Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Using a FoodSaver

There are lots of things you can use a FoodSaver for. Repackaging bulk size dry goods is one of the best, in my opinion.

For instance, we got a real deal on a 20lb bag of rice the other day. I don't know about your family, but even ours can't use 20lbs of rice in a single sitting. Not even at Thanksgiving. Since I already had a plastic server container filled with rice for daily use, I decided to seal it up in FoodSaver bags for longer term storage. I've done up a little video (below) for you, so I hope you'll enjoy!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A new endeavor

I just got turned on to a new backyard farming blog: Simple and Joyful. Gretchen, the author, seems to be pretty plucky and interested, and today she had a GREAT post about bees. Seems she just got her own bees this spring, and has been observing and interacting with them all summer. It was fun to look at her images (great photography, by the way!), and interesting to read. Have a pop over and visit her site and today's post! Oh, and she's started a "backyard farming" linky for those of us who do such things. Yay!

Monday, September 24, 2012

How to make liquid laundry soap

All you need to make your own laundry detergent!

I'll admit to a certain amount of skepticism when I started seeing articles on homestead blogs and Pinterest talking about simple it was to make laundry detergent. After all, I had a vague idea of what went into our laundry soap, and there were a lot of words I couldn't pronounce. How could four simple items make laundry detergent that stacked up against the commercial brands?

Of course, I'm not one to let a challenge pass by. I'm also very interested in saving money and being thrifty. My laundry detergent costs me between $4.50 and $5.00 per container, and has between 34 and 60 loads. My usual brand, a store brand with no scent, costs me about $0.10 per load if I can get it on sale. I consider that a pretty good deal.

When I sat down to do the math for this home made detergent, I got very cocky at first, because my initial numbers said it would cost me $0.22 per load to wash my clothes with it. The problem is, I didn't add up all the numbers. So I'm going to write it all out, then explain the caveat after.

The Borax cost me $3.49 for the box, and the Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda was only $2.69. Neither was on sale. The soap I got was Jergens , a brand that doesn't set off anyone's allergies and is very gentle. I got three bars for $0.99 at Job Lots in Peterborough, which made me a happy lady. I also picked up a single bar of Fels Naptha , because it can also be used to make this detergent, although I didn't use it for this tutorial.

So, let's add together $3.49 plus $2.69, plus $0.99 to get a total of $7.17 for all the ingredients. That seems like a lot, but I divided it by cups. There are 16 cups in a gallon, and we end up with about 2 gallons of finished product. $7.17 divided by 32 cups comes out to $0.22 per load.  That's where my math was wrong. I don't use a whole cup of the detergent per load. I use a half cup. That means I am dividing my $7.17 by 64 half cups, and so the correct total is $0.11 per load.

But wait! That's not entirely true. I only used one cup each of the Borax and washing soda, and there are several more cups in each box. There are two more bars of Jergins soap. I believe it is quite safe to say that I could make two more batches of this without depleting my supply of powdered ingredients. That means I would be getting not 64 loads out of the finished product but 192 loads! $7.17 divided by 192 loads gives us a total of $0.04 per load.

Wow. Okay, I can look at that and say that's thrifty. That's one third my usual price for detergent! Having done the math, I decided it was definitely time to try making this laundry detergent, and see what all the fuss was about.

Jergens and grater
The first step in creating laundry soap is to grate up a bar of soap. My research told me that any hard soap would be fine for this but that softer soaps (like our home made lye soap) would not be adequate. I opted for Jergins because it doesn't set off allergies and has a very mild scent, and it doesn't contain a lot of junk. I also wanted to have some Fels Naptha on hand for a second batch, but had been warned that I should do half milder soap and half Fels Naptha, because the plain Fels is very hard on clothing. When I make up the Fels Naptha batch, it will be labelled clearly and set aside, to be used for jeans and oil stained things, items that will withstand being treated roughly.

Grating the soap
I grated the soap right into my big aluminum pot. I used an old cheese grater with big holes, and when I was done I clearly labelled it "for soap only." The grating went very easily, and made the cutest little curls in the bottom of the pot. It took me less than five minutes to grate the whole bar. I was surprised it went so quick; I had been expecting at least a bit of difficulty with the end, if nothing else, but it was smooth sailing.

Adding warm water
To the grated soap you want to add one gallon of water. It can be hot or cold, and I chose to use hot tap water. I used a one gallon plastic jug I'd been saving just for that purpose. It had been a milk jug at one point, and I had cleaned it within an inch of its life with soap and water, then with bleach. I then allowed it to air dry on the porch before bringing it in and storing it until I needed it. Milk jugs are not great for storing food items like rice or potato flakes, both because of the small neck and because they tend to leach plastic over time. They are ideal for storing detergents and cleansers, though, and are wonderful for quickly measuring out one gallon of water.

Mark things "for soap only"
I used a large wooden spoon that had seen better days for my mixing. I clearly marked it "for soap only" because I don't want to ever use it for food again. The same thing happened to my pot and the funnel I used. Once your water is in the pot with the soap bits, bring the temperature up to medium high and stir until all the soap is dissolved. A few suds do come up during this process, and you will have to move them aside with your spoon to see if the soap is fully dissolved. This part of the process took me about five to ten minutes, and wasn't difficult at all. If the children had been home, I would have let them do the stirring.

Add the Borax and washing soda
Once all the soap is dissolved, you can add your other items. You want to pour in one cup of Borax and one cup of washing soda. I found the washing soda at Market Basket and the Borax at the local WalMart, but I suspect most places would carry them. WalMart also had the washing soda but it was more expensive. Bring the temperature up to high and bring your mixture to a full boil. This takes a bit of time. I waited about ten minutes before it was boiling. Once that full boil is reached, set your timer and allow it to boil for one minute only.

Cold water
At the end of the boil time, turn the heat off and immediately pour in one gallon of cold tap water. Stir it up very well. It should have a bit of a pearly sheen to it, and it's very soapy. There were not a lot of suds at this point, and my research turned up that this was normal. Suds don't equal cleaning power, especially in laundry detergent. In fact, some machines like the new High Efficiency ones, work better when there are little to no suds, and this detergent works just fine in HE washers and cold water. The finished product should be somewhat creamy in texture, and should coat the spoon lightly when it is dipped in.

Fill up the containers
I had my one gallon water jug to use as a container for my newly made detergent, and one empty detergent container with a half cup cap (how convenient!). The pot was too hot and heavy at first to pour directly, so I scooped with my measuring cup into the jugs. Once it got a bit cooler and lighter, I poured it directly into the funnel. I quickly filled the milk jug and the laundry detergent jug, and ended up filling two quart canning jars as well. I believe the final amount came to a bit more than two gallons, but I didn't measure it out when I was filling the other containers.

The finished product smells nice. It's not too strong, but has a faint smell that I can say is just plain "soap." You can use oxy booster with this detergent, just as you would with others. You pour in a half cup to your laundry as you would with any detergent, and your clothes should come out feeling very clean, and with very little scent.

For some slightly different recipes, try out:
Homemade liquid laundry soap
How to make homemade laundry detergent
Homemade laundry soap (dry)

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Creamy Crab Pesto with pasta
Pressure canning - don't be scared
Canning tomatoes in a water bath canner
Make your own stewed tomatoes
How to care for your pressure canner

It's Barn Hop time!

Monday brings about the Barn Hop over at The Prairie Homestead. Click on the Barn Hop banner to go on over and enter yourself! You can read this week's edition here.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gratitude and some herbs

I have an easy gratitude share today - I got my copy of Putting Food By! Not only is it in pristine condition, it's the newer version than I used to own (the copy that got lost) or the version the library had. It has so much information packed into its pages, and you can look up information on canning, freezing, dehydrating and drying, curing and preserving. It's all updated in regards to current canning practices and equipment, too. I am so excited I can barely contain myself.

Now if only I could rid myself of the horrid crud that the children brought home from school, the world would be nigh on perfect. Instead, I'm sitting here snuffling and aching, with swollen glands. The coughing isn't too bad (knock on wood) but watching the kids tells me it's coming. Thank heavens for spouses who pick up things for you from the drugstore.

Since I'm not feeling up to doing a huge post, I want to direct your attention to a blog that I read religiously: Common Sense Homesteading. Laurie Neverman, the author of the blog, is indeed quite full of common sense (which I'm beginning to think is a super power...). For a while now, she's been posting up something called the Weekly Weeder, and Wildcrafting Wednesdays. I wanted to share some of her posts with you, and encourage you to check out her blog as well as mine. She puts a lot of really great information out there!
I hope you like her stuff as much as you like mine (though perhaps not MORE than you like mine). Her down to earth style of writing lends itself to easy reading. I've tried out several things I've learned on her site, and I expect you probably will, too.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Creamy crab pesto with pasta

Pesto perfection

Pesto is one of those things that is incredibly easy to make, and I so rarely do. Then I make it, and wonder why I waited so long since the last time! Pesto is easily made in large batches, and a little goes a long way. Autumn is the perfect time to make it, when you're overloaded with the last of your basil and have no idea what to do with it.

The major drawback to my making pesto is the price of pine nuts. They are very expensive everywhere you shop. It's not an item the dollar store carries. However, I have recently discovered that Big Lots in Peterborough, NH does carry reasonably priced pine nuts in a re-sealable bag. One bag makes two batches of pesto, per this recipe (which is the one I use whenever I make pesto). You can also make your pine nuts go a lot farther by using half pine nuts and half another nut (raw peanuts work very well in pesto, giving very little flavor). Don't switch out the pine nuts entirely, though. They add a flavor you just can't get anywhere else.

Pesto can be used on its own to coat pasta, or you can spread it thinly onto bread while making savory sandwiches. It can also be mixed into a cream sauce with very little effort for an incredible meal that is both aesthetic and crowd-pleasing.

Have the following on hand before beginning:
  • 2 tbsp pesto
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3-5 tbsp flour, all-purpose
  • 1 can of crab or miniature shrimp, liquid reserved
  • 1 cup half and half cream or milk (you may not use all of it)
  • 1/4 cup mushrooms, fresh or rehydrated (optional)
  • 2 tbsp flaked dried onion (optional)
  • Parmesan cheese for topping
  • pasta of choice
  • diced tomato for topping
Dried mushrooms
When I'm doing a quick cream pesto for lunch, I like to add mushrooms to it for extra flavor and bulk. I love shitake mushrooms, but they're both expensive and go bad very quickly for the amount I use. I discovered dried mushrooms work just as well, and they keep practically forever. This was another Big Lots find, and I got two bags of dried mushrooms, one chopped and one whole. All I need to do is simmer them in hot water for 3-5 minutes before using them, and drain them well.

Butter melting
To create a truly creamy sauce in a hurry, I start with a basic roux. Melt some butter in a sauce pan. The heat should be at medium, not enough to brown the butter and certainly not to burn it. I usually get impatient while the butter is melting, and rush to add my flour. Don't do it. Take the time. Put on a radio and dance, or make tea, or unload the dishwasher. Don't touch the pan again until the butter is completely melted and beginning to bubble.

Completely melted
Once it's completely melted, you should put in an equal amount of all purpose flour. There is no specific recipe for this, because the size of your roux depends on how much sauce you want to make. I made about a cup or so, and used about two tablespoons of butter and a bit more flour than that. You want to thicken the roux until it is not quite clumpy, but all the butter is fully coated and looks silky and even a bit gummy in the pot.

The roux
If you look at the picture to the right, you'll see the flour and butter are completely mixed, but the resulting roux is somewhat thin. I added an extra half tablespoon of flour to bring this to the thickness I wanted. It's very personal, and depends on your tastes how thick you want to make your roux. Luckily, a roux that is too thick is fairly easy to fix. A roux that isn't thick enough can be added to.

Add the pesto
As I mentioned earlier, a little pesto goes a long way. It has strong flavor, and for our recipe today you'll only need two heaping tablespoons of it. With your whisk, mix it together thoroughly, until it is evenly spread throughout the roux. You may need to turn down the heat on your stove now, if it seems to be sticking. You want to simmer the roux and pesto together to blend flavors, but you do not want it to burn or stick.

Add the liquid
I prefer a cream sauce with a strong flavor, and so once my roux is ready, I add the liquid from the can of crab or shrimp. The roux should thicken up significantly as you do this, so have the milk or half and half cream handy. Keep stirring with your whisk throughout the process, both to keep the ingredients well mixed and to make certain you avoid burning anything.

Adding cream
While you can do this with milk, there's a rich taste that half and half imparts, and so I always use it. Add the cream very slowly, about two tablespoons or so at a time. This makes it easy to judge how thick the sauce is as you go along. Continue adding cream and stirring well until the sauce reaches the consistency you prefer. Aim for a little bit on the thin side, because you'll be adding the crab or shrimp and your mushrooms. If you find you've made it too thin, don't panic. Add a bit of Parmesan cheese and stir, and it should thicken right up.

Green perfection
When your sauce is just about ready, it should be a light green in color, with no highlights of the white cream. The dark specks of basil from the pesto should be evenly distributed throughout the sauce, and there should be no clumps at all. The sauce should be thin enough to pour out of a spoon, but not be soupy at all. You can take a little taste at this point, and decide how much salt and pepper you'd like to add. I find the canned seafood adds enough salt, but I almost always add a bit of fresh cracked pepper to my cream sauce.

Add the crab
Empty the can of shrimp or crab into your sauce, and stir it in well. Drain your mushrooms by squeezing them in a coffee filter or cheesecloth, removing as much water as possible. Put them into the sauce as well. While your creamy pesto simmers, boil up whatever pasta you want to serve with your sauce. I like shaped pasta such as bow ties and shells, because they seem to hold the sauce better. My family prefers spaghetti and linguine.

Dice up a tomato
For color and flavor, nothing beats fresh tomatoes. Since this is the time of year when our gardens are full of tomatoes, grab one and dice it up while your pasta is cooking. Drain your pasta well, then toss it with the sauce you've made. Pour the whole thing into a bowl and top with tomatoes and a sprinkle of good quality Parmesan cheese. Garnish with a sprig of parsley if you have some.

When it's assembled, it will look fantastic. You can even make this type of sauce in quantity, simply by making more roux and adding more milk. You can also get creative by dicing up some crispy bacon or ham to garnish with, or switch out the seafood for chicken or sausage. Pesto is an incredibly versatile sauce that can be used in so many ways.

If you find you've got too much pesto and you're worried it will spoil, there's an easy way to store it. Scrape your pesto sauce into ice cube trays and freeze it. When it's completely frozen, just pop out the cubes and store them in a baggie. An ice cube is about a tablespoon, so the next time you want to make cream sauce, all you'll need to do is drop two pesto cubes in your roux, and work from there!

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button).
You may also be interested in:

Pressure canning - don't be scared
Canning tomatoes in a water bath canner
Make your own stewed tomatoes
How to care for your pressure canner

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pressure canning - don't be scared!

Canned baked beans
I'm a firm believer that if you're going to cook something, go big. Leftovers can be made into lunches for the following day, recycled into other meals, and in some lucky cases, can be preserved for enjoyment later in the year. Baked beans are one of those items you can can up, and since they do take quite a bit of time and effort it is worth the effort of making extra.

Just a note to people who are more experienced in canning: This blog is for everyone who cans, from the most experienced to the person who's doing it for the very first time. I may mention things that seem like common sense (don't touch hot jars). Don't be insulted. Instead, think about when you were just starting out, and canning seemed like brain surgery and you were afraid of exploding your pressure canner. If I miss a safety tip, PLEASE make a comment below.

Baked beans need to be pressure canned. A water bath will not have enough heat to destroy hidden bacteria, either in the beans or the small amounts of meat in them. The timing for pressure canning the baked beans are for the recipe I used here, and if you use a different recipe (for instance, with tomatoes in it), you will want to check out the times for processing them. The size of your jars also matters, as well as your height above sea level.

Heating the jars
As with all canning, start with clean, heated jars. I like to run my jars through the dishwasher on the "sanitize" mode, but that's because I'm lazy. It's just as adequate to clean them in hot, soapy water and rinse them well. To heat the jars before adding your beans, you need to turn them upside down in your canner, with about two to three inches of water in the bottom. The water should be brought to a boil, and the steam will fill the jars (and some of the water will, too), sterilizing them and heating them.

Don't pick up hot glass jars with your bare hands. Use a jar lifter or tongs, and always use hot pads or oven mitts. Be aware that when you lift out your jars, not only will they be hot, but they'll be filled with boiling hot steam. As you stand the jar upright, that steam will come out, so keep all body parts away from the jar opening until that steam has escaped. Hot steam will burn you!

Hot jar, ready to fill
Place your jar onto a cutting board or safe surface, or into a shallow bowl. This will help contain the mess which often happens during canning. Using a funnel (as I did in this post on canning tomatoes) also helps keep the mess under control. Put a metal knife into your jar, both to help conduct heat away from the glass and to help you get rid of any air bubbles in your beans after they've been added.

Using a large spoon or ladle, fill the jar with the hot beans. The beans should reach the bottom of the neck portion of your jar, which is about an inch or less from the rim. Use the knife (or plastic spatula) to gently move the beans around, releasing any bubbles. If there were large ones, you may need to add more beans to bring it up to the right level.

Cleaning the rim
Once the jar is appropriately full, remove the funnel and carefully clean the rim of the jar with a hot, moist cloth. Visually inspect the lid for any beans or sauce and clean them off if you find any. Place a hot canning lid onto the jar, followed by a hot ring (don't forget those hot pads!). Tighten the ring "finger tight" but don't wrench it on or you may ruin the seal. Put the finished jar back into the pressure canner, right side up this time. Repeat the process until all your jars are filled and sitting in the pressure canner.

Pressure canner with beans
Your pressure canner may hold a different number of jars from mine. Make sure you check your manual (many are available online for free) to be sure you've got it right. Mine, a 21.5 quart model, holds seven quarts or 18 pints (you stack them on two levels of nine jars each). While it's perfectly fine to use the pressure canner with less jars in it, I personally feel that it reduces problems such as breakage when the canner is full. Also, you'll use the same amount of energy and water for three jars as you will for seven, so you might as well process a full pot.

For pressure canning, the water should only be about two to three inches up the sides of the jars. This is different from water bath canning, where you want the jars completely covered. Do not cover (with water) the lids of jars that you are pressure canning, or you will have problems with seal failures.

Locked and loaded
Put the lid on your pressure canner and follow the directions of the manufacturer for sealing it tightly. My All American canner has six screws around the lid which fold up and screw down to hold the lid securely in place. The screws should be tightened in twos, on opposite sides of the canner. Tighten two, rotate slightly, then tighten another two, continuing until all the screws are secured. Then go around once more and re-tighten to be sure they are fully secured. At this point, you can begin bringing up the heat under your pressure canner.

You want to bring your water to a full, rolling boil to start. Once it is boiling, you can lower the temperature until it continues to boil but isn't spitting out liquid. Your pressure canner should be allowed to vent (blow off steam through its vent hole) for 10 minutes before you put the weight on or start your timer. This lets the temperature build up inside, while venting off the air you won't need. After then 10 minutes are up, put your weight on. For baked beans with pork, you want your weight (or rocker, as it's sometimes called) to be at 10 (see picture above). This will keep the pressure in your canner at the right level for your beans.

Now the waiting begins. You want to process your beans for 65 minutes if you have pint jars, and 75 minutes if you have quart jars. Start timing as soon as your weight is on the vent. Your weight should not be bobbing around on the vent like a crazed squirrel. It should be gently rocking back and forth making the occasional "pfffffft" sound as steam escapes. Slowly (very slowly) lower the temperature on your stove until you reach that gentle rocking. Make note of the setting, because next time you can something in that size jar,  you'll have an idea of what temperature to lower it to, making it easier on you.

Labeled and ready for storage
When the timer alerts you, turn off the heat under your pressure canner. Do not move the canner for at least one hour, and preferably not until it is cool to the touch (which may take several hours). When you can touch the canner without a hot mitt, you may remove the weight. Use a hot mitt to remove it, even if the temperature seems cool, because there may be bottled up steam inside. Taking off the weight allows that steam to escape, and lets the canner depressurize and cool down.

When it is quite cool you can open the lid of your canner. Check the pressure gauge to see if it is at zero, and then gently pull the lid off. If it doesn't come off right away, you may need to let it sit a bit longer, or you might need to encourage it with a wooden spoon handle (sometimes the seal doesn't want to let go). Never try to take the lid off before the pressure is at zero and the canner is completely cool to the touch!

Remove your jars, then check the seals on them by pinging them on the lid with the back of a metal spoon. "Pings" mean the seal is good, and a "thunk" means it didn't take. Any jars with bad seals should be immediately refrigerated and used soon.

If they need a wipe, do so with a damp cloth or sponge. Label your jars and  put them away in your pantry. Over the winter, if you get a craving for those sweet, delicious baked beans you can just pull out a jar and heat it up  in a pot or the microwave. You may need to add a bit of water, depending on how thick your sauce was when you canned the beans.

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button).

You may also be interested in:
Canning tomatoes in a water bath canner
Make your own stewed tomatoes
How to care for your pressure canner

The Homestead Barn Hop

I do love my Monday morning Homestead Barn Hop. Every Monday, The Prairie Homestead has this linkie thing that allows various people to share recipes and interesting homestead type stuff. I've found instructions for cheese making, canning ideas, how-to articles of all kinds... I'm always excited to look, because there's always something new! If you'd like to see today's Barn Hop (#79), feel free to pop over there right now. Also, if you want to add yourself to the list, you're welcome to! The rules are easy to follow:

1. Please remember that the Homestead Barn Hop is meant to be a place to share homesteading related encouragement and inspiring ideas specfically related to homesteading. In an effort to keep our weekly round-up clutter free, links which are not specifically homestead related, and any promotions such as giveaways, contests, carnivals, etc, will be deleted in order to maintain the integrity of the Barn Hop.

2. Please remember this is a family friendly link up. Any pictures or posts linked to the hop which aren’t appropriate for our children to view or read will also be deleted immediately. We’re pretty conservative, so we ask that you use good judgment and err on the side of caution.

3. Make sure that you link to your Barn Hop post, not your blog’s main page, so your guests won’t have any trouble finding your great tips!

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Canning tomatoes in a water bath canner

Finished jars
There's something special about going to your pantry or cupboard in January and pulling out a home-canned jar of tomatoes for a recipe. You can taste the flavor of summer, and perhaps smell the scent of the hot sun on the tomatoes as you crack the lid open. The effort might be a bit more than you're used to, but the results are more than worth every moment of work.

For the recipe to the stewed tomatoes, please check out my Examiner article on cooking them.  Today we'll be dealing with how you can up the results of your tomato processing. It should be noted that, while it's possible to make stewed tomatoes and can them in the same day, it's often more comfortable to do them on two separate days. Especially at this time of year, the kitchen can get hot very quickly, and each stage of this process takes up a lot of room.

Jar lifter in metal bowl
First, you'll want to assemble all your tools. It's absolutely necessary to have your stewed tomatoes on hand and hot, your jars, lids and rings, a clean, moist cloth, and some hot pads. For the most comfortable canning experience, it's worthwhile picking up a canning kit, which includes a magnetic lid lifter,  funnel, jar lifter (pictured at right), and a plastic or wooden spatula. Some kits also include a lid sterilizer rack, which makes that part a breeze. I also like to have extra kitchen towels on hand, and a large metal or ceramic bowl to catch the drips.

Lids and rings, heating
Add two to three inches of water into your canner pot and put your clean jars in upside down to sterilize and heat them. Bring the water to a rolling boil then turn it down to just a simmer while you get everything else ready. Lids and rings should go into a small pot and be covered with water. Never boil the lids, as it can damage the rubber rings and cause your jars to not seal correctly. A light simmer is more than adequate.

Jars heating up
Have your pot of stewed tomatoes sitting beside the spot you'll fill them at, with the jars in the canner beside that.  This keeps you from spilling tomatoes into your pot of hot jars and keeps your mess and reach to a minimum. Beware; as you remove the jars from the canner, they will be hot! Use hot pads and your jar lifter to get them in and out of the pot. Never put your fingers or hands into the opening of the jar as you turn it right side up, because the hot steam coming out of the jar can and will scald your skin.

Jar with funnel and spatula
Pull out one jar with the lifter and put it right side up in your bowl. Slide the funnel into the mouth of the jar, and put the spatula into the jar itself. The spatula does a two things for you. First, it spreads the heat out a bit more evenly, which isn't as important today as it was in the past, but is still a good idea. Second, it helps keep bubbles from forming in the jar. Before removing the spatula from the jar, move it around a bit in circles then up and down, allowing all bubbles to rise to the surface. This helps create a good seal during the canning process.

Filling the jars
Slowly and carefully begin scooping the stewed tomatoes into the hot jar. The funnel will make this much easier and will keep the mess to a minimum. When you get near the top of the jar, fill slowly. The last quarter inch or so should be liquid, and the jar is considered full when it reaches the top of the rounded part of the glass. Do not fill the jar up into the neck, as it will be too full and may boil over while canning. Wipe the neck and rim of the jar with your cloth, making sure that there are no bits of tomato or spattered liquid there. A little extra vigilance here will mean a better seal later. Don't rush.

The magnetic lifter works well
Using tongs or your magnetic lifter, retrieve one of the lids from your other pot, and let it drip for a moment. Place it gently but firmly onto the rim of the jar, being sure to center it well. Get a ring from the water, and add that on top of the lid, securing it in place. You should only make the rings "finger tight". This means only use your fingers and not the palm of your hand while tightening, and don't try to screw it down very hard.

Ready to be canned
When the lid and ring are secure, give the jar a wipe with another cloth and return it to the canning pot. It should slide right back into the space it left, but this time it will be right side up. Repeat this procedure until all the jars are filled and returned to the pot. An average canning pot will hold seven quarts or nine pints comfortably. I used quart jars for my stewed tomatoes because that's the amount of tomatoes we generally go through in a meal. You may want to use smaller jars for yours. You should always can in jars that are the size you want to pull out of the cupboard to use, so there is no waste.

Jars in the canner
I use my pressure canner as a water bath canner, but there are water bath canners that are sold just for that purpose. There are different sizes of each of these. Mine is 21.5 quarts in size. As a water bath it holds the standard seven quarts or nine pints, but when I am pressure canning I have an option of adding a tray and stacking pints double high, allowing me to pressure can up to 18 pints at a time. The water in a water bath canner should be an inch to two inches above the lids of the jars. If you can, boil water in another pot to add to the canner, to speed up the heating process.

Don't click the lid shut!
When using the pressure canner for water bathing, be sure not to click the lid closed. You don't want to build up pressure when water bath canning! Bring your lidded canner to a boil, then slowly turn the heat down until it reaches a point of boiling without completely rattling the jars around inside. For stewed tomatoes at 1000 feet or less above sea level, you want to process the jars for 45 minutes. You can check processing times online, or pick up a book like the Blue Ball Book Guide to Preserving or Putting Food By for reference. I prefer the latter book, which has information about more than just canning.

When your processing time is over, turn off the heat and let your canner stop boiling. Avoid opening or moving it before the boil stops, as it can jostle the lids and rings, and cause sealing failure. Use your jar lifter to remove the jars as soon as you safely can, and set them carefully on a dry kitchen towel. Let them rest, undisturbed, at least overnight and preferably 24 hours.

There are some tricks to checking to see if the seals are right. Many books (including the ones I mentioned above) will tell you to visually inspect the lids, then press gently on the top of the lid to see if the "button" is popped down. If it is, then your food is properly sealed. However, the act of pressing down can actually cause the seal to break every once in a while, so it's better to use what I call the "ping ping bong" test.

Using a metal tea spoon, gently let the bowl of it fall onto the center of each lid. You should notice that your jars have a "ping" sound. If one or more has a distinctly deeper "bong" tone, it is likely not sealed fully and should be put into the refrigerator immediately. Use unsealed food as soon as possible to avoid spoilage.

Ready to be put away
Sealed jars can be labeled and put away as soon as they are completely cool to the touch. If there is any stuff on the outside of the jar, wipe it down before storing it away. Most people label the tops of their jars, but others have fancy labels they affix to the side of the jar. The choice is yours! Be certain to label them somewhere, though, because stewed tomatoes look a lot like salsa, spaghetti sauce, and even baked beans once they've been in the dark pantry for a couple of months.

No ring, Ma!
Sealed jars can be put away without the rings, if you need them for sealing up other jars. The lids stay on by themselves, held on by the pressure created during canning. Rings are handy to have on hand, though, even if you don't store your jars with them on. If you open a jar but don't use the entire contents, you'll want to put it in the fridge. A ring will hold the lid in place for you.

Rings can also be used in decorative fashion. Some people like to cut a scrap of quilting fabric and put it over the lid, then screw the ring in place. If you do this with in-season fabric, it can be a beautiful gift. Others will use raffia to tie home made labels to their jars. There are places online to print your own labels, either for the metal lids or for the side of the jars. You can also buy sticky labels at most grocery and hardware stores.

Check back next week for information on pressure canning and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button).

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Make your own batch of Boston Baked Beans - Manchester simple living |

Make your own batch of Boston Baked Beans - Manchester simple living | Baked beans are a New England staple. Though they originated with the Native Americans, they were popularized by the people of Boston during the rum making years. Where Native Americans used bear fat and maple syrup, Bostonians (and later, most New Englanders) switched to the widely available salt pork and molasses. Even today, the nickname for Boston is "Beantown".