Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jiggle Jiggle

I decided to use my new (to me) canner to jar up some chicken breasts.  It was a nice find that I got at the second hand joint, and after initial testing it worked well.  However, today was the day to put it to the real test.

And the first test was of my temper, as the rack had completely disappeared.  I have my suspicions as to who and why (hubby was eyeing up the rack and asking me if I really needed it, so I think it is now part of some "man" project).  I had to improvise a rack from the bottom of a spring-pan that had lost its sides.  We punched a bunch of more-or-less evenly spaced holes through it, hammered back the edges of the holes, and it seems to be working just fine.  Strictly speaking, hubby did the hole punching.  He feels that any job that involves smashing things with a hammer is his job.  He's also ready to volunteer to blow things up too :)

This old canner (the manual was dated 1951) holds about 5 1-pint (500 mL) jars, unlike my new canner which will hold quart (litre) jars.  I was able to put about 3 to 3-1/2 chicken breasts in each jar.  I have to say that I was amazed at how much the chicken breasts squished down.  It was also kind of disgusting, and I kept washing my hands because of the sheer gross factor.  Eww!

So I'm enjoying the jiggle of the weight on the canner, and waiting for the  timer to signal 75 minutes have passed.  It's such a friendly sound, and takes me back to my childhood...

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I've been reading all of my favourite blogs, and so many of them have the same theme:  snow!  The novelty has worn off, and everybody would like to see some or even all of it go away.  I'm feeling positively guilty that we haven't had much snow here. 

Years ago, living on the east coast, I too used to be very tired of snow come January.  Fallen trees on the road to our village, white outs and blasts of winds that could knock over tractor trailers, and feeling the house shudder even in the basement when a blizzard came through - I don't miss it one bit.  Those were the days when I blessed the wood stove.  We'd hang the hurricane lamp from its secure hook in the high ceiling and play cards by its light, and on the wood stove - stew from the pantry would fill the air with a wonderful aroma.  Food grown in the garden, canned and stored in the pantry... there's nothing like it.  Even when times were tough money-wise, we didn't have to worry about where the next meal would come from.

We didn't think of ourselves as preppers.  We thought of ourselves as practical people, knowing that winter happens, electricity going out happens, storms and floods happen, and only a fool would fail to plan for it.

When snow, or other life-interrupting events, force us to slow down or even pause the mad scurry, enjoy it.  Take advantage of the opportunity to take stock, re-organize your preps, and practice a few skills.  All too soon, the rat race will start again. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

CannedFood UK

I found a terrific site today with recipes that focus on using canned food while still producing nutritious meals.  They have a lot of recipes, a great many of which could be adapted for cooking with food storage.  The site is CannedFood UK, and features recipes from chef James Martin.  They also have a channel on YouTube in which some of the recipes are demonstrated.  Check it out!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Corn Meal

Corn meal is one of the must have items that I try to keep stocked up on in my pantry.  However, these last few months, corn meal has been very difficult to find, and the price has shot up tremendously.  After searching every aisle at several supermarkets, I could only find the measly little 1 pound bags and they have gone up to $2.49 and $2.59 depending on the store, a huge jump from three months ago when the price was $1.79.  In one store, I found the corn meal in the specialty flours section!

Good thing I have some in the pantry, but I'm thinking that I'm going to have to invest in that grain mill sooner than I anticipated.  Popcorn is still available at the same prices for now.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Richard Nixon

Read this interesting bio about Richard Nixon over at American Minute.  I find it interesting that Richard Nixon was probably one of the better presidents the U.S. has had, and yet the only thing most people remember is that he bugged a few phones.  Today, the president presides over a government that bugs the entire world's communications system.  Both activities are politically motivated, albeit Nixon's agenda was more five and dime.  I guess in politics, if you are going to do something wrong, do it on a really large scale, and you'll get away with it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Thrift Stores

Recently, on my weekly visit to the Salvation Army Thrift Store, they were having a $5.00 Bag of Books sale on.  I was able to pick up some useful books about gardening in my area, plus some other interesting tomes I had previously considered buying such as a book of poetry by Robert Service.  I particularly love "The Cremation of Sam McGee" which my grandfather used to recite from memory.

I think that most of us who are prepping take full advantage of our thrift stores as someone else's trash just might turn out to be a treasure that helps us become more self-reliant.  Just the other day, I found a hand cranked meat grinder with all the attachments on a mounting board for a fraction of the cost of new.  I have also seen a hand-operated knitting machine, treadle sewing machines, and other manual treasures discarded in favour of electric devices; also paper plates and plastic cutlery, canning jars and sealing lids still in the boxes unopened, hand tools of good quality, real wool woolens, kerosene lamps, oil lamps, camp stoves, a wide variety of camping gear, backpacks, and all at reasonable prices compared to buying new. 

Another great source for prepper items is yard sales, and even dumpsters.  Right now, I have professional pizza pans that were rescued from the dumpster behind a pizza shop in town.  Some elbow grease and they were as good as new.

In my town, every spring we have a weekend "swap" event, where folks put out things they no longer have a use for at the curb, and other folks cruise around and pick up stuff they think they could use.  After the two day event, the "unswapped" items are collected by the city and donated to a local charity.  Check in the papers, or the city's web site to find out if there are events like this where you live.

Remember, prepping doesn't mean going out and spending big bucks on special gear.  It means developing the survival mindset that enables you to see the value in someone else's junk and re-using, recyling, re-inventing.  It means seeing opportunities where other people see none.  It means reaching out and grabbing opportunities to do for yourself instead of waiting for someone else to do it for you.  And sometimes it means climbing over obstacles nay-sayers might put in your path. 

A great many sites out there are very focused on selling you things to prep with, but really, do you really need to spend a great deal of money in order to be prepared?  No, I don't believe so.  Rather, if you are frugal, and use your money wisely, you can be prepared for many of the "negative events" that life and the universe can throw at you without spending a great deal more than you did before you realized that you need to become more self-reliant.  Rather, you will be spending your money differently.

For this reason, I do recommend that you look not just at prepper sites, but also at sites about how to make your dollar stretch further, on how to simplify your life, and live frugally.  Read the blogs by people who can foods for fun, and tell you how to do it.  Check out the blogs of folks who camp, and hunt, and fish for fun.  These folks don't think of themselves as preppers, but really, many of these folks have a survival mindset. 

For example, one fellow who hikes and blogs about his various treks posted about how he started using socks to house a lot of his smaller pack items which allowed him to move more quietly when he wished to be able to photograph wildlife.  He also found that socks provided cushioning for delicate gear such as the lens of his cameras; and at need, he also had additional extra socks for his feet, to use as oven mitts, and to carry found items.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Food, Canning and Other Ruminations

Recently, I was at the second hand emporium and I came across a great find, a pressure canner with all the bits and pieces intact, including a new (still in the package) gasket and a replacement safety valve.  Wow!  I immediately bought it even though hubby complained that I already had one.  If one is good, two is great.

Today, I tested it to make sure that the gasket made a good fit, and to determine what heat level I need to put the burner at once I have pressure up.  I am pleased to report that it worked well, and being one of the weight style canners, I didn't have to worry about getting a gauge calibrated.

I have been reading up on canning things I've never tried canning before, such as bread, cake or butter.  Yes, I know that the experts say don't do it.  For example, at the University of Georgia, some experts did a study on canning cake.  They took some bacteria that they knew isn't killed by high temperatures, deliberately introduced it to the cake batter, baked and sealed it, unsealed and tested it.  The report does not actually state that the cake was subsequently processed in a pressure canner.  Naturally, the heat-resistant bacteria survived the experience. 

And yet, you can buy canned bread!

Similarly, the experts advise against canning butter because of botulism.  For example, you can read the material from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, University of Georgia on this topic.  However, they do not address the matter of those who recommend processing the canned butter in a pressure canner with the same directions one would use for any fatty meat/fish product.  No actual research has been done on canning butter.

So, what it boils down to is that you have to decide whether or not you will take a chance with these canning practices, keeping in mind that some botulism cases have actually been caused by commercially canned goods.  Back in the day, people were aware that there were dangers inherent in the canning process.  Nevertheless, before the advent of electricity and freezers, it was the best method available for storing foods.  So, people took their chances.

Before canning, a lot of the methods of storing foods over the winter involved caching food in a cellar, or a hole in the ground, or a cave, or an unheated building.  A lot of this food suffered from the depredations of rodents, who not only nibbled on the foods, but left behind disease-ridden calling cards, and fleas (which also carried diseases).  They frequently didn't have clean water to drink, and didn't know why they got sick.

We do know about these disease vectors, and so we can work to overcome them, but the bottom line is, life is not really safe.

My personal take?  I think I'm going to try pressure canning butter like it was a nice fatty bit of meat, 75 minutes per pint, 90 minutes per quart at 10 lbs pressure.  Update:  After reading this post by Bonny of Opportunity Farm on Safe Survival Canning over at the Survivalist, I'll only try canning stuff that I know is tested.  Like most, I have an aversion to dying, or seeing someone I love die.  After all, preparedness is all about 'better safe than sorry', isn't it.

Update:  May 2011 - after doing more research, I'm looking into making and storing ghee.  Once the milk solids have been removed from butter, clarified butter or ghee, can be stored for a significantly longer time.  Check out this article here (a .doc file). 

But I'm also still going to look at getting in some commercially canned butter or butter powder:

Or butter powder: