Happy October, folks! So sorry that it’s taken me a little bit to get this post up. I spent most of last week in Austin co-babysitting my nephews with my mom and I’m working on a new book, so my attention has been a bit splintered.
Like our challenge back in August, this month is two-pronged. We’re focusing on both drying/dehydrating and pressure canning. The reason for two topics this time around is that I didn’t want to have a whole month dedicated to something that required the purchase of a specialized piece of equipment.
Entry level pressure canners aren’t that expensive (the 16 quart Presto that I use is currently $72 on Amazon), but it’s still a cost. The barrier to entry just needed to be lower. And while lots of people have dedicated dehydrators, drying food is something that be done just about anywhere, with nothing more than a length of string or a rubber band with which to tie and hang a bundle of herbs. So here we are, with two topics.
To participate this month, you can pick just one of the skills, or if you have access to a pressure canner, can be bold and do both. Finally, remember that the goal of this challenge is to help you expand your skills while creating something that you’ll actually use. So choose accordingly.
This is one of the oldest food preservation approaches known to humans. Since the dawn of time, we’ve been drying fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats in order to make them last from one season to the next. In the past, we had nothing more than sun, wind, and smoke to effect drying. These days, we’ve added countertop dehydrators, microwave ovens, freeze dryers, and ovens with dedicated dehydrating settings to our toolbox.
For the purposes of this month’s challenge, any homemade dried food will count. I do ask that if you opt for making jerky that you take care and use proper food handling techniques to prevent spoilage (Hank Shaw is always my first stop for jerky info).
- I am partial to these marinated and dried tomatoes, these dehydrated tiny tomatoes, and these sprouted and dried almonds.
- For ease of prep and use, nothing beats these air dried lemon peel slices.
- Making fruit leather with a jar of applesauce spiked with some elderly jam is always a nice way to go, particularly if you have kids with a fruit leather habit (though having just spent a week with a very picky three-year-old, I could see him turning up his nose at fruit leather without a wrapper. Your mileage will vary on that front).
- This weekend, hit the farmers market and buy a few bundles of herbs. Tie them with string and hang them upside down someplace where they can just be for a week or two. When they’re dry, rub them, tuck them into a jar, and label them for winter cooking.
- There’s also a bunch of good information on drying food on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website, should you need more detail.
Whereas drying has an element of the loosy-goosy about it, there’s no messing around with pressure canning (though truly, there’s nothing to be afraid of). The reason some foods needs to be canned with the help of a pressure canner is that they are low in acid. Without an ample volume of acid, there’s nothing to check the germination ability of any botulism spores that might be present and you could potentially end up with a jar full of danger. For more the role of acid in canning, read this post.
And so, whenever we want to preserve things like unpickled vegetables, meats, stocks and broths, and beans, we call on a pressure canner. A well-vented pressure canner typically reaches 250F, which is enough to kill botulism spores. The amount of time different foods are processed in a pressure canner is typically calculated based on the volume of the jar and the density of the food.
One thing to note is that when you start considering pressure canning, you will need to get your hands on a dedicated pressure canner. Consumer pressure cookers are not designed for pressure canning and cannot be used to preserve low acid foods. Additionally, no electric countertop pressure cooker has been approved for canning (no matter what the infomercials tell you).
For more detail on pressure canning, read the following posts:
- How to can turkey stock
- How to can ham stock (this documents my first pressure canning experience)
- Pressure canning beans in Weck jars
- Canning cubed pumpkin
- Rosemary white bean soup starter
The only thing I’ve dehydrated is liver and kidneys for dog treats. Very smelly so I did it in the garage. They came out great and the dogs love them. I still have a kidney in the freezer to be dehydrated at a future date.
I’ve also done the bundle thing with my bay tree. I have a sweet bay tree and about once a year I’ll harvest some clean leaves, wash, bundle and then dry them over my furnace. They smell wonderful and are just as good as the kind you buy in the store only mine are free.
I don’t own a pressure canner. I do own a stove top pressure cooker but I understand they are not the same thing and ever a stove top pressure cooker is not adequate for pressure canning. I have no desire to spend the money for a pressure canner that I probably won’t use so pass on that.
I recently dehydrated a load of garlic & then another load of yellow onions. They were then ground in my spice grinder and I had homemade onion & garlic powders. So much more favorable than the store bough ones that I have to remember to use a lot less!
I have been dehydrating for over 40 years when I bought my first dryer that used a light bulb! I’ve come a long way and now have two dryers side by side so when I find mushrooms on sale I can dry up a storm. Anyone who camps or backpacks will find a dryer a must have. I take bags of frozen mixed vegetables and dry them so that I always have veggies on hand if I run out of fresh or frozen. I have not gotten into canning yet, but that would be ideal to have jars in your pantry. Maybe one day I will get the courage to try it. I just love your blog. So many food preserving ideas that require very little expense.
Ok. I can’t stop giggling about this, so need clarification. Is “elderly” jam supposed to be “elderberry:? Or is it that last bit in a jar in the fridge that is so old ypu don’t remember the last time you opened it, but now has gray whiskers? Other than that, I’m thrilled that you included the pressure canning as a challenge and hope to actually get over my fear of trying…. I’m eager to hear more about your new book!!!
I really meant elderly as in jam that is two or three years old and perhaps has discolored slightly. Still good, but not quite as appealing as it once was. I really enjoyed the images the word triggered in your mind, though!
I am excited to see you teaching PC. I’d be lost without my canners! I do need to make better use of my dehydrator.
I recently canned 8 quarts of deer meat to use in stews and soups. I’ve got thin strips in the refrigerator, soaking up marinade to make deer jerky in a few days. This is my favorite time of year, when I can can and dehydrate my foods.
I, just in the past few weeks, have tried my hand at pressure canning ground deer meat in tomato/spaghetti sauce. This was really my second time pressure canning meat, after having great success with stew meat last fall. I don’t know what I was afraid of! It is so nice to have more space now available in my freezer!
What if I want to can fruit mince? It’s called mincemeat, but there is no meat in my recipe. There is a bit of butter, though, along with sugar, dried fruits and rum/brandy. Should I use the pressure canner for that, or do you think I could use the regular canning method? I have gotten zero answers from any experts up to this point. Please help!!
Just start dehydrating fruits only this year and it’s very addictive 🙂
Mostly fruits but from what I see here vegetables are also ok.
Glad I found this page.