Canning and Food Preservation

Review: “Preserving with Friends” and that’s what I did.

At the end of May, Calamity Jane gave away ten copies of Harriet Fasenfest’s DVD, Preserving with Friends.  I shamelessly plugged myself and won one of the copies on the condition of giving it a thorough review.  I was so excited to receive my DVD in June, and it was so generous (and trusting) of Harriet to give away ten copies!

Then I had a baby in July, and Harriet and CJ probably thought I took the DVD and ran, but I didn’t.  I watched it and took notes while I was breastfeeding. At first I was daunted by a three and a half hour DVD, but it is broken up into lots of short, easy to digest segments, which worked perfectly for me.  I was able to watch one or two sections during the kids’ nap times.  It also includes some cool bonus features if you stick it in your computer (printable charts, pectin making instructions, etc.).

I have made jam and pickles before, so I was tempted to skip over the beginning where Harriet talked about boiling water bath canning basics, but I am glad I didn’t.  The DVD offers a lot of great tips, and my favorite was boiling your jam in a low, wide pan so that the liquid evaporates more quickly, and that she was working outside on her grill!  Two of the most daunting parts of jam making (the time it takes and how hot it gets in my non-air conditioned house) solved, right off the bat!

I wish I had this DVD when I was learning how to make jam.  Actually seeing how Harriet does it made it so much easier to understand.  Much less intimidating!  When I got to the canning fruit section, I found myself saying that I could can tomatoes!  I always wanted to but was too intimidated!

The gems offered in this DVD continue throughout with Harriet’s guests, showing different techniques for making pickles, fermenting and something I was most curious about, pressure canning.  She has the experts in each of these fields sharing their recipes and tips.  Actually seeing the methods helped me so much more than just reading about them in a book.

The DVD includes a bonus section featuring the basics of dehydrating with an electric food dehydrator, freezing with a vacuum sealer and storing root vegetables like onions and garlic.  I wish there was more on these techniques, but they could probably be a whole DVD unto themselves!

Then this weekend, after picking some fresh berries, I had a friend over and we put Harriet’s techniques to the test.  I know I promised to do the plums, but since they are frozen and we had fresh berries that we didn’t want to go to waste, we tried Harriet’s recipe for strawberry jam.

Using a wide pan really saved time and I was really happy with the turn out.  And my friend who had never done any canning or preserving before was happy to try it and she even borrowed my DVD.  I was tempted to give it away too, but I actually plan to re-watch some sections after I get a big jar for fermenting and a pressure canner of my own.

Also, as a side note, I love the name of the DVD.  It is much more fun to preserve food with a friend.  Much more fun.  So thanks too, to Kristen for coming over and jamming with me!

Usually I don’t promote products on my blog, but I have to say that I really liked seeing these techniques, and since so many of us are teaching ourselves these arts, the Preserving with Friends DVD is a great alternative to a book.  It is excellent for visual learners or for giving yourself that confidence boost to stop thinking about it and actually getting yourself some jam in the cupboard.  It’s totally worth the $24.95 to purchase it.  So, get yourself Harriet’s DVD, grab a friend and stock that pantry!

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Recommended Reading | Tags: | 4 Comments

Late Summer Snapshot

It’s been almost three weeks since I’ve made it onto the computer.  I’m sure you were wondering if I had some sort of mysterious injury related to a grub hoe and a compost bin.  But I assure you, everything is fine.  The sun has been out, and things have been growing like mad, including both boys and C.  So the blog has been collecting dust!  In the mean time, I’ve been able to get a few things done around here.

We picked cucumbers up at our CSA and put up 48 quarts of pickles.

We got the tree trunk and stump hauled away to a mill.

And we put some 7 pounds of elk meat into the dehydrator to become jerky.

We harvested corn and our first potatoes with the neighbor.

I have to say that harvesting potatoes is one of the funnest things ever – it’s like a treasure hunt!

We ended up with 40 pounds of fingerlings and 50 pounds of Desirre red potatoes!  We will have plenty for seed next year and hopefully enough to store through the winter.

We also have a neighborhood BBQ in the works and have been spreading the hens’ good will via eggs and some extra garden onions.

We are getting ready for some berry picking and peach picking in the next week or two.  I am excited to get some preserves into the pantry as well.  We are going to take a walk tomorrow to the house with the concord grape vine and see if the new family there will share some grapes with us this year like the last tenants there did.  We are bringing some 2010 jam with us to give them as an incentive!

The late summer/early fall is one of the busiest times around our homestead.  Harvests are coming in, the dehydrator is running, and we are trying to see if we can manage to get the yard back in shape in time to participate in the second annual Denver Botanic Gardens chicken coop tour.  If you remember, I made some improvements on the coop this spring with the tour in mind, and last year was a lot of fun, so it’d be really great if we can pull it together in time.   More updated posts in the coming days – I am finally getting back on the ball around here, I think.  😉

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Chickens, Community, DIY, Garden, Independence Days, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

When the Power Goes Out

All across the country this spring, there have been storms taking out power (and, of course far worse).  My cousin in Alabama was affected earlier this year.  Thankfully she is ok, and was able to drive to Nashville to stay with family for a few days until the power came back on.  This makes me think a lot about disaster preparedness, and I know I’m not the only one.  Sharon Astyk and Greenpa both commented on the CDC’s article about the impending zombie apocalypse last week.  Northwest Edible Life asked about balancing energy consumption and preparedness (which gave rise to this post for me).

We aren’t really in a great place yet as far as being prepared for a natural disaster.  We’re pretty good about preserving food in the summer, enough to get us through the winter, but really nothing long term.  While we’ve been living without a fridge now for the last four weeks, I know we couldn’t hack it without our freezer.  The ice to keep everything from spoiling is pretty crucial.  We keep the majority of our preserved food in there as well.  Without power, we’d be coming up short pretty quickly, especially in the summer time with regards to our meat.

Happily, here in Colorado, the most likely time for a prolonged power outage would be the winter, and that in it of itself mitigates some of the potential damage to the freezer-stored food.  In the case of a power outage that was not during the cold or not soon to be resolved, I really think this is a place where community can help.  Our neighbor, for example, has a couple of generators. But he is a bachelor and has no food stock piled what-so-ever (I’m pretty sure he buys food everyday for each meal). So we could really come to a mutually beneficial arrangement, wherein, his generators help keep our food from spoiling, and we feed him. Of course, generators are only temporary as well, and in the event of something extending past that, we’re pretty much screwed.

We could definitely dehydrate, but only if we do it ahead of time, as both our food dehydrator and oven are electric and power company dependent.  While we could prepare a lot of herbs and some veggies this way ahead of time, I’m not a huge fan of jerky.  So that still leaves most of our meat vulnerable.  We don’t have a pressure-canner either, and a boiling water bath is not enough to safely preserve meats.

One meat preservation option we’ve considered is the possibility of smoking meats. We’ve been on the hunt for an oak barrel that we can use to make a smoker in our yard, as I saw done at the local living history museum last summer. We watched them smoke two chickens in a barrel over bricks dug in the ground. It was super cool and we’ve been wanting to do it ever since. This could even be done in the winter, in an emergent situation, provided you already had the hole for the bricks dug.

This reminds me a lot of Little House in the Big Woods.  I love how detailed the descriptions Laura gives for how the Ingalls family preserves meats for the winter.  Smoking venison and hams, freezing sausages, and putting up salted pork in the attic.  This always makes me wonder what exactly salted pork is and how it tastes, and what the process is.

So I’d like to know what systems others have in place?  Are you prepared for a disaster, whether a short term one, like a weather related power outage, or a long term one, like peak oil or zombie apocalypse?  How are you preserving meat for long term storage?  Are you building community food systems, so that in the event of a disaster you have resources other than your own to draw from?  Is it practical to store meat in the summer time?  (The Ingalls family did not, all their meat storage was just for the winter.)  How else, besides freezing, are you storing food – canning, root cellars, dehydrating, salting, smoking????  Do you have recipes to share?

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Community, Food, Preparedness, Sustainability | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

How NOT to Make Cheese – in Pictures

In the last couple of weeks, I have tried and failed twice to make mozzarella cheese in my kitchen.  It’s supposed to be easy.  They say you can do it in 30 minutes with a microwave, or slightly longer without.  Here is a photo journal of my two attempts at cheese making.  The first attempt actually went a bit better than my second.  The pictures of my second try are in the thumbnails.

So without further ado, “How Not to Make Cheese” in pictures.

Step one: bike to local home brew store to buy rennet.  I bought vegetable rennet tablets as that was all they had at the time.  They do stock animal rennet, but were all out.

Step two: back at home, gather supplies including milk that has not been ultrapasturized.

Step three: heat milk to 55 degrees and add citric acid.

Step four: at 88 degrees, add rennet stirring with an up and down motion.

Step five: bring milk up to just over 100 degrees (some say 103 and some say 105).

Step six: Check that the curds and whey have separated.  The whey should not still be milky, and if it is, let it heat a while longer.  Note that the instructions for my first attempt did not include letting the curds and whey sit for 3-5 minutes, then cutting the curds with a knife.  I tried this on my second attempt though.

Step seven: scoop curds out into a bowl.

Step eight: drain as much whey as possible back into the pot.

Step nine: press the cheese into a ball.  Heat the whey and return the curds to the pot to heat.  On my second attempt, the curds were too soft.  I thought I’d try using some cheese cloth to keep them together while they were reheated.  It didn’t work.

Step ten: knead the hot curds.  Reheat as needed.  Eventually the curds will hold together and get elastic.  If they are crumbly, reheat some more.  This is where my second attempt ended, with super hard, dried out curds that would not hold together at all.

Step eleven: admit defeat.  After a hopeful beginning on my first attempt, the curds got all hard and dry and unworkable.  Not sure what went wrong.  On the second try, as I already mentioned, they got to this point MUCH more quickly.

Step twelve: feed the gross hard curds to the chickens along with the whey – they liked it all at least.

After my spectacular double failure, I was planning to give up cheese making completely, but Rick says I need to try again.  If I do, I will try using animal rennet instead.  Anyone have any ideas or suggestions for me on what the heck went wrong??

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, DIY, Food | Tags: , | 12 Comments

Independence Days: Week 28?

Wow – I think it’s twenty-eight.  I have sort of lost count.  So we’ll go with it.

This week I’ve been playing catch up with the house and laundry and trying not to let any of the food go bad.  I don’t yet have all the green chiles peeled and in the freezer yet.  I’m hoping they will make it a couple more days, but I’m afraid they might not.

I’ve also been trying to get a lot done around the yard.  This weekend is Denver’s chicken coop tour, which we’re participating in.  So of course, I want our yard in an unnaturally clean and perfect manner.  😉  Ha!

Back when we picked peaches, we got a few apples as well.  they’ve been yummy and lasting quite a while on the counter, but our time is about to run out with them, so I decided this morning to dry them.  I’ve never dehydrated apples before, so wish me luck!

Here’s the update this week.

Plant something – some more flowers and bulbs.  No food, but I am hoping to get a few seeds in the ground to over winter (garlic if it’s not too late).

Harvest something – eggs, tomatoes, kohlrabi.

Preserve something – tomatoes frozen, French onion soup made and frozen, some chiles in the freezer.  Put apples on the dehydrator this morning.

Waste Not – compost and recycling, scraps to chickens, etc.

Want Not – nothing.

Build Community Food Systems – I just realized that I never told you that H, E and I helped with a film that Denver Urban Homesteading is making to get the city of Denver to lift the law preventing chickens inside city limits without a permit.  I am excited to see the video (I think it will be on youtube), and I will certainly share when it’s finished!

Eat the Food – made a big pot of veggie soup just to use some things up!  I also made this eggplant lasagna that was a bit of an experiment – the original recipe was a bit different, and I didn’t have what was called for so I made some substitutions.  It turned out really yummy.  Here’s the recipe – it sounds so weird, but it tasted great!

1 ½ pounds eggplant sliced ¼” thick
3 Tbs olive oil
coarse salt and ground pepper
4-6 slices bacon cooked until crisp and crumbled
¼ tsp ground all spice
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1½ tsp dried oregano
5 cups Bechamel Sauce (I would increase the milk in the recipe to 5 cups, the flour to 1/3 cup, and add 2-3 cloves of garlic)
8-12 no-boil lasagna noodles
1 cup shredded swiss cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Toss eggplant with 2 Tbs olive oil, salt and pepper and put on a baking sheet.  Roast eggplant in 400 degree oven for about twenty minutes.  Meanwhile, make your Bachamel sauce and cook your bacon.

When the bacon is crisp, remove from pan and drain off most to all of the drippings.  Add 1 Tbs olive oil to bacon pan and all of the herbs and spices.  Saute about three minutes, and add crumbled bacon back to pan.

Spread 1 cup sauce in the bottom of an 8×8 pan (I use a pan that is about 8×10).  Place two or three noodles over sauce.  Layer with half of the eggplant.  Then 1 cup more of sauce and ¼ cup of Swiss cheese.  Layer two or three more noodles.  Layer on all of the bacon-herb mixture.  Top with another cup of sauce and another ¼ cup of Swiss cheese.  Top with two or three more noodles and repeat eggplant layer with remaining ingredients, reserving the Parmesan.

Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes.  Remove foil, top with reserved cheese and continue to bake 5 -10 minutes more until the cheese is bubbly.  Remove from oven, let cool 15-20 minutes and serve.

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Food, Independence Days, Recipes | Tags: | 1 Comment

Independence Days: Season of Work!

Yes, the harvest season is here, and it feels like we are working non-stop putting up food!  Last week, we made grape jam, finished putting away the peaches, and worked on the yard for a bit.  Rick dug out an area for a new flower bed for me in the back yard, and after we removed all the grass, we were disappointed to find concrete about six inches under the surface of the dirt.  So that turned into a week long project of digging out the concrete, but while it was in progress, H had a great time playing in the piles of dirt.

Thursday, the boys and I went to Berry Patch Farms with a friend who used to be a member of the CSA.  We picked raspberries and had lunch together and talked farms and home schooling.  They did not have strawberries at Berry Patch when we went, so Rick and I took the boys back to pick strawberries on Saturday.  It was cold and rainy, but we had a great time.  H found a toad while we were there and enjoyed carrying it around for a bit before letting it go.

When we got home it was too wet to make jam, so we froze most of the berries, and started in on freezing the plums.  I really wanted plum jam, but it’s been a pretty overcast week so far, so they will have to sit in the freezer until another hot, dry, jam day.  We finally measured out the plums and ended up freezing nearly 70 pounds.  There were probably another ten pounds we ended up tossing to the chickens or composting.  We are hoping to trade some with friends who are making lots of apple sauce this year.  😉

Yesterday at the farm, we were allowed to pick an extra bushel each of peppers and tomatoes.  The tomatoes are destined for the freezer.  We were able to roast the Anaheims, and once peeled, we’ll be set for the winter in the green chile department.  Hooray!  Of course, that means I still have lots of work to do this week.  I hope you can understand why the blog’s be so far behind these days!

Here’s the update:

Plant something – quite a few flowers, a pink pampas grass, but no food..

Harvest something – eggs, tomatoes, zucchini, kohlrabi, cukes, raspberries and strawberries, Anaheim peppers.

Preserve something – 15.25 pints grape jam, the rest of the peaches sliced and frozen (except a few I reserved to eat fresh and some set aside for making preserves with strawberries), strawberries and raspberries in the freezer, a few more gallons of tomatoes in the freezer, 67.5 pounds of plums, some corn and some beans to the freezer as well.  Dehydrated jalapenos.

Waste Not – compost and recycling, scraps to chickens, etc.

Want Not – nothing that I can think of right now.

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Chickens, Food, Garden, Independence Days | 3 Comments

How to Make Grape Jam – In Pictures

How to Make Grape Jam in Pictures on Punk DomesticsWhen the concord grapes get ripe, we like to make jam!  Here’s how we do it.

You’ll need two quarts of concord grapes, six cups of sugar, two small saucepans, a strainer, a canning pot and accessories, and three pint jars with lids and bands.

Wash the grapes and measure out two quarts.  In this picture, there are enough for three batches (six quarts).

Next, peel the grapes, putting grapes in one pot and peels in another.  When the grapes are ripe, you can just give them a squeeze and the grapes pop right out of their skins.

Cook the grapes without water and the peels with just a little water in separate pots for ten or fifteen minutes until the peels are soft and the grapes are separated from the seeds.

Combine the peels in a larger pot with sugar (3 cups per quart of grapes).  Strain out the seeds from the pulp, and add the pulp to the sugar mixture.  Bring to a boil until jam reaches the gelling point.  You can test this with a candy thermometer (211° in Denver), a spoon or by putting a plate in the freezer.

Ladle your hot jam into hot jars.  Process pints in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes here in Denver.  Process five minutes less if at sea-level or using half-pint jars.

Voilà – Grape jam!

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, DIY | Tags: , , | 3 Comments


This weekend was the weekend of fruit.  On Saturday morning we went to Palisade for the second time this summer, and we came home with 319 pounds of peaches.  150 pounds were for friends, and we kept the other half for ourselves.  Then, Sunday morning, before we had even gotten a peach into the freezer, my brother-in-law came by with over 1500 Italian plums.  Thankfully the plums are a bit green, as we didn’t really have much time to mess with the fruit on Sunday.

Monday, we ate some of the plums in a plum coffee cake, and then we went to our friend’s home outside of Allenspark.  Mike grilled and we gathered around the fire pit, and had a nice evening with friends (and peach cobbler), watching the smoke from the fire in Boulder county blow over the horizon.

On the way home we stopped outside of Longmont where we could see the fire above Boulder.  My pictures here don’t do it justice, but it was incredible.

Tuesday is farm day for me, when I go and work at the CSA.  I brought home our share, and had barely pulled into the drive when our friend, Rich drove up with twenty plus pounds of concord grapes!  These grapes are our favorite and they were very generous!

So we have a fruit filled week ahead of us.  I had actually planned to pick strawberries and raspberries this week too, but I am putting that off until next week in hopes that I can get somewhat caught up around here before adding more to it!

Here’s the update:

Plant something – nothing.

Harvest something – eggs, tomatoes, zucchini, peaches

Preserve something – three batches of peach preserves, two and a half boxes (approx. 30 lbs) of peaches sliced and frozen, 3½ pounds green beans frozen, 1 gallon bag of tomatoes frozen, 2 batches of carrot soup in the freezer.

Waste Not – compost and recycling, scraps to chickens, etc.  Lots and lots went to the goodwill over the last couple of weeks.

Want Not – nothing that I can think of right now.

Build Community Food Systems – all the fruit trading!  Yum!

Eat the Food – as mentioned, plum cake and peach cobbler.  Also eating all the yummy farm veggies.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  😉

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Chickens, Food, Garden, Independence Days, Recommended Reading | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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