Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gobble in a Bowl

Some years, I buy two or three turkeys while there are killer deals at the grocery store before Thanksgiving. Generally, the bigger the bird, the better deal you get. Why? The bones are close to the same size in the smaller birds as they are in the larger birds. That means there is more meat per pound of turkey on those larger birds. Therefore, if you have room in your freezer, don't hesitate to get a 21 lb. or larger turkey, even if there are only a few people in your family. 

What would you do with a huge turkey?
  • Toss the left-over meat in the freezer in freezer bags -- breast meat, being drier, should be used before the darker meat. Our family has a lot of meals (turkey crepes, included), that we traditionally have after Thanksgiving, and the freezer extends the time between those meals. So, I buy some turkeys even if I am eating at the in-laws. A turkey is easy to cook, and it makes for a least a week's meals. Yes, turkey is ultra cheap, but ONLY if you buy it around this time of year or have an "in" with the Norbest people.
  • Freeze the legs separately and make soup.
  • Make soup with the turkey carcass
My family likes the bones as much as the dinner that creates the bones. From those bones, we make one of our most delicious soups -- any soup would taste good from the turkey carcass. We're talking old-time soups like our grandmothers made. With a large turkey carcass, we get a huge pot of soup that lasts us several days. Add that to all the meat, and you can see why a turkey is so economical.

How to boil down a turkey carcass:
After dinner and after you've taken most of the meat off the turkey carcass (hey don't pick it clean, but do get most of it), cover the carcass and put it in the refrigerator to handle the next day. (Yes, you could do it the day you cook the turkey, but won't you be tired?) When ready to cook:
  • Put the carcass in the largest pot you own and fill the pot with water to a few inches over the top of most of the bones. (Unless you have a huge pot, some bones will stick up at first. It's O.K. to break apart the carcass if you can.)
  • Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn to low and simmer several hours. As the carcass cooks, you'll be able to break it apart a little so it will better fit your pot. You should turn the carcass over several times (check every half hour or so) until it does break down and fit the pan better. Add more water as necessary to keep the turkey covered but not so much it boils over the top of the pan.
  • The carcass is done when the remaining meat fragments easily slip off the bones and when most of the bones have separated from each other. At this point, if you take a large bone out of the pot, it dries a whitish color.
Now, remove all the bones.
The easiest way to do remove the bones is to first remove the largest bones with tongs. To remove the small bones:
  • Put a large colander in the top of a second large container. Carefully pour a little of the hot cooked liquid at a time into the colander, catching any solid pieces.
  • Put the solid pieces on a plate, a cutting board, or in a large bowl to cool a bit, while you repeat the pouring process. 
  • When the first solids have cooled enough, use clean fingers to separate meat from bones and gristle, feeling for very small bones and put the cleaned meat into a separate bowl. (No matter you carefully I look, there is always a small bone, but to date, I am the one who has always found that bone in my soup)
Return the meat and the broth to the large cooking pot, toss out the bones and gristle, and add the ingredients you want for soup. Some ideas: turkey and dumplings with veggies, turkey taco soup, turkey gumbo, or whatever sounds good with a brothy soup. If you like, you can add some bouillon or soup base to enhance the flavor.
Utah Turkey Gumbo Soup ( not New Orleans, but delicious, nevertheless):
The broth and meat from above
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
1 16 oz. bag frozen okra
1 or 2 (32 oz.) jars tomatoes (home-canned are the very best, of course)
1/2 cup dry rice or throw in 1 cup cooked rice.

Cook until veggies are tender and okra is starting to fall apart (the okra thickens the soup). Add rice and cook until done. Add a little soup base or bouillion to taste.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Supremacy over Squash Bugs!

I never thought I'd be able to say this, but I have conquered squash bugs in my garden. I have tried handpicking squash bugs and their egg clusters with little success before. This year, though,  I stuck with it and found stick-to-it-ness works with squash bugs. For photos of squash bugs in every stage of development, the University of Maryland has a photo montage here. They go into ways to manage the bugs, including insecticide, but I have an organic garden.

Photos by Marvin
For two weeks, I went out to the garden nearly every day, looked under every squash leaf and on the ground near the main stem. I grabbed every bug I found and squished it. By the way, those bugs are harder to squish, being flat, so you have to kind of grind it into the ground and make sure it is dead. If you are squeamish, pop them in soapy water to kill.  I used to be squeamish, but seeing all those dead plants over the years has changed things.

You won't generally see squash bugs unless you look under every leaf, or unless you have a bad infestation. As you look under the leaves, look for egg clusters like in the photo to the left. They say to scrape off the eggs or crush them and it seems to kill that part of the leaf anyway. So, I just rip out that tiny portion of the leaf, eggs and all, and take them to the garbage or crush them.

The first two days of going through that procedure, I found 15 squash bugs and six egg clusters, both days. Each day after that, I found nine, then 8, then 6 bugs and egg clusters. I didn't go out as often when it got so I only found one squash bug and one egg cluster. Now, I only check twice a week and find one bug and one egg cluster each time. My squash is thriving, and I think I'm in control. Yeah! You'll never get in control if you don't make sure you get those egg clusters, though, so carefully check under each leaf.

Squash bugs are easier to find during and after watering, as they crawl up on the stems.

I have to admit that this procedure would be time consuming if you have more than a couple of plants or a pumpkin or other large viney squash, but for my home garden, it worked. I give much credit to my rubber-coated garden gloves in keeping down the "gross" factor. I don't feel the bugs, so I don't get the shudders.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Three-month Emergency Food Supply: How Do I Begin?

The hardest thing is to make yourself start. After that, it comes together quickly. Your kids and spouse can make this job easier for you. You might be surprised at the great menu ideas they'll have.
  • Put together a list of foods/meals that you eat regularly and figure out how much you need for three months. One way to do this is to decide on a week or more of menus and then multiply these menus to get 90 days of menus. [See “Sample Family Plans” below for three complete family plans. Please note the URLs of two wonderful preparedness blogs from which I pulled menu and shopping plans for two of these plans:  and and thanks to Lesa for contributing the other plan.]
  • Use the Sample Family Plans to get ideas to make your own family plan. Choose the recipes you want, and list the ingredients. (If you need more ideas, do a Google search.) Then, multiply that ingredient list by the number of times you plan to eat that meal during three months.  How many different recipes you use is your choice  – are you after subsistence food or do you want to eat close to how you eat now if you had to use that food in an emergency situation? I recommend that you go as close to how you eat as possible. Don’t rely entirely on frozen foods, as power can fail.
  • Create a shopping list with all of the food items totaled from above.
  • Make a Family Goal Statement.  Decide how much food you will purchase each month and how long it will take your family to buy all the items for the 3-months’ supply.  
  • Paying attention to grocery sales, purchase a few extra items to add to your storage each week. Gradually build it to a one-week supply, then expand it to a one-month supply, then a three-month supply                
  • Rotate the food. Make an extra copy of your shopping list to use as  your tracking list and mark off items as you use them. As you use these  items from your 3-months’ supply, replace them on a weekly basis.
Sample: 3-Month Plan for a Family of Six  
(2 pages)

Sample: 3-Month Plan for a Family of Four  
(2 pages)

Sample: Lesa's 3-Month Plan for a Family of Four  
(2 pages)


Plants Just Sitting There? Tree Leaves Look Yellow and Burnt? Sorry, Dorothy, You're not in Kansas

Alkaline soils and western desert soils need help in order for your garden to grow well.  You can't pop your plants and seeds into the ground and expect them to do much if you don't render assistance. So, if your veggies and/or flowers have been up and going for a few weeks and are not showing much sign of growth, or worse still, they are becoming lighter green or even yellowish, they are likely crying for nitrogen. Sprinkle a little nitrogen fertilizer (or blood meal or cotton seed meal if you're into organic) around the base of each plant -- as Gordon Wells puts it, "Like you were salting a steak." Then scratch it gently into the soil and water it in. (I have both a hand tool that looks like a claw and a long tool with a claw for specifically that purpose. )  I use blood meal on my veggies, and it provides both iron and nitrogen.

You should see a tremendous difference in your plants within a few days.  Most plants will need this periodic nitrogen treatment -- EXCEPT tomatoes -- at least once. (Only put nitrogen on tomatoes once, at the beginning of the growing season, otherwise you will get loads of lush green and few tomatoes.)  I do this if the plants seem to need it, even if I have added all those Gordon Wells recommended fertilizer items at the beginning of the season.  Make sure to go light on the nitrogen, though, as you could burn your plant, and rinse off the leaves of the plants afterward.   Just keep an eye on the progress of the plant and look for lack of growth and light-colored leaves and you'll know it's time to fertilize. 

What else do the veggies need?
In my garden, I use fish emulsion fertilizer about three times during the summer, especially when a plant begins to bloom. I buy it at garden centers (like Olson's or Carpenter Seed) in quart or gallon jugs and mix it with water in a 5-gallon bucket.  The stuff stinks to high heaven, after all it is a by-product of fish processing plants, but my veggies love it!  If veggies can look happy, they do, as their leaves look lush and perky. I put on long sleeves and rubber gloves and plan on a bath right afterwards. (It's a good time to also spray that stinky Liquid Fence stuff that keeps the deer away from your flowers and shrubs.)

My method of application is to, first, apply when the soil is dry so the plants will soak up the maximum fertilizer. Mix the fertilizer well with the water (a sprayer on the end of the hose does this well or, alternatively, a long stick.) Get a pitcher or cut off milk jug (cut off some of the top, but keep the handle) full of the fertilizer/ water mixture and go from plant to plant, pouring a little pool of solution at the base of each plant -- it won't burn plants if you get some on the leaves. By the time you've gone five or six plants, the first liquid will have soaked into the soil. So, go back and water all those plants again with the solution, starting with the first plant. I usually water each plant  3-4 times with the solution, systematically working my garden in rows. It's not a fun process, I admit it, but even complaining kids can help with this process and make it a lot quicker -- just ask my daughters how much they like helping with this. :) The key is really to cover yourself well, as the smell will soak into your skin a bit if you go out there with uncovered arms and hands.

I give much credit to the fish emultion fertilizer for my good yields each year, as I didn't get anything near the harvest I do now before I started using the fish fertilizer. It gives the plants a lot of trace minerals and other needed nutrition.  After all, didn't the pilgrims get a good harvest when the Native Americans buried a fish with kernals of corn?

Yellowing can also be a lack of iron or even copper, but usually nitrogen is the culprit with vegetables in the semi-arid desert regions.

What about trees and shrubs?
If you live with alkaline soils  and the leaves of your trees and shrubs are yellow and show signs of burning (brown) on the edges, despite regular watering,  it means your plants likely have iron chlorosis. This will not kill your trees and it can be fixed.

When faced with my tree leaves looking yellow and burnt, I followed the advice of Larry Sagers, of the KSL Greenhouse Show on KSL radio. In late winter, say February or March, but definitely before the leaves on the trees and shrubs bud out, fertilize them with an iron chelate, pouring it around the soil beneath the trees and shrubs. He mentioned several brands, and I use one, Millers FeriPlus Iron, which is a powder you mix with water.   I mix it up in milk jugs and pour it on the soil while there is still snow on the ground -- this will stain, so wear old clothing. The remaining snows and rain will carry the iron into the soil. I do this every winter, and my tree and shrub leaves look great now. Unfortunately, you can do nothing about this problem right now if your leaves show the signs this summer. Mark your calendar for late next winter so you'll remember and do it every year.  This year, I applied considerably less than the label asked for, and the leaves still turned out great.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Seeds on the Cheap & Organizing Your Garden Seeds.

With my miniature daffodils nodding their perky little heads, I think I'm finally mentally ready for spring gardening. I even bought some fun new seeds yesterday: artichoke seeds because a friend had such success with them, bright red Italian bell pepper seeds, because it's fun to try a foreign variety, and a crenshaw melon, because crenshaws are pure delicious. Yum!

I bought those seeds despite all the dozens of packages of seed I already have, organized with dividers in clear plastic shoe boxes, and despite the fact the packets were about $2 each. My looking at seeds is kind of like kids going through the Christmas toy catalogs, where they want simply everything they see.

By the way, organizing my seed packets has made both planning and planting so much easier! I used to throw all the seed packets in one huge plastic container and have to shuffle through the whole thing every time I planted. I got smart last year. Within a few seconds, I now have what I want. I have headings for the vegetables I plant a lot, and I throw everything that doesn’t fit under miscellaneous. I have two shoe boxes for vegetable seeds and one shoe box for flower seed.

The seed packets I bought yesterday were a little more expensive than what I usually buy, being special, but you don't need to spend big money on expensive seed if you’re buying more common seed varieties and if you only need a few seeds. Last year, I bought some seeds from the local dollar store at 20 cents per packet, and the seeds grew and produced very well. The dollar store packets have only 8 grams of seed, probably 1/4 less than average packets bought elsewhere for between $1.49-$3.00.

Generally, those smaller packets are not cost effective for larger and heavier seeds, such as beans, where you’d have to purchase several packets to get a good crop. Yet, those packets are a wonderful buy for small seeds like lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers, where one packet is still enough for several years. Moreover, the dollar store (where we live, it’s Dollar Tree) has tried and true varieties you’ll see everywhere else seed is sold. It’s also a great buy if you’re wanting to experiment and try just a little bit of a different variety. My experience has been that the seed quality is the same as the expensive brands.

Be watching in the late summer and early fall for stores to clearance remaining seeds, and you can often pick up seeds for the next year at bargain prices. They don’t save seed packets to sell the next year.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Not This Garden, Bambi!

Because so many of you are worried about planting a vegetable garden that becomes, instead of your family dinner, a deer salad bar, I went through my “Pest” file of old Organic Gardening articles. I remember that Organic Gardening did an extensive study of deer control methods more than a dozen years ago. They tried everything you’ve ever heard of and more: soap, human hair, pepper spray, and even lion dung and/or urine. The conclusion was that the only sure thing to stop a hungry deer is at least an 8 ft. fence. An online search of articles on deer control reveals the same results. It seems, you see, that what works with deer in one area doesn’t always work in a different area. Moreover, bucks, does, and fawns have different taste preferences. One of our friends here in town had a row of tulips, with red and yellow tulips alternating. The deer ate all the red tulips right off and left the yellow tulips for later munching. Red smells tastier, perhaps?

I know, though, that there are many of you beginning new gardens with no extra money to invest in a big fence. So, I went looking for other workable ideas for you. In my file of OG articles were two comments from readers that gave virtually the same advice -- laying something down on the ground instead of in the air. I think it's an idea worth trying. Here was a comment from Oregon:
“The old orchardist down the road showed me how he protects his raspberry plants from deer without using a fence. He lays section of chicken wire and hardware cloth on the ground all around the perimeter of his bramble patch. The deer won’t walk on the wire, and they can’t reach the bushes without crossing the barrier. I tried the technique for shrubs, bushes, and trees on my 5-acre property and had the same good results. We see plenty of deer every week, but have had no damage.” (Organic Gardening, February 1991, p. 85)
A similar comment from Kentucky:
“You don’t have to be a deer psychologist to keep deer out of your garden. All you need to know is that deer don’t like to get their feet tangled. So if you really want to stop them in their tracks, don’t erect a fence – lay it down instead.

“First, dig a 3 to 4 inch deep trench about 12 inches wide around the perimeter of your garden. Then cover the furrow with 4 foot wide wire fencing that has 3 by 5 inch mesh openings; lay the fence flat on the ground. (The fencing is cheap....) The deer won’t walk on or over such a barrier and will browse somewhere else instead....” (Organic Gardening, ? 1994, p. 66)
No guarantees with the methods above, but it just might work! With that method, you would want to keep the weeds cut down under the wire and lift it up in the spring so that it didn't get buried in the grass.

For those of you starting small gardens, there are some easy little PVC pipe and chicken wire cages designed to keep out rabbits that I think would work great to keep out deer, provided you secured the cages to the ground – some good stakes or pieces of rebar (bought at the hardware store) at the four corners and some string to tie the cage to the stakes would work. A lot of people in town successfully do something more simple, but similar, for their trees. The point is to keep the deer from the plants, and this does the job and is going to be pretty cheap -- a lot cheaper than surrounding the garden with a tall fence. To weed, you'd just untie the stakes and lift off the cage. I think this might also be a solution for those of you who told me last year that your chickens ate more tomatoes than the deer did -- two families told me that the tomatoes jumped slower than the grasshoppers you thought the chickens would eat. :) You do need to take into consideration the size of the plant when full-grown. Click here for the link.

For plants you do not intend to eat, you have more options. Several people in our area, including me, have had great success with “Liquid Fence” deer repellent. It stinks when you’re spraying it on, but it dries and doesn’t stink to humans. It still stinks to the deer, though. I had tulips for the first time in years last year, and it was worth having to take a bath every time I sprayed the stuff. I found a couple of homemade recipes for deer repellent online, though, that just might do the trick, since they have essentially the same stinky ingredients. Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page for the recipes.

We're supposed to have a bad grasshopper problem again this year. Your best bet in bad hopper years is to get in a lot of vegetables that mature early, like lettuce, broccoli, and peas. The hot, dry, months are when the hoppers get large enough to do the most damage.

Last, I would add that, in my experience, a liberal sprinkling of prayer makes plants grow their very best and helps deter pests.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Maybe Spring is coming up Soup Instead?

I broke open a bottle of the canned hamburger patties last night. I just warmed them and we ate them on buns. The flavor was not what we're used to with grilled burgers probably because they boiled for an hour and a half in liquid. With my ranching background, I'm pretty picky about quality of food, particularly meat. So, I'll be using that hamburger in the future for casseroles and soups, where hamburger usually cooks awhile and often in liquid anyway. For economic and health reasons, we often eat hamburger mixed with something else, like you would with shepherd's pie. I'm still looking forward to having the meat for things like that. Hamburger is great as a replacement to stew meat in some stews.

All that said, the quality of canned chicken is phenomenal. So, don't even hesitate. My daughter likes it so much she actually drinks the broth when I open a jar.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring is Coming up Meatballs

Sale prices on super-lean hamburger were great at Fresh Market this week, so I've been canning hamburger. The photo at left is of some hamburger patties and meatballs I canned last week. Here is a link to the current USDA guide 5, Preparing and Canning Poultry,
Red Meats, and Seafoods
with detailed instructions (page 5-2 has the instructions for ground meat). Please make sure to adjust the pressure to what is needed for your altitude – where we live, it’s 13 pounds. If the canner goes below the required pressure for even a few seconds, start the processing time over. That’s why I keep my canner around 15 pounds pressure, just to make sure I don’t have to start over. Since meat takes 90 minutes to pressure can, believe me, you do not want to have to start processing time over.

I always slit a big black garbage bag and lay it over my work area when I'm prepping the meat to can. I don't get meat juices and pieces spread all over my counters. It is sanitary and makes cleanup a snap.

What is my honest assessment on the ease of canning both chicken and hamburger? Anything you can stuff in a jar raw, without pre-cooking and without adding extra liquid, is of course going to save you a whole lot of time. Therefore, boneless, skinless chicken is soooo easy to do. I haven’t done chunks or cubes of red meat yet, but since they can be put in the jar raw, I’m sure they are the same ease as chicken. Hamburger, though, is a different matter, entirely.

Hamburger must be slightly browned before pressure canning and it has to have added liquid. Why? With ground meat, there is a lot more possibility for bacteria to lurk inside the meat than with chunks of meat. That’s why you should NEVER, but never, just stuff a bunch of raw hamburger into a canning jar and pressure can the way some bloggers tell you to do – that method is not USDA approved and it’s really playing roulette with your family’s health. With one big glob of hamburger like that, the boiling liquid that will kill the bacteria cannot circulate around all the meat. Play it safe and follow USDA guidelines, even if those guidelines seem paranoid. Pre-browning the meat also ensures that the hamburger keeps its shape while you are canning and that it looks nice when you pull it out of the jar.

Season both the hamburger patties and meatballs as desired. I chose to add spices, salt, and finely minced garlic to the hamburger and mixed it up with my hands (wearing disposable gloves) before I formed it for browning. I felt if the seasoning were inside the meat, the flavors would hold better through the canning process. Meatballs had oregano, basil, onion powder, salt, and minced garlic. Hamburgers had onion powder, a little Worcestershire Sauce, salt, and minced garlic.

I used a cookie scoop to scoop out the meatballs. A dozen browned meatballs of that size will fit in a pint jar. For the boiling liquid required for both meatballs and patties, I used soup base (like bouillon) to make a half-strength broth. My neighbor tells me that “Better than Bouillon” makes a low sodium soup base that does not have MSG, and I’d use that next time. You might be surprised that most bouillon and soup base contain both corn syrup solids (a health no-no) and MSG. The MSG is often under disguised names like “hydrolized vegetable protein” or “hydrolized yeast extract” or “natural flavorings”.

I used a half-cup measuring cup to scoop out hamburger patties and squished them to ½ inch. I browned the patties on an indoor electric grill (George Foreman style) that browned both sides of the hamburger at once. The patties shrunk to the perfect size to fit in my wide-mouth quart jars – I do recommend wide-mouth jars for the patties. I did 50 patties in very little time that way. Each quart jar held five patties.

Hamburger can also be browned and pressure canned without shaping, following the instructions in the guide I have linked above. One lady has commented that not shaping the meat results in meat with a finer consistency, like the hamburger you get in fast food tacos. She recommended, instead, canning patties and then breaking them up for other uses after you open the jar.

Will I be canning hamburger again, even with the extra work? Absolutely! If I were cooking hamburger for a meal, I’d have to go to the work anyway. Pressure canning the hamburger just puts the work up front and the bottled meat will be a time saver for me on busy days. Ha! That’s every day, but let’s not get carried away. :) If the power goes out, I have a ready source of protein that is already cooked, not to mention I bought this hamburger about half the normal price. Gotta love sales! Besides, the hamburger tastes good!

My family will be scooping out the meat next time I do hamburger – that’s the real time saver. Canning is so much more enjoyable when you’re not doing all the work yourself. The kids tend to think it's slave labor, but 'tis the nature of kids to complain at work, of any kind. They like the family together time once they get going and their dad's silly stories and jokes.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Buying and Maintaining a Pressure Canner

I've had several questions about pressure canners....

Question: I want to buy a brand-new pressure canner. Which brand and style?
Answer 1: I'll answer this from my 25 plus years' experience in canning. If I were buying a new pressure canner, I would spend a little more money to buy one that is designed to do two levels of quart bottles at once. Food prep takes a lot less time than the canning time, especially if you are canning meat, which takes an hour and a half each load -- again, at 13 pounds pressure at our altitude. Look at the canner specifications as to how many pints and quarts fit and don't make the mistake of thinking that a 30-quart canner will fit 30 quarts. A 30 quart canner will generally do 14 quart jars -- there apparently has to be air space at the top of a pressure canner.

Answer 2: Several food storage experts recommend purchasing a canner that does not need a gasket, and hence no need to change the gasket/sealing ring. The Mending Shed sells several sizes of All American Pressure Cookers, which are metal-to-metal and need no gaskets. Click here for that link. Compare prices for the best deal. Online, you'll also pay over $20 shipping, but you could also go directly to the Mending Shed -- if you live near it. With this type of canner, you will still need to change the vent, which this company calls an "over pressure plug", every few years.

You will note that the price is a lot higher on the All American Pressure Canner than what you will likely spend locally on a lower-end canner locally. You have to decide if the convenience of being able to process more jars at once and not having to change the gasket is worth the price. For me, even with my frugal (O.K., cheap!!) tendencies, if I were purchasing a new canner, I would personally go with the higher-end canner (more quart jars in one canner load) just to cut down the processing time. How many nights did I stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. when I only had one pressure canner that fits six quarts at a time? Your time and sanity are worth the extra money, and you'll can more food if you make this easier. If you can't afford it, you can buy a couple of oldie goldies like I did and also cut your time in half.

Question: Can I buy a used pressure canner?

Answer: Absolutely, if it is not damaged and if replacement parts are still available. I was amazed to find out there are canners older than mine for which you cannot get parts! I have two really old, but perfectly good, Presto 21B pressure canners that were old long before I bought them. I had the Extension Service test the gauge, and it was faulty. So, I bought a new gauge, new sealing ring and automatic air vent, and even a new handles at the Mending Shed. Each of my canners will do six quart jars at a time. The time spent processing is why I picked up the extra canner at at thrift store. The photo below is the kind of canner I have, except I have plastic handles. (This photo shows the lid on sideways.)

Question: If my pressure canner has rubber parts (a sealing ring or gasket and a rubber air vent/safety plug) how often should I replace them for safety?

Answer: If you use your canner, you will need to replace the rubber parts every few years. Here is an example of what you need to replace and how the gasket fits in the pressure canner lid.

You will know you need to replace the rubber parts when one of two things happen: 1) the gasket (a.k.a. sealing ring) or the rubber vent have gotten loose enough that one or the other is not keeping the steam in the canner (steam will come out between the canner and the lid or from under the rubber vent) ; or 2) The gasket feels hard and is not easily pliable -- if the gasket is hard, the air vent is hard, and the vent is a safety feature.

Make sure you buy the right parts. I keep the original box for the gasket and regulator right in my canner so I never have to guess. I just take the box with me when I buy new parts at the Mending Shed. The new gasket/sealing ring will be larger than the slot it has to fit in the canner lid. Instructions say to ease the gasket into the lid, and it might take you more than one try to do it. It's easy, though. Oh, and never put oil on the rubber parts.

Before you use your pressure canner, always tip the lid upside down and check to see if the vent hole is plugged. Mine never has been plugged, but the experts say to check.

Question: How often should I have my pressure canner's gauge checked?

Answer: At the beginning of every canning season. Gauges change. Sometimes the gauge will be right on and other times a pound under or over what it should be. We can have our canner lids tested where we live at either the Extension Service or at the Mending Shed, both for free. When they test it, they give you a little tag that tells you what your pressure reads in relationship to the correct pressure. If your gauge reads 14 lbs. when theirs says 13 lbs, that means your gauge is a pound under what it should be and you need to start timing the canner full of food when the gauge shows one pound higher than the desired pressure. I confess to just keeping my canner at 15 lbs., because I never have to worry about getting under 13 lbs., which is what I need here. It's possible that some products might be more cooked that way, but I haven't noticed any difference. I keep the little tag the tester gave me handy and hang it over the vent when I'm not using the canner.

I'll be canning hamburger for my first time tomorrow, inspired by the wonders of home-canned chicken -- of course, I'm following U.S.D.A. guidelines in the Extension Service publications. Here's a link to their publication on meat -- make sure you process for your altitude.

By the way, if you have never had home-canned chicken, you are truly missing out. It is oh so easy (I canned 40 lbs. of chicken breasts this week -- one 1 1/2 pint jar is just under 1 pound of chicken.), and so delicious. This is just raw chicken with a couple of tablespoons of minced carrots and a 1/2 tsp. of dried parsley and 1 tsp. salt per quart -- I asked the Home Economist at the Extension service if I could safely add the carrots and parsley, and it's O.K. because the hour and a half processing time for meat takes care of it. The carrots give the chicken a nice color. The chicken roasts itself and makes its own juice -- my teenager actually drinks the juice every time I open a jar. The store-bought stuff isn't all that great, but the home-canned product is just wonderful and a great convenience. I'm crossing my fingers that hamburger is just as good. I'll be following the U.S.D.A. guidelines and doing hamburger patties, meatballs, and loose hamburger. Fun!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Last year, Tim Woolf, a leading preparedness expert, spoke locally. One of my neighbors went to his lecture, and I really wished I had gone when she told me what she had learned. The way I understand it, Tim Woolf was asked to see just how prepared he and his family were by living on just their food storage and preparedness items for several months, with no power, etc. They found out what they had that did not work, what did work, and what they wished they had. He is now a leading expert on preparedness.

Good news! I just found some unofficial notes from Bro. Woolf's lectures that some kind person posted on the internet. This person went to several lectures to get more complete notes. To read the notes, click on this link and then click on the words "read what else Tim Woolf has to say". A Word document will open in your computer. I recommend saving it to your computer to have as a reference -- that's what I did.

I've made some mistakes over the years with my food storage and have learned from them , but if a disaster hits, it's too late to learn emergency preparedness. As the website I've linked states, "As We Prepare, We Shall Not Fear." First I'll learn about heat, as I'd rather not have my family turn into popsicles in the winter with a power outage -- that's something that I've been worried about. No longer!