Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Wood Stove Canning February 12, 2013

Today, I tried something new that I have avoided. I canned spaghetti sauce and peach jam on the wood stove. I don’t know why I avoided it as long as I have. I used the waterbath method since the sauce didn’t contain large chucks of veggies or meat. It is a basic sauce and I add the veggies & meat when I set it to simmer during meal preparation.

It was so easy to process the sauce. No different than canning on the modern stove. The only true difference is keeping the fire in the firebox hot enough to keep the kettle of water boiling.

I used a large stockpot that was deep enough for processing pint jars. That is the size jar that I use most often, so getting out the large canner made no sense. I placed a small round rack in the bottom of the stockpot to prevent the jars from resting on the bottom of the pot. The stockpot held 7 jars, which is similar to the large waterbath canner.

I set the filled jars into the canner and covered them with water so that the water level was about 2 inches above the jar tops. I used the stockpot lid throughout the processing to help keep the water boiling consistently. I allowed the water to boil for the recommended amount of time in my canning book. When they were done, I lifted the jars from the water to place onto a folded towel. As I lifted them out, I heard that wonderful noise that all home canners listen for – the popping of each jar’s lids as they sealed.

I tried a new idea as I did my canning. I had a large, tall jar of peach jam that was less than half full. It was becoming difficult for our young daughter to remove some jam out when making herself a sandwich. I took out a couple of 1/2 pint size canning jars and filled them with the jam. I had a small amount left over that was placed into another small jar for our daughter to use.

I placed these into the canner along with the 5 pints of spaghetti sauce. The jam sealed wonderfully. If this little experiment works, then I will have yet another way to break down large bulk size containers of food that I buy on sale. In retrospect, that size jar of jam that I had bought would easily have spoiled by the time it would have been used up had I not broke the amount down into smaller jars. We simply don’t go through jam that quickly. This jar was an exception as it was a new flavor for the kids.

If the jam turns out well, then I am going to start watching for the good sales on large containers of jam. It is far cheaper to buy it than to buy the fruit and make your own. I watch closely the ingredients and stay away from high fructose corn syrups and other questionable ingredients. To be able to save extra money this way will sure help the family grocery budget.


Pantry Blessings December 6, 2012

Over the past couple of weeks, I have realized that our pantry is much better stocked than I had considered it to be. I have been sorting through my recipes and separating out the ones that are best for the style of meals we enjoy. Mostly good ol’ farm cookin. When I read through old recipes in cookbooks that are from the Depression era, Colonial times, and even those used by families in the mountain areas known as the Osarks, I find a commonality between them. The recipes are simple, use few ingredients, and are based upon what they grow locally and in season. How far we have come in our society from this way of eating!

It makes no sense to eat foods out of season when prices are highest. So, I am changing things around so that we are only eating fresh produce that is still in season. I also am buying it at a local farm where I can also buy fresh eggs. The eggs are nearly half the price of store bought, yet are more recently gathered when compared to the stores. I am looking for a similar resource for farm milk also.

As I have been going through the recipes, I found that with the assortment of dried beans, lentils, rice, flour, sweetenings, and other basic pantry items, along with the canned vegetables, we have enough food stored that at this point, I have only needed to buy the milk, eggs, butter, cheese, and occasionally some meat. What a blessing!

On YouTube, I found that there are very well made instructional videos that demonstrate cheese making, including how to make your own cheese press. I am planning to make the cheese press as soon as I have the ability to do so. Then, I will be starting to make some cheddar cheese. I was especially excited to see the instructions on YouTube for making your own starter from cultured buttermilk. If that works, then I will have a steady supply of starter. If I don’t make my own starter, then I will simply purchase it by mail order from Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

So many plans, but I am taking it slowly. I am gathering as many self-reliance recipes and instructions as I can so that I can begin honing the skills. I don’t know how much I will have true need for the skills, but I want to know them anyways. You never know when they will come in handy. Our daughter is eager to learn cheesemaking with me. It will be fun to teach her how to do it.

I am excited about the idea of building a pantry that is simpler and will contain many of the foods that we always seem to have to purchase. Once Joe is able to work closer to home, we will be able to get more done on the homestead. We will be able to turn it into a little family sustaining farm.


Home Canning Pumpkin September 30, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,homesteading,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 7:34 pm

Going to the store and finding large displays of pumpkins brings canning to my thoughts. I usually wait until pumpkin prices are lower, right before Halloween. I don’t bother with buying the small pie pumpkins. If I want that type, I grow them myself. I have found that many of your large jack-o-lantern type pumpkins taste very good also. They may lack a bit of the sweetness or the smaller pie pumpkins, but the flavor is still great for eating as squash or in a pie.

I looked online to get the most recent instructions for processing pumpkins in a pressure canner. You can read them here. To prepare the pumpkins, you wash the pumpkins well. Cut the pumpkin in half and clean out the seed cavity. Save the seeds for roasting!

Cut the pumpkin into 1 inch wide wedges. Peel the pumpkin and cut each wedge into 1 inch cubes. Boil for 2 minutes. Fill each jar with the pumpkin, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Cover with cooking liquid or water. Add lids and rings to the canning jars. Process according to the chart on the website link above.


Canning Night September 15, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,off grid,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 4:08 am

Went shopping at the grocery store today and found they were having a truckload meat sale. Oh boy!!! I was needing to buy meat to can up for Joe to take on the truck so this was great timing.

I bought 4 large bags of boneless chicken breasts, a large package of ground beef, and a nice sized roast. The roast was cut up into small bite-size pieces to be used in beef stew. Cutting it up small allows more room in the jars for veggies. It also makes it easier to get out of the jar later on.

I precooked the stew meat in a little water to make a broth with. Then added it to the jars along with baby carrots. Joe adds potatoes when he cooks it. Broth added over the meat & carrots, then I processed the jars in the pressure canner.

I boiled the chicken breasts, again to make a broth to go with it. The chicken was then cut into chunks and placed in jars with it’s broth before processing in the pressure canner.

The ground beef is browned until nearly done. I then add a bit of chopped onion to it and finish browning. The meat is drained to remove as much fat as possible. I fill the jars loosely to about 3/4 full, then process in the pressure canner. Sometimes, I place the ground beef in a 1/2 pint sized jar mixed with a tomato sauce such as the type you would put over meatloaf, a sloppy joe mixture, make it as taco meat, or simply mix with a bit of spaghetti sauce before processing.

Overall, I am very pleased with the results. I did up part of the meat in pint jars for Joe to have on the truck and the rest is done up in quart jars to use in meals for the entire family. We have enough for 4 dozen meals all together. Not bad for an evening’s work.


New Spin on Old Refrigeration September 5, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,green living,homesteading,off grid — ourprairiehome @ 2:13 pm

A couple of generations ago, refrigeration of foods was very different that what we are used to today. Instead of a refrigerator, those lucky enough to have refrigeration used an icebox or an actual ice house. The icebox was a cabinet into which a block of ice was placed. Milk and other perishables were kept cold by that ice block. Having such an icebox was considered a luxury when they first came about. For those with an ice house, the ice house often was an underground room, similar to a basement. This helped to insulate and keep the ice frozen through a summer. Ice was harvested from a nearby lake or river, cut into large blocks with a saw, and taken to the ice house. The ice gathered through the winter had to last the summer. General stores often had such an ice house for selling the ice blocks to customers. The ice often was delivered to the home.

If you were to look inside our refrigerator today, you would find almond milk, kool-aid, cheese, butter, eggs, and yogurt. That is exactly what we have in it right now. The entire contents of the refrigerator could easily fit on the top shelf. It seems like such a waste of space. We bartered years ago for this old propane refrigerator. It works, but we simply don’t need all that space. The only time we do need the extra space is when meat is on sale and I make a bulk purchase or when the holiday roll around and I need a place to store the turkey. Other than that, the refrigerator is nearly empty. I don’t make enough food at meals to provide a lot of leftovers. What little is left typically is not enough for one person, so we add it to the dog’s dish when we feed him. The only time we have a lot left over is when I am purposely making large amounts so that I can home can the extra portions to stock into the pantry.

While I was on the truck with Joe a few weeks ago, we saw a very good option for us. Outside of a crafters’ mall, there were some wooden boxes, on legs that made them about counter height. With the lid opened, you could see that the box was made to hold a large ice chest. This gave us an answer to our refrigeration. We have 2 ice chests and are getting a 5-gallon capacity water cooler like those used by work crews. My dear husband is going to build us one of those ice chest cabinets to place into our kitchen. The largest ice chest will be great for our typical refrigeration needs. The second one will be used with dry ice whenever I need a freezer. The water cooler will be filled with ice and a bit of water to provide us with ice cold water to drink anytime.

The propane refrigerator will be placed outdoors. Eventually, it will be placed in an outdoor kitchen. When holidays are upon us or at any time when additional refrigeration is needed, the propane refrigerator will be available. Knowing how much the propane refrigerators cost, we won’t give it up entirely. I can’t wait to see the finished project. Joe wants to have it done before winter. We will be taking measurements and figuring up the amount of wood needed so that I can go and buy it as soon as I am able to do so. One feature that Joe is adding to the cabinet is a drain so that I can drain out the water from the cookers without having to lift them from the cabinet.


Canning Tomato Soup & “Baked Beans” August 3, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 5:02 pm

Here are 2 of my husband’s favorite meals to take out on the truck. They are really easy to make. Enjoy!

Cream of Tomato Soup

1 cup butter
8 tsp. sea salt
1/2 of a small onion, finely minced
4 bottles or cans of Tomato juice
1-1/2 cups of flour
1-1/2 cups of sugar
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Saute’ onion in the butter until translucent. Combine flour, sugar, salt & pepper. Add to the butter mixture and cook gently until bubbly. Use a wire wisp to make sure there are no lumps. You may need to add a bit of the tomato juice to get a smooth mixture. Remove from heat and gradually mix in the remaining tomato juice. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute.

Ladle soup into pint jars, adding the lids and rings. Process by waterbath for 1 hour. NOTE: Be sure the temperature of the water is near that of the soup or the jars will shatter in your canner.

Yield: about 12 pints.

“Baked Beans”

2 pounds of dried navy beans, rinsed and sorted

In a dutch oven, cover beans with water and let boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let soak for an hour. Drain and rinse the beans. Cover with water again and bring to a boil. I then cook the beans until they are 3/4 way cooked. Drain and rinse. Fill pint jars about 2/3’s full of the beans. Set aside.

Sauce for the beans:

4 cups of water
1/2 cup molasses
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. dry mustard

Mix all ingredients into a saucepan and heat until brown sugar is dissolved. Ladle over the beans so that the sauce reaches the bottom of the jar neck (1/2 inch headspace). Wipe off rims and add the lid/ring assembly.

Process in a pressure canner 65 minutes for pints, and 75 minutes for quarts.

***I often will brown ground beef and add this to the jars for my husband. Another option is to add 2-3 of the “Lil Smokies” sausages to each pint jar.

Yields: 9 pints without meat, 11 pints with meat.


Today’s Canning July 27, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 6:30 pm
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Spent $50 at the grocery buying some chicken, ground beef, 2 lbs of dried navy beans, and 4 bottles of tomato juice.  Once finished, I have 8 pints of chicken in broth, 11 pints of baked beans with ground beef added, and 12 pints of tomato soup.  With ingredients from the pantry, such as seasonings, we now have 31 meals for the total cost of $52.00.  Not bad for a morning’s work.