Friday, April 12, 2013

Is canning really worth it?

You probably only need to read about two posts on my blog to figure out that I love to can.  There's something about the sense of accomplishment of seeing all those beautiful jars lined up on the counter filled with good hearty home grown food that makes me happy.  Here's some of the reason I like to can.

  • It's fast food in a slow food world.  Popping a lid of a jar of canned tomatoes in mid winter reminds me of the days I spent canning all those tomatoes last took time but now I am reaping the rewards of time well spent.
  • Home canned foods have no unpronounceable additives or chemicals and are not preserved in plastic lined containers.  Glass jars do not have toxic chemicals leaching out of them like many of our commercially canned foods.  Many organic whole foods companies are switching over to glass jars or tins that don't have BPA which are good options but usually very expensive.
  • Canning preserves food that could potentially go to waste.  How many pounds of tomatoes can you eat in the summer anyway! (the answer is A LOT - but not enough to keep up in a bountiful year!)
  • Canning saves on fuel because you process large quantities at a time and once it's done it doesn't need the freezer to store your food.  
  • It's food you would eat cooked anyway. My favourite recipe lately is layered chicken soup.  Somehow canning it made it taste even better than eating it freshly made.  Why does commercially canned soup taste so bad anyway??
  • It's a hedge against a time when there's more month than money.  Gee - I never have that problem do you??? (that was sarcasm)
  • It's a convenient way to share a meal with a friend or a sick sister (who is stuck at home with the worst cold EVER)
  • It just makes me happy - isn't that reason enough??

Canning isn't the only way to preserve food.  Dehydrating, freezing, fermenting and root cellaring are common ways that come to mind.  I like each one for different reasons. I like dehydrated green veggies better than frozen of canned.  I like frozen fruit better than canned or dehydrated.  I like fermented cabbage (aka sauerkraut) I like apples best when they are root cellared.

I also like raw food.  I eat as much salad and raw vegetables as I can when they are available fresh and spend the money all winter long to continue to eat fresh greens...some day I hope to have a cold frame/greenhouse where I dream of eating fresh picked greens through most of the winter but until then I eat the store bought variety with some home grown sprouts thrown in.

Each method has it's own benefits.

So back to the monetary cost of canning.  What does it really cost?

It depends. 

If I look at the cost of purchasing all the equipment brand new, having to purchase new jars and having to purchase the food because you don't grow it yourself - I can not promise you it will be cheaper monetarily - at least not for quite awhile.

If you need to purchase equipment and jars and you grow most of the food your self - you should break even within a reasonable amount of time.  If you stick to water bath canning high acid foods (jams, jelly, tomato sauce, pickles...) you absolutely will find it worth the money because your cost output is lower for water bath canning than pressure canning.

If you are given the jars because you have wonderful friends and neighbours who know how to fuel your canning addiction I mean - who are nice enough to give you their old jars because they don't can any more, you buy your lids when they have them at the dollar store for half the price of anywhere else and you grow most of the ingredients yourself or get them for a really good deal...then monetarily I believe you will be ahead.

None of that takes into account the quality of the food of course which is hard to quantify in dollars and cents.

For Water Bath Canning high acid foods you will need:  1 large pot with a lid and some kind of rack so the jars don't sit directly on the bottom of the pot.  You can make a rack out of extra canning rings - just use twist ties to attach them together - so simple!  The pot needs to be large enough that you can put the rack, the jars and enough water to cover the jars by an inch without the pot overflowing when at a rolling boil.  You will need jars, lids, rings and a jar lifter.  A magnetic wand is handy for fishing the hot lids out of the simmering water - the rest of your equipment can be found in a reasonable stocked kitchen - spoons, a wide mouth funnel, a heavy bottomed pot and tea towels.  All of these can be purchased (not including jars and lids) for less than $40.00 or even cheaper if you check out a thrift store or ask around for "donations".

For Pressure Canning low acid foods you will need: A Pressure Canner and all of the above.  Just note that a pressure canner is not the same thing as a pressure cooker.  A pressure cooker is not made to keep the pressure constant for the length of time required to can low acid foods.  The Presto Pressure Canner is a reasonably easy to find item in stores like Home Hardware and on-line. I have one that holds 7 quart jars or 14 pints and the cost was about $150.00 including taxes.  See my post on a comparison of Pressure Canners for more information.

An integral part of the cost of canning is the time it requires.  When I first started canning many years ago it was a slow process.  I needed to read and re-read the instructions.  I fussed and fiddled and worried my way through the first season.  It took me forever to figure out how to organize my space efficiently.   I was fortunate to get one batch done in a day and I wondered at that point if all this work was worth it.

I consider all of that time and energy the cost of my education.  As time passed I found ways to be more efficient and I worried a lot less. Don't be discouraged  if that's the stage you are at.  You will improve with some practise.

So to answer my question: Is canning really worth it?  My answer is a musically resounding YES with just a hint of something that sounds suspiciously like the pinging of sealing canning jars.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My new OLD flat back china cabinet

When I was a kid I dreamed of moving to Lena Graham's farm on the outskirts of the little town where I grew up.  It was a scattering of outbuildings, white painted fenced paddocks and tons of room to play and pretend. The house was a three story towering brick thing-of-beauty.  It had multiple rooms, a grand staircase, and attic big enough to ride a bike in - that's what we thought when we were kids anyway! 

I remember visiting there with my Mom and playing on the swing hanging from the tree out front.  I did lots of sweet day-dreaming on that swing!  I would look around and see a huge mill stone used for decoration in the yard and wonder what it had been used for in the past.

Inside the house the kitchen was my favourite room. (Big surprise - huh?)  It was huge.  It had a massive wood cook stove, a separate pantry off to the side, a bench near the door so you could sit close to the wood stove and it was always filled with yummy foods and canning jars filled with unknown delights.  I'm sure it smelled heavenly too because Mrs. Graham was always baking something.

I remember seeing the boot scraper on the back step for the first time and thinking that was a really good idea.  I marvelled at the "rugs" in the parlour that were made of some kind of painted cardboard-cloth but very stiff.  It had pretty designs on it.  The house had a back stairs - that was also fascinating to my little child's mind.  It was filled with "antiques" that weren't antiques to the owners - they were wedding presents and hand-me-down furniture.  I was so in love...

So all of this life-that-I-live started as a dream a long time ago.  As I grew older and dreamed out loud of living in a house like theirs my dad would say:  ARE YOU CRAZY - DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT WOULD COST TO HEAT THAT PLACE?  Ha - of course he was right but it didn't stop the dreaming!!

Last weekend we met with some of our kids at a little breakfast place in a small town nearby to celebrate a birthday. After a noisy and fun breakfast of bacon and eggs (just think about that - we went OUT to eat eggs...) we crossed the street to visit an antique shop.  I knew it was dangerous!  I even said it out loud - but it didn't stop me.  I think the reason I like antique stores so much is the sense of history, the bits and pieces of peoples lives from a different time and a bit of insight into what they required to live and the things they thought were valuable.  I could spend hours just looking around - well maybe not JUST looking!

Since we moved to this house I have had a wall needing a specific piece of furniture.  I could see it in my mind but I couldn't find it in real life and I've looked at plenty of quaint little places with no luck.

Saturday was the day to find my treasure.  It was buried under a lot of other stuff but as soon as I saw it I knew it was perfect.  My DH took one look at my face and knew I really wanted it!!  He says I have a certain look and it's one he knows not to argue with!!  It was sitting in our dining room a few hours later...  It was interesting to hear the shop owner say that as soon as he cleared the shelves and moved the cabinet to the door for pick-up people started talking about it and how wonderful it was.  "It couldn't have been here long because it wasn't here LAST week," someone said.  In fact it had been there for months but no one could SEE it.  Another instance where It was not hidden FROM me but hidden FOR me...isn't it pretty??

I haven't been able to take a picture that truly does it justice so this will have to do.

I finally have a place for all my multiple sets of dishes to go and it's the first time in our whole married life that I have a place to put the crystal glassware that we received as a wedding present from Granny Irene.  They had been a wedding gift to her when she got married.  She passed away many years ago and they are a nice reminder of her part in my life.

We've had to play musical furniture since this arrived.  You know how that happens - we get one new thing and then the cabinet that was there made a pit-stop in the garage before I realised it would be perfect for a TV cabinet in the family back into the house and up the stairs it went.  Everything is now in place... for a little while anyway until I sneak back into the antique store for another breath of history and another fermenting crock or a rolling pin with red handles or the beautiful spinning wheel that would look great in my living room (and be useful if I learned how to spin) - well - you get the idea.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mrs. T is on the move...

My blogging friend Mrs. T. has been waiting and waiting and has an amazing story about her process of  moving to her own little piece of heaven in the country.  Today is the day.  She and DH and one of her sons are on their way as I write this.

It brings back all kinds of memories of my own waiting-to-move-adventure.  She has been on my mind a lot today.

You can find her blog here: A Separate Path

Mrs. T - I hope your next few weeks are calm and peaceful but somehow I don't think they will be!!  I'm cheering you on from Shalom Engedi Farm!!