Tag Archives: Canning

We’re in the green

We plant a garden every year…some years it’s good, some years we look forward to the next year.  We used to plant a large garden at Emily’s grandparents’ house.  With all the running around we do, it became unmanageable.  We still love fresh food and you can’t beat the price (although, building up the garden area ain’t cheap…though that was our decision).

Green beans!

So, we built a few raised beds in our back yard and planted them full of stuff.  We started with the largest area built from old railroad ties.  We filled it with peppers, broccoli, onions, tomatoes and potatoes.  About midway through the summer, we added two 8-foot beds to the mix.  You see, we didn’t have any green beans and we absolutely love home-grown green beans.  I think the most we ever canned was 70 quarts one year.  That might have been a bit much but we really enjoy beans.

Our trusty All American pressure canner
Our trusty All American pressure canner

Anyhow, with our decision not to plant a garden at Emily’s grands’ place, we were sort of without when it came to beans…on a chance, we decided to plant green beans in July, hoping to have a small crop by frost.  We harvested a bunch of beans yesterday and had more than a small crop.  Although not a 70-quart crop, we canned 20 pints last night!

Green beans - before and after canning
Green beans – before and after canning

Next year, we will be ready to plant an early spring crop as well as a July crop, hoping to double our return!  It’s so cool that two small rows of seed can make us a bunch of food that we will enjoy until next year!The best part is that they were canned within a few hours of being picked…hard to get any fresher than that!

Taters and maters

I just like saying that title…it is like so many words or combinations….it’s just a fun thing to say.  What words do you have like that…stuff that’s just fun to say?

A huge tomato!
A huge tomato!

Anyhow, I’ve long posted on gardening endeavors so this is in that tradition.  We have a little habit of planting too much and then filling our kitchen full of food that we can never hope to eat before it goes bad.  We go a little pioneer (or more like early 20th century) on it and can everything!

Our All-American pressure canner
Our All-American pressure canner

It seems like we can never start the canning process before 10pm though.  Anyone who has ever canned knows that starting that late has its good and its bad aspects…it’s usually cooler later at night and canning makes things in the house pretty hot.  Canning also sometimes takes a long time so starting late might mean sleep deprivation.  In our case, we just never have time before 10pm so heat has nothing to do with it.

Getting ready to can some hot garden mix
Getting ready to can some hot garden mix

Anyhow, the other night, we started spaghetti sauce at around 10.  Spaghetti sauce is a great way to use up a lot of tomatoes…our recipe calls for 30 pounds at a time.  We add spices and veggies and meat and fungus mushrooms.  Adding those things means we have to pressure can and boil the living fire out of the jars.  Tomatoes alone are pretty acidic so any nasties can usually be killed with straight-up boiling and letting the acids do their work.  Adding the other stuff prevents that so pressure canning is necessary…pressure canning simply allows the temp to get a lot higher.  Our recipe calls for the canner to stay at temp for 1 hour.  Talk about a late night!  We did clear out most of our tomatoes though and we will have lovely vittles this winter when spaghetti will taste especially awesome!

Some of this year's potatoes
Some of this year’s first crop of potatoes
Starting the second crop of taters
Starting the second crop of taters

Speaking of awesome, home-grown veggies are usually in the own league compared to store bought.  I think the biggest difference comes in potatoes.  Taters are easy to grow and are just so much more tender and smooth to me when I grow them.  It’s striking and makes it well worth the work of digging the tubers.  This year, we planted one crop which we harvested in July.  We turned right around and planted another crop which appears to be doing very well!  I love the idea of two tater crops this year!  We usually plant once and take what we get, but the taters were just too good to pass it up!

I heard it through the grapevine

I was headed home from harvesting honey on Sunday when I passed a friend on the road as I was coming off the ridge.  I skidded to a stop on the gravel road (which is always a thrill!) and we talked about bees and stuff.  Last week, my friend had offered for me to come pick grapes from his vines.  I ran out of time last week, but my friend offered again and I took him up on it!


We picked a basket full of grapes without even working at it and I have to tell you, the smell of freshly picked, perfectly ripe grapes is incredible.  I sort of hated to get out of the car, the smell was so incredible.  If they made fresh grape cologne, I would consider wearing cologne.  I would not consider it long as I do not like cologne at all, but I would consider it…it was that incredible.

Crushing grapes
Getting ready to cook them into jelly!
Cooking grapes down
Do you see they eyeball thing? Freaks me out!

Imagine my surprise  Tuesday night when I walked into the house and smelled the grapes that Emily and Abigail were cooking into grape juice (and soon to be jelly!).  The house was heavenly!  Have you noticed how bad store-bought grape jelly is?  It used to taste grapey and pretty good but now it just tastes purpley.  It is awful.

Making grape juice
Making grape juice…to turn into grape jelly!
Homemade grape jelly!
Homemade grape jelly!

Ok, sorry…sidetracked.  Anyhow, I used to freak out when I saw my mom and grandma canning grape juice.  They always added a few grape into the jars and as they sat upon the shelves in the cellar, I swore it looked like jars of eyeballs.  No, in our grape juice, there will be no eyeballs.  Our jelly will be grapey and the sun will continue to rise in the east.  This is just how things should be.

Purple fingers

It seems like this time of year finds our fingers all sorts of different colors. It really just depends on what we’re picking at the time. Last night was no different really. A co-worker of Emily’s has a bunch of grapes growing at her house. She has picked a ton and canned/preserved them every way she knows how. That’s where we come in. The grapes are still plentiful so she gave us a bunch of them…and there are more to pick so we are hoping to be able to go and harvest a bunch more. It’s hard to beat real concord grapes I think!

this is just a portion!

We cleaned them last night and are making grape jelly with the ones we have now. Do you remember when you were a kid and even the store bought grape jelly had flavor? I have tried some recently and it seems like the grape jelly is completely without flavor. I guess it’s like everything – homemade is really hard to beat. But gee whiz, the store stuff isn’t even fit for slug bait!

Anyhow, does anyone else gather grapes? What do you do with them? I remember my Mom and Grandma canning grape juice but they always left whole grapes in the jars. It freaked me out because I could have sworn they canned eyeballs!  Oh, and don’t get me started on when they canned whole tomatoes…eeek!  Anyone make raisins or juice or wine? I’ve nibbled on wild grapes but does anyone do anything more specific with them?  I’d love to know what options I may have!

Lots of strawberries…some on the floor

We went to a you-pick strawberry place in Cottageville, WV on Sunday.  It’s about 35 minutes away (though for the kids, it was a 2 year long trip) and was a nice Sunday drive.  We got to Hartley Farms and found a huge field of the biggest and best strawberries I have ever seen (though I didn’t know that part right away).  The proprietor took us over to a row and told us to, “have at it”.  I fully expected to have to search and dig and really work to find a few scrawny strawberries.  We picked 2 years ago at a place closer to home and it was pitiful.  Hartley Farms was $0.55 per pound cheaper and there were hundreds of big fat berries everywhere!

We filled 7 ice cream buckets to overflowing and weighed in.  All told, we had about 32 pounds of berries!  The best part is that the kids even helped pick!  We jumped in the car hoping to get home before Isaac ate every last strawberry.  Though he made a run at eating 32#, we did make it home with a few berries.  All four of us started making jam though the kids were tired after a batch each.  They wanted to take a jar to their teachers that they had made.

Emily and I continued on into the night making jar after jar of jam.  Isaac in particular like strawberry jam so the 43 half-pints we made may last us the year (and may not).  We still have somewhere around 8 pounds of berries to go…not sure if that will be jam or something else yet.  We have a fair bit of cleanup yet to do.  Of course, it is impossible to make jam without making stuff sticky and our floor is sticky indeed.  I have mopped it several times but my socks still leave little fuzzy footprints when I walk in the kitchen.

And by the way, when you make strawberry jam, make sure you use a huge pot to boil your mixture.  We forgot since last time and we boiled a pot of sticky strawberry syrup over the edge of the sauce pan we had and onto the hot burner on our (wretched) glass-topped stove.  You guessed it…it caramelized and tried to burst into flame.  We never saw fire, but our house was full of smoke before I could get the mess cleaned up…so, word to the wise, use a huge pot to boil the mix!  Luckily we had a better pot so subsequent batches were fine!

It was fun to clean up too!

This sucks

Vacuum sealing a jar

I talked a little about drying beans the other day but I didn’t tell you what we do with the beans once they are dried.  Actually, we dehydrate and dry all sorts of things actually and this applies to everything we do.  As I have said before, I get hair-brained ideas fairly regularly.  I wanted to be able to vacuum seal stuff in jars but I couldn’t see spending the money to get one of the fancy vacuum sealers.  Foodsaver makes attachments for their powered products to evacuate the air from mason jars so I decided to give that a try with a modification of how the air gets removed.  I needed something that sucks!

Vacuum sealing a jar with a brake bleeder

I can’t take sole credit for these ideas but I can’t remember where I saw a similar discussion on the idea.  Anyhow, a brake bleeder sucks just fine and, in fact, even has a vacuum guage on it to tell how much it sucks.  My first plan was to integrate the brake bleeder with the mason jar sealer.  Although I wouldn’t want to hand pump a brake bleeder all day long, I can pull a vacuum of 20 inches of Hg in about 30 seconds.  The mason jar sealer works perfectly for that.

Vacuum sealing a jar with an hvac pump

Moving on to bigger and better, Harbor Freight (a cheap tool supplier) has a vacuum pump for evacuating hvac systems.  You simply hook it up to your air compressor and it will draw around 28 inches of Hg.  I couldn’t make it work as well with the jar sealer for some reason though I didn’t try too hard either.  You can (as I did) fashion some sort of a cup-like end for a piece of hose.  You could use a stout film canister or a small piece of tupperware or somehting similar.

Vacuum sealing a jar with an hvac pump

Punch a hole in the lid of the jar and put a piece of duct sealing tape (the shiny silver stuff, not regular duct tape) on the lid leaving the hole exposed.  Hold the cup over the hole and tape and start the vacuum.  When you are finished, slide the cup off across the tape sealing the hole.  The vacuum will further hold the tape in place providing a great seal.

Vacuum sealing a jar with an hvac pump

With a little effort, you could probably use the hvac pump with the jar sealer too so it is worth a try.  My “cup” solution works for things like large pickle jars or other containers that aren’t mason jar sized.

Vacuum sealing a jar with an hvac pump

A traditional vacuum cleaner will not pull sufficient vacuum for this to work by the way.  You’ll need something designed to draw (from what I have read) somewhere around 15-25 inches of Hg to be sufficient.  Also, this is not a replacement for canning stuff that should be canned.  We only store dehydrated stuff this way.  Anyhow, it’s a pretty cool option for storing garden stuff and it can be pretty cheap depending on the junk you have laying around your workshop.

End of the Summer Garden

Tomato and pepper harvest

We wrapped up the summer garden last weekend. Mentally, we checked out of it a few weeks ago, completely exhausted from canning and drying and pickling and cooking. Gardening and canning is exhausting work though we both really enjoy it (don’t ask us now, ask us in February) and it gives us a lot of time to work together towards a common goal, chat about the day or the future or our dreams. It provides us with fantastic nutrition and exercise. We have no fear of a vitamin D deficiency in the summer sun. It’s just the right thing for us to do.

It is equally good to put the summer garden to rest though. We get to take a break and enjoy a bit of the work that we’ve done.

Hobbit feet?

I don’t suppose to have any real idea of our ancestors who really survived on the land, but I think I feel a small bit of the relief of having food put up, of the rest of fall and winter, and the simple joy of seeing stuff transition from seed to seed.

Dried black bean seed pods

Ok, enough pondering life. We gathered a bunch of cayenne and jalapeno peppers (will they ever end?!), black beans, green peppers and tomatoes (those are 6 gallon buckets in the first pic) at the close of the garden.  We actually picked several crops of black beans that had dried on the vine over the course of the summer. Anyone pulling up the plants early to harvest dried beans is missing a huge second or third crop.

Mo with beans

Anyhow, Emily spent a good part of one evening shelling the last crop of black beans. Mo, our cat loved the seed pods. He chased them all over the place. We dry the beans on a clothes drying rack covered with cotton fabric which is held in place with clothes pins. The cool thing is that the entire rack folds down almost flat and is easy to store.

Drying black beans

It’s also a lot cheaper than some of the fancier racks and the cotton fabric can be washed unlike some of the window screen versions that some folks have made.

Anyhow, we are done with our summer garden.  We are planting garlic tomorrow but that is fairly low key compared to everything else.  ‘Tis good to have a break!



Tomato Press

Clean tomato press

If you grow tomatoes, you have to get a tomato press (aka food mill). We used to freeze tomatoes, let them defrost a little, then with numb fingers, slip the skins off and chop them up. This method works fine but oh my heck there is a better way! We found this Velox Tomato Press on the clearance rack at an Ace hardware for $15.00! It’s mostly plastic/nylon but appears to be pretty rugged. For $15.00, if it lasted me a season I figured I was way ahead. Anyhow, we attach the vacuum base to the glass stove top (which we hate, btw) and set up a big bowl to catch the good stuff and a plate to catch the skins and seeds. We quarter the tomatoes and drop them in the hopper. I grind them once, then take the skins/seeds/etc and run them through again. There is a ton of juice/pulp to be had on the second processing so don’t miss this part.

1st run tomato press

I suppose that this $15 tool has reduced our tomato-processing-time by 90% plus we can feel our fingers when we are done! We do tend to make a bit of a mess as tomatoes squirt and squish all over but it is no worse then when we did it by hand. If you are on the fence as to whether the $50 (normally) is worth it, I’d say YES!

tomato press after a lot of use

Edit:  Sorry…for some reason, comments were turned off for this post.  That should be fixed now…

Hot peppers


I like hot peppers of various types.  Over time, it seems that my taste buds have become less sensitive.  I remember when jalapenos used to send me over the edge.  Not so much any more.  As a bit of a pepper junkie, I decided that we need tons of peppers to satisfy my cravings.  In the excitement of late winter/early spring seed-starting, we planted hot peppers in sufficient number to feed my entire family for a year.  We planted jalapenos, hungarian wax, cayennes and habaneros.

Canned, pickled jalapenos

I have been drying pepper rings, I have canned peppers by themselves, I have thrown peppers in salsa, pickles, spaghetti sauce, and on everything I eat fresh.  Still, we have millions and millions of peppers.  I had to resort to something extreme and strange to use up some jalapenos.

Drying jalapenos

I made jalapeno jelly last night.  I am not exactly sure how you eat this though I have heard it is good on anything with creamcheese. The recipe is pretty simple so it’s worth a try:

Jalapeno jelly
Jalapeno Jelly
3/4 pound stemmed & de-seeded jalapenos
2 cups vinegar
6 cups sugar
2 pouches of liquid pectin
I de-seeded the peppers for the first batch of jelly but got tired of that so I ground seends and all for the second batch. Anyhow, puree the jalapenos until they are nearly unrecognizable. Boil them with sugar and vinegar for 10 minutes. Make sure you stir constantly and have a big enough pan as this mixture swells a lot and really smokes-and-smells-up-your-house-and-your-wife-has-to-scurry-around-to-deactivate-the-smoke-alarms-since-the-kids-are-sleeping when (I mean if) you boil it over (so I’ve heard). After the 10 minute boil, remove from heat, add pectin and boil again for 1 minute. Powdered pectin does not work very well so do yourself a favor and just use liquid pectin. Ladle into half-pint jars and water bath can for 10 minutes.  You can add green or red food coloring, by the way.  I prefer not to add coloring but you can color it if you’d like.

Some Recipes

Salsa before cooking downWe’ve found a few recipes that we like a lot when we can stuff.  A few folks have asked for our the recipes we use so here they are…I credit the sources I know while others remain anonymous. 


 We can most stuff in pints because that suits our needs but I suppose you could adapt as needed.  These recipes work for us but you use them at your own risk.   Improper recipes, canning methods, etc can be dangerous.  More likely, with a little care, it will be a good time! 


Salsa – from my friend Erin

8 cups tomatoes, peeled, chopped, drained
2 1/2 cups onion, diced medium
1/8 cup canning salt
1 1/2 cups green peppers, small chunks
1 cup jalapeno diced fine
3+ habaneros (to taste…more is better!)
6 cloves minced garlic
2+ tsp pepper
1 small can of tomato paste
1/3 cup vinegar
2 tsp cumin
1/3 cup (or less) sugar
sometimes we add a bunch of cayenne pepper diced fine too…

Mix and boil 10 minutes, put into pint jars and seal in water bath for 10 minutes
Makes 5 pints

Pizza Sauce
12 cups chopped ripe tomatoes (Roma tomatoes give best results)
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves minced garlic
3 tbsp fresh chopped oregano or 1 1/2 tsp dried
1 tbsp fresh basil or 1/2 tsp dried
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

Combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, oregano, sugar, pepper and bay leaves and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently uncovered until very thick (about 75 minutes), stirring frequently. Add lemon juice and salt, stir and ladle into 1/2 pint jars. Water bath can for 35 minutes. Makes 5 half-pints

Zucchini Pickles Achorn Farm
2 lbs. sliced zucchini
2 medium onions
1/4 cup salt
2 cups white vinegar
1-2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons mustard seed
Place zucchini in a large pot. Add salt and enough water, cover and let stand for 2 hours then drain well. Combine remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Have glass jars prepared filled with the zucchini and onion then fill jars with boiled liquid, seal jars and boil jars for 10 minutes.

We’ve made this with yellow summer squash too…I suppose anything that will take up the flavors would work!


Hot Pepper Spread
28 or so hot peppers
8 regular peppers
1 qrt mustard
1 qrt sugar
1 cup vinegar

Chop peppers, mix ingredients and cook about 20 minutes. Be sure and spray pan with cooking spray as it sticks very easily. Have ready 1/2 cup corn starch. Add just enough water to corn starch to make a thin paste, then add to the pepper mix…let it thicken. Water bath can for 10 minutes in pint jars