Updated: Aug 2, 2021
Here at Cabin Creek we are all about being good steward with what we have been blessed with. Our pillar #5. This post also covers our Pillar #1 Health and Wellness so this blog post is doing double duty today!
During the summer months is a great time to talk about how you can save money at the grocery store by having your own vegetable garden. We have a small raised garden which is easier for me to handle and tend to the weeds as this grandma gets older. I want to share some tips and simple recipes that you can follow that are easy and do not require the “pressure cooking method” to can your veggies. I want to make one thing clear. If you do not have a garden that’s ok. I know there are some busy moms and dads out there that may be in season of life where they don’t think that’s manageable at this time. That’s ok. Don’t feel guilty because there are other ways to get fresh fruits and vegetables that allow you to have fresh produce and you can still “can” and “freeze” them and have them available all year. Keep an eye out for farmer’s markets, produce stands, or in our neck of the woods of Cashton, Wisconsin we have the Amish Community that have fresh produce for sale.
Tip #1 If you are interested in having a garden but don’t have much room a raised garden may be perfect. We used railroad ties in 2 layers to create our vegetable garden. Another thing you can do if you don’t have a lot of room is what we did as well is put your tomato plants in 5-gallon buckets. We planted 4 cherry tomato plants and 4 regular tomato plants and they did very well and this is enough for our family. The garden does not have to be big to produce enough food for your family. Make sure the railroad ties are old and dried out. You don't want to worry about the chemical in fresh railroad ties.
Tip #2 Five Reasons to Eat from Your Garden (or produce stand)
· Home Grown veggies taste better
· Reduces the Risk of Contamination
· Outside Exercise with Gardening...
· Saves Money at the Grocery Store
Tip #3 You don’t need a pressure cooker to can your produce. The methods I use are freezing and canning in jars but without a pressure cooker. I only use a pressure cooker for one canning method and that is for pumpkin. I plan on using my Instant Pot this year to can my baking pumpkin. It is easy to pull a freezer bag out of pumpkin and make a fresh pumpkin pie any time of the year!
Tip #4 Having produce preserved saves a trip to the grocery store!! This will save you both time and money. We are 25 minutes to the closest Walmart (where we can get less expensive food and a greater variety.) We are 50 minutes from a major grocery store. There is nothing that makes me more crazy then when I find a recipe I want to make and I think I have all the ingredients and it may ask for an onion or a green pepper that I don’t have. You could easily make the recipe without but I can just go to the freezer and take out the green pepper I need or go the basement in my “root cellar” room where it is cool and grab an onion stored in a vegetable sack with holes in it. I must confess I have learned to keep a good grocery list and add to it every time I use something up so I am better prepared for that every 2-week shopping trip to the big grocery store.
I must give a big thank you to my mother in law Lora who has taught me everything I know about canning and preserving. See I was a “city girl” born and raised in Chicago. I did not know the first thing about farm life although my grandparents on both sides were all from farm families being raised in Iowa, South Dakota, and Sweden. It must be in the blood somehow because I always wanted to learn how to raise my own veggies! This year we did put in a strawberry patch and I am excited to have our own berries next year. I also put in 4 asparagus plants that will produce next year. My husband introduced me to the “farm life” as well as hunting and my education began. I was in my 40s so there is always time to learn something new!
I have easy recipes I will share for the following:
· Applesauce easy peasy in the microwave from your saved frozen apple slices. This is a nice easy baby food recipe item as well.
· Strawberries-frozen ready any time of year to put on ice cream, put over angel food cake, make strawberry shortcake or any other way you like to use the berries.
· Corn- Fresh cut from the cob and with a couple ingredients you can freeze the corn in meal size freezer bags and pull one out when you need one. This tastes like fresh corn on the cob every time you eat it!
· Salsa using fresh tomatoes or you can use canned tomato if needed.
· Tomato Juice-we “can” this and pull out a jar whenever we make Chili.
· A Broccoli Corn Casserole the kids love
· A method you can use for summer squash, green beans, and other fresh veggies
· For my wild game friends, I will also include a Venison Marinade
· A recipe that will get the husbands and kids to eat zucchini, summer squash and cherry tomatoes
· A simple recipe for a version of baked beans using “Bush Beans” from your garden.
· Zucchini aka Apple Bars, they really do taste like apple bars!!
Tip #5 How to get the skins off of tomatoes to make salsa or tomato juice or other tomato product. Get a large pot of boiling water. Place the whole washed tomatoes in the boiling water and set the stove timer for 3 minutes. While the tomatoes are in the boiling water prepare another large pot with cold water. I just use tap water and put some ice cubes in it to make it real cold. After the 3 minutes are up, take the tomatoes and place them in the cold water. I use a ladle to help me do this. You will see the skin starting to split on the tomatoes and once they are cool enough to handle the skin peels right off!!! Next take a knife and cut out the core at the top of the tomato and you are ready for the next step of whatever you want to do with the tomatoes!
Tip #6 Blanching before Freezing: This is the method I use for freezing my vegetables such as green beans, sliced summer squash, sliced zucchini, yellow wax beans and broccoli. Wash the vegetables and cut off the ends before slicing. For broccoli, I like to cut them into smaller stalks and shorten the ends before I blanche them. Now place them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, drain them in a colander, and place them in your desired freezer bags trying to get out as much air as possible when you seal the bag. Label them with a permanent sharpie with name of produce and date and they are now ready for the freezer. Generally it is recommended to consume your canned or frozen food within 1 year. If you have a “seal a meal” machine you can “package” them first after cleaning and trimming and then put the bag right into the boiling water for 2 minutes and then they are ready for the freezer. We have used this method and it is pretty quick!
Tip #7 Last tip I have before we get into the recipes is that you can buy pre-packaged seasoning that will make your canning experience easy. The most common one I see in the stores and use myself are the Mrs. Wages brand. You can google “Mrs. Wages” and see all the different types of seasonings available for canning.
Tip #8 Make sure you have the supplies needed to start canning. There are two different size mouths of jars. A regular mouth jar and a “wide” mouth jar. The large mouth jar usually comes in quart size or larger. Regular mouth jars can come in any size from jelly jars to quarts, etc. The lids come is both sizes and are purchased separately unless you are buying brand new jars and then they will come with the lids and the rings. You can reuse the “rings” over and over again but not the lids. Sometimes they are called “flats” and come is boxes. Each time you reuse a jar you must have a brand-new lid. You cannot reuse the lids. They will not seal. Have a box of canning salt. A gallon bottle of white distilled vinegar. Some handy tools are tongs, a funnel to make less of a mess when you put your goodies into the jars, and your measuring cups and spoons. A blender or food processor comes in handy to as you get more into the canning process. We will not need a blender or food processor for the recipes I will share.
Here is my recipe for Dill Pickles. Pay close attention to the process of how we “can” them because this is how I can most “cooked” recipes for canning.
2 quarts while distilled Vinegar 2 quarts of water
½ cup of Canning Salt (do not use regular table salt with Iodine as it will make your pickles soft.)
1 bunch of fresh dill with several heads on it. (I use one “head” of dill for each jar)
Separate pot with plain boiling water
Napkins or paper towels
Several hand towels or kitchen towels.
Black Permanent Sharpie
How to prepare your fresh pickles: If you get the cucumbers from the grocery store they may already have been “brushed”. If you get them from your garden or a vegetable stand or farmer’s market you will have to use a vegetable brush to brush off all the prickly bumps on the cucumber including the top and bottom while you are washing them getting them ready to can.
Smaller cucumbers can be left whole and will make whole pickles. If the cucumbers are larger, you may decide to slice them in quarters down the long way in half and then the two halves cut long way again and have 4 sliced pickles per cucumber. Make sure they will fit in your jars.
Prepare your jars. Fill up your sink and wash the lids and jars in as hot of water you can stand and let them sit while you are preparing your supplies. Be careful not to burn yourself!! While I am filling the jars, I place the lids in a very small pan and put them on the stove and let them “simmer” in water until I am ready for them.
Once the cucumbers are slice or left whole for pickles you are ready to get started. Put the pickles in your jar. Pack them in good and tight. Make sure you have a good ½ inch left at the top called “head room”. Place a head of dill on top of each pickle jar. Make sure it fits down inside and not touching the rim of the jar. If any seeds are on the rim and you put your lid on it won’t seal. We will talk about this more in a bit.
You will prepare two pots. One with plain water that is brought to a boil and then the second pot to make your “brine”. This is the pickle juice. The 2 quarts of water, canning salt and vinegar goes into this pot for the “brine”.
Now that your pickles and dill are in the jars, pour plain boiling water into each jar and then set your lids on top without the rings so don’t screw them on just let the lids sit on top of the jars. Let them sit for 15 minutes.
After the 15 minutes are up, pour out the water from each jar leaving the dill and pickles in the jars. Put your lids back into that small pot of water and let simmer.
Now it gets a bit tricky. This is the hardest part but the most crucial part of the whole process. Can your pickles one jar at a time. Do not fill all your jars at once. You need them as hot as possible to seal properly without the pressure cooker. Using your ladle, put the boiling hot brine into one jar of pickles. Take a napkin or paper towel and quickly wipe around the top of the jar to make sure there is no dill seeds or any debris to get in the way of your lids sealing. Take a lid out of the simmering water and place on top of the jar. Take the ring and using something like one of the towels to hold the jar because it will be hot, screw the ring on nice and tight. Place on a counter top or table and cover it with several kitchen or hand towels. The object is to keep them as hot as possible for as long as possible to get them to seal.
If you have any brine left, you can store in the refrigerator for use next time.
Repeat the process until all your jars are done. Keep adding them under the same pile of towels.
Now leave them alone until tomorrow. Then you will check to see if you successfully canned your jars of pickles!!! If you hear a popping noise anytime after you finished your jars and they start to pop underneath all those towels, that’s music to your ears because each “pop” means your lid has sealed and you have a successful jar of pickles.
Ok, tomorrow is here now what do I do? Remove all the towels from your pickle jars. Take your finger and press the center of your lids one at a time. Can you push it down and it comes back up and you hear a clicking sound? No? Congratulations, you successfully canned your jar of pickles!!! If one of the jars didn’t seal no worries you can pour out the juice and re-boil it and try again with a new lid or use this jar as the jar you will keep in the fridge for use right away. Usually the pickles are ready to eat in 24-48 hours. As you try other recipes make sure you check the directions to see when your canned item will be ready to eat.
Now all you have to do is take your Sharpie and write on the lid Dill Pickles and the Year. Voila you did it!! No special storing method is needed once they are sealed.
You have now on your way to canning and preserving your fresh produce!
If you would like the complete set of the recipes I listed above, please click here and we will get them right to you!
It was my pleasure sharing these tips with you and I hope you are well on your way to learning how to save your fresh produce!
See you on the next blog post where we will continue to bring you value with ways to save time and money!
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Feel free to let us know how your pickles turned out!! If you have a favorite canning or freezing recipe please feel free to share that also.
Until next time,