Complete Guide to Home Canning: useful, thorough, and free!

imageimage

Occasionally the government does something rather useful.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation is one of those useful things resulting from a partnership between the county extension at the University of Georgia and the United States Department of Agriculture.  If you go on their website, you can find the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning, a free 196-page document broken into downloadable “guides”.  Here are the topics covered:

Guide 01: Principles of Home Canning
Guide 02: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Fruit and Fruit Products
Guide 03: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products
Guide 04: Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Vegetables and Vegetable Products
Guide 05: Preparing and Canning Poultry, Red Meats, and Seafood
Guide 06: Preparing and Canning Fermented Food and Pickled Vegetables
Guide 07: Preparing and Canning Jams and Jellies

If you are new to canning, read Guide 1.  It’s only about 35 easy-to-read pages long but it covers all the basics in a simple fashion.  I used a recipe for pickles from one of the guides and it was very easy to follow.   The recipes aren’t gourmet but they are straightforward, and they base their processing suggestions on research into the temperatures and times needed to safely kill all microorganisms for various foods.

Why we are cutting down all our cedar trees.

image

When we first moved into this house last September, the cedar tree you see above was in bad need of pruning.  Its branches were all over the roof and pushed up against the side of the house; it doesn’t seem like that would be a hard job, but my husband risked his life doing it because what you can’t see in this picture is that there is a steep drop off to a hill right behind that tree; our house is built into the back of that hill such that 1.5 stories are visible from the front, but another full story exists as a walk-out lower level when you look at it from behind.  So he was perched two stories up on a ladder trimming those branches – scary!  We debated cutting the tree down, but it’s a nice, mature tree so we decided to leave it.

I began noticing in the fall that smaller cedar trees had sprung up here and there all over our property.  My husband has cut those down now and we are waiting for a professional arborist to remove the big one next to the house.

Why?

Well, this past spring after a particularly heavy rain, one of our daughters came rushing in to inform us that there was orange snot all over the cedar tree.  She wasn’t kidding:

image

Big, slimy globs of bright orange goo were hanging all over the tree.

“What the heck is that!?” I gasped, grossed out.

After some time spent online, I learned that is a fungal infection called Cedar Apple Rust.  It’s a very unusual fungus in that, like White Pine Blister Rust, it requires two years and two species of tree to complete its life cycle.  It starts out as hard, brown balls in the fall on cedar trees and sends out those orange globs of yucky stuff, which are actually the fungal spores.  The spores then become airborne and infect apple trees and other plants in that family (crabapples, Hawthornes, some pears, roses), resulting in a rusty infection on the leaves and severely blighted fruit.

You can see the rust blight now on some of our apple trees even though we sprayed them with Immunox, a fungicide, after we figured out what was going on:

image

Since we are trying to grow our produce organically, we don’t want to have to keep spraying our trees, so we are taking out the cedars and we are planting apple cultivars that are resistant to Cedar Apple Rust.  You can find a list of apple cultivars, both heirloom and hybrids, that discusses each cultivar’s level of resistance to cedar apple rust here.  I ordered several Liberty and Empire trees to add to our little orchard because they are resistant to CAR and I shouldn’t need to do much spraying, if any at all.

The cedar wood will go to good use; it makes great fence posts because of the naturally-occurring resins in the wood, which make cedar wood slow to decay.  You can also use it to make nice camp fires in your fire pit without waiting for it to dry out, though it does smoke a bit as the resins burn.

The plus side of “the decline” and hopeful signs in local agrarianism.

I am noticing more small family and cooperative farms in this area which rely on organic production methods, permaculture, and pastured livestock. Interestingly, a number of these farms in this area are explicitly Christian, which is remarkable given the liberal and secular bent of this part of the state (things tend to get more conservative and religious in Michigan as you head north and west).

I don’t know financially how they make it work; maybe they can live really frugally and earn a living from these little farms or (more likely) one or both spouses work outside the home.  In our case, even if we started turning our little homestead into a business, we’d still need outside income.  My husband would still have to keep his job although we could probably replace my job with the fruits of my home labor; my husband is strongly encouraging me to move in that direction, but I am a worrier who lacks confidence in this area, so I’l probably keep my paid job for now.

Here are three little farms not far from where I live that have caught my attention; two of the three are run by Christian families.

C & C Micro-Farm in Gregory doesn’t have a website yet, but you can find them on Facebook.

Growing By Faith Farm in Stockbridge offers classes in the sorts of skills that farm folks might have had 100 years or so ago.  Examples include things like butter-making, how to start a fire with a bow drill, raising and processesing (i.e. killing and prepping) pastured poultry, how to weave a basket out of cattails and the like.

Robin Hills Farm here in Chelsea offers classes, farm tours, and CSA shares of organic produce.

The reason I find these little farms to be a hopeful sign is because even in places like Greece that have been experiencing a fairly length financial collapse, we don’t see total mayhem. People still have basic sustenance and it is not total anarchy.  I think, barring unforseen catastrophe (EMPs, for example, or having Iran someday drop nuclear bombs on us courtesy of the Obama administration’s foolishness), what we’re really in for here is a long, protracted, economic decline in which our collective standard of living is significantly reduced over a period of time.  As that happens, people will naturally return to older methods of food production, with each family finding ways to keep small livestock (chickens, rabbits) and eke out a small garden.  It sounds scary to moderns but it was only three generations ago that this was the normal state of affairs, and it is nice to know that there are already a number of people, a small but growing minority, who are rediscovering old skills and melding them with new ideas from permaculture.

This kind of small-scale agrarianism is a hopeful sign for the immediate future.  When I look at this, I don’t mind the idea of “the decline”; in fact, I rather welcome it.  Why?  Because it is as Herrick Kimball wrote in Light in Our Dwellings ten years ago:

The plain truth, like it or not, is that, in order to succeed in this modern world, on its terms, you must sacrifice your family on the altar of Industrialism.

Yes, I know that is a harsh thing to say. Many people will disagree with me because the industrial model of family life is seen by the masses as normal and, therefore, good. But it is neither normal nor good. It is the spawn of 19th century Industrialism and a historical aberration. It weakens and destroys families. That is the truth and the truth can hurt. Believe me, I know.

The saddest aspect of this situation is that so many professing Christian families willingly buy into the materialistic hubris of our industrial culture.

…I’m convinced that if God’s people are going to be an effective witness to those in the dying industrial culture around us, we must do more than believe in a personal savior, and we must do more than proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. It is imperative that we also live our lives set apart to God. That does not mean that we can simply Christianize the ungodly industrial model and, in so doing, somehow become immune to its pernicious evils. It means we must separate ourselves and our families from the ungodly culture of industrialism.

The only way I know for Christians to effectively separate from the culture of industrialism is to embrace Christian-Agrarian life and culture. Christian-Agrarianism (sometimes called Biblical-Agrarianism) is Christianity lived within an agrarian paradigm. It is trusting God, His word, and His promises more than the false promises of materialistic industrialism in all its manifestations.

Let the decline of materialistic industrialism come, then.

Making lacto-fermented pickles.

I had wanted to pick mullein flowers today in order to get some cough syrup started, but it was raining, so I made pickles instead.

Mason jars were invented in the 1850s, but the canning jars with sealing lid and rings that we use today actually didn’t exist prior to 1915 (source: A Brief History of Common Home Canning Jars).   So what did people do to preserve vegetables before that?

One method they used was salt brine lacto-fermentation.  Chances are your great grandmother or great-great grandmother had a crock similar to this one to use for “pickling” vegetables in:

From Make Old-Fashioned Brine Fermented Pickles Like Your Great Grandmother:

The process of lactic acid fermentation is part art and part science. You’re probably familiar with sauerkraut and kimchi. By the same biological process we can make brine-pickled vegetables from literally whatever is in the garden.

The same beneficial organisms we find in good soil are on the surface of the vegetables we pick. Those beneficial organisms feast on the carbohydrates in the vegetables and produce organic acids as well as enzymes and beneficial bacteria.

It is the acids produced – part lactic and part acetic – that form the brine that preserves the vegetables from spoilage.

This process must happen anaerobically, outside of the presence of oxygen, which is why the vegetables are covered in a salt brine.

I have lots of pickle cucumbers ripe now, and I’ve found some that have gotten a tad overgrown.  They taste a bit bitter raw but they are fine to use to make sliced pickle rounds.

image

First, I sterilized this glass one-gallon jar.

image

Then I assembled my ingredients:

  • about 8-10 overgrown pickle cucumbers
  • 6 large cloves of garlic
  • 6 T kosher salt
  • 6 c water
  • fresh dill
image

Those darn wild rabbits decimated my garden dill so I had to buy some.

I mixed the salt into the water until dissolved to make the brine, then put it aside.image

I scrubbed and sliced the cucumbers into rounds, then peeled and chopped the garlic.

image

I started with a layer of dill and garlic, followed by a layer of cucumber slices and kept layering until I was about 3 inches from the top.  Then I poured in the salt water brine all the way up to the top of the jar:

image

Next I took a little walk in our woods in order to pick two wild grape leaves.

image

A word of caution: wild grape vines like the same shady, woodsy areas as poison ivy, and you do NOT want to put grape leaves that have spent their life cozied up next to poison ivy into your food, for obvious reasons.

image

Note how the poison ivy is touching the grape leaves here.

I washed the grape leaves well in cold water, then pressed them down into the top of the jar.  The reason to add grape leaves is because they will give you nice crunchy pickles instead of soft, soggy ones.  The reason vegetables are crisp is because of the pectin they contain; over time, the pectinase enzyme will break down the pectin in the cucumbers and you’ll end up with un-cripsy pickles.  However, grape leaves contain tannins which inhibit pectinase.

image

Finally, I weighted down the top so that everything stays submerged in the brine.  This is very important because it’s all going to be sitting around at room temperature for a number of days, and any vegetables that float above the level of the brine will mold.  I used a little jelly jar that I had sterilized, but you can use a stone that you’ve sterilized too:

image

Finally, I put the lid on but did not screw it shut and placed the jar on top of a kitchen cupboard to begin fermenting.  I’ll check it periodically and skim off any scum or mold that forms on the top of the liquid; this scum on the top of the liquid is okay and not a problem provided you skim it off.

image

In about ten days I’ll taste them to see if they are sour enough (if you’re new to fermenting vegetables, read this: How to Know When Your Fermented Vegetables Are Ready for Cold Storage).

Lacto-fermented pickles are easy to make and very nutritious, plus you don’t need to use any electricity or propane to make them!

 

A good way to grow herbs and a recipe for lamb burgers.

If you only have time to grow ONE thing in a garden, I suggest growing herbs.  All they require is sun and possibly a fence if you have a lot of wild rabbits hopping around, as we have.  You can pretty much totally ignore your herb plants after you stick them in the ground and they will almost always thrive and come back year after year.  Yet oddly, when you buy herbs in the store, whether they be fresh or dried, they are quite pricey.  I don’t know why this is since they are literally the easiest thing you can possibly grow.

The biggest problem with growing herbs is that they spread like crazy and will completely take over your garden and you’ll have to spend a lot of time weeding baby herbs out.  To prevent this spreading, I plant my herbs in the holes of the cinder blocks I’ve used to build some of my raised strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry beds.  The herbs can’t spread as much because I’ve lined the bottom of the holes with cardboard to prevent their roots from sneaking out, and I pull off the flowers before they go to seed:imageimage

 

image

This is peppermint. DO NOT plant peppermint in any spot that you don’t want to be filled with peppermint within a year; it can easily spread to fill any and all available space, including space where you don’t want it. My peppermint is planted in an area that I mow around, which prevents it from taking over.

To harvest the herbs I wanted for this evening’s meal, I used sharp scissors to snip the stems; I don’t usually cut all the way back to the plant but rather leave at least a 1/2 to 1 inch of the stem in order to encourage branching.  Otherwise your herbs will become “leggy” and you’ll have tall herbs with a lot of stem but very few leaves.

I then snip the leaves off the stem into a colander and rinse them with cold water, drain them, and spread them out on a clean dish cloth to dry a bit.  Please note that this is NOT the way to prepare herbs for drying; it is the way to harvest fresh herbs for the day’s use.

image

Our children are at sleepaway camp, so my husband and I have been cooking dinners together consisting of food we love but our children do not.  Tonight I made lamb burgers and he grilled them.  Here is the approximate recipe:

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • fresh herbs: mint (I used peppermint), parsley, oregano – I used a total of about 5 tablespoons of fresh minced herbs
  • dried herbs and spices: kosher salt, coriander, black pepper, crushed red pepper – all to taste, or about 1/2 teaspoon each
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 2-3 teaspoons white wine – whatever’s hanging around in the ‘fridge.  Today I had some leftover pinot grigio, so that’s what I used.
  • 1-2 teaspoons of molasses, depending on how sweet you like your food; leave this out if you’re on some kind of low carb diet.
I like this particular brand; American Lamb works with a lot of family farmers who practice free-ranging for their sheep and don't use growth hormones.

I like this particular brand; Superior Farms works with a lot of family farmers who practice free-ranging for their sheep and don’t use growth hormones.

Mix all ingredients together well with clean, bare hands in a large glass bowl, then form the meat into four patties.image

Grill for about 5 minutes or so on each side on a preheated grill brushed with olive oil.image

Serve on whole wheat buns with thick slices of red onion and thin slices of feta cheese; I also add sliced tomato to mine (and only mine – my husband hates tomatoes).

 

Finally, in addition to the culinary and medicinal uses of cultivated herbs, many wild plants (i.e. weeds) can be used for for these purposes as well.  The best source of information on wildcrafting herbs can be found at Common Sense Homesteading in the section on Herbs and Wildcrafting.

Plant your garden, grow your family, and pray.

I have long practiced the gardening technique of dense planting not only because I like the way it looks but also because I don’t want to spend my time weeding.  Thick plantings keep weeds at bay:

imageimageimageimageimage

An old pair of rain boots has been repurposed to house the only annuals I ever plant: marigolds. Marigolds repel nematodes and draw beneficial insects that prey on aphids.  Here I filled the boots with soil and mulched in the top of the boots with grass clippings:image

Visitors are invited to contemplate Scripture as they stroll through:

imageimage

 

Perennials draw pollinators such as bees and butterflies, which is why it is important not to use insecticides in your gardens:

imageimage      image

Here on a shady side of the house under some tall oaks and black cherry trees, I’ve put in a variety of ferns running down the hill toward the woods, trying to tie the cultivated and wild edges together. One tenet of permaculture is that the edges and boundaries are where the most interesting and productive things happen; many of these trees have wild asparagus growing behind them:

image

We’ve had a bumper crop of wild rabbits this spring and they’ve been feasting on my herbs at every opportunity; we stationed this little stone rabbit at the entrance to one of the children’s gardens to stand guard:

image

He must be doing a good job because this is the only bed containing basil that hasn’t been stripped clean.

Being able to move through the gardens in a constrained way is a pleasing sensation; I’ve built two pathways this week. The first is shredded mulch with stone circles leading through a bed of ferns to an outdoor faucet:

image

The other is terracotta squares that I set into river pebbles leading from the front walkway to the walkway on the east side of the house.  I moved 750 pounds of pebbles and squares by myself to make this but it will require zero maintenance, so it’s worth the sore muscles:

image

Plants that are both beautiful and edible are always welcome here.  Matteuccia struthiopteris Ostrich ferns, which produce edible fiddleheads, grow well along the northwest side of our front porch:

image

We in the West dwell now in a spiritual Babylon.  Whatever are we to do?  Shall we withdraw and become bitter and hate-filled?

 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

Jeremiah 29:4-7

 Plant your garden.  Grow your family.  Pray for Babylon.

Domination is not destruction.

The earth was given to Man to dominate:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”Genesis 1:26-28)

A quote from this interview with Kelly Ware, a permaculture practitioner and Christian, caught my attention:

“We were put on earth as stewards, to take care of the garden, and our domination thing, that we’re able to, you know, dominate is that we make the choices for things.  We say this plant goes, this plant stays, this earth works needs to happen.  So I really think that in terms of empowering ourselves to do earth works, because you’re changing a lot of things, but we’ve been given that right, to dominate and through that job that we were designed to do, which is steward creation.

According to Merriam Webster, domination means:

  1. supremacy or preeminence over another
  2. exercise of mastery or ruling power
  3. exercise of preponderant, governing, or controlling influence

Notice one thing that the word dominate does not mean: destroy.

Many conservatives seem to believe that domination and destruction are synonymous.  Ann Coulter writes:

The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man’s dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use.  God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet — it’s yours. That’s our job: drilling, mining and stripping.

Is this truly what God says in the Bible?  Let us check:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

It is Man’s job to dominate and subdue the earth not by raping and destroying it but rather by working and keeping it.  The reason for working and keeping the earth isn’t because the earth is an object worthy of spiritual adoration, as environmentalists and some permaculture practitioners believe, but rather because God gave it to us for sustenance and human flourishing:

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. (Genesis 1:29)

Environmentalists, who are nearly all liberals, frequently fantasize about the elimination of humans from the earth due to the mistaken belief that the earth would be “better off” without us.  They see Man’s domination of the earth as inherently sinful (I use the word sinful to describe their religious-like beliefs because liberalism is their religion and is as authoritarian in its moral prescriptions as any other religion or political orientation).

Some secular permaculturists share the opinion that Man’s domination of the earth is Bad, bad, bad! but others do not, as this quote demonstrates:

Societies and their inhabitant are the reason that ecosystems (such as the Amazon Rainforest) are abundant in bio-diversity and life. In Permaculture it is constantly reinforced that human disturbance leads to environmental degradation; however, new evidence strongly concludes that without human disturbance, eco-systems would not be as thriving if humans were out of the picture.

In addition to the earth, Woman was also given to be under Man’s dominion:

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

Women, kindly read that verse again.  For whom were we created?  For him.  And to whom were we given?

And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:22)

Woman was given to Man to be under his dominion, not so that he can destroy her but so that he can cultivate a helper for his work of having dominion over the earth. This is where feminists, like environmentalists, get it wrong. They correctly perceive that some men are using their God-given dominion to destroy rather than cultivate their women, and they decide that Man’s domination itself is the problem, when in fact sin (destruction) is the problem.

We moderns see the word domination used in the man/woman context almost solely in the sense of sexually perverse role plays, but this is not what Christians should understand it to mean, not even when the context is the marital act.  Rather, the godly husband takes dominion over his wife and cultivates her to better fulfill her role as his helper in his domination (cultivation) of the earth.

Pastor Doug Wilson explained this well in something he wrote a few years ago:

A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.  This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

People lost their minds when he wrote this, with Christian feminist Rachel Held Evans writing:

It’s not about sex. It’s not about church leadership. It’s not about roles. It’s not about the Bible.

It’s about power.

It’s about whether or not patriarchy—man’s rule over woman—really represents God’s ideal for the world. 

And I believe, with every bone in my body, that patriarchy is a result of sin. I believe that followers of Jesus are to be champions of equality, and that it is our calling…

But a man conquering a woman does not implicitly mean he destroys her.  A man who conquers his wife in the sense that Pastor Wilson means is cultivating a family.  His dominion leads to flourishing rather than destruction.

Although it is pagan in spiritual orientation, I love the blog Bealtine Cottage, a site written by a woman in Ireland who bought a derelict cottage on some old agricultural land that was badly damaged by conventional farming practices and transformed it using permaculture gardening techniques into a gorgeous food forest.  Her stories and photos are fascinating.  However, the authoress Ms.O’Neill has misunderstood what domination of the earth and Woman by Man means.  She writes:

“As this era of masculine dominance comes to an end and a feminine understanding of life’s wholeness is included, we are beginning to experience a different world in which physical, mental, and spiritual well-being are interdependent.”

A limited and patriarchal interpretation of the Creator, has given us a male figure, with the female as subservient.

Dominance of Nature and continuous war has ensued…

It is clear from the Bible that God gave the earth and Woman to Man not to destroy but rather to cultivate, as we saw in Genesis 2:15.  It isn’t that male domination destroys the earth or women; it is that after the fall, men sometimes use their God-given right to dominate the earth for destructive purposes, rather than using their domination of the earth and their women to cultivate a flourishing garden and thriving families.  The solution isn’t to reject the order of creation that God intended, that of loving domination by Man, but rather for men to teach one another (something women absolutely cannot do) to use their God-given right of dominion to cultivate rather than destroy and then insist that it be so.

Part of the chaff of modernity is the belief that humans having dominion (domination) over the earth and Man having dominion (domination) over Woman is inherently destructive.  This is not true.  Only sinful behavior is destructive.  Godly dominion does not destroy; rather, it cultivates so that all which is under dominion flourishes.