In Welcome to the Farm: How-to Wisdom from The Elliott Homestead, Shaye Elliot teaches readers how they can live a homestead lifestyle without a farm. In this fully illustrated how-to, Elliot shows readers how to harvest their own vegetables, milk a dairy cow, cam jams and jellies, and more! The following excerpt is from Chapter 2, "Preserving the Harvest."
"Preserve everything!" is the homesteader's mantra during the months of plenty. You'll see many a farmgirl hunched over the stove canning her precious peaches, dehydrating her cherries in the sunshine, or bundling up herbs to dry. Traditionally, this is the only way people had food to eat during the winter. I suppose at least a tinge of that tradition has held on through the years. Be it through canning, freezing, dehydrating, culturing, or cold storage, preserving the bounty of spring, summer, and fall is the very best way to ensure you're eating well all year round!
Canning the Harvest
One of the most common ways to preserve a surplus of succulent summer goodness is by canning. Each year, homesteaders line up with their glass jars and zealous ambitions to fill their winter larders with the best of what the harvest has to offer. And after popping the top on those luscious, gently sweetened peaches while the snow falls, you'll totally understand why it's worth the effort. Summertime on our farm means boxes and boxes of ripe produce, sticky floors from "helpers" overfilling the jars, bottles of vinegar lined up along the walls, and the steam from the canner filling the kitchen. It's hardly a bad place to be.
Almost all vegetables, fruits, and meats can be preserved by using various methods of canning. What canned goods does your family currently enjoy? Are there specific crops that you'd like to invest your energy into preserving? We're surrounded by orchards in our area, so it's an annual ritual to put up a zillion (fine, it's closer to a million) jars of cherries, nectarines, peaches, and apricots. There's hardly a treat that makes my kiddos giddier than a bowl of canned cherries. We also put a lot of our canning efforts toward pickles, because I seem to be eternally pregnant, and I can hardly get enough. Asparagus, beets, cucumbers, a variety of green beans, and even eggs can be very easily pickled. If pickles aren't your weakness, as they are mine, how about canned beans? Tomato sauce? Corn? Jams and jellies? Dream of the jars lined up in your storage pantry, and let's get to work.
There are two basic methods of canning: water canning and pressure canning. Both are wonderful methods for the backyard homesteader to delight in.
Water canning is a beautiful preservation method for your excess foodstuff. When I delight in my memories of homesteading as a young girl, this is often the task that comes to mind. My grandpa often canned peaches, pears, and applesauce throughout the summer and fall, and the smell of warmed apples still takes me back to his kitchen. I remember being down in his root cellar, grabbing a few jars of pears off the dusty shelves, and feeling rich as I marched proudly up the stairs with my bounty in hand. Grandpa used to sprinkle shredded cheese over the top of his pears, which still gags me to this day, but I'll happily dive into a bowl of plain, preserved pears any day!
Bacteria require oxygen in order to grow. Thus, when oxygen is removed from food, bacteria are unable to do what they like to do. Water canning utilizes a large water bath to aid in removing oxygen from food, thereby preserving it. Food is packed into sterilized glass jars that are boiled in a large water bath for a designated amount of time. This renders the foodstuff shelf-stable for years to come! Water canners, typically made from aluminum, will most commonly hold up to seven quart-sized jars at one time, covering them completely with water. Water canning makes it possible to enjoy tomato sauce, a variety of pickled foods, chutneys, jams, jellies, and canned fruit all throughout the winter months when harvests have stalled or stopped completely.
Water canning relies on the food's acidity for part of its effectiveness. Because of this, the pH is often altered to reach a particular acidity. For example, green beans cannot be water-canned without vinegar, as the acidity of the beans alone will not be enough to hold them in storage (they will spoil... and you'll know it). High-acid vegetables, such as tomatoes, do very well with water canning and almost never require additional acidity.
It would require an entire book to cover everything my family cans during a given season, but I'm sharing a few of my favorites with you. When you enjoy them, it'll be like I'm there with you (in the least creepy way possible, of course).
Water canning requires a few basic supplies that are available at most homesteading, feed, or hardware supply stores:
- Water-bath canner
- Jar tray
- Mason jars
- Metal lids and bands
- Wooden spoon
- Jar tongs
- Fill the water canner with water and bring it to a simmer. When you add the jars to the canner they will add volume, so take note of where your water line will need to be once the pot is filled with jars.
- Pack the foodstuff, according to your recipe, in sterilized glass jars (this could mean raw or cooked foodstuff, depending on your recipe).
- Wipe off the rim of the jar to ensure a good seal.
- Place the metal lid on the jar, seal side down, and twist on the metal band — but not too tight, now!
- Place the jars carefully into the jar tray and lower slowly into the hot water bath. Remove extra water as needed so that the canner doesn't spill over! The water should cover the lids of the jars by 1 to 2 inches.
- Put the lid on the canner, bring to a simmer, and process the jars for the amount of time designated by the recipe.
- Carefully remove one jar at a time from the canner with the jar tongs and place on a tea towel to cool. Let the jars sit there for twenty-four hours. You'll hear them begin to pop as they seal. It's like music to a homesteader's ears!
- After the twenty-four-hour period, you can remove the bands, wipe any residue off the jars, and line them up on your shelf for storage. Go, you!
More from Welcome to the Farm:
- Butchering Basics
- Harvesting Honey
- Homemade Beeswax Candles
- Honey Meringues Recipe
- Seed Starting Basics
- The Right Seeds for Your Garden
Excerpted with permission from Welcome to the Farm, by Shaye Elliot. Published by Lyons Press, © 2017.