Friday, December 26, 2014

Adventures with the Pressure Canner

I've neglected this blog recently. I will try to do better. I've saved up some topics to discuss, and it's always fun to talk about food.

Several years ago I participated in an online class called Adapting in Place, given by Sharon Astyk. The general subject was how to protect your home and family against various disasters which might involve loss of electricity, loss of transportation, loss of income, blizzards, pandemics, etc. etc. etc. Very worthwhile class.

I made some preparations: put aside some drinking water in glass bottles, added way more insulation to the house, added more storm windows, put up insulating curtains at outside windows and between our kitchen and the sunroom, which is on a slab and has loads of windows. This room is very hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. I hung an insulating curtain in the doorway (former sliding door opening). We use it in the winter to keep the main house from being as drafty, and in the summer to prevent the heat from coming into the kitchen. Spring and fall the curtains are open.

Another item I bought was an intimidating pressure canner, with dial for pressure, which would process 16 to 18 pint jars at a time. I took a class at the local extension service, and had the lid tested for accuracy. I also have a load of empty jars and lids available. The "emergency" angle of the pressure canner was to be able to process stored meat if electricity went out; it would be a trick on the Coleman camp stove, of course.

I got a cute Danish frig some years ago, very energy-efficient, smallish; a Vestfrost. Love it. But when I had a CSA membership, there was no way the week's veggies would fit. So I bought a 10 cu ft cheapish frig, and put it into the sunroom. Enough room for the extra veg

In November, just before Thanksgiving (perfect timing!) the downstairs frig gave out. Most of a lamb was packed in the freezer in white paper. This lamb must have been trying out for the Olympics, it was so muscular and chewy, so I hadn't eaten much of it. Oh dear. No way could I fit the lamb into my small freezer, with a local pastured biodynamic half of hog in it.

I firmly decided not to replace the downstairs frig; it was just a convenience, and one which burned electricity. But what to do about the lamb? I had got the pressure canner for just this kind of emergency, with the advantage this time of fully functional electricity (yay!). I had never canned meat before, but I had a situation here, a pressure canner, jars and lids, and the Ball Blue Book of Canning (if you don't have this book, you should get it).

I put the lamb packages into a cooler with 15 lbs of ice, and pulled out some lamb leg roasts. Into the oven overnight in the enamel-lined cast-iron casserole, at 230 degrees. In the morning, the chewy lamb was tender and delicious. Into the jars, and then into the pressure canner, with 7 pint jars of lamb. It was an adventure! I sat beside the canner on the kitchen stool and watched it get up to steam, pop the steam valve, then push the pressure dial up. At our elevation, we need 13 lbs of pressure. And pints take 1 hour 15 minutes. I'm waiting for the whole thing to start to tremble, then shake, then blow hot lamb and juice all over the kitchen. But it did not; it was perfectly well-behaved. I had to tweak the electric burner occasionally to keep it at the right pressure, ending with the burner just barely on.

When time was up, I waited for it to drop pressure completely, then pulled out 7 jars of beautiful lamb. One did not seal, due to my not getting the grease off the rim. That went into the frig for breakfast. The lamb came fully into its prime as excellent food, tender and flavorful. What a kick! One pint of lamb pieces makes three servings.

Emboldened by my success, I processed all the rest of the lamb over the next few days, first from the cooler, then the few pieces I managed to put into the working freezer. Total 25 jars. 75 servings from what would have been a total loss.

Thanksgiving is the absolute worst time to lose a frig; I now had a turkey carcass, small, in the Danish frig plus leftovers from the meal, every shelf stacked up high. Usually the carcass sits in the frig, gets somewhat dried out, I get tired of eating it, make some broth, and have a struggle to use it. This time: aha, use the pressure canner. I put the meaty carcass into my biggest pot, filled with water, cooked it tender, then stripped the meat off the bones. Into pint jars went a few ounces of meat, filled up with the broth. I got 8 pints of turkey soup makings pressure-canned.

They make a delicious soup! One pint is just right for one serving. Just add chopped carrot, onion, napa, and soup mac or rice. Ready in 15 minutes. Tastes like you cooked it for hours. No leftovers going stale. I love it! Hubby wanted turkey again for Christmas, and I'm prepared to put up some more.

The pressure canner has repaid its purchase price several times over, helping me cope with the dead frig emergency.

And the preparations I made after taking the class helped us through a couple of long power outages due to a flood and windstorms. The house keeps its temperature wonderfully. One night the temperature got to 14 degrees outside, but the house settled at 54 degrees. Well, you can live at 54 degrees, with extra sweaters and blankets for the bed. The drinking water came in handy too (we are on well water, so when the electricity is out, so is the water, and the furnace). Twenty-five quarts of water does disappear pretty fast, even for just drinking and washing hands. More would be good.

Probably the most worthwhile exercise of the class was when she suggested we turn off our utilities for the weekend. I chickened out on this, but did spend some hours doing a thought experiment: what if we lost our power for a week or two? What would I do? What would I need that I didn't have? Which room of the house would we use? What would be different in summer vs winter vs spring and fall? What would happen to the frozen food? How would we cook?

You don't need to have an apocalypse, a pandemic, an asteroid impact or similar catastrophe to justify your preparations. There are plenty of power outages, blizzards, well failures (we had that too, last year), refrigerator failures, you-name-it, coming along in our lives to justify some preparations, and make your life easier.