Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Ready for Winter??? October 14, 2014

Filed under: pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 7:31 am
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A couple of weeks ago, we were having warm days and even warm nights.   Suddenly, the temperatures have begun to drop, especially at night.  Leaves are beginning to turn colors and drop from the trees.  Last weekend, we picked all the apples from the tree so they could be home canned for the pantry.  Winter blankets are coming out of storage to be added to the beds.  The kids’ clothing is being sorted to remove nearly all the summer shorts and tops to make room for warmer clothing.

Last Saturday, we went to town to get supplies.   One stop that we made was to the Dollar Tree store.  I love going there!  Before leaving, I checked their over-the-counter medicine isle.  I probably ended up spending another $10 there, but it was worth it.  Packages of Airborne tea, cold & cough meds for the kids, and pain reliever were added to the basket.  I learned long ago that it is always best to stock up on these early in the season.   Once people start getting sick each autumn, these products become harder to find at Dollar Tree.

I did a thorough cleaning of our pantry recently.  Now, I am restocking items that we need to build up the supplies of.  One area needing a good restocking is the various dried beans and rice.  Each week, as I buy the foods needed for the week, I am adding about 5 packages of staple items to build up the pantry.  It is amazing how far down the supplies can go when you go through a period of job change.  Now that things are getting on an even level again, I can work at rebuilding what we had used.  Thankfully, we never ran out.  We always had enough provisions.  With winter fast approaching, having the pantry restocked of the staples will be a blessing if the weather gets really bad and we can’t get to a store.

 

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Home Canning: Vegetable Soup August 13, 2014

One of the easiest soups to home can is a basic vegetable soup.  It is also a great opportunity to cover one of the important truths of home canning.  Even though a soup or sauce may contain tomatoes, the amount of citric acid in the tomatoes is not enough to allow you to safely process the soups through a waterbath method.  Put simply, if you ever add any other ingredient to the tomatoes, such as vegetables or meat, then it MUST be processed by pressure canning.

Right now, gardens are in full swing.  In some areas, the gardens might be nearing the end of the harvest season.  It is a great time to use up the odds and ends of your harvest to make a hearty soup to stock in your pantry.   For me, there is no real recipe for the vegetable soup.  It is  made using whatever vegetables that I happen to have on hand.  Common vegetables that I put in are carrots, green beans, peas, onion, and zucchini or yellow squash.  I have also added things like leeks, bell peppers, corn, tomatoes, and spinach.    Typically, the tomatoes that I use are the pear shaped ones since they are meatier and less juicy.  These tomatoes just seem to hold up and stay in nice sized chunks much better than the large slicing tomatoes.  This is a personal preference however.  You can use any type of tomato that you have on hand.

As with most of my canning recipes, I really don’t measure very much.  This vegetable soup is no exception.  I start by rinsing off the fresh vegetables and then cutting them into bite size pieces if necessary.  I mix all the vegetables being used in a large bowl or stock pot until they are well blended.  Cover with water if needed to prevent anything from browning before use.

If I am adding meat to the soup, I will brown some bite size chunks of stew meat.  I have a natural aversion to putting raw meat into a canning jar.  I know that some have no problem with this, but I feel that the extra time taken to brown the meat ahead of time is worth the safety of the finished product.  I am able to process the jars without worrying that the meat might not be fully cooked by the time the processing is completed.  As I brown the meat, I add any seasonings such as chopped onions and bell peppers.  I like these to be at least halfway cooked before processing as it really enhances the flavors.  I never add salt to the meat while it is cooking.  Instead, I add salt to the jars before sealing.  A basic amount that I always follow is 1/2 tsp of canning salt in each pint or 1 tsp of canning salt in each quart jar.  This is an amount we always have used.

When I am ready to fill the jars, I place about a 1/2 cup of the meat into each quart jar.  Next, I add enough vegetables to fill the jar to a 1/2 inch below the rim.   Lastly, I add enough tomato juice or broth to fill the jar to 1/2″ below the rim.  Wipe off the jar rim, and add the lid and ring.  I process the jars in a pressure canner for the time required for the meat.   In processing anything, whether by pressure canning or waterbath method, always check to see what the processing time is for the various ingredients.  In this case the vegetables vs the meat.  ALWAYS use the processing time for the ingredient that takes the longest.  In this recipe, the meat processing time is longer than what you would use for the vegetables alone. For those wanting a recipe, here is one of my favorites.

Vegetable Soup

12 large tomatoes, cored and diced
6 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced
12 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 cups of whole kernel corn
4 cups of green peas
2 cups of green beans, cut into 1.5″ pieces
4 medium zucchini, sliced
2 cups of green lima beans
6 stalks of celery sliced
2 onions, chopped
2 quarts of tomato juice
Salt & Pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot, mix all ingredients together.  Cook over a medium heat until heated through.  Season to taste.  Ladle the soup into hot jars, leaving 1 inch headspace below the jar rim.  Add additional tomato juice or water if needed.

***According to the Ball Blue Book of canning (2009 edition), this type of meatless soup should be processed by pressure canner.  55 minutes for pint jars and 1 hour, 25 minutes for quart jars.  Please check your canning book or resources for the proper pressure level to use for your elevation. This recipe will make about 9 quarts or 18 pints of soup.

When I make a soup like this, I will often fill the canner (7 quarts) and continue cooking on the stove the remainder for our evening meal.  This is especially a favorite in the winter when I can make the soup for canning in the morning.  While the canner is processing on the propane stove, I can let the remainder of the soup simmer on the wood stove all day.

One nice thing about this recipe is that you can customize it using vegetables that your family enjoys.  Many times, I will make a vegetable soup without meat so that on days when we want a meatless meal, we have this available.  I home can meat separately so that I can add it to any recipe later on.  If you choose to add meat to this recipe, the processing times will have to be lengthened to the proper amount for meats.   Again, according to the Ball Blue Book, 2009 edition, the processing times for diced chicken and beef that has been precooked are  1 hr 5 minutes for pints or 1 hr 30 minutes for quarts.

 

Home Canning: Tomato Soup

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 2:32 am
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When my husband was truck driving for long haul companies, we found out quickly that home canning meals for him to take on the truck was a huge savings to our monthly budget. It was also far more healthy for him than the fast foods found at truck stops. One of his favorite soups is a Tomato Soup that I make.

This recipe is very easy to follow. The only ingredient in the soup which you may not regularly stock in your pantry is the tomato juice. The jars of soup are processed by waterbath, though you can do it in a pressure canner if desired. The resulting soup is slightly thick like the cans of condensed tomato soup you buy at the market. Depending on your personal preference, you can eat the soup as it is or thin it a bit with water or milk.

Before starting the recipe, prepare your jars. Make sure they are clean and ready to go. Always inspect the jar rims before each canning session to make sure there are no flaws that could prevent a good seal. It is also a good time to take your flat lids and set them to simmer in hot water. This will help to insure a good seal when the jars are processed.

Tomato Soup for canning
*Makes about 11 pints of soup

1 cup butter (I don’t recommend substituting with margarine)
8 tsp. Salt
3 Tbsp, finely minced fresh onion
4 bottles of tomato juice
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp. Pepper

In a large stock pot, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar and heat until dissolved. Add flour, making a rue, by stirring until blended into a smooth consistency. If necessary, add a bit of the tomato juice to aid in making the rue. Once the flour mixture is smooth, start stirring in the remaining tomato juice. Add the salt, pepper, and onion. Mix well. Cook one minute, stirring constantly to blend the seasonings into the mixture.

Carefully ladle the soup into clean, sterile jars. Wipe the rims with a clean cloth to remove any soup that may be on the rim. Add the flat lids and attach the rings to hold the lids in place while processing.

I process the jars by waterbath method. To do this, you place the jars in your waterbath canner, using the rack that came with your canner, and cover the jars completely with water so they are fully submerged. Bring the water to a boil. Once the water begins to boil, start timing the processing. I process pint jars for 1 hour and quart jars for 1 ½ hours.

Please note: Whenever you are canning, always try to match the temperature of the water in your canner to the temperature of the jars going into it. If you add hot jars to cold water, or vise versa, the jar can break. Learned this myself when I got into a hurry one day. The bottle of the jar broke cleanly off the jars and I lost all the food in that jar. What a waste!

I have used a pressure canner to process this soup. In those situations, I process pints for 25 minutes and quarts for 35 minutes under the pressure level for our elevation.

 

Canning for Convenience July 29, 2014

I have been being asked if I would be posting more about home canning.  It has been on my mind to do so, but life happens and I haven’t made any new entries on canning.  I am wanting to change that.  It is as much of a help to me to have my recipes on here as it (hopefully) is to those who try them out.

Before I get started, I want to state that this will likely become a series of entries.  Sort of like the ones you see on other blogs, such as the “Throw Back Thursday” type posts.  In this case, it will be all about canning.  There are a few things that I want to state about home canning.  First, ALWAYS check the instructions for your own canner before trying any of these recipes.  I will purposely be leaving the exact canning instructions out of the recipes.  To state that I process a canner load at 10 lbs of pressure may be accurate for those living at the same elevation as I do.  For those who live at an elevation that needs 5 lbs or 15 lbs of pressure, it would be a problem if you used my pressure levels.  To give the time amounts would also be wrong for me to do.  One of the best and most current resources that I have used is the National Center for Home Food Preservation which teaches in detail how to home can, dry, freeze, and pickle just about anything.  It also has great information for those new to home food preservation, including basic information on how to use home canners.  I strongly recommend that you print the pressure and time charts for each type of food or recipe that you will be home canning.  This will make a quick reference for you to follow later on.

In starting from the basics, you will need a few items to do home canning.  The first is your canner.  For fruits and tomatoes, you will need a waterbath canner.  This is a very large kettle with a wire rack inside.  It is deep enough to allow you to fully submerge quart size jars under water.  In this canner, jars are processed through boiling them for the amount of time listed in the instructions from the above website.    Foods processed in a waterbath canner are high acid foods.  Tomatoes and some fruits contain citric acid naturally.  Others require that you add citric acid to prevent browning.  This acid level is enough to allow you to safely process the foods by boiling the jars.  These are the ONLY foods that are processed by waterbath method.

pressure canner is required for low acid foods such as vegetables and meat.  These foods must reach a very high internal temperature in order to kill off any natural bacteria that can become harmful during storage.  A pressure canner is a large, deep kettle with a locking lid.  Some have a gauge to help you regulate the pressure, others have a weighted gauge.  I use a weighted gauge style and find it far easier to work with.  Modern pressure canners have a venting system that helps to prevent accidents.  On mine, there is a vent that pops up once the pressure is above 10 lbs.  which is the amount needed for our elevation.  As a safety measure, there is also a small rubber plug in the lid that will completely pop out should the pressure become dangerously high.  I have never had that one pop out.  I find that once my canner has reached just enough pressure to make the vent lift up, I turn down the heat just enough to keep that vent slightly open.  This allows me to be certain that the pressure in the canner is high enough without worry that it will over pressurize.

The next thing you need are your canning jars.  I have to admit that I am a jar snob.  I only buy Ball or Kerr brands.  Ball was one of the oldest canning jar manufacturers and have been around for ages.  Kerr eventually bought the Ball company and now makes both brands.  I have tried lesser known brands and every time have had a percentage of the jars break in the pressure canner.  That jar breakage causes not only the loss of the money used for buying the jars, but the food as well.

I am developing a routine with the jars that I use.  Food items, such as when I can up homemade stews, meat, or other chunky and large items always are done up in wide mouth jars.  This is for two reasons.  First, the food is easier to remove later on than it is with the regular mouth size jars.  Secondly, in the case of canning meats, if there is any grease from the meat, the wide mouth are much easier to clean thoroughly.

Regular mouth size jars are used for liquid items, such as tomato soup, juices, and small vegetables.  Cut up green beans, shelled peas, and baby carrots are some examples of the small vegetables I use the regular mouth jars for.  I use this method for all the foods that I home can.  Gradually, I will be using only the wide mouth jars in all my canning.  This will make it easier all around.

Some tools that are extremely useful and that I highly recommend are the following.  A jar lifter is used for lifting the hot jars out of the canner.  They look like a large pair of tongs that have a rubber coating on the portion that grips the jar neck.  Of all the tools, this in one of two that I couldn’t do without.  The second tool is a canning jar funnel.  This funnel has a large bowl with the funnel portion being just small enough to fit inside the regular mouth jars.  Using this, you are able to fill the jars with messy food items without getting food residue on the jar rims.  It makes filling the jars faster and easier as well.  The third item that I use each time I home can would be my kitchen timer.  With kids in the home, I cannot trust myself to use a clock to track the processing times.  I get interrupted or distracted way too often.  It is just good practice to have a timer for canning anyways.  The last items are ones that many use on a consistent basis, but I don’t personally use.  One is the magnetic flat lid wand which is used to lift the flat lids from a pan of hot water,  The other is a similar product, a little rack that you stand the flat lids in while they are being heated in a pan of water.  This process is important in that it helps to insure a good seal on the jars.  I just use a pair of metal tongs to lift the lids.  It is what I grew up seeing done and seems to work just fine for me.

When you buy a case of new canning jars, they always come with the rings and flat lids.  I always keep at least 4-6 boxes of replacement flat lids on hand in the pantry.  There are times when a new lid will fail during processing and you will need a replacement lid before you can re-process the jar.  Reusing the flat lids are a good way to risk the jars not sealing properly.  The last thing you want to risk is a jar lid popping open while on the pantry shelf and food spoiling.

Before you start canning, you need to take a hard look at how your family eats.  While there are a lot of yummy recipes out there to tempt you, the mainstay of your canning should reflect your family’s typical diet.  For example, in the cold months our family eats a lot of homemade soups and stews.  These are eaten on nearly a daily basis in the coldest months especially.  So, when I do the home canning, I will be sure to stock our shelves with a good supply of these types of meals.  I began by looking at what our favorite stews and soups were.  Then, whenever I made them, I would make a double or triple size batch.  As we sat eating dinner, the canner would be processing the extras for stocking the pantry.

Another great use for the canner was when my husband was a truck driver and away from home for up to 8 weeks at a time.  I would home can meals in pint size jars for him to take on the truck with him.  Using a cooker powered by the 12 volt plug in the truck, he was able to cook the food for his meals.  One pint size jar gave him a good sized serving.  Doing this saved us a fortune in food expenses on the road.  When we first began doing this, he was spending $600 a month on his meals and drinks on the road.  When he took a month’s supply of meals on the truck with him, he only spent $150 a month on drinks and snacks.  That was an instant $450 savings each month!  Not to mention that he ate far more healthy meals that way.

One of my favorite meals to home can is beef stew.  It is SO easy to do that it doesn’t take long to have a nice supply of it on hand in your pantry.  I like making this when I find a good sale on stew meat.  I buy a large package of the meat then cut it into bite sized pieces.  In a large roasting pan, I place enough vegetables for one meal and all of the meat.  I oven roast the stew as I normally would in preparing a meal.  About a half hour before the stew is done roasting, I start preparing my jars but filling them 2/3 full of the same mixture of vegetables as I am cooking with the meat.  These vegetables are placed into the canning jars while they are raw to prevent them from being over cooked once the jars are processed.  Potatoes, for example, would completely turn to mush if they were roasted before canning.  If I get the jars ready too soon, I fill them with water to prevent the vegetables from browning if necessary.  Once the stew is done, I remove the cooked vegetables and just enough meat for that night’s meal.  The remaining meat is divided up between the prepared jars. (NOTE: if you out water in any of the jars, the should be drained off before adding the meat.)  I then divide up the broth from the roasting process between the jars as well.  If necessary, I will add some beef broth to top off the jars.  The jars should be filled to 1/2″ from the rim.  Wipe off the rims to make sure there is no juice or drippings from the meat on the rims.  Any residue can prevent the lid from getting a proper seal.  Next, add the ring to the jar to hold the lid in place during processing.  Load up your pressure canner and then process the jars while enjoying your dinner.  By the time you are done eating and dinner dishes are being cleared away, the canner will be done processing in most cases.

I don’t have a specific recipe for making this.  My beef stew is different each time I make it, depending on what vegetables I have on hand at the moment.  Use you own favorite recipe.  If you have a recipe that your family enjoys that comes from a favorite cookbook, use it.  Just double the recipe for a canner of pint jars or triple the recipe if using quart jars.

In future posts, I will be sharing some recipes that our family enjoys.  I hope that this series will be one that will bless you in your efforts in building your pantry with healthy wholesome meals for your family.

 

Planning Ahead for Next Canning Season December 12, 2013

It seems as though we just finished harvest and canning seasons.  Most families who utilize home canning and pantry building are now able to set back and able to take a breather….for a little while anyways.

Soon the garden seed catalogs will be arriving in the mail.  It will be time to start planning next spring’s garden.  While doing so, it is also a good time to take stock of your pantry.

I have been realizing over the past few years just how much preplanning the home canning allows me to become more efficient.  I found a printable Home Canning Inventory form on a blog called “My Pantry Shelf.”  If you scroll down the page you will find both a .docx file or a PDF option of the inventory sheet.  She also gives great ideas on things to consider when planning what to home can.

Each family has favorite home canned foods.  In our home, some of the favorites are Tomato Soup, Beef Stew, Meatballs, and a Vegetable Soup.  When I have these items home canned, we always seem to go through them quickly.  Taking time to record the canning inventory will aid me in better utilizing what I have stored.  I will be able to gauge what adjustments I need to make in the amount canned next time.  Did I can too little and run out too soon?  Did I can up too much and have a lot of jars left over at the end of a year?

I am working on customizing my household binder…again.  A master sheet of the pantry inventory will be kept in the binder.  On this, I am going to have the amounts of each item that I want to keep in the pantry will be listed on this form. I designed a set of forms that I am using for my binder.  You can find the forms in my Organization folder on Google Drive.

I have the pantry inventory forms in both .doc and PDF formats.  There is a Pantry Inventory sheet which has room for the items to be sorted by category, items, amount to store, and more. I based the general layout upon the Canning Inventory sheet.  There is also a pantry sheet that can be made up as a master pantry list of the items only.  In the column beside each item listed there is a space to tally the amounts used.  When it is time to write up your grocery shopping list, you have a quick reference of what needs to be replenished.  I would suggest either tucking the pages into sheet protectors or laminating the pages.  This will allow you to use a Vis-a-Vis marker.  You could use dry erase but they wipe off too easily.  For my shopping list, I am going to be putting together a page for each item category.  This will allow plenty of room to add new items over time.

When making up your list, don’t forget the non-food items such as canning jars & lids, paper supplies, First aid items, cleaning supplies (or ingredients to make your own), and emergency items such as batteries, matches, and lamp oil or lantern fuel.

 

 

Recycled Containers in the Pantry April 18, 2013

I wanted to share a simple and frugal idea. I saw a great idea on TV while spending a few days with a dear friend a couple of months ago. They showed a family who used 2-liter soda bottles for storing rice. That got me thinking.

With many grains or items like powdered milk, you have to watch out for pantry pests such as weevils. Those little buggers will eat their way through paper packaging to get to the dry goods. Many times I have opened a brand new package of saltine crackers and found that weevils had gotten to them. Same thing has happened with various grains, including rice, flour, and powdered milk. If you store these in bulk amounts, such as a large 4-gallon bucket, you can lose the entire bucket of food if weevils happen to have been in the smaller package purchased at the store. What happens is that the weevil can get into the food at the store or warehouse. When you empty it into a larger bulk container at home, yoou have just contaminated the entire supply. This is where creative storage comes in handy.

I don’t use much soda, but we do use a lot of juice. The juice bottles that we get are flat enough that when laying on their side, you can easily stack them. I am using these for rice, oatmeal, granulated sugar, and any other item small enough to easily pour from the bottle. Things like brown sugar are stored in wide mouth containers such as peanut butter jars. I love the fact that if something gets in one container, it won’t cross-contaminate into the entire supply. Case in point, I had a peanut butter container of grits. Weevils got into it and I was able to toss out that one container instead of all the supply. I purposely will buy the amount of an item needed to fill new containers. Unless it is something like sea salt, I typically won’t add new supply to the previously purchased supply. I am able to better rotate my stock this way as well as lessen the chance of contamination should I get a bad batch from the store. With the amount of juice that we drink, I easily have the ready supply of juice bottles ready to be used.

One new idea that I am going to start doing is to buy a pint container of dried herbs at a time. I have certain dried herbs that I use very often. By buying a pint container worth of the herbs at a time, I can fill a peanut butter jar with the herbs. I purchase my herbs in bulk from a health food store for far less than what a grocery store charges. Once I am able to get the herb garden fully established, I will dry my own herbs instead of buying them. Until then, this is my most economical way of getting the culinary herbs that I need.

What inventive ways do you have for storing your pantry supplies?

 

Monthly Grocery Supply Runs February 28, 2013

I have written about this topic before but often have questions hitting my email over it. As food prices continue to rise faster than people’s incomes, the topic seems to be hitting a nerve with more people.

We are a single income family. In today’s financial times, it is not always an easy thing to accomplish. To make it work, we have chosen to scale back on excess. One huge area of excess is trips to the store. Each time that we go to the store, we are setting ourselves up for impulsive purchases. There is also the fuel and other costs associated with trips to the store. One way we reduced this was to do a monthly shopping trip as often as possible.

When I first began doing this, I felt overwhelmed. The very idea of buying a month’s supply of groceries all at once seemed like a horrendous task. I quickly found that I was wrong. While it does take more planning, the actual shopping was far easier than the weekly or bi-weekly shopping.

To make the shopping trip successful, it required that I plan out a month’s worth of meals. Like most families, we have certain foods that we eat on a regular basis. Using a sheet of paper, I brainstormed with my husband and listed all of our favorite meals. We even included a few that we enjoy, but do not make very often. Using this list, I made up weekly menus. I wrote out a list of 7 meals, with the grocery list for those meals included. To make up a monthly menu, I simply choose 4 weekly menus.

Compiling a list of groceries for the monthly menu is very easy. I transfer the grocery list for each weekly menu onto a sheet of paper. Often, I find that I can use the same ingredients for more than one meal, such as seasonings. The advantage to this type of shopping is that I am able to take advantage of bulk purchase discounts. Instead of buying 5 single pound packages of ground beef, I can buy the “family pack” size and break it down into portions needed for the month’s meals. If you have a freezer, the breaking down of bulk meat purchases is easy. Just have on hand a roll of freezer paper. I always pre-cook the meat until it is nearly done, then home can it into portions that will be used for each meal.

There are always a few items that you cannot purchase a month in advance. Fresh produce is a good example. This is where I either utilize what we grow or a local farmer’s market. Try to eat foods in season and you can buy it for less than the off season prices.

One issue that we found needed to be addressed rather quickly in our monthly shopping adventure is that you must be consistent. If you buy corn chips for use with a taco soup recipe, don’t use them for a snack prior to when you planned to have the meal. Intead, have a shelf or pantry area where the family can find their snacks or open use items. This will eliminate the frustration of having to replace items needed for upcoming meals. Remember, the idea is to limit the number of trips to the store!

In upcoming posts, I will share specific details on sample menus that I have done. Hopefully it will cut down on any confusion. Unfortunately, to explain it all in one blog post would take more space than what many want to read. LOL