25 September 2013

The summer of not canning

I have not been canning much this summer at all. I'm a little disappointed, but I think there were some important reasons why my shelves aren't groaning they way they usually are by the end of September.

A few factors:

  • The clean-out of the estate of my close friend's elderly aunt, who passed away in July. We've been back and forth to South Jersey most of the every-other-Saturdays when I don't have custody of my daughter. So essentially, half of my Saturdays have been claimed with this ongoing task.

  • The other Saturdays, when my daughter is with me, I like to have her spend time with her grandparents, at their home in the outer Philadelphia suburbs. So on most Saturdays this summer, either I've been hanging out in South Jersey, or I've been at my parents' house -- and my canning projects aren't exactly transportable.

  • I thought I would be canning up a storm with our CSA fruit share. But it turns out that our fruit share never measures up to a full canner load of fruit. Don't get me wrong: it's not skimpy, and we aren't being cheated. We get plenty of fruit for the week, and the peaches this year were glorious. But the fruit individually comes in small quantities: six pears plus a half-pint of kiwiberries one week, and five nectarines plus a watermelon the next. This is not cannable. This is lunchbox or picnic material, but it's not canner material, not on its own.

    So four take-aways. One, we're looking into doing a double fruit share next summer. It'll still be very small-batch canning, which I think is more hobbyist than money-saving, but will still scratch my itch for putting jam on my shelves. Two, this is going to be a strange winter. I didn't do rhubarb, strawberry, or blueberry jam (not counting the syrupy mis-step at the end of June) -- I always get at least one of those, my holy trinity, in by the end of July. I didn't do my Rowhouse Livin' gin, either (though I did make a rhubarb pie for myself for Mother's Day). I have maybe a half-dozen jars of jam left over from 2012, but that stock is being rapidly depleted. Late winter and early spring, 2014, are looking bleak!

    Three, seriously, this estate work is taking up a ridiculous amount of time, and I'm not even one of the executors. The elderly aunt was so very generous in her financial planning, but her tangible assets were left in multiple locations and her financial assets were left in numerous accounts across several institutions. One of the greatest gifts we can give our heirs is to leave our affairs organized for them. There are so many vehicles and instruments available. The time you spend with a lawyer now will be a gift of time to your heirs after you're gone.

    And four, apple butter season approaches, and the daughter reminded me just the other day that we haven't gone apple picking for a few years now. I think I'm counting down the days until my next custody Saturday. Maybe early 2014 won't be too bleak, after all.
  • 23 September 2013

    Grab-bag pressure canning: mixed vegetables for soup

    After a weekend getaway to the woods in August, I came home to a fridge full of CSA vegetables that needed to be used up before I hauled home the next CSA delivery. The vegetables were still in excellent shape, so I pulled out the pressure canner and went to town.

    There are two rules of thumb for pressure canning mixed vegetables. One, chop the vegetables into pieces of uniform size, so that they heat and cook evenly. And two, put whatever grab-bag of vegetables you want into the mix, but set your timer for the vegetable that takes the longest time to safely can.

    Examples, all in quarts: If you're canning a mix of potatoes (40 minutes), green beans (25 minutes), and carrots (30 minutes), then bring the canner up to pressure and keep it there for 40 minutes. If you're canning a mix of potatoes, green beans, carrots, onions, zucchini, tomatoes, and whole-kernel corn (maize) -- I told you it was a grab-bag -- then it needs to process for the time it'll take to safely deal with the corn, which is 85 minutes.

    But it's a little more complicated than just that rule of thumb. You also have to take into account that, when you pack chopped, mixed vegetables into a jar, the product is more compact than it would be if it were just one type of vegetable. To illustrate, when you pack asparagus into a jar, you stand the spears upright and slide them in like a packet of pencils; but when you chop them more finely and add other stuff to the mix, you get more mass in the jar. (Think BB's or ball bearings, versus marbles.) And thus it will take more time to heat the jar through. So the National Center for Home Food Preservation adds an extra 5 minutes to its own instructions for mixed vegetables, even though no single ingredient, individually, requires more than 85 minutes to process.

    As I've mentioned before, I don't like to argue with science. So while my instinct said, "85 minutes," my hands said, "90 minutes," and I sure did heat up my kitchen that day. According to Facebook:
    4:12 p.m.: Off to run a significant percentage of CSA veg thru the pressure canner. See you on the flip side.

    4:58 p.m.: OK, 4 quarts of mixed CSA vegetables for soup in the canner, set to process for 90 minutes because I included sweet corn. At least it's not too hot today.

    6:35 p.m.: Stupid corn. It's a million degrees in here now!
    And the result:

    Photo taken with my antiquephone: sweet corn, carrots, green beans,
    zucchini, onion, and tomatoes

    Each quart jar there will make for a very quick soup this winter: add water or broth, heat to boiling, and add cooked pasta or rice. Sprinkle parmesan on top or serve a little cheese on the side, throw some bread or rolls on the table, and that will warm you up in November or February. I'll get three if not four portions of soup out of each of those jars. Looking forward to it already!