Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An Introduction to Water-bath Canning

     Hello All, I hope this post finds you well. For many it is a time of transition as the seasons are beginning to change. The soil and air are getting dryer and birds are migrating. Many gardeners are starting to get a yield of food that can often be more than a family can eat. That is why I want to introduce to you: waterbath canning.

     Waterbath canning is a great way to preserve food without taking up any freezer space. Essentially, you are preserving a medium- to high-acid food by sanitizing (boiling) in jars that have self-sealing lids. Therefore, as long as you have enough acidity (which can be changed with a little vinegar or lemon juice), it is possible to come up with all kinds of combinations for canning. By learning this simple rule, I was able to move from basics like canning beets and apple sauce on to dill pickle green beans, and jalapeno carrots, and zucchini tomato stew. Here, I will give you the recipe and instructions for basic apple sauce (spiced apple preserve recipe to come almost immediately after). Then I will give you comparisons to other methods of food preservation.  You do not need to can all of your applesauce, but I like to provide that option, should you choose to use it. If you are planning on storing applesauce without canning (in the fridge), then please disregard the first six items.

Prepping the Canner: Clean all of your Ball or Mason jars in hot, soapy water. Do the same for the bands and the (unused) lids. Set aside for later use.

You will need:
 - Waterbath Canner and seven "chambered" rack
 - Seven or more Ball or Mason Quart Jars (I prefer widemouth)
 - Lids and Bands (for widemouth jars if using widemouth)
 - Tongs
 - Funnel
 - Ladle
 - Blender, food processor, or pulper
 - 20+ lbs. apples (Granny Smith, Braeburn, Fuji, Jonathon, Jonagold, etc.)
 - Lemon juice
 - Sugar (to taste)
 - Cinnamon (optional)
 - 1.5 gallon pot (or larger)

     First, remove any bad spots from your apples with a paring knife.
-If you are using a pulper, leave the core intact and cut the apples in half. Place the apples in a pot with just enough water to keep them from sticking together and boil lightly until they start to turn a little soft. Press the apples through the pulper and into a pot, which separates the seeds, skins and core. Boiling with the core adds natural pectins that are present in the seeds.

-If you are using a blender or food processor, remove the core, add lemon juice, and boil lightly until they turn a little soft. Hold onto a little water left over from the boil and place the apples and water in a blender. Blend until thoroughly sauced.

     Simmer the apple juice/pulp mix until it starts to thicken. Add (roughly) 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per half gallon to prevent browning, and any cinnamon or sugar you want. The apple sauce recipe on the Ball website recommends too much sugar for my taste. Starting your simmer is also a good time to start warming up the water in your waterbath canner.

     Ladle the apple sauce into clean jars (with clean bands and clean, new lids). Seal the lids on the jars finger-tight, maybe putting a little wrist into it. When the water is boiling in the canner, add your quarts of sauce to be processed. Boil for 20 minutes.

     Remove with tongs, and set on a towel. You will hear lids flex throughout the next 12 hours. Refrigerate any quarts that do not have flexed lids, and eat them soon.

     Now I will get into some pros and cons of diferent methods of food preservation. I prefer to try a little of each, as each method has something to offer: freezing, drying, canning, baking, fermenting. Experiment and find what works best for you. If I have a lot of something basic (like apples) I will apply all these methods, because each one does turn out to be a different dish. I inherited about sixty pounds of apples and used them in all sorts of ways.
     I would next like to compare other methods of food preservation to canning regarding time consumption, economics, and nutrition (they all take about an equal amount of clean-up; approx. 20-30 minutes of dishes):

Lets talk about Economics...
     Canning generally involves spending about $40 on gear for your first time: about $20 for the waterbath, $10-$15 for Ball or Mason jars and lids, $5 for a funnel, and $5 for clamps to place/pull the jars in/from the water.  Though jars break all the time, any that you have left over can be reused as measuring cups until the next canning season comes around. In the four seasons I have been canning, I have only had to buy 3 dozen jars, all of which were in heavy rotation.
     Freezing involves very little spending, aside from a steamer for blanching ($10), a pot, and some freezer bags. However, unless you have an ice-chest freezer, space may be an issue.  
     Drying costs as much as your food dehydrator, slicer, and whatever container you put your finished product.

Now for Nutritional Value...  
    Freezing preserves the most nutrients and beneficial bacteria and yeasts, followed by drying, leaving canning in last of the three, nutritionally. When you boil the jars, you are killing the good yeasts that aid digestion. As a rule, the less processing you do to any food, the more nutritional value will be preserved.

...and Finally, Work Load/Time Consumption...  
     Drying takes as much time as it would to thinly slice all of your fruits/veggies and to place it on the rack. The rest is waiting on your equipment. My dehydrator is small, so I only get a quart of dried fruit after about an hour of processing and six hours of drying.
     Freezing takes time to slice, blanch (steam) your veggies, but not much. If you set up a pot with ice water, you can get a system going that works fairly quickly. It's possible to get several gallons of something like carrots in just an hour or two.  
     Canning can be time consuming. For something like apple sauce, you have to cut the bad spots out of your food. If you have a pulper, it can be just as quick as using a blender (you have to remove the core for the blender). You have to simmer the whole pot down until it starts to thicken to the right conistency, then ladle the sauce into a jar with clean lids and bands and then you put the jars in the waterbath canner for at least 20 minutes. It can take 2-4 hours to process 7 quarts. Try to shoot for processing six or seven quarts if you can. This is the max that a normal size waterbath holds, and the more of it you can take up each workload is the more efficiently your time is being spent. For example, spending all this time just to use up your last 2-3 jars is hardly worth it as opposed to eating the food fresh.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Life-changing Pizza Recipe

This is a pizza recipe that I have been refining for years. Top it however you like. As always I recommend organic. Use Tomato Sauce, Olive Oil,  Barbecue or Alfredo Sauce. Make sure you watch the video. Much thanks to Jason Carty for the videography.


2 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. organic high gluten wheat flour
1 T. yeast
1 c. liquid
1 T. olive oil
1 T. sugar
1 T. salt

Optional dash of: garlic powder, sage, oregano, black papper, cayenne (ground or flakes).

Blend all dry ingredients, including yeast. Mix in liquid and knead the dough for 5-10 minutes. When a smooth dough-ball has been formed, drop some olive oil, about the size of a dime, into the mixing bowl. Roll the dough in the oil until it is evenly coated and cover with a damp cloth. Give the dough about 45 minutes to rise. When it reaches twice its original size, it is ready to bake.
Pull the dough from the bowl and flatten it in the middle from your palms. As it gets flatter, start to throw the dough (you might want to watch the video for that). Lay your dough out onto a greased pan, apply your sauce, then cheese, then toppings. The pizza is done when you lift a corner of it and a whole side (like the entire half) comes up with it, as opposed to a small corner.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Granola recipe: not just for hippies!

Like many dishes, I prefer to make granola myself. There are several reasons for this, but my choice in ingredients is the first. This almost always beats store-bought, as the end-product has been minimally processed. Fortunately, most of these ingredients keep for a long time, so if you have the fortune to find a preferred ingredient on sale, stock up.

If you must buy packaged cereal, buy organic. Everything else is GMO, is made almost entirely from corn, and contains way too much sugar. It may look cheaper now, but the cost adds up at the hospital with Diabetes, ADHD, or a multitude of other "disorders" we are just discovering and naming.

The following recipe is a combination of Molly Katzen's "Moosewood Cookbook" recipe and "The Joy of Cooking" recipe, as well as personal preference.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 30-40 minutes (depending on taste)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the following ingredients:

6 c. rolled oats
2 c. nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, or whatever you prefer)
1/2 c. hulled sunflower or pumpkin seeds (I added a handful of flax seed as well)

In a small saucepan, dissolve the following ingredients over low heat for a little less than 5 minutes:

1/4 c. olive oil
1/2 c. honey
1 T vanilla extract
1 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon (optional)

Pour the syrup mixture over the oat/nut mixture and mix until evenly coated. Distribute the raw mixture on to an ungreased baking pan (I find that it cooks a little faster and dryer when using glass pans). The mixture should stand about 1/2" high for even baking. Put the pan in the oven. Stir after 20 minutes, and continue to do so after it is pulled from the oven until it is cool in order to prevent clumping.

Upon removing from the oven, the mixture might still be a little sticky. This will dry as it cools.

-Buy organic. If you keep an eye out for sale items, you can often get organic at the same price or cheaper than non-organic. I got my vanilla, walnuts and flax seeds organic because they were on sale. I also saved my pumpkin and squash seeds from the previous season on the farm, so they were an added bonus. I made about three medium cereal boxes worth for about $10.

-Stock up. These ingredients last a long time without refrigeration.

-Use less honey for less sugar, or substitute out a little maple syrup for a different taste.

Good luck! To compliment, there will soon be a post on homemade yogurt!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fire-craft: a humbling experience


Preparing the Parts:

There is a certain respect to take into consideration when practicing fire-by-friction. Once you start exerting a lot of force, the habit is to focus on what your arms are doing. Being aware of your breath is important.  Also, well made/selected parts increase the likelihood of desired results, so I will try to be as specific as possible. Variation is key to understanding what parts fit you best. I try to collect material in a variety, but still sticking to basic rules (Ex: a straight spindle or level footboard). Collecting a variety of material also means that you have more for later which you will literally burn through in discovering how to make fire. If you are actually starting a fire instead of testing your ability, prepare a teepee fire. That is, prop super thin sticks (toothpick thickness) into a teepee shape, mentally marking an opening. These sticks should be brittle and dry enough to make a snapping noise. As you build, make sure you layer progressively thicker sticks. Another tidbit of advice that will be revisited is to keep breathing.
Fixed-blade Knife - NO pocket knives.
Rope - Beginners should use a synthetic rope. Nylon is kind of difficult. Para-cord works pretty well.
Footboard - This wood should be the same as the spindle. An easy way to prepare a footboard is to saw a branch to about the length and thickness of your fore-arm (possibly thicker; at least twice as wide as your spindle, also shown), prop it vertically and split it by hammering a knife or hatchet through. Common Indiana woods to use are (in order of difficulty) basswood, cedar, cottonwood and tulip poplar. Always try to shave the bottom of your footboard so it rests flat on the ground and doesn’t wobble very much.
Spindle - This should be as straight as possible, and as long as the tip of your pinky to the tip of your thumb. I like spindles that are the thickness of my thumb. When carving a spindle, use the thicker side (which grows further from branch tips) for contact on the footboard, and the thinner side (which grows closer to the branch tip) on the handhold. In the rest of the article, I will be referring to the top and bottom of the spindle. The bottom of the spindle (bottom left) should be more blunt as to create more friction and heat. The top of the spindle (bottom right) should be sharper so that it rotates in the handhold easier, making the heat build up on bottom (the footboard) and not the top (the handhold).

Bow - This can be made from anything sturdy. I find that invasive species like honeysuckle are good for an area like Indiana, or Russian Olive for Colorado. The bow should be as long as the tip of your fingers into your armpit. When tying the bow, tie one end to have a permanent, immovable knot. Tie it tight on the other end with a less permanent, but sturdy knot. You want it tight enough that you feel the rope “snap” into place around the spindle, and that it does not slip loosely about the spindle.
Tinder bundle - This material can be found anywhere in Indiana. Just look for any tulip poplar trees that have dead branches or hanging dead bark. Gather this material and run it between your palms. The more you run it is the finer it gets, and therefore, the easier to spread. However, when working with fire, we go from small material to larger, so I put finer tinder in the middle of progressively coarser material. In addition, before I begin starting a real fire, I build up a teepee fire, leaving an opening to drop the burning tinder bundle, so the fire will spread quickly into a comfortable campfire.


After preparing the parts, there are a few steps to getting a successful fire. The most important thing to remember is to KEEP BREATHING. Once you stop focusing on your breath, your body and muscles lock up quickly.

1. Burning into your footboard and handhold

2. Carving the notch

3. Creating the coal (ember)

4. Dropping the ember in the bundle

1. Now we must burn the spindle into the footboard and handhold. This is done by creating a circular notch with a knife on the bottom-right side of the footboard and a notch in the center of the handhold. The spindle will slip out. Don’t get frustrated. One will know where to make this by placing the spindle on the edge of the footboard. Where you carve the center of which to bore into should be just past that.

In addition to having a notch burn into the footboard, you must also do so for the handhold so that you can more directly apply the amount of pressure needed. However, unlike the footboard, you don’t want to burn in too far. Once you’ve burned enough into the handhold, make sure to grease the spindle and the burn-hole in the handhold. This can be done with wiping the top of the spindle in your sweat on your face or grinding pine needles between the top of the spindle and the handhold. This reduces friction up top and puts it where it is needed: in the footboard. When making your first burn, and as always, make sure your rope wraps around your spindle tightly and that your bowing is even and steady. When bowing make sure you remember to breathe and that you use long strokes that use the length of your bow while keeping your spindle vertically straight. Your board (left) and handhold (right) will look like the picture below. Be sure to save the dust that comes off around your spindle.

2. Ideally, you should have your spindle burn into the footboard just a little past the point where your spindle slips out. So after exhausting yourself, you need to carve your notch. This is where the by-product of burning comes off: coal-dust. You want the size of your notch to be about 1/6 of the overall burn hole. Imagine dividing the hole in half length-wise with the footboard, then in thirds. This middle third is the one you carve out. Put a piece of bark (tulip poplar is everywhere) or something dense like a sliver of wood under your footboard. This will make it easier to transfer your coal. Pile your saved coal dust up to the notch
3. Now comes the strenuous part: creating the coal. Before starting, I recommend oiling the spindle and handhold again. Use the same bowing technique as described before, with straight bowing and a vertical spindle. Start slowly and eventually build up speed and pressure. Remember to breathe. Otherwise, you’ll burn yourself out and have no energy for the rest of the day. A trick I use is to breathe in after four pulls, breathe out after four pulls, in after three, out after three, etc. When smoke comes put down more pressure and remember to use the whole bow. Full pulls of your arm build heat while the milliseconds between changing direction cause the dust to cool rapidly. Keep going until the smoke is thick and everywhere. Yes, you will smell like a camp fire all day.

4. Now is the time to be delicate. If you’ve pulled long and hard enough and applied direct pressure, you may be lucky enough to have a smoking pile of dust. Gently pull the footboard away from the smoking coal. Tap out any coal dust on the footboard onto the ember. You want the burning part to get as big as possible. This can be done in several ways. First, you can pile coal dust on the delicate ember, causing the ember to burn upwards, as the dust is your ember extender. If you are not letting out exhaustive puffs of air, you can lightly blow on the coal, but make sure not to blow it or any loose dust away. Otherwise, fan the coal with your hand to make it spread. Still keeping delicacy in mind, gently drop the coal into the center of your tinder bundle, near the smallest fibers that will catch the soonest. Cup the tinder bundle like drinking from your hands, and spread your bottom fingers out to allow air through. This is trial and error, a balance between giving your ember enough material from your bundle, and giving it enough oxygen so not to smother it. When the fibers really start to catch blow progressively harder until the bundle bursts into flame. Drop it into your pre-made teepee fire.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Hello everyone. Glad you could make it. As mentioned in the introduction, we will be talking about cycles and stages. It is definitely spring here in Colorado, and about to become summer in the Midwest.
Spring is symbolic of birth and infancy for many plants and animals. The dawn of a new day begins with the sun in the east. In the human life cycle (as well as for other organisms), spring may also be a period of heightened vulnerability. Therefore, my first installment for examining cycles will focus on hazards that a curious naturalist might face.
Hazards may include venomous animals, poisonous plants, hypothermia, dehydration, etc. Prevention is a tool that (ahem) should far outweigh crisis management, as it is something that should come first. Through the art of questioning, one should rationally ask themselves "What are my hazards?" The key word here is "rationally".
Well, that leads us to question what is hazardous. Of course spiders, snakes, and plants can all be venomous/poisonous, but which ones? How do we weed out fact from fable? The answer is research (of which you will find I do a lot). Through understanding hazards, we can understand what is safe and towards what we should express caution. Caution is an extension of respect, and therefore, I urge all of you to respect what you interact with, whether it be a wild animal, a household appliance, or an automobile.

Let's start with an exercise.

Say you live in the midwest and were wanting to research poisonous spiders. What are the most dangerous spiders in North America? Can any of them actually kill you? If you were to look at a range map for something like Black Widow or Brown Recluse, would they be in your area? What is their habitat? Do they live in swamps, woods, or tight places? What are the symptoms? What does the bite mark look like? Who do you talk to to find out symptoms as well as possible treatments?

If prevention does not work, we are only left with crisis management. Still, research is useful in these events. Why? In order to prevent panic. Panic is your worst enemy in any emergency, and counteracting that with facts, knowledge, and awareness of your situation will only work to your advantage. Let's say I ate something poisonous. What should I do? Should I induce vomiting? Contact a poison control center or hospital? Because the plant may be one that would be potentially more harmful if I induce vomiting, what will happen to me if it were to stay in my system? Would I have seizures, go blind, hallucinate, or die?

Research may happen in multitude of ways. For this blog, much of that research is done through hands-on experience or through field guides, such as Peterson or Audubon, and I cite my sources.

The next blog will be about a potential hazard that you may encounter as well.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Signing On


This is my first blog ever. I know, right! No big deal! Therefore, I would like to introduce you to our mascot the Great Horned Owl. This one is a baby and we will watch it change and grow. You'll find lots of things like that here that grow and change with the seasons. I'm also interested in other things including education. My intention is to educate others, so much of what I'm interested in is fair game for being a topic of discussion.

I'm interested in nature, science, primitive skills, camping, and sustainable practices, so much of the intention is to spread information that I deem useful/worthy/interesting to others. It may be practical as well as informative, so I encourage you to come back for more, as the topics will greatly diversify. For example, you will often find nature journals on animals like Kestrels next to Instructions for Canning or How to Build a Bow-Drill Fire. If you have any similar interests or suggestions, let me know. It is likely that if you are nature-minded I probably hold a similar interest or view. You will also encounter some of my opinions on this page. I encourage open and polite discussion.