smoker, our family totally recommends this recipe.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

One Block Diet?

Well, maybe in some parts of the world this is feasible! The folks at Sunset Magazine in California are doing this and blogging here. From what I can gather, they've divided their staff into *teams* for the various categories, which include Team Bee, Team Beer, Team Cheese, Team Chicken, Team Garden, Team Kitchen, Team Olive, Team Salt, Team Vinegar, and Team Wine. Each of the teams has their own blog, listed on the site's sidebar. Though they say they have an RSS reader, for some reason it doesn't seem to be compatible with our sidebar in order for recent posts to show here, so that's the main reason I'm featuring them here. (Do check some of the blogs in the sidebar, though. They're amusing and informative, not necessarily in that order.)

There's lots of great information and many hours worth of reading in the areas that might interest you. These aren't seasoned pros--they're regular folk with an interest in knowing where their food comes from and who've made a decision to experiment with growing it all themselves.

Kudos to Sunset Magazine and their staff.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Food Action Coalition Meeting

This hasn't been a good week for me to blog, so I nearly forgot to tell you about the local food coalition meeting on Monday evening.

Our eyes were really opened as to what all is going on in our valley to support local agriculture. Here are some of the highlights.

If anyone reading is from the Kootenay region, you might want to get into purchasing grain shares for autumn 2009. What this means is that for $125.00 (paid by April 30, 2009) you get one *share* of local whole grain, which includes 20 pounds Hard Spring Wheat, 20 pounds Hard Winter Wheat, 20 pounds Spelt, 20 pounds Khorasan (also known as Polish Wheat or Kamut), and 20 pounds Oats. Your family can purchase more than one share, and there are additional shares available for lentils and red fife wheat. Sounds like I might need to purchase the grain mill attachment for the KitchenAid!

We have a community greenhouse. Now, this I didn't know. I know there's a community garden--it's just up a block from where I work. But it sounds like the greenhouse is involved in projects with schools and the senior center as well as having 55 participants in a winter harvest project. We need to find out more about this, methinks.

The farmer's markets have been running on Saturday mornings the past couple of summers, and we've gone into town a number of times to get fresh produce that we aren't growing ourselves. Good to know these will continue and that they are looking for ways to expand and be more efficient. I'd like to see them get off a gravel parking lot and into a venue that would offer shade, like a park.

The Garden Hoe folks (I posted a photo of Barry--now I know his name!--on the Seedy Saturday post) talked about the challenges they face in their greenhouse and market garden business, namely time and weed management. They're excited because a group of about 30 regional restaurants are actively seeking local produce.

Jim and I have talked about raising chickens again for meat. We've really wanted to do this because we wanted to know where our meat was coming from and that it was naturally grown (if not organically). But it's a big undertaking, and we are always short on time and energy, so we're very pleased that we'll be able to purchase chickens from a new business start-up here in the valley who has built a poultry barn and fenced off an area for the birds to get outside. We've ordered 10 birds for June pickup and 10 more for October pickup. These will be roaster size (5-6 pounds) and the expectation is that the price will be similar to that of the grocery store. If anyone reading this is local and wants to get in on this, just ask us for the guy's phone number. He's still taking orders as far as I know.

The main presentation of the evening was by Susan, a local beekeeper and orchardist (cherries are the big local crop). She gave comprehensive insight into the challenges facing beekeepers and how to get into the business, saying that there is need for more hives locally to satisfy demand. Who knew that huge apiaries from the prairies bring truckloads of hives to over-winter here in our milder climate and then hire the bees out to pollinate the orchards? Her talk was extremely interesting to both of us in that this is an avenue we've seriously considered pursuing and now we have the information to evaluate.

Apparently these meetings are held monthly, with various local agribusinesses presenting their challenges at each one, as well as reports from the various arms of the coalition. Very interesting. I'm glad we went.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Seeds are up!

And in other news, the snow is all gone and the rhubarb is peeking through.

Besides rhubarb crisp and rhubarb punch base, this year we're excited to try making some rhubarb mead. Looks like it won't be any week soon, though.