Preserving Notes: 9/7/2012

I didn’t think I was going to get to do much preserving this year.  Time being one issue and availability of affordable produce being the other.  Imwalle Gardens supplied me with produce I could afford to preserve and as for time?  I always make time for preserving.  I admit that I stay up late coring and scoring and blanching and peeling tomatoes.  I just squeeze these projects in because I don’t feel right if I’m not putting food up for the winter at the end of summer.

I’m feeling right in my bones this week.  Except that my hip actually hurts really bad (probably from all the standing up while canning) so my actual bones aren’t all feeling super – but taking part in food preservation along with thousands (maybe millions?) of other Americans is giving me a feeling of self empowerment and unity.  I’m enjoying the knowledge that the food preservers working hard across the country come from all walks of life, all spiritual beliefs, every kind of sexual orientation, every kind of racial combination, and every kind of political affiliation.  While we may have different motivations for canning and drying and freezing food – what we have in common is that we think it’s work worth doing.  No matter how our religious beliefs might clash (or lack of religious beliefs, as is the case with me) and no matter how much we might argue over the direction this country should go – we agree that there is value in putting food up for later.  I like to think that most of us also think it’s FUN.  Because I love it.  When I considered not putting anything up this year my husband asked me how I could consider not doing one of my favorite things in the world?

He also made a tiny selfish plea for pickles!

So while I’m canning I’m thinking about what brings us all together, not what might tear us apart.  Oh – and us food preservers?  We’re the people everyone else will want to know during a zombie apocalypse.  That’s a good position to be in.

So what have I been preserving?  I’m going to list what I’ve done so far:

5 pints of Thai red curry paste (freezer)

13 pints of elderberry syrup made with raw honey (freezer)

9 pints of corn (freezer)

2 quarts of thick tomato sauce (freezer)

5 quarts of bastardized ratatouille (freezer)

5 quarts of summer vegetable soup (freezer)

21 quarts of diced tomatoes (freezer)

2 quarts pinto bean chili (freezer)

23 half pints of peach jam (canned)

7 quarts garlic dill pickles (canned)

2 big jars of pickles fermenting in brine (lactic acid fermentation)

Most of that has been done in an 8 day period.  I still have 40 ears’ worth of corn kernels to process (planning to make corn chowder and also saute some with zucchini, onion, and peppers) and on my counter this morning is 40lbs of peeled de-seeded tomatoes waiting to be processed.  As soon as I’m done writing this post I’ll have to make a decision about what to do with them.  I think I’ll make a couple of pots of sauce and if there’s any left over I’ll dice them and can them in their own juice.

Money and time allowing I would still like to do more:

80 lbs more tomatoes – canned

dilled beans – canned

40 more ears of corn for sautes and corn chowder – for freezer

peach chutney – canned

5 more quarts of summer vegetable soup – freezer

Random notes and observations:

  • 14 jars of my peach jam were made using pectin – this accounted for 8 lbs of peaches.  The jam did NOT set.  The flavor is very good the color is bright.  The other 9 jars of peach jam were made without pectin and were thickened by cooking it down for a long period (over an hour) and accounted for 8 lbs of peaches.  It set but the color is much darker and the flavor is, I think, not quite as good.
  • I was lucky to find any pickling cucumbers that were worth buying this year.  I’d seen some at the farm stands and in the supermarkets that looked old.  It’s really important to can freshly picked cucumbers.  Not only that – most of them were $2 per/lb or more.  !!  I got around 6lbs of them and it turns out that only half of them were small enough to fit a few in a quart jar.  So after canning 7 quarts of the smaller sized ones I had the problem of the big ones.  I couldn’t fit 2 in a quart jar but one per quart jar was ridiculous.  Such an awkward size!  I decided to ferment them instead of can them.
  • I followed an old Russian recipe I found in my Culinaria Russia book.  However, I didn’t have any marigolds and it didn’t specify which kind of oak leaves to use.  Yep, oak leaves.  I need to know more about oak before putting it in my pickle.  I did have access to my friend Sharon’s sour cherry tree, though.  I shared my pickle adventure on fb and I’m going to put it here because it amused me:

“In a pickle related emergency I sped through the night to my friend Sharon’s house and begged for an ounce of sour cherry leaves from her tree, explained to her laughing husband and kidlets what constitutes a pickle emergency and then, like a pickle-bandito, stole back into the night with a fistful of leaves and some dark plans for a bunch of cucumbers.”

  • So my pickles (pictured in this post) are fermenting in my office window.  Tomorrow they go into quiet darkness to experience the wild and strange transformation from cucumber to nasty smelling rotting things, to a gorgeous crisp garlic dill pickle.  I keep thinking it’s magic, but really it’s cool science.
  • Freezing tomatoes and other things in jars instead of in vacuum sealed plastic bags: out of a total of 39 jars put in the freezer I’ve had only one jar break.  This was my experience last year as well.  Out of about the same number of jars I had one casualty.  I’m freezing in jars because glass is inert but plastic is not.  Glass is a safer and healthier vessel for storing your food.  No chemicals can be released into your food when it’s in glass.  Though vacuum sealed bags are BHP free (the ones I buy, anyway) they are still capable of leaching chemicals into your food.  Not only that – their quality after one use goes down so far that I don’t tend to reuse them at all.  The jars can be used over and over.  Much greener.  Much less going into the landfills.  There are some obvious disadvantages too – they take up more room in the freezer and can break.  I’d like to hear from anyone else who’s tried freezing in jars – a friend of mine had a ton of breakage and I’d like to know if others have had lots of breakage too?  Please share!
  • Incidentally – I do actually prefer more canning than freezing.  It’s more work but having shelf stable food that doesn’t require electricity to keep it good is very appealing to me.  However – I had to empty out my freezer to move and an empty freezer uses more energy than a full one.  I have a stand alone freezer for freezing the stuff I can’t safely can.  The frozen corn, for instance.  If I had had better results from pressure canning I’d probably just do that and get rid of the freezer.  Maybe.  Although the freezer is better for things like elderberry syrup – the freezer won’t destroy the enzymes in raw honey but the heat of canning will.

That’s all I have to report today.  I need to get in the kitchen and make sauce.  Please share with me what your canning projects are and thoughts or observations you’ve been making about your preserving this year.

6 thoughts on “Preserving Notes: 9/7/2012

  1. simply.belinda

    I love freezing in jars, pretty much for the same reasons as you.

    With regard to breakages I have generally found one way or another it almost always comes down to expansion. The one time I unexpectedly had a large number of breakages it was freezing citrus cordial in glass tomato puree jars/bottles.

    The bottles involved are straight until half way up the bottle then have a slight angle narrowing it down to the lid. Of course as we are talking about a product with a large water component it is going to expand, something I thought about, so gave it plenty of head space. The problem was I didn’t think it through enough to recognise that the narrowing also made the top have a lesser volume thus the top would freeze first creating an immovable solid surface for the expanding bottom volume to push against as it was freezing. Needless to say the percentage of those jars that simply couldn’t stand the pressure was high….. I still use the same jars but now I freeze them on their sides rather than standing up and haven’t had more than occasional breakage since.

    The only other challenging situation I created for myself was related to temperature. As anyone knows that has tried to pour boiling liquid into reasonably low quality, or flawed high quality, glass you will often end up with a mess.

    Well the same temperature shock, can be created in glass when moving very warm glass into sub zero C temperatures. I now give everything a chance to cool to at least luke warm and often room temperature before putting things in the freezer and find that very seldom do I loose a jar.

    Kind Regards

  2. angelina Post author

    Excellent notes Belinda! I never put hot jars in the freezer either – always let them cool down. Usually to room temp but if I’m in a hurry I’ll put them in warmish – but not hot. I never cap my jars when freezing to give contents room to rise up – then I cap them when they’re done freezing. I was thinking that jar quality could be an issue with breakage – I only freeze in canning jars which are tempered to deal with high temps – but if the jars aren’t in good shape (really old and scratched perhaps?) or if they weren’t meant for reuse (like mayonnaise jars from the market) they might be more likely to break.

    Have you managed to put much up this year? I have been checking on your blog but no new updates. Also – I know this isn’t your canning season. That pretty much came at the same time as the baby – right? How are you all doing?

  3. simply.belinda

    The march canning season was a total wash for me this year.. I maybe achieved freezing some cherries which later had to be composted when, like you I had to move state, with about a month’s notice.

    The bullet point catch up is
    *my, now 8 month old, son is a wonderful being
    *as of about 3 weeks ago I am a single parent
    *I have left the mud brick palace behind in Victoria, it’s up for sale.
    *I now reside in a regional beach front town in New South Wales.
    *we’re working hard at putting down new roots and hoping that some day in the future we will have a patch of ground to call our own again where we can grow without having to ask permission first but facing the fact that may never be our reality**thus closing down the old blog**.

    Overall it’s been a chaotic year but we’re doing ok and adjusting our expectations as we need to.

    Kind Regards

  4. angelina Post author

    Holy shit. That’s a lot to be going through! Especially as a new mom. I’m glad you’re doing okay! Single parenting – I think that’s got to be one of the toughest jobs on the planet but if a partner is not really in it all the way then maybe it’s better they not be around. If you need any moral support at any time – just someone to talk to or complain to – you can email. Being thousands of miles away that’s pretty much all I can offer you in supportive friendship – but sometimes you just need to unload and know you won’t be judged. Hopefully you have good support with friends and family. In any case – I think your attitude is great – hang onto the dream of being able to plant things again but settle into the reality of the present.

  5. AimeeWrites

    Before last week, I hadn’t canned since I was a 16-year-old 4-H’er. I thought I’d never do it again, but 150 lbs. of plums will make you reconsider! I bought my first water bath & jar funnel, and I set to it. It’s been a lot of work, and with Mom working beside me, it was actually enjoyable. (You know I’m not one to find much pleasure in the kitchen.) I still had a bunch of plums left over, which are now sliced and frozen for winter pies and quick breads. I wish I had a stand-alone freezer. I’m tempted to get one now.

    I’m even wondering now if I should invest in a pressure cooker next year for canning soups and such. I’ve never used one. Who knows what I’ll feel like doing next year, anyway?

    (Today, 4 lbs. of peaches became spicy(!) peach bbq sauce. I see some darned good ribs coming our way this fall…Next up, I may attempt squash pickles!)

    You should know, you’re a large part of my inspiration for jumping back into canning!

  6. angelina Post author

    I was surprised you were tackling such a big canning job for someone who doesn’t much enjoy the kitchen. But perhaps it’s about the kind of work versus the level of reward. I don’t like baking much. I really don’t. I know bakers who don’t like cooking. I think food preserving is a whole different animal than regular cooking. You’re connected to the kitchen for a much more intense period of time but then you have not just tonight’s meal – you have jars of food to last you months. I just love that you dove in and did it and I think it’s great that you did it with your mom and had a good time.

    I had a pressure cooker and didn’t like the results I got from my soups. I loved that I could make big batches of shelf stable soup but the batches I made tasted a little tinny – I’m tempted to try it again. A friend sent me some caramelized onion confit she made in a pressure canner and it not only didn’t have a tinny flavor – it was great!

    I love my stand alone freezer. I’ve had mine for at least 5 years and it’s been such a boon. It wasn’t very expensive but it is another appliance sucking up power. That’s my only objection. We got an energy efficient one, of course.

    To be even the smallest inspiration in your canning adventures is an honor!

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