As I started this post, I was trying to think about when I first started canning and I cannot remember. I know I was canning before Chad was born so that’s been 35 years. We sold a house in 1986 and I had a big garden there so I’m sure I was canning as far back as about 1984. Back then, I might have canned tomatoes and a few other veggies. I think it was after the ice storm/power outage for a week in 1997 that I got really fired up about having things like split pea soup, chili, beef stew – the kinds of food that could easily be heated up on the burner of a gas grill since my home at the time was all electric.
We moved to Texas in 2011 and that was the first time I had a gas stove after about 20 years of having an electric stove and that’s when I started canning everything I could get my hands on. Yes, it’s a lot of work and yes, it takes a lot of time but when I can spend two or three hours doing prep work and end up with 14 or 21 jars of food that’s ready to heat and eat, the prep time is negligible. Take red beans and sausage for example. The night before I plan to do the canning, I rinse and soak 5 or 6 pounds of beans. That takes about 15 minutes of prep time. The next day, I drain and rinse the beans, put them back in jars, add chopped onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic and jalapeno pepper. I’ve sliced the sausage and browned it, then added it to the jars. Add a bit of salt and pepper, top the jars with hot water, clean the tops, get the lids on and get them totally ready for the canner. The water in the canner is simmering. Add the jars, secure the lid on the canner. I’ll say that may take 1-1/2 hours to get that all done. The canner has to start putting out steam, and steam for 10 minutes. The jiggler is added. I watch it a bit til it gets up to pressure. Add another half hour but I’m back and forth between stitching and watching the canner. Say the prep work takes 2-1/2 hours but it probably takes more like 2 hours. Then while the canner is going, I leave the door to the garage open and if I’m downstairs alone and the TV isn’t on, I can hear the jiggler and know that it’s at the right pressure. When it’s all done, I turn the stove off, let the pressure come down to zero, remove the jiggler. I usually let the canner sit for a while, then remove the lid and let it sit for a while longer, then remove the jars and clean them if they need wiping down.
The large canner will hold 14 quarts; the other canner I keep out will hold 7 quarts so I try to make it come out at 14 quarts or 21 quarts . . always with a full load but it rarely works out that way.
From start to finish, the amount of time that’s totally devoted to canning is maybe 3 hours. I don’t count the 90 minutes the jars are processing because I’m doing other things. So, for three hours of work, the last load was 17 jars. If my math is correct, in my mind, I’ve spent about 11 minutes per jar for one of our very favorite meals. That means I can cook a pot or rice, make a pan of cornbread, fix a salad, which might take 20 minutes. What this really means is that for about 35 minutes of my time, I have a meal on the table, with minimal mess/dishes to clean up.
It also means the following:
- If unexpected guests show up, I can grab jars from the pantry and have an amazing meal on the table in minutes.
- If the power is out, we have plenty of jars of food we can pop open, heat up and have a yummy meal.
- If we’re going somewhere . . say to my uncle’s lakehouse, where there are no restaurants nearby and we’d rather eat at home, I can pack up a couple of cases of jars and we’ll have meals to heat and eat. I can add salads, make rolls and you couldn’t ask for more than that!
My canning plans for this week are Cranberry Mustard. I’ve been making this for many years. I love it on smoked meat, on sandwiches, with jam on brie . . it’s so good! I mix wasabi mustard seeds with the regular yellow mustard seeds and when I make it, I will make 8 times the recipe and that gives us enough for a year and a jar or two to give as gifts.
I will also make Sloppy Joe mix. I had planned to make Salisbury Steak but I had wanted to pre-cook it on the grill and I’m not sure this week’s weather is going to work for that so I may have to put that off. If there isn’t going to be a warm-ish, dry day, I’ll probably take a few roasts out of the freezer and can those. Empty jars sitting around make me nervous. 🙂