During the summer months, I do a lot of canning. We have been fortunate that the garden has done well for the last 2 years. We thank the horses for that! They keep us in clean, organic fertilizer. With the abundance of produce, I have had the opportunity to experiment with canning partial or entire meals. We try not to buy processed foods. I try to make everything. Condiments, sauces and everything else.
We canned a lot of stews (vegetarian) and soups last summer in anticipation of these cold nights when I would be just too exhausted to cook. I packed stew vegetables and broth in jars with seasonings and pressure canned them. Squash, beans, potatoes, carrots, corn, and peas all went into the jars. If desired, for a more complete meal, pasta or beans could be added when the jars were opened. We made pasta sauce, barbecue sauce, salsa and spreads along with the usual pickles, kraut, jams and jelly.
When canning vegetables for stew, I don’t typically use a recipe. Since it’s just vegetables and seasonings, it’s pretty easy. Using a pressure canner, just about anything can go in.
We don’t eat meat and although I know meat is often canned, I don’t know about canning it with vegetables. I think I would prefer to add it at the time of cooking.
When making soups for canning, I don’t use very much water. Making my soups really thick and then adding a jar of water when cooking means twice as much soup when it’s cooked. I sometimes use recipes just as a place to start. I like the Ball Blue Book of Preserving for that. It’s full of information on canning, freezing and drying food as well.
What about dessert? If I could make pie filling and can it, then we would have fresh pie in the winter, without much fuss at all. Apple seemed like a good start. Most of the recipes call for cornstarch. Canning cornstarch just doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. So I made my pie filling without it. A note on the jar to add the starch when I make the pie keeps me from having a very runny pie.
Proper Preparation Pays Off
Now, it’s finally winter. There are the normal chores, but I am also writing again and taking some online classes. I’m really busy and often too tired to cook. Those soups and stews are coming in handy and so are the desserts. Yesterday, I made an apple pie. Using the usual crust-lined cast iron skillet, I heated the pie filling and added the cornstarch. I filled the crust and baked it for 40 minutes. It was easy and fresh!
Although we grow a good garden and have a lot of canned food, we still purchase some fresh vegetables during the winter. We always look for sales and purchase a little extra to go into the freezer. Usually it’s vegetables I didn’t grow, like eggplant or didn’t grow enough of, like bell peppers. I found red bell peppers on sale last week and made roasted red peppers, packed them in canning jars, added olive oil and a little garlic and froze them.
I cook a few times a week. Always making more than we can eat, we freeze the leftovers so that we don’t have to eat the same thing for days. Freezing meals really helps out around here. Frozen “fast food” allows us to have more variety in our diet and keep a good supply of winter “comfort food” like sweet potato soup and chili. Freezing Canning Jars
I’m sure most of you know this, but I only found out this year that some canning jars can be FROZEN! (Click this list to see if your jars measure up. Not all jars are freezer safe. –Editor)
I pack our leftovers into jars and into the freezer they go! This keeps those canning jars in use all winter long. The LIDS* can also be re-used for freezing. I know they can’t be reused for canning, but now we get more than one use out of them by freezing them!
Since we try to reuse or repurpose as much as possible, this was a huge discovery for me! I don’t have a big freezer, but the jars seem to fit better than other containers and there is a lot more food in my freezer. In case you didn’t know, here are the Ball/Kerr jars that can be frozen-
- 4, 8, or 12 oz. jelly jars.
- Wide Mouth Pints or Pint and a half- (I think they are 24 0z).
- Don’t freeze the regular mouth jars or the quarts.
Pre-Mix Baked Goods
Another really good way to keep those canning jars working in the winter is to store pre-measured dry ingredients for cake, bread, cookies or other baked goods. I mix the dry ingredients for a few items and store them in canning jars on the shelf. Then when it’s time to bake, mix in the wet ingredients, add the dry mix and bake. It’s as easy as getting it out of a box, but it’s all homemade goodness. Canning jar lids can be reused here, too.
Just about any food can be made into “fast food. ” It can be canned or frozen or prepared and stored. It does take some extra work, but it sure pays off in good, healthy meals that can be prepared quickly and easily. It takes the pressure off when there’s no time to cook. That’s important to me. Besides, we live 35 miles from town and we work here, at the ranch. That’s 70 miles to go to pick up a pizza.
*Lehman’s doesn’t recommend using standard lids and bands in the freezer. Plastic Storage Caps for Canning Jars are safe for use in the freezer or refrigerator.