Friday, September 26, 2008

Bountiful Harvest

I have been so busy all the kitchen, of all places! Every fall, I get the itch to can stuff. My mom canned and froze a ton of stuff every fall when I was a kid, so it's in my blood. This year I finally broke down and got myself a water bath canner at the hardware store and a big bag of beets from a local farm. On Wednesday, I managed to turn them into this!

8 pints of pickled beets! I managed to get all the jars to seal (yay!) but the canning process itself was a bit of a comedy of errors. It didn't help that I got called to Owen's school that morning to pick him up because he was running a 102 degree fever... He was asleep on the couch for most of this process, and let me tell you, it was a process!

First, the beets have to cook for about 35-45 minutes until they're nice and soft. Then, you have to dunk them in cold water and peel them (when they hit the cold water, the peels slide off relatively easily). Then you have to slice them. At this point, between all the beet water, the beet peelings and the juice from the sliced beets, the kitchen was looking a little bit like a crime scene.

Next step is to make the pickling solution, which involved lots of vinegar, sugar and spices in a little cheesecloth sack. I didn't have any cheesecloth so I used an old diaper (one that had never been used for its original purpose, BTW), which seemed to work. The pickling solution cooked for a little while, then the beets were added and cooked with the pickling solution for a few minutes. In the meantime, the jars and lids had to be sterilized and the water bath set to boiling. The sterile jars were filled, lids placed and rings screwed on, and then they were set into the boiling bath.

Everything up to this point went relatively well, but boy did I have issues with the water bath! I'm hoping that none of the little problems added up to botulism-laden beets...if any experienced canners are reading this, let me know if I did anything particularly damaging, please! First problem - the jars I was using and the wire rack from the canner didn't seem to be compatible. The jars kept tipping over as I tried to set them in the rack, and there was a leak somewhere because the water bath water turned pink. I perservered, though, and crammed six jars into the six spaces on the rack - they were a bit tight but I went with it.

Next the jars were lowered into the boiling water where they were to boil for 30 minutes. Of course I managed to fill the pot up too full, so the first few minutes of boiling involved me desperately scooping water out of the bath so that it would stop boiling over and putting the burner flame out. I finally got the water to a reasonable level and things were quiet until the timer went off. I couldn't nicely lift the jars out of the rack because they were so crammed in there (note to self - next time, skip the wide-mouth jars unless you buy a bigger canner), so I took the whole rack over to the counter and got the jars unstuck.

I had two lonely pints still waiting for their stint in the hot tub, so I put them in the rack and lowered them into the water. Of course, with all the water I'd removed to make the batch of 6 fit, the two little jars weren't even covered. I had to make several trips between the sink and the pot, and then wait for the water to reboil. I didn't start the timer again until the water was boiling, although the jars sat in the pot while it was heating up. Again, hopefully not a fatal mistake. I need to do a little research on canning safety before we crack these babies open...

Lessons learned -
1. Don't start heating the lids up until the jars are almost ready for them. My poor lids cooked for a couple hours while waiting for their jars, which I'm sure was not the most efficient use of gas.

2. Make sure your jars actually fit in your canner before the water is boiling and the jars are filled. My canner does not really like the wide-mouth pint jars.

3. Plan for the whole process to take about three times as long as you thought it would. Don't tell yourself that it will be no problem to get to the bus stop in time to pick up your kid because based on total processing/cooking times, this whole scenario should only last a couple hours. If you decide not to heed this advice, make sure there is a responsible adult on-call to fetch kid when process inevitably runs way over estimated time to complete.

4. Beware the urge to immediately order pounds and pounds of produce to can based on your small success. Baby steps, people!

I am really fighting with #4 right now - I want to make applesauce, and pickles, and dilly beans, and tomato sauce... There's something so satisfying about putting up food. While the beets were definitely the most involved thing I've done this fall, we've also managed to make a few pints of strawberry freezer jam and froze some sweet corn.

I also spent an hour yesterday making some great vegetable-and-chicken soup which included beans, carrots and tomatoes from our little garden.

It's not much, but it's way too fun growing our own food! And we live in a great area for fresh produce. I just know I'm not going to be able to resist sending Bill to the farmer's market this weekend to get some more stuff to can. I really should be knitting socks, but with the failing economy and global food shortages, I just can't resist the urge to feather the nest a bit.

Speaking of the economy, I got a shocker yesterday when I went to fill up the VW with gas - biodiesel is now...wait for it...$5.50 a gallon here in Portland. Yowza! It cost $72 to fill our puny little 13-gallon tank, and I was immediately inspired to dust off my bike and hitch up the trailer. I've been thinking about biking Owen to school instead of driving, but I thought it might be a bit too much for me. Yesterday I mapped it out, and it's only 2 miles down there! I can easily bike to my in-laws' and back, and they're 2.5 miles away, so school should be no problem. I might actually be able to lose this pesky baby weight (yeah, I know, Owen's in preschool so he's really not a valid excuse anymore) and get in shape for ski season. Not that we'll be able to afford to go skiing the way things are going, but if we can, I'll be ready!

Now I'm off to get ready for Oregon Flock and Fiber. We'll have a booth on the lawn, so if you'll be there this weekend, please stop by and say hello. I'll have Knitters for Obama stickers and voter registration forms! But of course you're welcome (and I'm happy to register you to vote) no matter what your political affiliation. I'll have Hurricane Socks patterns as well!


Anonymous JC Briar said...

Chrissy, if you're into canning, you NEED a copy of Stocking Up by Carol Hupping and the staff of the Rodale Food Center. It's my go-to book for everything related to food preservation. I can't recommend it highly enough.

1:58 PM  
Blogger larissa said...

The jars ALWAYS tip over. That metal thing doesn't fit with canning jars, duh. I think if your jars sealed you are fine. I love that popping sound - so satisfying.

3:25 PM  

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