Sunday, January 18, 2015

Canning Season ... Extended

There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, when I believed there was a "canning season." I mean, canning season is still a thing, but it's not exactly what it was - to me - a few years ago, like winter is a distinct and separate season from summer, et cetera.

As a homesteader we tend to think of things "in season." There's a growing season, followed by a canning season, followed by winter.

In reality, the seasons, themselves, overlap somewhat, too. We have warm(ish) days in January, where everything starts to thaw, and we have cold days in April when it snows. I've even seen mountains of dirty snow that survived the entire spring and are still unmelted in the mall parking lot as late as June. Not to mention that 99 years ago, there was a Year Without Summer.

Like the natural cycle of the seasons, our homesteader seasons also overlap ... or, at least, that's what I'm beginning to learn.

Eliot Coleman has done extensive research at his farm here in Maine. He grows food year 'round. In fact, anyone can grow food all year long, regardless of his/her climate and whether or not he/she has a greenhouse. I have sprouts growing on my counter, and we grow herbs and some vegetables (like beet greens) in a sunny window. All it takes is a bit of imagination.

Most of us do most of our canning in the late summer/early fall, because that's when most of the food is piling up and needing to be eaten or preserved for future use. We do a fair amount of canning here at Chez Brown during that time, but what I'm finding is that canning isn't just for September. Harvesting isn't just for July and August. Growing isn't just from May to October. Planting isn't just for April.

In the early days here on our homestead, I wasted a lot of time thinking that I had to do certain things at certain times of the year. Back in those days, I put away the canning equipment in October, and it didn't come back out again until the following year.

This year, especially, my canning stuff has moved back into my kitchen, and I'm looking for a permanent storage place for it, because I'm using it - all of the time.

What I'm finding is that a great way to keep the leftovers, even better than freezing, is canning them. The other day, I made some chili, and there was a lot of it. I pressure canned the leftovers, rather than putting them in the refrigerator. What's nice about putting it in the pressure canner rather than in the fridge or freezer is that it makes it more portable, and it keeps longer. So, in April, when Deus Ex Machina needs to take lunch to work, he can grab a jar of chili, and his lunch can sit on his desk until he's ready to heat it up. No need to worry about putting it in the fridge.

Further, if something happens (which it occasionally does), and he doesn't eat the lunch he brought from home, he doesn't have to worry that it's sat on his desk all day.

Also, canning frees up space in the refrigerator and freezer, and it eliminates the likelihood that the item will go bad because it got shoved in the back of the refrigerator and turned blue.

We have a very busy lifestyle, and I like having ready-to-eat meals that only need a little heating up. Soup is perfect, especially this time of year, but we don't buy soup in cans from the store (just say no to BPA and its substitute BPS - both of which are chemicals that are toxic to the human body), but I'm not thinking of soup during the late summer and early fall canning season.

I do a lot of canning in September, but I'm still canning now, in January, too. Yesterday, I canned chicken broth and canned chicken meat (for making into chicken salad or adding to stir-fries). The other day, I canned chili. Neither load was a full canner, and so I also added jars of filtered water, which increases my emergency water supply and gives me a way to store my jars when they aren't filled with food ;).

We also use other preservation methods this time of year. Our dehydrator has a permanent place next to an outlet. I've been dehydrating a lot of leftover rice (which turns it into a "Minute Rice").

Fermenting is a year 'round endeavor, as well. We almost always have some beer or wine in the airlock, Kombucha on the counter or sauerkraut in a jar. Fermentation is a good way to use those long-storage fruits and vegetables that are nearing the end of their shelf life.

I've been spending the last month really thinking a lot about food preservation.

My daughters and I have been volunteering at our local food pantry. Pantry clients can visit twice a month for a specified amount of non-perishable food. Perishable foods, like bread and produce, are available to anyone at any time, because the pantry regularly receives donations of these food items, but they have a very short shelf-life, and the pantry has a finite amount of storage space. Anything that is moldy or questionable ends up in the pig box.

There are so many ways to take that food and extend the life of it. Much of the produce can be canned, fermented or dehydrated. The bread can be made into croutons.

I saw this recipe today for Sinless Cookies. All of the ingredients, except the chocolate chips, are almost always available at the pantry. I think I'm going to bring a copy of the recipe, and maybe a sample of the cookies, on my next volunteer day.

The cookies aren't about canning, but using old bananas rather than tossing them in the pig box is about preserving, and placed in an airtight container, these cookies will last longer than the bananas ... oh, and they sound delicious ;).

What's your favorite food preservation method?


  1. Good ideas. I do a combo of drying, canning and fermenting. I'm fermenting radishes and carrotts sticks today, with a little dill. Nice and crunchy. Where do you store all your canned goods? Do you have a room, cellar or? Love to see a pic...

    1. I wish I had a nice, neat pantry. What I have is some shelves in various parts of my kitchen area. I'll try to post some pictures ... if I can get my camera and my computer to work together.

  2. Definitely! I hate when I need jars or lids, and I get told at the stores "Oh, we only have those during canning season." Canning SEASON? What's that?