Friday, May 15, 2009

To Can or Not To Can

Canning, Canning, Canning, Keep on Pressure Canning, Rawhide! My grandmother canned like the Apocalypse was coming. (Indeed in her depression era mind, it probably was.) Even when she died there were at least another four years of peaches, pears, applesauce, and Lord knows what else in their basement. I'm not planning on going that far, but I have realized the immense amount a pressure canner can take off our monthly food bill.

My tax return became a pressure canner which meant that my kitchen became very, very sticky. A pressure canner is an amazing household appliance, but not one to jump into lightly. There is much more than meets the eye with a pressure canner. I did not know this.

The upfront is about $100 for a middle of the road canner. It is all the average household needs. Ours is a Presto, 23 quart canner and will be more than enough for anything we could ever need. The jars are about $10 dollars a dozen, and can be reused forever. The hidden secret is that it is A LOT of work. If you really mean to use it, you are going to be spending much time in the kitchen and much time cleaning. Then you will be spending much time figuring out where to put all the cans you have now created because they are too heavy for most shelving.

On the plus side, your food will taste much better than anything which comes from a store can; you will know what is in your food causing your sodium, high fructose corn syrup, modified food starch, and trans fat ingestion will diminish greatly; and you will save a significant amount of money if you plan your canning with the seasons and sales.

Canning chicken stock was a bit of a whim when local, never frozen, all natural chicken went on sale for .99 cents a pound. Our freezer is very small as our fridge is a 1950's avocado green Westinghouse. We've never had a lot of room to keep foods frozen and always just bought as we go. Though a chest freezer has been discussed, the energy to keep it running would basically negate any savings; let along where would we put it? This has meant the single largest food cost we have is meat for dinner.

Though chicken stock has been something I've made and frozen in smaller batches, large scale stockpiling has been out of the question. We now have 21 quarts, nicely labeled and put up. This will last us a nice long time and whittled away at least 30 dollars from a few months of our food bill. Even better, it was so easy.

Unfortunately, water bath canning can't work for meat so a pressure canner is necessary. Fortunately, many years ago canning was a standard in the household so if you ask around your grandmother, aunt, mother-in-law (etc.) might still have one laying around in the garage or basement. They last forever and with a replaced sealing ring (only about 10 dollars) can be reused over and over. So, ask around, it may not be as out of reach as you might think.

All you do to can chicken stock is prepare the stock normally and pour into the jars. I used quart jars as they just seemed more reasonable for a family dinner. I strained the stock and put the chicken into the jars first, then pouring the hot liquid over the top. Leave 1 and 1/4 inch head room at the top. Since it is a liquid, you don't need to worry much about bubbles being stuck inside. Glance at the jars, give them a little shake, and call it good. Also with pressure canning, the sterilization of the jars isn't as important. If they have been kept somewhere gross like an old attic, garage, or something it probably is, or if you have just purchased them from the store and not washed them, but clean shelved jars can be filled and placed in the canner without the added heating step. This is because you are pressure canning them and the inside of the container is going to get excessively (read explosively) hot. Trust me, they will sterilize themselves! If you still wish to be extra careful, go right ahead, but unlike water bath canning it isn't a complete necessity.

So the jars are filled, now you need to wipe off the rim of the jars so that you can insure a proper seal. The only thing keeping bacteria out and goodness in is the fact the jars are sealed air tight. Broken seal equals nasty insides. Yuck! Due to the fact that chicken stock is greasy, use a bit of white vinegar on a rag to wipe down the rims. This will cut the grease and be completely harmless. Place the lids, screw on the rings and fill up your canner!

They need to be processed for 25 minutes and 11 pounds of pressure. Be very careful that the pressure valve has fallen before you open up the canner, and that you lift the lid away from you as there will probably be some steam inside. Remove the jars with either tongs or a ovenmit and set them aside to cool for at least 12 hours.

Now you have chicken stock which will last for years (usually around 3-5 at the longest) without the need of a refridgerator, freezer, or much of anything! We use ours for burrito filling, enchiladas, soup, casserole, and pot pies. Just about anything that contains shredded chicken can be made from the stock at a fraction of the cost.

If stock isn't something your family would use much, you can also can just the chicken. When the sale continued an extra week, I went to purchase 2 more packages of chicken to be cubed up and canned by itself. This is even simpler than the chicken stock as all you have to do is boil the chicken till it is mostly cooked, yet still slightly pink. Cube it up and pack it tightly into pint jars. Then pour the chicken water over the top till you have 1 and 1/4 inch of head space. Pressure can for 75 at 11 pounds of pressure. One pint contains 1 and a half chicken breasts.

Though I used to be a coupon clipper, I've realized once you start buying most of your food in bulk and making it from scratch, coupons don't really cover that. What they do help with is canning food. Now by looking at what is on sale, I can go buy a couple dozen cans, hit the grocery store and spend a couple days in the kitchen. This will allow the coupons and sales to last much longer and save us significantly more! All together 17 dollars worth of chicken yeilded 21 quarts of chicken stock and 6 pints of chicken. This was well worth two days of canning!

0 thoughts:

Post a Comment