Canning 2.0

By now most folks know I can. As in I choose to create and preserve via mason jars food my family and I want to eat. I get to choose the specific ingredients, ratio, and flavor of what I make. This for me is an extension of my ‘freezer cooking’ it is investing time so I don’t have to later.

Having spent a good portion of last summer pickling, and canning high acidity food I exhausted the challenge. I extended my skill set and comfort level to where for some of my family their Christmas presents were things I chose to make back last August. I didn’t buy store salsa until March of this year, and this made me think what else can I control food wise in my home. I was asked today what made me want to do canning.

The short answer is this a) I’m a total food nerd, b) I love cooking large batches, and c) none of the other kids do it (at least in my circle). For me the next step was this…

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That is a pressure canner. This allows me to move certain foods that I used to freeze to something shelf stable. So while others might do something simple, like chicken broth I drive right in to something intermediate level.

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Baked beans!

I started to measure out the Ball Blue book sauce recipe then realized the best difference from pickling foods to pressure canning. I can change the recipe and ratios! I don’t have to worry about my acidity level. *squee* Changes are marked with a ^
Sauce:
3 large onions diced small in a food processor
^ 1 head garlic also through a food processor (we LOVE garlic you can add less)
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup molasses
2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon ground mustard
^ 1/3 cup cider vinegar
^ store bought ketchup to make 2 liquid cups sauce

This is for 2 lbs dried navy or in my case great northern beans. Following the Ball method of bean prep. (This is widely available on the web, and that research might do you good)

Ok so confessing my oddities here, I FINISH reading the Blue Book recipe and no way in hell am I baking this for 3 hours. So I sort of amalgamate recipes with Sbcanning.

I prepare the jars as usual, this means prepping more than the recipe calls for (be prepared it takes time to dishwasher jars).

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While the jars are getting ready, and the beans pre-cook, and I furiously scour the Internet for recipes to NOT have to actually bake the beans I start the sauce to simmer.

I feel confident enough to put 1 cup semi- pre- cooked beans and 1/2 cup sauce per pint. Then fill the rest with reserved liquid from the 2nd bean pre-cook (I’m serious do your homework this is not rocket science but it is important, and I don’t mean to be a complete how to) to get to 1 inch head space.

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Use tools to get air bubbles out.

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Add bacon, or if using salt pork omit or reduce salt.

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Wipe jar rims with vinegar because it cuts grease

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Admire jars

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Place in canner FOLLOWING DIRECTIONS OF THE CANNER. Mine says to add 3 quarts of water and start heating to boil. If you have hard water add a splash of vinegar.

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If you have a canner like mine, when you have a steady stream of steam drop the weight on it, and then have a heart attack when your loving husband knocks the weight and a huge scalding steam cloud escapes. Process 1 hour 20 min at 10 pounds. Oh yeah by the way the timer starts when the weight STARTS to rock.

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Finally let the canner sit and cool down. Go look at Lolcats, harass your cats, clean up your mess, then and only then do you even think of opening that canner. Then happy dance and celebrate. Then wash those gorgeous greasy jars, and take the bands off to store.

My final thoughts are this, there are no chemical preservatives (other than the ketchup ingredients) or artificial dyes. Oh yeah cost per pint without non-consumables? $0.95 with an 8 pint output. For a product I made, that can sit in my spare room without freezer burn, and hopefully tastes good.

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Landscaping

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Theoretically, I should have taken a before photo. Then again you can tell from the photos that it needed to be updated.

We found the barrel at Home Depot while picking up yet more tomato and pepper plants (more on this insanity later). I of course had to have it. Immediately thinking of that ugly gas meter, I used a hummingbird bush and a lovely trailing purple ground cover.

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My husband I and I dug out the grass to make a planter bed for cannas I had purchased a few weeks ago, the elephant ear a co-worker gave me, and 2 asiatic lilies that were on clearance at Lowe’s (mine had tons of annuals, and even perennials that were marked way down because they were not blooming at the time). The lilies are guinea pigs! If they make it super awesome, if not oh well I paid $5 for the pair.

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Finally a chile petin that will hopefully used when canning season comes to make some hot salsa that my husband will have to taste test (hopefully using all the tomatoes and peppers I planted). Finally, a Meyer lemon found at HEB that I just HAD to have. Hopefully it give me fruit. I chose to put in a container so I can hopefully save it in the winter from freezing.

Spring Begins

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Here are my 2 beds. I have learned some valuable lessons since this time last year. One is build a better trellis. I found a good size plastic mesh for the plant to have enough to grab and really hold on to. Also, it’s better secured using zip ties!

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You can’t really see them but it allows the plastic netting to have a good amount of tension.

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Those odd looking things are water walls. You fill up the chambers up with water and let them sit out to warm all day. This allows them to help keep your tomato and pepper plants warm. They saved my behind this year. I decided that I was going to get my plants in the ground because they were looking bad in the containers. Well, you see I didn’t check the weather. DUN DUN DUN… incoming freeze! The other issue was that I went a little crazy buying tomato plants. I got 4 and 2 peppers. I only had 3 water wells but they managed to radiate enough heat to save the whole lot.

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The other thing I am doing different this year is only planting what we ate last year. Tomatoes, peppers, sugar snaps, cucumbers and zucchini. I might get a few more little things but will focus on what I will eat.

Ch-ch-changes

After putting it off for a while I finally cleared out my tomatoes to get the other bed ready for fall. I had been putting it off for a while because I was still getting some tomatoes.

They looked like this

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All cracked from the good amount of rain we had.

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This is what that bed looked like when I started.

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This is after the tomatoes were gone, and I was debating what got to stay. There was a good size oregano, and parsley that had split into 2 bunches. I also discovered my jalapeño and Greek pepper plants were in fact still alive. The tomatoes smothered them. I decided to harvest the herbs, I have some in pots on the porch. I left the chard, and peppers. The zucchini is still giving me enough squash to stay.

Here it is all cleared out…

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Lots of room for new plants! I’m going to make a PVC grid for this bed as well as start to put in drip irrigation while it’s all open.

DIY Seed Tape

Finally something I’m early for in the garden. Seed tapes!

Huh? Seed tape?

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Ok so maybe toilet paper seed squares is a better term since I broke them up.

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You need:
– cheap dye free toilet paper
– glue that is water dissolvable.
– seeds
Optional: food coloring.

I chose to use food coloring so I would know where the glue dot was, and so later I know the seed spacing.

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As an FYI mixing food coloring into a whole bottle of glue is not easy, and is downright annoying. But, I don’t have to mix glue and color every time I make seed tapes (and I have less red fingers). The color does not matter, but I got red so I can use it later for red velvet cake.

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Determine the seed spacing then add seeds.

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I used tweezers. Yeah the nails don’t help. You should hear me type!

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Once all the seeds are in place, place a sheet of toilet paper on the top. Let dry.
Then place seed tapes in a bag with the seed packet (you were wondering how to tell them apart huh?).

I also over seeded each one. You’re never going to get 100% germination. If you do, please tell me how.

Finally I broke the sheets apart to allow succession planting. These ‘tapes’ work for carrots, beets, parsnips, or any other small seed that can easily be washed away, or just need to be barely covered and birds like to steal them.

Aquarium Seed Starter

This has been a super busy weekend for me in the garden and yard. So much it’s going to be more than one post.

First up is using an aquarium as a seed starter.

This idea goes back a while and involves a few weird twists.
1. I am horrible at starting seeds. They always end up all leggy, and then die.

2. I had a groupon for a garden center that was about to expire a while ago, after being ignored by the staff I grabbed a seed starting mat and thermometer.

3. My pet mouse died. Leaving me an empty aquarium. (Yes. I had a pet mouse, the aquarium has a lid)

So after a trip to target I snagged a lamp, and assembled the tank.

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The foil is to reflect the light around the tank.

So far it’s working wonderfully. I wish I had this back in July. Because I’m late starting these seeds.

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I used small jiffy pots, seed starting mix, and snack size baggies to create mini green houses. This allows them to stay moist, breathe a little. They are easy to watch and portable.

Next step? A timer for the light so all I have to do is water.

Tomorrow I’ll show you how to make your own seed tape!

Garden clearance

On a store stop on the way home today my local grocery store HEB, in a smaller store had garden things on clearance. Namely peat pots, and *gasp* miracle grow on serious discount. The peat pots were $0.24-$0.35 per package.

While many of you are not thinking of spring gardens right now be on the lookout for garden supplies on the cheap. This time of year many big box retailers put garden stuff on clearance. Which can be a huge money saver.

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4 packs less than a dollar. Score!

Drip Irrigation

FINALLY!

We knew when the beds were put in that drip irrigation was ultimately where we wanted to end up. Here in central Texas we are still in a drought, and while currently not under water restrictions, I’ve tried to act like we were to see if I could garden in a drought.

The thing is there are so many options with drip irrigation. Too many. I needed a starter kit, something to be able to look at and go from there. Alas, I could not justify the $60 price tag at my usual big box garden store. Amazon was sold out on the kit I liked there. I wanted to get the irrigation in place for my fall garden. Knowing this is my learning curve for spring garden 2.0.

Well, google led me to Raised bed irrigation which then led to DIG corp drip irrigation kit. Available at Home Depot for 1/3 the cost of a different brand starter kit at another garden retailer ( I’m not advocating a certain store, or a certain brand drip irrigation. I will say that the Home Depot mobile site does tell you what aisle to look in).

It was not only simple to set up, it had a great guide included. And at about $20 I figured it would at least be a good start.

We did a central line the width of the box with the drip line running the length.

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I like this way because I can change the length lines to solid tubing with emitters for things like tomatoes when I can only get 2 per length of the bed, or squash. While I can put in different for carrots, radishes, or parsnips.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get my fall garden plants in.

Vanilla Strawberry Jam

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I’m amazed at how easy making jam was, and also how much better it tastes.

Strawberries were on sale, and I decided to see if I could make jam, and if it would really be better.

Well… I can, and oh my goodness is it better. There is a secret you see, butter. Yes butter, unsalted real butter. I found this out from The Pioneer Woman. I can’t comment on if it really cuts down on the foam. It adds a richness though, a mouthfeel that leaves regular jam tasting flat.

I smashed my fruit in the pot. I figured if I didn’t get it broken up enough there was always the stick blender. I had enough strawberry to make 2 batches using Ball Real Fruit Pectin the low sugar variety. I seeded 2 vanilla beans, and let the pods cook in the jelly. Removing them before canning.

This was a small experimental batch, and l will be on the lookout for strawberries on sale for sure. It’s so good a jar could be gone in a day.

Pickled Green Beans

Sometimes I am easily distracted, Ohhh look a shiny! Sometimes that distraction yields a wonderful idea. While I was grocery shopping this morning I went to peruse the prepared food section in the produce department at my local grocery store. I saw a roasted tomatillo salsa kit, and was all ohhhh I could make that…. Then as I sort of gazed to the side I saw a package of green beans. Haricot vert. Small, slender, gorgeous green beans. Instantly I HAD to make pickled green beans.

I had these once before at a friends birthday party as an appetizer or small plate at a restaurant. I loved them. I didn’t want to share. So, seeing this package of green beans I knew what my task of the day was. I was going to make my very own pickled green beans.

Mrs. Wheelbarrow provided a wonderful base recipe for me to work off of.

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Trimming the end off of 2 pounds of very slender green beans is a lot more work than you realize. I used scissors, next time I would use a knife.

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All trimmed. Finally.

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I found pint & half jars. They are taller and wide mouth, and would be awesome for pickling asparagus. However depending on your green beans they should fit in a pint wide mouth jar (you know this is my first time doing this, and my mistakes are ones you won’t have to repeat, see I took care of part of your learning curve)

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A jar packed with green beans, fresh garlic, and a jalapeno. I probably will not eat this jar that my husband might.

I ended up with four jars, but not enough vinegar brine. So I had to quickly make a back up batch, without garlic vinegar. I used the majority of this second brine for the jalapeño jar. I made a jar with dried dill weed and dried dill seed. I made a second jar with only dried dill seed. And the third jar had only dried celery seed. All of the jars had a fresh clothes of garlic in addition to the green beans and vinegar brine. I did this because I want to taste what the different ingredients result in. I don’t know what flavor I’m looking for I just know that I want pickled green beans. Experiment!

Recipe
Brine
1/4 cup of pickling salt
1 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 cup plain white vinegar
2 1/2 cups water

Sanitize jars and lids by running a normal cycle under dishwasher without detergent.

Pack the jars with the green beans standing up, and the flavors you want.

Pour the boiling brine into each of your jars. Process in a hot water bath for 15 to 20 minutes.

Now I challenge you to wait, give those beans a few days to meld. Don’t eat them, just let them marinate for Ohhh I don’t know I think I can wait a week.