Food Preservation

Major Change in Canning Procedure!

There has been a major change in the procedure for canning in Mason jars.  I’ve been pondering hard on why I’m having too many jars not seal when canning lately.  I’m very careful with my process, so I’ve been very upset to have jars not seal.  As it turns out, there was a change in process that wasn’t widely publicized.

I’ve always trusted my grandmother as the expert on all things canning.  I’ve followed her recipes and advice to the letter.  The same thing goes for my mom.  These ladies have me on experience by decades.  I’d be a fool not to listen.  This new change has taken us all by surprise.  I guess we learn to adapt and overcome!

This change involves the lids we use on our jars.  For 100 years, the process has included simmering the lids in a saucepan of hot water on the stove.  We do this to sterilize the lids, and until recently, to soften the rubber so the lid would seal.  This is now WRONG!  100  years of tradition is gone now.  If you simmer new lids, there is a decent chance they will not seal.  I’ve experienced this a lot lately.  I’ve had a ton of jars not seal while following the process I grew up with.

After all the failures, and researching online to get the new information, we’ve just been washing the lids with warm water and putting them on jars.  We’ve processed a couple dozen jars this weekend and have had no seal failures.  This is a big change, since we’ve had a lot of failures to seal this summer.  I was really getting concerned about my abilities to can.  I’m happy to report, it wasn’t anything I was doing wrong, just a change I wasn’t aware of.

I wish the lid manufacturers would have made a better attempt to inform us of the change, but at least I know now and can pass the information along.  If you are having issues with lids not sealing, stop simmering.  We have, and it has made all the difference.

It is rare that I post two articles in the same day, but I thought this was worth sharing immediately.  If I can spare one of my readers the hassle I’ve been experiencing with canning and having failures, then I will feel a lot better.

Here are a couple of links explaining the change.

http://www.freshpreserving.com/tools/waterbath-canning

http://livinghomegrown.com/2014/08/changes-in-canning-lid-procedures.html

 

Fire Roasted Green Chiles

 

At the end of every summer, the state of New Mexico shares its bounty with the rest of the world.  The famous Hatch Green Chile is in season!  During this season, all the stores in Texas offer these peppers for a great price.  Usually they can be had for less than a dollar a pound.  Since it is a short window on Hatch season, a lot of us like to stock up for the year.  There are several ways to preserve them for year-round use.

The most popular methods are freezing, drying, and canning.  For our yearly stockpile, we bought a 25 pound case, so we have a lot of peppers to work with.  More than half will be frozen, which is a lot more work than it sounds like.  The rest will end up getting dried.  Drying these peppers will use the same process I covered a few weeks ago, so I won’t go into any detail.

Before peppers can be frozen, it helps to remove the skin.  Most peppers have a very tough skin that will not come off the flesh of the pepper without some help.  This is where the roasting comes in.  Once the peppers are roasted, the skins will slip off.  At this point, the peppers go into small freezer bags and into the freezer.  Be sure to use small, serving size bags because once thawed, the peppers will only last a week or two in the refrigerator.

I planned on roasting the whole batch over hardwood coals in the fire pit.  It works well but was very time consuming.  It also involves working directly over an open fire in August in Texas.  Needless to say, it was hot work. To roast these peppers, pierce each pepper with a fork several times.  Put them over the heat until the skin blisters.  Once it is blistered completely, remove from heat and place them in freezer bag or a bowl covered with a towel to allow them to “sweat”.  Once they are cool the skins should slip off.

About halfway through, some friends showed up to help.  They were born and raised in the Mesilla Valley in New Mexico.   We were quickly onto a different method.  We built the fire up to really increase the heat and procured a large pot.  In this pot, we poured enough vegetable oil to completely cover a few peppers.  Once this oil was hot, we started tossing peppers in and letting them blister.  As they finished, they were laid out on cardboard to drain.  This process took 2 or 3 minutes compared to the 15 to 20 minutes it took over the fire.

There is a method that uses an oven to roast the peppers, but we decided against it.  It works well but makes the house smell of chile peppers and can turn the air in the kitchen into pepper spray.  Even with 3 peppers in the oven, the odor was strong.  We will continue to do all of our roasting outside.

A few things I discovered that will help out…  When handling peppers, don’t touch your eyes or face (or private parts!).  You can wear gloves to help out with this.  When working over a fire, the longer your tongs, the better.  I lost some hair on my hands turning peppers.  The friends from New Mexico said that a gas or charcoal grill works very well.

 

Photo courtesy of Sarah’s Musical Kitchen.

Preserving Peppers!

This year my pepper plants aren’t doing well.  I’m not sure if it was the weird spring weather that stayed cold longer than normal or something I’m doing wrong.  Whatever it is, the plants are stunted.  They look healthy, but small.  I’ve managed to harvest a couple of Jalapenos and a handful of small Cayenne peppers.

Luckily, my dad’s pepper plants are doing great this season, so he sent me home with a ton of peppers this weekend.  I ended up with a dining room table full of Jalapeno, Cayenne, and Banana peppers.  Now it’s time to move to get them preserved before they can go bad.

Dehydrating is the easiest way of preserving peppers, but it limits their uses later.  They can be used for cooking or as a seasoning, but not really enjoyed by themselves.  I always like to keep a good stock on hand for uses in chili and stew recipes, so several pounds of this batch are getting dried.   Dehydrating peppers is a pretty simple and straightforward process.

Peppers have a pretty tough skin that seals moisture in, so each pepper needs to be pierced or sliced so they can dry evenly.  For thin peppers like the Cayennes I make a slit along the length of each pepper.  For thicker peppers like the Jalapenos, I simply slice them in half along the length.   Once all the peppers are sliced, they get loaded on the trays of the dehydrator.  Unless you have a very well ventilated spot inside, I recommend running the dehydrator outside.  As peppers heat up and start to dry, they turn the area around them into a pepper spray gas chamber.  Usually in 10 to 12 hours, everything is dried out well and ready to store.  I use Mason jars to keep them moisture free.  That allows them to keep for years.

Some basic tips for dehydrating:

1. Thin items dry much faster than thick pieces.

2. Peppers, onions, and other foods can put off very strong odors while drying.

3. If you dehydrate outside, make sure the dehydrator is protected from animals and birds.

4. Some items can impart their flavor to others if dehydrated at the same time.  Don’t dry onions or peppers with your apple chips!

5. Check your food every couple of hours.  You can’t really over dry most items, but no sense in running a dehydrator longer than needed.

 

Worried about overstocking? Not with these items!

There are a lot of lists out there on items that you should have in your preps. These include items for barter and items to have on hand even if you don’t know how to use them, “just in case” someone else might know how to use them.  I think stocking items like this will tie up money and storage space that can be much better used for items that you can and will use in daily life or if the world goes to hell in a handbasket.   Having all sorts of great HAM radio gear costs a ton of money to buy and can take up quite a bit of space.  Being a licensed radio operator, I can assure you that just having the equipment will do you no good whatsoever.  There is a significant learning curve on using HAM to make contact with other operators.  Unless you are practicing these skill already, you won’t have the ability to use this gear when you need it.  I encourage everyone to become proficient in communications, but I’ll never recommend that someone buy radio gear “just in case”  For the price of a good transceiver and antenna you can put back a ton of beans.  Literally a TON of beans.   In my opinion, barter items are in the same boat.  If you overstock ammo with some trade in mind, that’s not too bad because you can use that ammo yourself if there is no need to barter.  I hear a lot of people that store liquor for barter, but they don’t drink at all.  I like a good drink, so I know exactly how expensive liquor can be.  Don’t get me wrong, if you drink it’s all good to store some of your favorite beverage.  It will store indefinitely and I can think of nothing better than facing the end of the world with a nice Bourbon to take the edge off.  However, I’m not going to tie up hundreds of dollars to store a luxury item before additional food or medical supplies.  Now that I have my rant out of the way, we’ll look at some items that you can feel confident about storing without worrying about overstocking.  Of course, I’m a proponent of “Store what you eat, eat what you store”, so rotating these items shouldn’t be a major problem.  You should only be limited by the amount of space you have available to you.  This list isn’t meant to be completely inclusive, so use your judgment on what would serve you and your family.  Also, note that the list is not in any particular order, so don’t feel the need to add any items in order of appearance.

Food:

Water – You can never have too much, but it is bulky.  Have a way to purify water from outside sources!
Rice – White rice stores a really long time.  Wild and Brown rice have a much shorter life span.
Beans of all types
Canned vegetables
Canned meats – only store these if you are willing to eat them!
Pasta
Powdered milk – You’ll need to learn to cook with this, so practice now.
Home canned goods.
Dehydrated foods – These take up very little space and store for a long time.
Freeze dried foods – These are a little pricey, but can’t be beat for shelf life.
Dried eggs – Check out the OvaEasy brand.  They are amazing!
Sugar
Flour
Baking supplies
Powdered drink mixes
Coffee
MREs – Try before you stock up.  They are calorie dense, but some people despise the foods within.

Personal:

Soap – Bar and liquid
Toothpaste
Dental floss
Shampoo and Conditioner
Deodorant
Toilet paper
Feminine products
Razors
Shaving cream
Baby powder

Medical:

Band-Aids
Gauze
Medical tape
Q-Tips
Nitrile gloves
Rubbing Alcohol
Hydrogen peroxide
Saline solution
Antiseptic solutions
Hydrocortisone
Over the counter medications
Antibiotics

Supplies:

Batteries – all sizes and types used in your household
Duct tape
Sewing supplies
Cordage – stock a variety of sizes and types
Trash bags
Zip-Loc bags
Foil
Plastic sheeting
Ammunition – This is also a great hedge against inflation since the price only seems to go up!
Propane
Gasoline – Gas must be treated to increase shelf life, so plan for this if you have long term in mind
Kerosene or lamp oil
Seeds – Heirloom varieties ensure a supply of seeds from the garden year after year
Currency – None of us can ever have too much money!
Canning lids and rings

 

Like I said earlier, this isn’t a complete list, nor is it in any particular order.  Each person or family’s needs will vary a little bit, so each of us will need to evaluate what should be in our preps.  If I have any glaring oversights, please feel free to leave a comment so we can build this list up on items that we can never have too much of.

 

 

 

 

Beef Jerky Made Simple!

I know this subject has been covered at least two million times on the internet, but I’m a firm believer that there can never be too much information about it.  Jerky has sustained man for thousands of years, and even in modern times it is still a staple.  Second only to bacon as they best food ever created, simple dried out flesh satisfies a craving that every man (and most women) have.  Historically, jerking meat was a way to preserve meat when no other means were available.  Primitive man couldn’t always be sure when the next game animal could be harvested, so he needed a sure fire way to save some meat from the current harvest without it rotting.  Some guy in a cave discovered that if you cut meat thin enough, it dries out and keeps for a really long time.  Then he discovered if it was dried it in the smoke of a fire, it dried out better and had a wonderful smoky flavor.  I’m sure this guy became very wealthy bartering his incredible new creation with others in the caves.  Of course, this history is anecdotal and can’t be verified.  Primitive people the world over had variations on drying meat for preservation, from basic sun dried jerky to Biltong to Bakkwa to Pemmican.  Each has its own methods and processes, but the basic concept is the same.  Get the moisture out of meat and it will keep a lot longer.  Chemicals can be introduced to help the process along, but isn’t required to get good results.  The most common chemical aid has traditionally been salt.  Salt really helps pull moisture out, but we can cover that in another article, since its uses are so broad in food preservation.

Here at the Surviving Modern Life household, we always have grand plans of jerking meat and having it available for long term storage.  Sadly, it rarely works out.  Any time I make a batch of jerky, the house is filled with a wonderful aroma.  Everyone in the house starts craving the product before it is finished drying.  You can imagine what happens when the process is complete.  Everyone needs to taste test it to make sure it’s good.  For some reason, one piece is not good enough for this testing.  Within a couple of days, the product has been fully tested but there’s not any left.  I might or might not be guilty of participating in the testing.

I’ll risk copyright infringement by say that making jerky is so easy a caveman can do it.  I know this to be true because they actually did.  The process is extremely simple, but it seems modern man can complicate anything.  A lot of recipes available recommend specific amounts of salt or even potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate.  These no doubt have their place in preservation, but just aren’t required to make jerky.  I do use ingredients that contain salt for my marinade (even a marinade isn’t required), but that is simply for flavor.  Other recipes call for using various sugars as a preservative for jerky.  Once again, some of my ingredients contains sugars, but they are for flavor.  Jerking meat simply means removing the moisture by drying.  Marinating the meat before drying can be done to impart flavor.  I’ll be sharing a rough version of my overly complicated recipe a bit later.  A rough version is the best I can do because none of the measurements are exact, or even written down.

The most important part of jerky is selecting the meat and getting it cut up.  Any lean cut of meat is eligible, but I’ve had best results with cuts that have long grain.  My favorite cut for this is Eye of Round roasts or top rounds.  They are even grained and the tissue is very lean.  Whatever cut you use, you want to make sure there is as little fat marbling as possible.  Fats left in the meat will not dry out well since oil cannot be dehydrated.  These oils will turn rancid in a few days and can ruin any pieces of jerky that contain them.  I learned this the hard way by losing a whole batch by not trimming fat away enough.  Another common mistake is cutting the meat too thick.  I like to cut mine 1/8 inch thick, but you can get away with cuts as thick as 1/4 inch.  The thicker the cut, the longer it takes to dry.  Some folks want to try to make the big, thick nuggets like you buy at the store.  Keep in mind they never dry completely and will turn bad on you within a couple of days.  The reason the store bought stuff keeps is due to chemical preservatives.  I’ve experimented with several different ways to cut up meat and by far the easiest is to use a deli slicer.  These can be cost prohibitive, but if you end up making a lot of jerky they are invaluable for convenience.  I did spend several years slicing meat by hand and have a couple of recommendations for this method.  Most importantly, keep your knife sharp.  Like really sharp.  Another trick was taught to me by a friend that is a chef.  He pointed out that if you put the meat in the freezer for a couple of hours to the point that ice crystals start to form, the meat is considerably easier to handle and cut.  You don’t want it frozen too solid though.  Freeze it just enough that it starts to feel a little firm.  As long as you pay attention to the thickness, sizing your pieces is really up to you.  I’ve made long, thin pieces and I’ve made pieces as large as my hand.  Either works well, so use your preference.  Now on to turning those pieces of dead critter into jerky…

Once you’ve selected a lean cut of meat and have it all sliced up, you are faced with a dilemma.  Now is the time to decide what you want your jerky to taste like.  There are as many recipes as there are people making jerky.  Of course, everyone will tell you that theirs is the best.  I feel the same way.  My super secret jerky/steak marinade is probably the best tasting stuff on earth… for me at least.  A lot of how you want the end result to taste is dependent on what you add to the marinade.  Any good steak marinade will work, or you can customize a recipe to satisfy your tastes.  Some like it sweet, some like it spicy.  Personally I prefer a salty jerky with a little spicy kick to it.  If your tastes are really simple, you can just lightly sprinkle the meat with some salt and pepper and go straight to the drying process.  Most of us will want a bit more flavor.  My personal recipe starts with several spices like onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and a touch of paprika.  Then I add in a few dashes of Worchestershire sauce, a pretty healthy dose of Soy sauce and top it off with a can of Coke.  I let the meat marinade for at least 4 hours.  I’ve gone longer, but the flavor gets  more intense the longer is stews.  Overnight is too long for me.  There are hundreds of recipes available online, so find one that sounds good and try it.  You can always improve on it to meet your needs for future batches.

The dehydration process is what turns that raw meat into wonderful jerky.  There are a few ways to accomplish getting that moisture out of the meat, but the simplest is a dehydrator.  These are usually counter-top units that have trays that allow fan forced air through them.  Most integrate a low wattage heater to dry the air as it passes through.  I’ve been using the same American Harvest dehydrator for over ten years.  If you don’t have access to a dehydrator, you can use the oven for the process.  Using inexpensive oven dehydrating racks, but you can use the existing racks if you don’t mind scrubbing them after you are done.  Just set the oven to it’s lowest heat setting and leave the door cracked.  This method is pretty energy intensive and runs up the cost of making jerky.  Overall drying times will vary depending on the method you use.  The best bet is to check on it after a few hours to see where it’s at.  I’ve got my time nailed down pretty well, but it took a lot o practice.  My dehydrator seems to make perfect jerky at 8 hours.

Once you have your jerky at the level of dryness you want, it should keep for a long while.  Of course, for longer storage time, you want a drier product.  A couple of lessons I’ve learned are that if there is any fat or oil in the meat, eat it pretty soon.  If it is still a bit moist, it will start to grow mold after a few days.  This is accelerated if you store it in a plastic bag.  I prefer storing in an open Mason jar or in a paper bag.  If you put it in anything that seals moisture in, it will go bad a lot sooner.  I once found a couple of pieces in a paper bag on my counter under a huge stack of paperwork.  It had probably been there for at least three months.  I looked it over and didn’t see anything funky, so I decided to try a piece.  It was bone dry, but tasted just the same as it did when I made it.  Of course I will leave it up to each person to determine if eating 3 month old meat is something they want to test!

Before parting, I want to share my thoughts on food safety.  Once the meat comes out of the refrigerator and you start cutting it up, you want to get it drying or marinading as soon as possible.  Marinating in the fridge is your safest bet unless you are very comfortable with the idea that your particular marinade is salty or acidic enough to prevent bacterial growth.  Bacteria that cause foodborne illness thrive at temperatures between 40 and 140 F.  You are fine once you start the drying process, since this will deny the bacteria the moisture it needs, but you shouldn’t let raw meat sit at room temp for very long.  Using a little common sense in the kitchen will go a long way toward preventing any nasty issues.

Hopefully I’ve been able to pass along a little bit of information about jerky, or at least brought a little humor into a subject that has been covered completely.  I know that jerky is one of my favorite foods, so I wanted to share my thoughts and processes with my readers.  I plan on branching out into other types of dried meats in the near future.  I’m especially looking at Biltong.  I’ve never made it before, so the results might be a little iffy.  I’ll be sure to cover any successes or failures in an article here.

Self Reliance Expo Dallas

This weekend the Self Reliance Expo made its stop in the north Texas area.  Sarah and I managed to sneak over for a few hours to see what was going on.  This was a pretty big feat for me since I had to violate a personal rule about crossing into Dallas County.  Dallas has a lot to offer and a lot of cool things going, for most people.  It’s there if I need it, but I can generally make due without the massive 6 lane freeways and the 5 mile long interchanges that involve half of the major interstate highways in Texas.  Couple that with all the drivers that feel like they aren’t moving unless they are passing you.  Yeah, I generally avoid the big city unless something really cool is going on.  Fort Worth can be crazy, but Dallas is usually pure insanity.  That “something cool” was there this past weekend.

We didn’t get to make it out that way until around noon on Saturday.  I like getting to events much sooner to the opening than that, but with prior obligations we got there as soon as we could.  I was hoping that showing up halfway into the second day of a two day event would still allow me to see everything available and meet the folks I was hoping to run into.  I wasn’t disappointed in the least.  We made it just in time to catch the presentation from Doctor Bones and Nurse Amy from Doom and Bloom.  It didn’t take long before they had our full attention.  For an hour they covered medical care for collapse situations.  Everything from broken bones to lacerations was covered in detail with a great slideshow presentation.  I’ve sat in on medical presentations in the past that bordered on boring.  A few have crossed over into true slumberland.  Not this round.  Doctor Bones and Nurse Amy are both good presenters and enjoy interacting with their audience.  Not once did I get the feeling that they were dragging.  I’m looking forward to getting my hands on their new book, The Doom and Bloom Survival Medicine Handbook.  I was planning on getting one at the expo, but Doctor Bones explained that they managed to sell every copy they brought with them.

Once the presentation was over it was time to hit the aisles and see the vendor booths.  Food and water are always popular items at events like this, so I got to get myself familiar with the product offerings for both.  Berkey water filtration seemed to be a hit, so it took me a few minutes to get up to the booth and ask a few questions.  I was surprised as the number of options available for filtering water.  I knew about the big countertop units Berkey offers, but discovered they have other options as well.  Of note were water bottles with integrated ceramic filters.  Sarah pointed out this might be a good gift option for friends of ours that spend a few months each year in research in the jungles of Central America.  To say the water should be avoided down there is an understatement!

Next we were on to the food vendors.  The normal offerings were available including Mountain House, Wise and Thrive brand long term foods.  Sarah discovered Thrive’s freeze dried grated cheese.  We’re both a little leery of long term dairy, but this stuff was pretty good.  We’ll be adding some of that to the long term storage.  The hit of the day for me was the booth for OvaEasy Whole Egg Crystals.  I’ve had dried eggs in the past and the results were less than stellar.  After asking the important question… “Are these just powdered eggs?”  I was presented with a fork full of scrambled egg.  That answered the question.  “NO” these are not just powdered eggs.  They tasted like eggs, but more importantly, they had the texture of eggs.  Gonna have to add this one to the long term storage grocery list.

There were several booths extolling the virtues of alternative energy at the expo.  That’s a subject I’m interested in, but the product prices in that field are pretty much off limits for the prepping budget in the short term.  I didn’t spend much time in those booths, but will be sure to the next time the expo comes through town.  I spent a little more time with the custom knife makers, but their wares were out of the budget as well.  My lust for a custom knife will have to wait until more important items are procured.

The folks at Ready Made Resources were there showing off some of their cooler products.  I only got to speak with the proprietor for a minute since his booth seemed to be one of the most popular that afternoon.  They were showing off a solar power pack that looks incredibly portable and useful, but I didn’t get a chance to ask many questions thinking I could find it on their website.  No luck yet, so it looks like I need to give them a call.

On our way out the door, we paused to talk with the folks from Backwoods Home Magazine.  I’ve been a fan of theirs for a long time, so I really enjoyed getting to meet Dave Duffy, the editor.  Since I think they do a lot of great work for the Survival and Homestead community, I decided to go ahead and get a magazine subscription.  They make a ton of info available on their website for free, so I wanted to support them on the side of the business that pays their bills.

Overall, I was impressed with the Self Reliance Expo.  I think it was well worth the ticket price to get in the door.  I hope the show was successful enough to expand to other cities, and I certainly hope to see it again in north Texas.  Now I I can just talk them into moving it a little west to Fort Worth so I don’t have to break my “No Dallas” rule again!