Canning Pumpkin

Pie pumpkins

Pie pumpkins

So Libby’s just announced that due to wet weather production of canned pumpkin this year would be half the previous year’s quantity.  I love pumpkin in recipes but this news doesn’t particularly distress me and hasn’t sent me on a panic buying binge – I can my own pumpkin.

I actually buy the sugar pumpkins for canning, but they are just as cheap as they have been in previous years at about a dollar each  – which nets more that a can worth of pumpkin – which on sale averages about $1.50 and considerably more on a day to day basis.

Cutting the rind from the pumpkin

Cutting the rind from the pumpkin

Now you may be wondering why bother canning at all, why not just let the pumpkin sit on the shelf since as a winter squash they should last.  Alas,  while some winter squash are great at avoiding rot for prolonged periods – my favorite being Seminole squash, which in addition to tasting great have to be some of the toughest vegetables out there – not only in terms of the fruit lasting but also the vines which are rock solid.  Unfortunately, they do require a rather long season for Eastern Ontario… if you are in a more temperate locale you definitely need to give them a try – but divergence aside – pie pumpkins seem to want to rot fairly soon after picking, which means to use them requires canning.  If I had a larger area I’d probably just dispense with rot prone pie pumpkins and grow winter squash that make meals and pumpkin baking every bit as good if not better than sugar pumpkins, but given my relative lack of space buying less shelf stable goods and preserving them is a sensible balance.

Jars of canned pumpkin

Jars of canned pumpkin

Fortunately preserving them is easy.  You’ll need to cut the pumpkin up, clean out the seeds interior guts, remove the outer skin and then cut the meat up into chunks about 3/4″ to 1″ square and then put it in a pot of water that you bring to a boil for 2 minutes.  Then you’ll hot pack and pressure can.  The full instructions can be found on the appropriate page at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website here.

The pressure canner needed to carry this out is an investment, but here’s another example of making that purchase earn it’s return.  I put back the equivalent of 30 cans of pumpkin saving roughly $30.  Now that may not seem like much but given the pressure cooker costs $400 that savings is enough to pay for around 7% of the total cost for an evening worth of invested time, that’s probably better than your stock portfolio did, and it will likely taste a whole lot better.



Are Wide Mouth Mason Jars Worth the Premium?

I’ll jump right to the chase and piss of a bunch of folks – Nope.  Now for the good reasons to back that statement up.

Widemouth mason jar with a metal lid contrasted with a regular mouth jars with tattler lids

Widemouth mason jar with a metal lid contrasted with a regular mouth jars with tattler lids

The price premium is significant – in Canada at least wide mouth mason’s cost nearly double what a regular mouth generic mason jar would run.  The latter at this time are going for just under eight and nine dollars a dozen for half and full liter sizes at the local Walmart.  Widemouth jars for the same sizes run thirteen and fifteen dollars.

So, cost is one factor, but more important to me is logistics.  I do a lot of preserving, and I like having loads of standard sized jars.  For me that means half and one liter sized golden harvest regular mouth mason jars and loads of the same size of tattler lids and gaskets.

That means when I get working I don’t have to fool around with an assortment of jar sizes or look to match lids and rings to jars – it might seem like not such a bid deal, but when you do a lot of canning it can add up to frustration that you could otherwise avoid.

Canned salmon and lactic pickles work just fine in regular mouth mason jars

Canned salmon and lactic pickles work just fine in regular mouth mason jars

The other factor at play here is that I’ve never found wide mouth jars to be a really significant advantage.  Usually they would find more use with canned fish and meats, but I’ve always found regular mouth mason jars to be just fine – though I do make an exception to my focus on standardizing on half and full liter jars to include 250ml regualr mouth jars for canning up salmon as I find this to be the perfect size.   My other canned meats and stock work just fine in the larger regular mouth masons.

The other area in which wide mouth masons seem to dominate is pickles, but here I actually prefer regular mouth masons for reasons beyond logistics and cost.  The majority of my pickles are made using lactic fermentation – which requires you to keep the material submerged in the brine.  I can fill a regular mouth mason with the spices, garlic, grape leaves and pickling cucumbers or zuchinni slices and then wedge in another cucumber just below the narrow neck of the regular mouth jar.  When the brine is added to halfway up the jar neck this keeps all of the material submerged, allowing me to ferment the pickles right in the jars.  Note, while I use tattler lids for these I don’t fasten them down tightly so that they can vent the fermentation gasses – you don’t want your pickle jars blowing up.

I really enjoy preserving the bounty around us – and while it can be a significant amount of work a few techniques such as standardizing jar sizes can make processing days much easier.


Spiced Peach Jam

A bowl full of peaches - try to resist snacking.

A bowl full of peaches – try to resist snacking.

There is just something special about this jam – capturing that rich summer flavor with the hint of spice that melds so nicely with the sweet peach.  It is the next best thing to biting into a perfectly ripe summer peach – with the advantage you can enjoy it year round.

I often find peaches come on sale for a crazy low price towards the end of the season.  They arrive in store as hard as baseballs but in a day or two they will have all softened up with some even skipped juicy and gone straight to rotting.  Toss those ones into the compost pile and get ready to work like crazy to process the remainder.

Homemade Pectin for jam

Homemade Pectin for jam making

As jam is able to be processed in a boiling water bath you aren’t going to need expensive kit to put this bounty away, a rack that can fit in the bottom of a pot deep enough to submerge your resealable jars and a canning jar gripper will suffice – but you won’t regret spending a few extra dollars to pick up a canning funnel at the same time.  The latter will cut down on mess and by helping to keep the rim of the jar clean will reduce the incidences of failure to seal.

Mason Jars of Peach Jam

Mason Jars of Peach Jam

The first step is to remove the skins of the peaches – I like to put the peach in a pot of boiling water, then using a slotted spoon remove it and put it in cold water for a few seconds to cool.  Get the timing right and with a slit from a paring knife the skin will be quickly removed, and you can cut the now skinless peach into slices.

Since I usually have a lot of peaches to peel, I tend to peel them into a diluted lemon juice solution before removing them to either start processing right away or if time is limiting for refrigeration to process the next day.




All American Pressure Canner – worth the investment if you use it

All American Pressure Canner - 941

All American Pressure Canner – 941

Ah preserving food,  there’s something romantic about it isn’t there?  Something that hearkens back to our forefathers – or more likely foremothers [if that is actually a term]  when life was simpler and things were more black and white. [ Or was that only Leave it to Beaver?]

The All American Pressure Canner likely marks the pinnacle of home food preservation – at least until home freeze dryers come down a bit more in price.

Boiling water bath canning allows you to preserve high acid and high sugar goods including things like pickles, jams, jellies and fruit in sugar syrup – that is definitely a little to no bar entry point for home food preservation, anyone can and should give it a go.

Take care not to misplace the pressure weight between uses

Take care not to misplace the pressure weight between uses

Pressure canning represents a considerable step up in cost – the canner itself often runs several hundred dollars, with the cream of the crop the  941 All American Pressure Canner clocking in at just under four hundred dollars [US]. Now that investment will allow you to safely put up meats, broths, low acid and low sugar vegetables and fruit but it is quite an investment.  That said if you take care of it the unit will likely be still serving your grandchildren it is built wonderfully sound and has no gaskets to fail and the only thing you could loose would be the pressure weight but that is simple enough to secure between batches.

But back to the issue of investment and payoff. I can be a bit of a romantic and an idealist, but there’s a pretty pragmatic streak in me too.  So, I have always had to smile when folks would talk about doing a day of preserving, and how wonderful it was, and how great the preserves are, and how quickly they go, only to find out that the sum total of their work was a half dozen jars of jam or pickles.  Now, I’m all for gaining experience so that you are comfortable taking on the next incrementally complex task, but this scale hardly makes the time and mess created by the process worth while.  Processing food is usually in my experience eminently given to efficiencies of scale. If you are preserving something from a bumper harvest or purchase make enough to last for your family – or even better enough to last for your immediate family and others around you.

Fresh Salmon on Special - a buying opportunity

Fresh Salmon on Special – a buying opportunity

A pressure canner can save you loads of money by allowing you to take advantage of buying opportunities and preserving food for yourself.  I’ve paid for my canner several times over by putting up jar after jar of hearty turkey stock, bone broth or fish.  Note I said “can save” not “will save” in order to realize the savings potential you have to use it – and invest the time in the process.

For example, yesterday alone I put up 25 pounds of salmon – now the store was selling it as a teaser at 2.48 a pound.  I would have purchased more but that was all I could over a couple of visits before they sold out.  As it happens canned salmon is also on sale a 213g tin for 2.97.  After you’ve sharpened your pencil and figured things out to buy the same quantity of salmon canned would cost a hundred and thirty-five dollars, a difference of eighty-two bucks.

The pricey alternative - already canned salmon

The pricey alternative – already canned salmon

Now granted I’ve already sunk the investment into the necessary jars and I use Tattler reusable canning lids which while more expensive than the steel ones are reusable time and again – even when pressure canned.  This latter point is especially relevant because while you can probably get away with reusing lids in good condition from water bath canned jars the higher vacuum drawn by the pressure canning process effectively sees you destroy the steel lids when you remove them from a pressure canned jar.  Even if they look like they are ok I’ve found that the failure rate shoots up making it too costly in terms of time to bother to attempt a reuse – so Tattler lids while initially expensive start to make a lot of sense.

Canning is also a great means to add cheap but healthy convenience foods to your pantry.  The goose and turkey stock form the backbone of loads of hearty soups served in our home throughout the cool months.  Being able to dump a jar of turkey meat and stock into the slow cooker toss in some frozen and dehydrated veggies and a couple of chopped up potatoes, rice or pasta and walk away knowing that lunch or dinner is pretty much ready when you want it – or more likely in our house is only going to require pulling together some quick whole wheat biscuits or popovers – is wonderfully convenient, and makes it easy to not be tempted to head out for ho-hum meals which can really add up financially.

Now if you are tempted to opt for a smaller pressure canner I’d advise you not to.  Where boiling water bath canning has fast cycles – often 10 minutes once a boil resumes – pressure canner cycles often span four or more hours and including the time to boil the water in the canner and begin venting steam for at least ten minutes, the process cycle itself – which for fish is 110 minutes, and then the time needed for the canner to cool down and see the pressure drop to zero.  This means that your capacity is going to be capped at two to maybe four loads per day rather than the dozens of batches that could be boiling water processed in the same time.  Remember, making the canner pay means using it and really taking advantage of it when opportunity comes – so spend the extra and buy the biggest unit you can get – which is the 941.

I’m going to offer a caveat to that advice – the 941 is really best suited to being on a BBQ side burner, a turkey burner or a big gas stove.  It is a bit too hefty to go on an electric range, so if you don’t have those options and will need to be using your electric stove to heat the canner – well you’ll have to step down in size.  Additionally, weight may be a factor.  The 941 weighs in close to 40 pounds empty which is a reasonably heavy load, though the handles are excellent making keeping a grip on it reasonable.  Don’t figure on moving it when full.

All in all these are great tools, that while expensive can pay for themselves and add a lot of convenience and resiliency to your family’s larder and budget.