Saturday, August 11, 2012

Arid Onions

For the last 14 or 15 years, in addition to canning I have dehydrated foods.  No particular reason other than I could and I had a dehydrator or 2.  The first was given to me, a Ronco.  Then several years later I found it's twin in a thrift store, complete with everything that came with it accept the box.  As far as I could tell it had never been used and for $5 I figured it'd be good for the extra trays and parts if I ever needed them.

That was the plan at the time.  Then I started using BOTH of them because one just wasn't enough, I had found even more things to dry out.  And over the last 2 years or so it became apparent I needed yet another one to handle my load.  So for Christmas I was given an Excalibur 9 tray electric fan monster of a dehydrating machine.  It was in service the very next day working on a bunch of cabbage I found on sale.  It's been in steady use since.  Though at the rate I'm going I may end up pulling the Roncos back out once this garden comes in just to keep up!

So what do you do when you find onions on sale or happen to have a lot come out of your garden and no root cellar or other adequate storage for them?  Pass them up?  Give them away?  Noooooo!!!  You pull that dehydrator out!  You can use that dehydrated onion later on in soups, stews, casseroles, etc.  You won't have to chop one up if you are in a hurry to get everything in the pot.

So how is the next big question.  It's easy really.  Take that outer skin off your onions, trim the top and bottom and chop it up.  How big or small depends on your dehydrator.  In the Excalibur I have screens that can manage 1/2" pieces without letting too many tall through once they've dried to rice grain size.  In those Roncos though, I didn't chop, I sliced and separated into rings.  Then everything gets dunked in water for a quick soak to help pull out some of the vapors.  Usually just over night.  No more than 10 hours.

Then we drain and let sit in colanders until they stop dripping.  This is the 6 pounds I started with the other night:

Next we load the dehydrator trays in as single of a layer as you can manage:
Then you load the dehydrator, I needed 7 of the 9 screens/trays for this batch.  Quick note, if you can't handle the smell of onions, put the dehydrator out in the garage or shed.  Seriously.  You'll regret leaving it running in your house.

 For the Excalibur I just turn the dial to vegetables/125* after putting the lid in place and walk away for 18 to 24 hours depending on how much water the onions had in them.  For the Ronco, I would rotate the trays every 4 hours or so until the onions were completely dry, usually about 24 hours for the rings.  This is what the above loaded tray looks like when done:

Let the onions cool for about a half hour or so after they are dried out.  6 pounds of dried onions takes up a lot less space for sure, a quart jar is more than enough to hold everything without them being packed in there!  I also have a vacuum sealer that has a wide mouth jar attachment so I vacuum out all the air in these jars for longer shelf life.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hanging Around

Over the last few days I decided to finish up a little project I had planned a few months before we moved here, new hanging hand towels for the kitchen.  Ones that didn't tie on to the oven handle but buttoned or snapped on since one or more of my cats likes to eat anything resembling cording and another likes to pull the ones I did have loose and take them off to hide.  And ones that were a little newer and cleaner than the ones I bought back in '95.  Yeah, I've had my kitchen and bath towels since '95 and they are most definitely showing their age.
Here's a sneak preview of what we are making today, my prototype.  It's already in use if you can't tell!

First thing to do is locate towels you want to hang in your kitchen, pic something you like because each towel is going to make 2 of them, and pick something with a design that runs both ways from the center so that there's nothing upside down on one of the towels.  I bought 6 hand towels at a discount store on clearance that I liked, one of which was supposed to have been a gift but well, I packed, moved and forgot where I put them all until I found them stashed in stuff I don't normally use the other day.

Find some fabric that matches the towels, you really should only need a fat quarter or less for each one.  Find buttons and/or snaps to match, whatever you like.  Wash your towels and the fabric, helps during the handling and gets the initial shrinking and dye loss out of the way.

Now you need to mark the middle of the towel on the back with a pen or pencil or fabric marker of some sort.  Beware, the next couple of pics are of my ancient, well used, towels (and yes that's as clean as it gets any more) because I forgot to take pics of my progress for the first few steps!

Next we are going to fold over the sides, to the middle and back out, matching that center line, so that it looks like this:

Then we are going to sew 2 lines of stitching using your presser foot as a guide on either side of that center line.

Then you cut along that line and create 2 towels that look like this:
Now we need to make the fabric hanger.  You can use whatever fabric you want, scraps, extras, anything.  If you are like me, you don't often turn down orphaned fabric and have a bunch of out of fashion stuff in small pieces that you can piece together into the hanger.  The size will depend on your towel.  Mine, folded and sewn this way is 5.5" across the cut end and I'm using small bits of fabric and a 1/4" piecing foot so I would cut 2 pieces 6" wide and around 10" long, which also depends on your oven handle size and button size.  I have a large oven handle and am using 1" buttons so I figure that's a good place to start!

With those 2 pieces of fabric, make a tube.
Then you need to fish your towel into that tube and align one end, make it nice and flat on that end.
Then stitch down that straight end using your regular presser foot as a guide, then again using a zig zag stich of some sort just to make sure it's not going anywhere.

Flip the tube right side out, straighten it up and iron it.
Then you'll need to tuck that free end back into the tub far enough to account for your button hole stitch or snaps, making sure to leave enough room for it to fit over your oven handle loosely.  I folded these in about 1.5".  Then top stitch around the edges with one of those fancy stitches you've been wanting to use.
Add the button hole and button.

Or the snaps.
And you are finished!
Yes I know, I'm missing 2 more of the towels, namely the one with the veggies on it.  I'm looking for just the right buttons for those!

Pressured Potatoes

So this will be my first blog entry concerning pressure canned foods.  Let's get the rules and regs out and dealt with first, then I'll tell you what I did.

First off, if it's a low acid food, it has to be pressure canned.  No ifs ands or buts, I really don't want to hear otherwise honestly.  My decisions are based on real science, not the canning snobs and canning cops.  Simply put if a food doesn't have an acid level of 4.6 or lower or a sugar content of 60%, it's just NOT safe to can it in a water bath due to all kinds of bacteria and molds, namely botulism.  Botulism kills.  Botulism takes a temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to kill it off (or high acid or high sugar content).  Boiling water will NEVER reach more than 212 degrees unless it's under some sort of pressure, and unless you live in the lowest part of the ocean or a few miles under ground you need a pressure canner.   I kinda like living so I'll er on the side of caution and stick with canning low acid foods (foods with an acidity level above 4.6, and yes I'm just geeky/nerdy enough to have a PH meter) in a pressure canner.

If there are rules/steps set out by the canning authorities I will try to explain them to you, but honesty, you can research them yourself if you still have questions and I don't explain the issue well enough.  A lot of it was common sense to those who canned years ago and this info was just not passed down for some reason or other.

Now..... on to those potatoes......  Not sweet potatoes, regular old russets and reds were what I had.

With our first paycheck in 6 months I paid everything I could and saved out enough to buy a very few groceries.  Namely everything I could find on sale that we were out of.  Potatoes were on that list so I managed to lay my hands on 25 pounds for a decent price.  I saved out 5 pounds for fresh and started working on the rest of them.  I've been researching the canning of potatoes for a few weeks, I have my Ball Complete book instructions, I have the National Center of Home Food Preservation instructions, I also have large amounts of blog and other anecdotal 'evidence', enough to make me feel comfortable with my canning of the little beasties.

First off, wash off your potatoes really, really good.  I usually take one of those green scrubby pads to mine anyway since I really don't like the taste of dirt.  Then you have a decision to make, to peel or not to peel.  There's a lot of misinformation out there on the subject.  Here's my take on it... since botulism lives in dirt and your potatoes grow in dirt, they are potentially infected and since they are not hermetically sealed while growing, the insides have a chance of having it as well as the skins, plus the act of cutting through the peel to remove it will introduce the nasties to the flesh as well.  Simply put the skins do not 'cause' botulism and since everything in those jars will be pressure canned to the point where botulism is supposed to die, I'm leaving my skins on!  It's just not aesthetically pleasing to some people to see them on.  I like whole foods.  If you are still leery, peel yours, no problem.  Won't offend me in the slightest!

Now we cut them up and dump into acidulated water, yes I think that's misspelled!  Cut them into chunks, dice, whatever.  If they are smaller than say 2" in diameter you can leave them whole if you want.  The water you are putting them in should be cool and have plenty of lemon juice in it.  I typically use 1 cup lemon juice to 1 gallon of water, this helps prevent browning and it will start to pull the excess starch out of the potatoes.  I then let them sit there a while while I prepare for canning.

Read your canner's instructions, memorize them if you need to.  And yes you really need to use a canner for this, not just a pressure cooker.  Sometimes pressure cookers just don't hold pressure as well as a canner will and can give a false sense of having killed off the stuff that causes spoilage.  Canners were made to do this!  And if you really want to be sure your canner is operating properly, contact your extension office and they can test it for you.  If you have a dial gauge you need to see them every year anyway to be on the safe side to make sure your dial is still working properly.

I'll assume you know the procedure for preparing your jars and lids.  What we do next is fish the potatoes out of the soaking water and blanch them for 2 minutes in boiling water, then drain and hot pack them in jars.  There's a reason why the instructions say to blanch.  If you don't, if you decide to raw pack, you will end up with a bit of excess starch in your jar that will congeal as your potatoes wait on you to pull them out and use them.  This can be rinsed right off, it's not going to hurt you or anything, it's just icky looking and scares the crap out of people.  Either way you decide you now need to fill the jars with boiling water. Use fresh water for this or you get the congealed mass later. 1" head space please!

Clean off the rims, lid up and load up your canner, which has been patiently waiting on you to hurry up with the whole process and heating up your kitchen.  Vent the canner 10 minutes (yes, do this, don't skip, helps equalize the pressure within the jars and food more evenly as the canner is heating up so that you don't have spoilage).  Process quarts for 40 minutes, pints for 35.  Once time has been reached let the canner come back to no pressure naturally, yes another step to not miss because releasing the pressure too fast can cause jars to explode, lids to leak internal liquids, and other mayhem that can lead to spoilage.  Once back to no pressure, let it sit there for a couple minutes so that they can drop temp a little.  Then unload onto towels for cooling.  Use cotton towels here if you can and double them up.  These jars are hot enough to melt plastic and harm counter tops!  Yeah, I had a poly blend dish towel that was stuck to the bottom of a jar the first time I used the pressure canner last year.  Learned that lesson the hard way!

Now for the questions I know are going to come..... why are they bubbling?  Well the contents are out gassing, during the pressure treating of the food air finds its way into things it normally can't and once the pressure is released it has to come out  plus the food already has some air in it and the vacuum of the jar just sucks it right out.  Think of it like the bends for divers, they have to go through depressurization after a deep dive to keep the dissolved air from bubbling back out into their blood.  Those jars basically have the bends ;)  They'll bubble for about an hour or so while their temps come down.
Why is there less water in there that before?  Couple reasons actually.  First is the potatoes absorbed some of it to replace all the air that was hidden in them.  Then there's the possibility that you filled the jar with too much liquid, happens to the best of us and as long as the jar seals it's fine.
Once the lids seal and the jars are completely cooled move them to the pantry or other storage.  If a lid doesn't seal, toss the jar in the fridge and use as soon as possible.

Now as for my potatoes... 20 pounds or so landed me 19 quarts. 

I even cut 2 quarts of those into 'fries' (the 2 in front) based on a little tip I found in the comments section of another canning blog.  See here: Canning Granny    She has really nice step by step directions with pictures for hers if you need some hand holding to do this!

Now if these start looking off to you, toss them.  If you crack open a jar and it smells off, toss them.  If the lid pops up or off, toss them.  Not worth your life or someone else!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Lots of Maters!

When life presents you with free ('please make them go away') tomatoes, you just don't say no.  No, you grin, toss them on the back of the truck and sing all the way home because you know your garden hasn't done squat this year and your panty is bare!  I was handed about 55 lbs the other day....
They ain't all pretty, several of them were split due to this drought we've been having, heck a good 2/3 of them weren't even ripe enough to do anything with, but that's ok.  I still made plans.

First up was the ripe few of them.  I jammed them.  Yes you read that correctly.  I.  Jammed.  Them.
Here's the recipe I found in my back up archives, I apologize, I'm not sure where I got it and can't give credit to who it's due.  I just know it was put in the "Try ASAP" file.

Tomato Jam 

5 pounds tomatoes, finely chopped
3 1/2 cups sugar
8 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon red chili flakes

Combine all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce temperature to a simmer. Stirring regularly, simmer the jam until it reduces to a sticky, jammy mess. This will take between 1 and 1 1/2 hours.
When the jam has cooked down sufficiently, remove from heat and fill jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe rims, apply lids and twist on rings. Process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes.

Now I followed this recipe to the letter but after 3 hours my mass of tomato syrup never tried to jam so I tossed in a box of the no sugar needed pectin and that did it.  Well until after I processed them and they still haven't reset!  Oh well, better luck next time I guess!  Landed me 6 pints:

Then of course there was a need for tomato sauce.  Hubby's first thought when he saw the bags to tomatoes was "Are you making sauce tonight?"  He's been out of his red stuff for 3 months!  See I told you the pantry was low!
So my method for sauce madness was a bit different this year.  I was lucky enough to find an old Foley food mill at a flea market for 25 cents so I snagged it hoping it would save me some time.  With the tomatoes, once they were all mostly ripe, I cored and quartered them, took off any offending bits and tossed into my largest stock pot already on medium low heat.  I filled that sucker up to heaping, had to wait an hour and added even more before I got only half of them in there, it's 16 quarts!  So I had to do 2 batches!  These buggers were really juicy too so there was a lot of water to cook off.  Once it cooked down to mush, I took my handy stick blender to it to break up the larger chunks then started ladling the mush through the food mill.
Honestly, it took longer than I expected but it got done and I may do it this way again.  I let the strained mush cook with a few sprigs of rosemary, a few sprigs of oregano, a few bunches of basil, a little garlic, a whole onion, chopped, 3 bell peppers, chopped and a tiny bit of salt.  I let this cook down by at least half then took the stick blender to it again, added a half cup of balsamic vinegar and a half cup cooking sherry.  Let it cook down a little more and let hubby taste test since I can't (that dang allergy).

Then the canning started.  Added another tsp of the balsamic vinegar to each pint jar for the acidity and flavor, filled to 1/2" head space and water bath processed for 35 minutes.  Landed 20 pints, 3 of which have already disappeared!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Kosher Dill Pickle Spears

So, are you drooling yet?  Got any extra cucumbers laying around?

So far this year I have decided I LOVED the Mrs. Wages pickle mix I made a while back.  Seriously, these things were awesome.  I nearly ate all of them all by myself once we cracked open the first jar back in January.  I liked them so much I bought several packets of the mix this year a ton of cucumber seed and plants.  So far, none of those have produced this year.  So I did the next best thing, I bought a bag of cucumbers at a swap so I could get my fix while waiting on the second planting to decide to do its thing.

Normally I use National Pickling or Burpee Pickle Bush as my cucumber of choice and pick them very early so the seeds are at a minimum but beggars can't be choosers and these were made with Straight Eights.  To avoid the seed issue, since I'm just weird that way and don't like picking seeds out of my dental work, I scooped the seeds out of these, sliced into slivers and packed them.  Just like last time I added a little extra, this time it was a clove of minced fresh garlic, 1/2 tsp dill and 1/2 tsp dried onion to each pint to help the flavor along.
I also have decided to keep this ready mixed so that any time I can get a jar full I can pour the mix over and can immediately instead of waiting.  I'm storing the mix in a vinegar bottle that was emptied a few weeks ago, in the fridge as well to make sure no nasties move in and ruin my mix!  I'm doing the same with a hamburger dill mix and a green tomato pickle mix.  Makes life easier and quicker this time of year.

This batch was 7 pints, no I counted right, there's a 7th pint in my fridge because I just couldn't wait any longer.  I needed a pickle fix.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Long time, no see, eh?
Yeah, it's been a bad year here but canning season is coming in again and I've finally been able to sign back into my blog account.  Really, it is quite annoying when you can't link your gmail address to your account even if it's your ONLY email address.  Gah.... the wonders of technology will never cease to befuddle me.  

So far I've only been able to can 5 pints of turnips from my wonderful failure of a garden this year but I have been able to lay my hands on a bunch of cucumbers that I'm planning on attacking tomorrow, hopefully.

I also plan on adding my quilting back on the blog again since I've been doing a lot of it lately.  Heck I might even get the other blog I had been planning up and running once I can figure out the whole gmail address issue.  Never know.

So a bit about the year since I've gotten on here and drove you nuts....
Hubby was laid off.  We hadn't even been here a year.  And he still hasn't found a job.  Lots of prospects but nothing in stone... yet.  Crossing fingers that changes next week.

My computer crashed and burned last fall and I had to do without until we could scrape together enough cash to replace the hard drive.  Hence why I lost all my log in info for here and couldn't figure out why it wouldn't let me log in under my gmail account!

We lost one of our dogs to cancer in the spring. Have another that's 15 and we know his time can be measured in weeks to months due to the chronic illness he has.  It's going to be one of those years for us pet wise I'm afraid

One of the trucks has decided to die and without a pay check it's siting there until we can pay for someone to look at it and tell me what the heck is wrong with it, and enough cash to fix it.  We can live on one truck for now, it's no big deal.

With hubby out of work that pantry I had came in REALLY handy.  I even got over the fear and broke in my pressure canner that was bought before we moved.  Maiden voyage was 83 quarts of boiled peanuts last fall.  Found out I have muscadine and blueberries on the property and they were made into jelly last fall as well.  Will be adding those to the canning recipes this year.

Our garden so far this year has completely sucked.  We lost a small section devoted to corn to the crows and had to replant.  The rest of the garden is anemic at best.  Nothing we've done has helped at all.  So we figure it's the spot we have it in.  Should have a second garden in a totally different spot put in tomorrow so I can at least try to get a few things grown and out up this year.

And I'll leave you on that for tonight, think pickles, I know I will be tomorrow!