Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pressure canner in a mood?

Trouble shooting your pressure canner

There is nothing more frustrating than when you have worked hard to get a batch of food prepared to can and then your canner doesn’t work right or for you to have Old Faithful erupting on your stove instead of staying in Yellowstone

After 30 years of canning I have learned several “tricks” All of them the hard way.  In order to understand what is causing a problem and how to fix it then you need to understand how each part of the canner works together with the rest of the parts.

The normal run of the mill canner: (mine is a Mirro 22 qt made in 1980, it has been in service full time for 31 years)

Various parts of the canner:

Pot  (See the locking lugs all the way around)

Canner Racks.. One is always placed on the bottom of the pot under your jars.  The other is placed on top of the first level and then a second level of jars on top of it.  This is when you are canning pints or half pints and are doing a second level.  You can not stack quart jars.  Failure to use these will cause your jars to break in the canner.

Pressure regulator (this is what regulates the amount of pressure in your pot)
High pressure relief valve (this is the safety mechanism to keep you from blowing the lid thru your ceiling)

Lid locking mechanism (this is also a safety mechanism to keep the lid from blowing thru your ceiling)

Problem:  The lid will not fit on right
          Possible cause and solution
1.     The locking lugs are not properly lined up
a.     Place the lid on top of the canner with the lid handles a little off set from the pot handles.  Line up the lugs by sliding it back and forth until the lugs fit together and the lid slides down.  Then turn the lid until the handles on the pot and the lid line up.
b.    If your lid doesn’t not want to slide easily once it has seated on the lugs then coat the gasket with a small amount of vegetable oil to help the gasket to slide on the pot.

Problem: Canner will not reach correct pressure.
Turn off your burner and Slide the canner to a cool spot to cool down before trouble shooting the problem.

Possible cause and solutions:
1.     Gasket not sealing
a.     Soak gasket in hot water for 15 minutes
b.    if gasket seems loose on the lid then you can stretch the gasket by working your way around with both hands pulling on it
c.     try a coating of vegetable oil
d.    Replace gasket
2.     not enough heat
a.     Increase heat
3.     If you have a canner with wing nut type clamps then it is possible one of your clamps is not tight.

Problem: Old faithful erupting on stove. 
Steam is pouring out from under the lid.  Slide the canner to a cool spot to cool down before trouble shooting the problem.

          Possible causes and solutions
1.     Lid locking mechanism did not lock
a.     Try Jiggling the lid to get the mechanism to lock.  Some canners are very picky about the lid placement and this mechanism.
2.     Food is hung in the lid lock mechanism
a.     Make sure your lid and jars are clean before processing.
b.    Check the gasket, under the gasket and the lid lock mechanism for pieces of food.
3.     Gasket not sealing
a.     Soak gasket in hot water for 15 minutes
b.    if gasket seems loose on the lid then you can stretch the gasket by working your way around with both hands pulling on it
c.     try a coating of vegetable oil
d.    Replace gasket if it is dry, hard, cracked or torn.
4.     If you have a canner with wing nut type clamps then it is possible one of your clamps is not tight.

Problem: The high pressure valve just popped
(Hurry and throw a damp rag on top of the valve so that you do not lose your jars, do not get your hand in the way of the steam it will burn you).  Slide the canner to a cool spot to cool down before trouble shooting the problem.

Possible causes and solutions
1.     Stem is clogged
a.     Always make sure your pot and lid is clean before you use it and make sure your jars are clean when you put them in.

Problem: The pressure regulator quit jiggling and is now just blowing a steady stream of steam
          Possible cause and solution
1.     Too much pressure in pot
a.     Turn down your fire a bit

Problem: The pressure regulator quit jiggling and is not blowing steam out
          Possible cause and solution
1.     not enough pressure in the pot
a.     Turn up your fire a bit

Problem:  You just bought a new gasket for your Mirro Canner and now it won’t seal or the gasket only lasts a few times of running the canner before it fails again.
          Possible cause and solution
1.     Turn your pot over and look at the manufacturing date.  You see the 12 80 on mine (See picture below).  The Mirro 22qt made before 1983 requires a different gasket than is sold at the hardware store now.  You probably have the wrong gasket.  There are several sites on the internet that sells the older replacements.  You can call the manufacturer to make sure of what part you need.  Gaskets that are used regularly should last 3-5 years.  Usually what causes them to fail is not using them and they dry out.

Problem:  Lids not sealing
          Possible causes and solutions
1.     Rims not clean when lids are placed on
a.     Wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth before placing your hot lids on them
2.     Pressure being dropped too fast
a.     Never drop the pressure artificially.  Allow the pot to cool on its own.  By dropping the pressure it causes negative pressure in your pot and will pull the jar contents out into the pot from under the lids.
3.     Using used metal lids
a.     Never reuse a metal lid.  The only lids suitable for repeated use are Tattler lids with gaskets.
4.     Not enough headspace
a.     Leave about ¾’s of an inch between the top of your food and the top of your jar.  The jars will boil in the canner and if you do not have enough empty space in the jar then the contents will be pushed out of the jar causing grease and food to get under the lid.
5.     Rings not tight on metal lids
a.     Tighten rings over metal lids prior to processing
6.     Rings too tight on tattler lids before processing or not tightened down after processing.
a.     Tighten and then back off the rings over a Tattler lid ¼ inch then tighten the rings after the jars are processed and removed from the canner.  Use an oven mitt the jars are HOT!!!

Remember: if at any time you lose the pressure in your pot you have to start retiming the food from the time you rebuild pressure!!

Remember: Always let the canner vent steam for at least 10 minutes before placing the weight on the stem.  This allows the air to evacuate the pot and makes sure the stem is clear.

Remember:  Always make sure your canner is clean and the jars are clean before canning or you can clog your stem.  Inspect it before each use.

Remember:  Always make sure you have enough water in the pot to run the entire processing time.  If you let a canner run dry you will warp the pot and break your jars.

Remember:  NEVER drop the pressure purposely by removing the weight or running cold water over the pot.  Always allow the pot to cool naturally by only sliding it to the cool side of your stove or counter.  Failure to do this can cause steam/burn injuries, broken jars and seal failure.

Remember: Any time there is a problem with your canner gently and carefully slide it to a cool place and then leave it alone until the pressure has subsided.  If too much pressure builds it will make a howling sound from the steam escaping the escape valve or from under the lid.  The escaping steam will burn you!!!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ladies- Surviving TEOTWAWKI in style home made scents

Just because we can not go to the store and buy some good smelling perfume is not a reason to not have it.  Is there a flower or herb that you like?  This method can be used to pull the scent out of any flower or herb.  You can use it to scent your bathwater, bath salt or just rinse your hair in it. 

You will need:
A large pot
the lid for that large pot
a smaller bowl to collect the drips
a steamer rack to set the bowl on
an ample amount of flower petals or herbs

First put a couple inches of water in your pot then set your steamer rack upside down in the bottom of the pot, next place flowers or herbs in the water around your rack
Next place your collection bowl on top of the rack

Then place the lid on top upside down and fill it with ice.  This will work as a condenser to get the essential oil and scent out of the herbs

bring the pot to a simmer and allow it to simmer about 30 minutes.  You may need to dump the water off the lid and replace the ice at least once.  The steam with the oil and scent will go up to the lid and drip back into your bowl.
See the clear liquid in the bowl?  That is where most of your scent went to.  The resulting mess would be considered "rose water" It will still have scent to it but it will not be as strong.
It can be used as a rinse for your hair.  I pour it and the petals and water on the porch under my racoon cage.  She likes to play with the petals and it makes her cage smell better.

The stronger smelling the herb or flower that you use will result in a stronger scented oil. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Culturing Buttermilk and Sour cream-Kitchen Microbiology

Have you ever tried to make something and it called for buttermilk?  Of course there is the old standby of adding vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk and letting it clabber.  That just isn’t as good as that nice thick stuff they sell at the store, nor is it any good for the late night southern treat of buttermilk poured over cornbread, crackers or biscuits.  Then of course in many areas of our country stores do not even sell buttermilk or it is very hard to find.  The south it is pretty common but in the north? Many recipes call for buttermilk: Pancakes, biscuits, cornbread, etc.

Once you have started your buttermilk it is as easy as keeping a batch going in your fridge indefinitely.  Just make sure you save 12 oz of the cultured buttermilk to add to 32 ounces of fresh milk for the next batch.  My first culture was bought over a year ago and I still have fresh buttermilk in the fridge.

Here in Northwest Arkansas a quart of Buttermilk at Wal-Mart is $1.57, which would equal $6.28 a gallon and a gallon of regular milk is $2.  If you have a cow then the price would be that much better!  So we can get over the sticker shock of $6.28 a gallon by making it ourselves for the cost of a gallon of regular milk.

Different kinds of Buttermilk:

Old Fashioned Buttermilk:

This is the left over fluid from when you make butter, hence the term “Buttermilk”.  It will have small chunks of butter in a tart whitish fluid.  As you churn your butter it creates a lump of butter.  Once it is drained and dried what is left is old fashioned buttermilk.

Cultured Buttermilk (store bought Buttermilk):

This is made with a culture of Streptococcus Lactis.  The fresh milk is the growing medium for these beneficial bacteria. You will need to inoculate your fresh milk (medium) with cultured buttermilk (bacterial start) and allow it to grow at room temperature. 

Definitions to help explain:

Bacteria:  is a micro-organism.  We all know about the nasty ones that make us sick.  There are however good ones that do a job for us.  We have all heard that streptococcus causes strep throat.  No fears the term Streptococcus means that it is a type of bacteria that resembles little balls (cocci) under a microscope and is in the strep family.  The last word Lactis is what determines the strain of streptococcus it is.  Strep throat is caused by “Group A Beta Hemolytic Streptococcus” (GAS), see the difference in the name?  And there is a huge difference in the type of bacteria.  So don’t worry you won’t catch “strep throat” from this.

Medium: This is whatever you put the bacteria in to grow.  In a lab it would be a Petri dish with some kind of gelled medium like chicken broth.  In our kitchen lab it is fresh milk, it can be raw or pasteurized (store bought)

Inoculate:  This is to introduce a starting batch of bacteria into your growing medium.

How to make Buttermilk:

First you will have to buy 1 pint or quart of buttermilk at the store in order to get your bacterial start.  If you keep it going then it will be the last time you have to buy it.

You will need fresh milk (regular whole milk tastes best) and a glass jar with a lid.  I like ½ gallon or 1 gallon jars.

Measure 12 ounces of buttermilk and pour into the jar.  Then if you have a ½ gallon jar fill it to the top with fresh (sweet) milk.  If you are using a gallon jar than measure 2 quarts of milk.  Add to the jar with your starting culture.  You are inoculating your fresh milk with the culture at this time.

Screw the lid on tightly and shake it up.  Now leave it sitting on your counter either over night or all day. It should clabber in 12-16 hours.  As the bacteria multiply and grow, you will start to notice the milk beginning to clabber.  Usually it is separated more but my hubby got into it last night and shook it up for his cornbread and buttermilk snack.

When you shake the jar it will coat the inside with a smooth white coating.  That is when it is done.  See how it coats the side of the glass.

Place the jar in the fridge at this time.  If you notice the buttermilk separating and looking curdled it is fine just shake it up.

How to make Sour Cream:

Sour cream is made the same way except using heavy cream instead of milk.  You would combine 4 oz of buttermilk to 12 ounces of heavy cream.  Leave it sitting on the counter.  Instead of clabbering and separating it will get thick.   When it is ready you will not be able to shake it but instead will have to stir it.  I like it creamy like in the picture below.


Ranch dip:

 12 ounces sour cream

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed

1/2 tablespoon dried chives

1/2 tablespoon dried parsley

1 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Mix together and enjoy

Cornbread with buttermilk:

This is a light and fluffy corn bread that is a favorite in my family

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/8 cup sugar

1 tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

¼ cup melted bacon grease or oil

1 ½ cups buttermilk

2 eggs

Spray 9x9 pan with cooking spray.  Mix all ingredients together and pour into pan.  Bake at 450 until golden brown and the edges pull away from the pan.


Bacon cornbread: crumble a couple slices of crisp bacon into the batter

Mexican Cornbread:  Add chopped onions, whole kernel corn and chopped peppers to taste

Muffins: Pour into muffin tins instead of a pan

Onion Cheese:  Add ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese and 3 chopped green onions

Southern Midnight snack:  break up cornbread into a cup and cover with buttermilk.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fun with Grandma

I like to get the kids involved in cooking.  So yesterday when I made bread I was babysitting my grandson.  He is 3 and he got to pour the oil into the proofed yeast mixture.  I really enjoy having this little man around...  I will post the bread recipe with pictures and detailed instruction soon.

Granola Cereal

If The SHTF then the stores will be closed and your nightly bowl of Raisin Bran will come to an end unless you can make a substitute out of your pantry.  Here is one alternative for a tasty cold cereal that is limited only by your imagination.  It is great as a cold cereal with milk, on top of yogurt, mixed into trail mix, or just as a snack that is healthy and nutritious.

 Strawberry (or raisin, or date, or plain, or prune, or peach, and on and on) Granola for cold cereal or a healthy snack.  I make a double batch since all my kids and grandkids love it.

 You will need

                                                    i.     6 cups old fashioned oats (Not quick oats or you can roll your own oat groats if you do then do it on a pretty thick setting on your roller)

                                                  ii.     ½ cup oil (your choice, I use plain old vegetable oil)

                                                iii.     ½ cup honey

                                                iv.     1 cup of your choice of pureed fruit Or for plain increase above to 1 cup each

                                                  v.     Any seasonings you want like nutmeg, cinnamon etc
                                   Nuts, dried fruits, candy chips, etc if you choose

  In a pot place the honey and oil heat it on a medium heat until you see it start to bubble

Put the oats in a big bowl

  When the mixture on the stove begins to bubble remove it and mix in the fruit

 Pour the mixture into the oats and mix well breaking up any large clumps.
   Spread the mixture onto cookie sheets and bake at 300 degrees  for  about 50 minutes.

Stir it every 10-12 minutes so that it toasts evenly.  When the granola has toasted to your liking, remove and cool. You can stir in any dried fruit, nuts, candy chips etc you want at this time.
  Store it in an air tight container.  I can not tell you how long it will last as it does not last long here in my house.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Preserving food in a grid down scenario

We all know how possible a grid down scenario is.  While we have been stuffing our pantries and freezers with food to sustain us, what happens when there is no electricity to run that freezer?  If it is winter time in a northern place then it would be fine and we could use Mother Nature.  But what if you live in a southern area where the temperature does not remain below freezing?

One solution would be to home-can your food.  Let’s start out by talking about the equipment needed.  First thing you would need a good quality canner.  They can be purchased pretty much anywhere.  Most require a rubber gasket between the lid and the pot in order to produce a seal and build the required pressure in order to raise the temperature to a point that pathogens are destroyed inside your jars.  But then what do you do when the gasket fails (they generally last 3-5 years) on your canner and you have no store to go buy another or the internet to order one?   My suggestion would be to invest in a canner that does not require a gasket.  There is one brand of canner that does not require a gasket.  It is the “All American Canner”.  They are quite pricey to buy initially but when you figure many years of service without replacement gaskets the price goes down.  This canner has a machined rim that is so precise that it does not require any kind of gasket.  You have to be careful to not boil it dry and warp it.  But with careful use and care it should last your lifetime.  There are several listed on eBay.

This is my canner it is a Mirro 22 quart and I have been using it for 20 years and my grandmother 10 years before that.  

Then there are those pesky metal lids that can only be used one time.  Wal-Mart generally carries these lids.  I say generally because last fall my Wal-Mart in our town decided it was past canning season and sent all of theirs back to the warehouse.  Then when I went to the supercenter in the next town they were out.  I finally found some at the hardware store in town.  The prices have also gone up on these.  They were .99 cents a dozen a couple years ago and now the cheapest I can find them for is $1.63 when Wal-Mart has them and $2.49 at the hardware store.  So what happens when the grid is down and no stores or internet is available to buy any?  The solution to this is tattler reusable lids.  I have some and plan to buy a lifetime supply soon.  I have experimented with them and they have proved reliable over and over.  They are pricey for the initial investment but over the long run they pay for themselves quite quickly.  They are a 2 piece plastic lid with a rubber gasket.  As long as you do not damage the gasket they will work over and over.  You have to be careful when opening your jar so that the gasket does not get cut with your opener.  They are also tricky in that you have to get used to not tightening the rings down on them until after processing.  The trick is to tighten the ring down and then back it off about ¼ of an inch.  Then you process according to recommended times and pressures.  When you take the jars out of the canner use mitts and tighten each ring down on the jars.  Set your jars on a towel and allow them to cool.  After they have cooled completely then you can remove the rings.  The only other drawback is that you can not write on them.  Since they are reusable writing on the lids would cause a problem the next time you used them.  So after they are cool and you remove the rings make sure the jars are clean and place a small piece of masking tape on the lid and write on it.  Or you can write on the jar itself with a magic marker as this will wash off the glass.  You can get them in a bulk deal for about .50 cents a lid.  Since the metal ones are about .20 cents a lid you can see how fast they would pay for them selves.  You can look at the tattler website    If you email them they will send you a sample.

The other equipment you would need is reusable and you would not need to worry so much about replacements.  They are:

Jar lifter

Small pot for boiling the lids

Jar funnel

Water bathing pot for processing pickles and fruit, you can also use your canner without the lid for this, but I like a separate pot to water bath in.

Pot holders or oven mitts

A large ladle for filling jars

A canning book (I like Putting Food By) There are many different ones available.

And of course the food you are canning (inserted per my 10 year olds request)

Now that we got the boring equipment part out of the way we can move on to the good part…

There is a great satisfaction to having your cabinet full of what I call convenience foods.   I like to can food in a way that I can open the jar, heat it up and Presto dinner is ready.  I love to make soup and when I do I make it 5 gallons at a time… I do not add any pasta to it when I make the big batch then I will remove only what we are going to eat for that meal to add the pasta.  (Pasta does not can well it only gets mushy).  Then I can all of the leftovers in quart jars.  Meat loaf, meat balls, barbecued meat, roast in gravy, taco meat, spaghetti sauce with the meat and even left over gravy in jars makes for a very speedy meal and can even be prepared by the less culinary gifted people in your home should you be unable to cook.  Remember that what ever you can always process it for the recommended amount of time for the ingredient requiring the longest processing time.  For example I made venison soup a few days ago.  It had venison, barley and vegetables in the soup.  The venison would require the longest processing time, (90 minutes at 15 lbs for our altitude and for quart jars).  So that is what the soup got processed for. 

As you can see from the above picture the grease will float to the top of the jar and get hard when it cools.  Then when you open the jar it is very easy to remove the fat with a spoon.  The meat is from left to right: hamburger, Meat loaf, Taco meat, BBQ Chicken, Roast pork and gravy, canned boneless pork, Ham chunks, boneless beef chunks.

When you can meat it does change the flavor and texture a bit.  My husband does not care for the canned hamburger but it is a good way to preserve it when there is no freezer.  Using this meat is as easy as opening the jar and draining the liquid.  You can process meat either hot pack (already cooked) or raw pack.  In the above pictures the beef, ham and pork are raw packed, the others were cooked first.  The roast and gravy was leftover from a large roast I cooked.  Canned chicken flakes easily for making things like enchiladas and you can buy the lesser cuts of beef that would normally be tough; after you can them they are very tender. 

Canning meat (Raw pack)

Raw pack is the easiest way to can meat.  Simply cut the meat into chunks and pack into the jar leaving about an inch of headspace (the distance from the top of the meat to the top edge of the jar).  Wipe the rim of the jar (you must make sure there are no food particles, grease or chipped rims or it will not seal).  Place a boiled lid on top and screw on a ring.  Then process at the recommended time and pressure. We are at a little over 1000 feet.  I process meat for quarts 90 minutes at 15 lbs and pints for 75 minutes at 15 lbs. You can NOT process meat in a water bath.  It MUST be pressure canned.  When processing raw meat you do not add any liquid.  The broth is made as the meat cooks in the jars.  Begin timing after your canner has reached the correct pressure per your specific canners instructions.  After the timing is over slide your canner to a cool side of the stove and allow it to cool.  Do NOT try to reduce the pressure rapidly by running water on it or helping the pressure to escape.  This will cause seal failure.  After the canner has cooled and there is no longer any pressure inside it then remove the weight and lid.  Using a jar lifter remove the jars to a towel on your counter.  Remember they are VERY hot at this time and you will see the contents still boiling.  If you are using Tattler lids this is the time to tighten the bands down.  After the jars have cooled off (over night) then remove the lids and wash the jars.  The jars may have grease on the outside of them from processing.  Always write on the lid or tape what the contents are and the month/year of processing.  Home canned meat should have a shelf life of about 5 years if done properly.

Canning meat (Hot pack)

This is the way you would can any leftovers.  Heat what ever you are going to process up (Soup, meat and gravy, taco meat, etc).  Then using the jar funnel ladle the food into the jar leaving about 1 inch of headspace.  Then follow the directions above.  Remember to always process for the time required to process the longest amount recommended for any one ingredient.

Canning Meatloaf (Raw pack)

You must use wide mouth pint jars for this.  Otherwise the neck of the jar will not allow your loaf to slide out.  Do not add eggs or fillers (oatmeal, bread crumbs, etc).  Mix your ground meat with the seasonings you wish.  I mix sausage and hamburger together with a can of drained diced tomatoes and a bit of Italian seasoning.

 Then pack the mixture into the jar leaving an inch of headspace.  Wipe the rim. Place on lids and rings then process the recommended time/pressure.  When it is done you will have a nice loaf of cooked meat in a broth with fat ion top.  When you are ready to eat it open the jar and drain the liquid.  I like to slice the meatloaf to make sandwiches.

Canning Meat Balls (hot pack)

Make your meatballs (mix meat and seasonings).  Do not add any eggs or fillers.  Bake them in the oven to brown them.  Then place the balls into jars and cover with liquid (I use half strength V8 juice) Process the recommended time/pressure.  The meat balls make a great snack for kids and easy to make meat ball subs, spaghetti, etc.

Canning soup or roast (Hot pack)

Make your soup or roast.  Make sure if you are canning roast that it is cut into small enough pieces to fit into the jar and then come back out easily.  Do not add any pasta to your soup prior to canning.  If you are going to want pasta in your soup then wait and add it after you open the jar.  It is very easy to open the jar heat it to boiling then add a handful of noodles and cook them in the broth.  If you try to can pasta it only gets mushy. 

Canned Gravy: Depending on what you use to thicken your gravy it may thin out and need to be thickened with corn starch after you open the jar.  Corn starch will break down if it is cooked too long so corn starch thickened gravy will also thin back out with processing.

You can even can Bacon slices, bacon bits, etc.  What you put into jars really is as great as your culinary skills and imagination.  It is a great way to utilize leftovers so that they are not wasted and a great way to add to your food stores without spending a lot of money on store bought canned meat.  Just remember to always process the safe time and pressure for your altitude for the ingredient that requires the longest processing.  Also remember that spices tend to get stronger after canning.  So if you think there is a little too much oregano in your meat balls you need to add more meat before you process or your meat balls will really have too much oregano when you are done.