A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Canning fail... Can I get a Mulligan?

Home preservation isn't always successful.  Things happen.  Jellies don't set, jars don't seal, headspace is misjudged, ingredients get forgotten, recipes gets scorched... the possible fails go on and on.

I have been doing a tremendous amount of canning as of late and was bound to have a bad day eventually.  I decided to take care of two ingredients that were at risk of going bad one evening last week (Friday, if I remember correctly).  The green beans were overflowing and had more than filled a crisper drawer in the refrigerator.  They needed canned or would soon turn limp and mushy and not be suitable to eat.  I could not let the labor involved in growing and picking them be for naught, so I passed on dinner with friends to take care of them.  Mom, S and I prepped nearly ten pounds of beans and I got to work getting them in jars.  In my zeal to get them in the canner, I forgot to add the salt.  I immediately panicked, as I had never forgotten an ingredient like that and I am always a nervous mess anyway when I am using the pressure canner.  I posted on my canning mentor's facebook page, and later received reassurance that the beans would be fine, that they should simply be labelled as no salt.  Apparently in this case, the salt is just for flavor.  Anyone who knows me well, knows I do not like making mistakes.  Even small ones like this, I take rather personally.

While I was working on the beans, we were also scalding the most ripe peaches from a bushel I "accidentally" came home with.  I intended to pick up less than a peck, but when the orchard informed me that they had 4 pecks of seconds available, I could not help myself.  The ripest ones needed dealt with that day, so we prepped them for pie filling.  I have never made peach pie filling for canning before, so it was new to me.  Additionally, I had never worked with Clear Jel, so I was really setting myself up for trouble.  As the recipe went together, it seemed as though the Clear Jel was not working until, WHAM!, it set up like glue in the pot.  However, instead of looking like the beautiful pie filling in the pictures I had seen, it looked like a big pot of snot with some peaches in it.  Not only had it set up strongly in the pot, there were not nearly enough peaches in it.  I measured based on weight, according to the directions, but I see now that I need to make sure I have more peaches available while I work in case it doesn't seem like enough when it comes time to mix the fruit in.

As it hit its "WHAM" set up moment, it began bubbling violently in the pot.   I was stirring and trying to bump the heat back down when a big, thick, boiling glob flew up and hit my hand, burning me bad enough to blister.  There I stood, running cold water over a fried hand, thinking about my saltless beans in the canner (worried still as I had not yet been answered), and looking back toward the stove at pie filling that looked more like mucous than food.  It very much felt like a failed evening of canning.

The bright side is, the blisters weren't so bad from the burns, the beans will be fine and the pie filling clarified while processing, so it at least looks nice in the jars.  I will just add additional canned peaches when I make a pie with that filling.  It was a good lesson in canning for me.  I have had a fair amount of successes and needed a bit of humbling it would seem.  The wonderful thing about having trouble with canning is that you can always try again!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Canning Marathon #2

As I said in My First True Marathon, I seem to just have an ingrained need to can.  Each time, I forget the pain I will feel in my feet from standing for 12 hours at a time and the pruney fingers I will have from washing and preparing the harvest for preservation.  I lose sight of the potential for steam burns and the frustration from jam or jelly that just won't set.  Even if the memories are fresh, they take a back seat to the complete joy I feel seeing the colorful jars cooling on the counter and hearing the "plink" of metal lids sealing against their glass vessels.  It all fades away as I get into another weekend, packed with canning.

I had a very ambitious weekend the first time around, finishing 77 jars of tasty delights to add to the pantry.  I really never thought I would can more than that in a similar amount of time.  Much to my surprise, this weekend proved otherwise.  We canned a total of 89 jars in two days. Even more remarkable was that 74 of those were done on Sunday alone.