The Changing of the Guard

I am terrified of my pressure canner.  No, not MY pressure canner pre se, just pressure canning in general.  It certainly doesn’t keep me up at night, but I admit to finding enough alternatives to pressure canning that I have pressure canned NOTHING after 4 years of ownership.  But, you know what?  The door wreath is up, the fall fodder display is in place and the inside decorations are soon to be placed!  Wahoo, ya’ll, it’s fall!  While the leaves are starting to change I believe peak fall foliage is still about a week away.  I will patiently wait and I will not be pressure canning during this time.

You all know that I have made my own beeswax lip balm and that I SELL IT (hint hint).  In just shy of two weeks, I will add a new layer of “homemade” to it…homemade peppermint and chocolate mint extract!  Now that is exciting!  What to the what? You read that right;  I am currently making my own extract.  Keep it simple, right?  I put my fresh peppermint and chocolate mint leaves (yep, that is thing) in a jar, covered with vodka and put it in the pantry for at least a month.  Don’t miss your opportunity to get some stocking stuffers for the holidays!

One of my loyal readers (that’s you Tiffany Dairy-Briglin!) has asked about canning.  I am certainly no expert on canning, however, I can can (but I can’t can can…get it? Ha!) and I can read.  I have canned raw tomatoes and I have canned strawberry/rhubarb jam.  As I mentioned above, I have no experience with pressure canning, only water bath canning. Why have I only done water bath canning?  This is because the acidity level of what I have canned allowed for just water bath canning.  And, I might be a little terrified of pressure canning, so there’s that.  Didn’t you ever hear of exploding pressure canners?  I have.  Yes, those were all about old canners.  I have a new canner, therefore, I am being completely hysterical and overly dramatic about it.

Ok, let’s get to my canning information and move on from my hysteria.   The higher the acidity of what you are canning the better it is for water bath canning.  You really can can (ha!) most anything, if you do it the right way.  You can preserve jam, jelly, marmalade, salsa, relish, sauces, condiments, pickles, fruit, veggies, meats, soup and even full meals, including meat, poultry, seafood (insert Forrest Gump joke here).  The low-acid foods which are most veggies*, meat, poultry, seafood and recipes using these ingredients require a pressure canner which elevates temperatures to 240ºF (116°C).  You need this temperature and appropriate processing time to destroy harmful toxin-producing bacterial spores.  There are a ton of great canning recipe books out there such as Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and one of my favorite resources for canning information is Backwoods Homes Magazine.  Again, I haven’t canned much of anything, but I sure do like to read about all the things you can can!

*asparagus, green beans, limas, pintos, beets, okra, corn, carrots, greens, mushrooms, peas, peppers potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash and root veggies

So, here’s the 411 on canning fresh tomatoes.  There are a ton of ways to can tomatoes. Some recipes will have you cook your tomatoes first or you can do just raw packed maters. You can use crushed maters (which you will cook first) or whole tomatoes canned with water or tomato juice and you can even add herbs to your maters.  I just simply canned raw tomatoes which produces the most concentrated flavor, but requires extended processing time.  There is always a tradeoff. Now, with the tomatoes, no matter how you do it you will need to either add bottled lemon juice (bottled lemon juice has a known and consistent pH) or citric acid.  All these rules!!!  While maters are considered high-acid foods they have a pH which falls close the dividing line between high and low-acid foods and the many differences in growing conditions, maturity and how they are handled can cause their natural acidity levels to vary.  So, homemade tomato products must be “acidified” (did you say that funny…as in acidiFIED? You did, didn’t you?)  You are welcome to use a pressure canner to process plain ole tomatoes (and I would have great respect for you).  As a general rule, however, you must use a pressure canner if you mix in veggies too low in acid for water bath processing or if you use a tomato recipe that includes meat or fish such as spaghetti with meat sauce (yes, pasta).

Here’s my recipe for canning raw tomatoes:

Print Recipe
Canned Raw Packed Tomatoes
Recipe for canning raw tomatoes with no added liquid
Course Ingredient
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 85 minutes
Servings
Course Ingredient
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 85 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
  2. Boil tomatoes until skins split. Once split, put tomatoes in ice bath to cool and then take skins off. Cut tomatoes to desired size or leave whole.
  3. Add lemon juice or citric acid and salt (if adding) or spices to the hot jars: Bottled lemon juice: 1 tbsp to Pint jars or 2 tbsp to Quart jars Citric Acid: 1/4 tsp to Pint jars or 1/2 tsp to Quart jars Salt: 1/2 tsp to Pint jars or 1 tsp to Quart jars
  4. Pack raw tomatoes into prepared jars to within a generous 1/2 inch of top of jar. Press tomatoes into the jar until the spaces between them fill with juice, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding tomatoes. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to finger-tight.
  5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to boil and process pint or quart jars for 85 minutes. Make sure the water is boiling hard and continuously before starting your time.
  6. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool for 24 hours and store.
Recipe Notes

You can make your own spice blends to add to your tomatoes, too.  Make sure your canner and your jars and lids have been prepared before you start.  Boil your metal lids to make sure they are sterile.  You can always use plastic re-usable lids!  Once you have processed the jars and they have cooled (after 24 hours) make sure the lids are sealed.  Sealed lids will be concave and will show no movement when pressed.  If still unsure if sealed, remove the band and grasp the edges of the lid and lift the jar.

If you have any unsealed jars, refrigerate immediately or reprocess. If you reprocess, you must use new lids.

If you are still with me, here’s a quick update on the chickens, bees and garden:

Chickens:  We moved the new chicks down to the house!  They have one full run and half of the house to themselves. They are adjusting well to all the new space they have and we will merge the girls once they are about 4.5 months old and can eat adult food (in about a week).  I must say, these are some pretty birds.  No, not once in my childhood did I ever think I would say that about chickens.  But, come on, they have this green iridescence to their feathers and big black eyes and they really are just so pretty!   The old ladies on the other hand and on other side are pitiful.  They are molting and they started WAY too early I might add, and we are getting 1-3 eggs a day.  Did I mention how pitiful they are?  Hopefully the new girls will start laying soon so we don’t have to BUY eggs.  How embarrassing would that be?  I mean, I’d have to take one of the chicken shame pictures and put it on Facebook.  You know the one where the chicken has the sign around its neck saying “my owner had to buy eggs”.  Yep, I’d be that person and would have those chickens.  Once it gets cold, say in December, we will be filling the freezer with about 13 of the oldest ladies.  Winner winner, chicken dinner!

img_2166Bunch of chickens Chicken

Bees:  All four hives are still alive!  That is a huge improvement over last year this time when I only had one hive (out of two) that was alive.  Only one of the hives is a bit light on food for winter so I am feeding the fourth with a 2:1 ratio sugar to water syrup. Crossing my figures that I can get some honey for personal use at the end of the month, but we may end up having to put it on the hive that I am feeding.  This month I dusted each box with powdered sugar for a varroa mite treatment.  We’ll continue to monitor to see if I need to do any other treatments.  The girls will clean each other to get the sugar off which in turn helps remove the mites.  Here’s a little slo-mo bee video for your viewing pleasure! Slo mo bees

img_2191Powdered bees

Garden:  We have lettuce that didn’t come from a grocery store again!  Lovely, green butter crunch yumminess!  The broccoli is moving right along and we have sweet potatoes!  Certainly not the huge poundage of sweet potatoes like last year, but plenty for us.  The garden will be getting some love this winter and spring to improve the growing conditions for the Spring.  Amazingly we still have peppers and tomatoes.  They just keep coming and I will just keep eating them as long as I can (but I won’t can)!

Lettuce Sweet Potatoes Broccoli

I like to call this time of year the Changing of the Guard.  It just seems to fit, at least in my head.  I hope you find time to slow down and enjoy the Carolina blue skies and the beautiful foliage!  And as always, Happy Fall, Ya’ll!

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