Category Archives: Recipes

10 Canning Tips

Late summer and early fall is harvest season. As vegetable gardeners, we’re busy sowing fall crops, pickling peppers, curing winter squash, and processing flour corn. Food preservation is a time-consuming part of this season. While there are many ways to preserve food, those with large home gardens often turn to canning to put up at least part of their harvest. Maybe you’re trying to eat more affordable, organic food, perhaps you’re trying to connect with your heritage or become more self-reliant, or maybe you’re just a foodie who knows that homegrown salsa tastes best. Here are ten canning tips to help your preservation run smoothly.

Don’t be afraid.

I’ll admit that when I started canning, it made me nervous. The threat of botulism loomed heavy in my mind. I was horrified when my dad gave my grandfather some pickles I had made. What if I poisoned him?

Years later, canning seems like cooking. Yes, there are certain things you need to do to be safe, but they’re no different than making sure your roast reaches a specific temperature.

Make sure you understand the basics of canning.

Getting familiar with the basics of canning is a good idea for safety and ease of processing. Once you understand the basics, you won’t have to check the directions constantly or worry about contaminated food.

Resources:

Begin with a clean kitchen.

Starting with a clean kitchen will help ensure your food is sanitary and reduce your stress. You don’t want to have to work around other projects or have to wash utensils to sue them while you’re in the middle of canning.

Double-check your recipe and buy extra.

Make sure you have all the ingredients you need on hand before you begin canning. From personal experience, it’s horrible to realize you don’t have enough pectin for your batch of jam, or you’re missing a spice from your awesome marinara sauce recipe. Double-check ahead of time!

Canning Jars in Rack (Canning Tips)Consider smaller jars and amounts.

Getting a bit carried away can be easy when you first begin preserving food. Maybe you have a lot of vegetables to put up, or perhaps you remember your grandparents putting up tons of beans. As many of us don’t have the large families of previous generations, I recommend people consider using smaller jars. If it’s just you or you have a small family, you may want to consider using pints or even half pints for some foods.

You should also consider how much you’ll go through in a year. Crops like cucumbers can be incredibly prolific, and while it’s easy to think that canning may seem like a great solution, you don’t want to end up with unused jars. According to the USDA, you want to use your canned food in one year to get the best nutritional value. Will you eat a pint of pickles per week? If not, you may not want to can 52 jars. Consider donating extra fresh produce to food banks, family, neighbors, or anyone you know in need.

Prepare extra jars.

Most canning recipes, like those available on the Ball Mason Jar website, will tell you about how many jars a batch will make. It’s still a good idea to have an extra couple of jars on hand and ready to go if you have enough to fill more.

Have snacks and easy meals on hand.

Canning is hard and hungry work. Working hungry and convincing yourself to cook a complicated meal after spending hours processing food is tough. I like having easy snacks and meals on hand for big canning days.

Can in the morning.

You may have other preferences, but I generally like to get my canning done in the morning. This works well for me because the temperature is usually a bit cooler, and it gives me plenty of time to clean up the kitchen in the afternoon and still have a relaxing evening.

Clean as you go.

Another tactic that keeps canning from becoming too stressful is cleaning as you go. While I have a batch of food in the canner, I like to do up what dishes I can or wipe counters, so I don’t leave it all until the very end.

Use fresh, high-quality produce.

Canning is a lot of work. Make sure the food you’re putting up will be delicious and worth the effort by canning your harvests when fresh or selecting good quality produce from the farmers’ market when supplementing your own crop.

Canning is a great way to preserve a lot of food, but it can be intimidating to new canners and is a lot of work. Follow these canning tips to keep your food preservation simple and stress-free this harvest season.

Preservation: Leather Britches

Today, when we talk about food preservation, we’re often discussing canning and freezing, but people were putting up foods in the old ways long before the advent of freezers and pressure canners. This Appalachian recipe is one of those old ways. Leather britches, sometimes called shuck beans or shucky beans, were a way to preserve beans for winter with little technology or cost. They’re snap beans dried on a string. 

Leather Britches History

Leather BritchesThe practice of making leather britches most likely originated with the Cherokee people. They would thread the beans onto a rawhide cord and hang them over a slow fire to dry, protecting them from rot and insects. The Europeans who settled in Appalachia picked up this tradition, stringing beans and hanging them from rafters, porches, and fireplaces.

Even after canning became popular, leather britches remained a common Appalachian staple. Preserving beans this way creates chewy, sometimes smoky beans that were typically cooked over several hours with fatback, ham hock, or salt pork. Unlike pressure canning beans, this preservation method didn’t involve summertime cooking, didn’t use canning jars which could be pricey, and took up relatively little space. 

How to Make Leather Britches

Among the folks I’ve talked to, you either love leather britches or hate them. Many have memories of working alongside their parents or grandparents to put up the beans this way. I think they’re a recipe worth preserving and trying at least once.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Snap Beans
  • Strong Cotton Thread
  • A Sewing Needle with a Large Eye
  • A Space to Dry Them

To begin, harvest your beans. The variety isn’t crucial, though some may believe otherwise, preferring turkey craw, half runners, or red-striped greasy. I encourage you to try with whatever you’re already growing though you may find that wider, flatter beans are easier to string.

Wash your beans and string them if necessary. Lay them out on a towel and let any extra moisture from washing them dry. If desired, cut or snap them into 1 to 2-inch lengths. 

Using the needle, thread your beans onto the string, pushing them down to the end. Not everyone does, but I like to leave tiny spaces between each bean to ensure they get good airflow. 

Then hang your beans somewhere warm and dry. Covered porches, kitchens, and attics are all good places. 

How to Store Leather Britches

While some folks may have left their leather britches strung until needed, it was more typical to unstring and store them once they were fully dry. Often, people stored leather britches in paper or cloth bags. This kept the light and dust off them. Sometimes they added a dried hot pepper to the bag to discourage pests.

Today, most people store their leather britches in mason jars or other containers. Make sure your beans are fully dry before transferring them to containers! Keep your containers out of the sunlight and watch for any signs of moisture in the first few days. If you notice any, remove the beans from the jars and let them dry further on a screen or in a dehydrator. 

How to Cook Leather Britches

Recipes for leather britches undoubtedly varied from family to family. However, the basics are beans, water, and meat. Place about 4 cups of dried leather britches and 2 ounces of fatback, ham hock, or salt pork in a pot and cover with water.

Like other dried beans, leather britches take quite a long time to cook. To reduce the cooking time, you can soak them in water overnight if desired. Then add the meat in the morning.

Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer. Simmer for at least 2 to 3 hours until the beans are tender. Check occasionally and add water as needed.

Some folks liked to add a bit of sugar or other seasonings they had on hand. Elliott Moss, owner and chef at Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville, serves them in vinegar barbecue sauce. For a flavorful vegetarian version, try replacing the water with vegetable stock and excluding meat. 

Season your leather britches with salt and pepper and serve with homemade cornbread

Seasonal Eats: Beet, Carrot, Ginger Salad

Eating from your garden or even just eating locally seems like it can be toughest in winter. No matter how much you ferment, dry, can, and freeze, it can be challenging not to reach for the fresh produce readily available in every supermarket. This beet, carrot, ginger salad is one of my favorites for creating a delicious side that’s fresh, light, and colorful but can also be made with ingredients from your root cellar or local winter farmers’ market.

For this recipe, you’ll need:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Fresh Ginger
  • Rice Vinegar
  • Lemon or Lime Juice
  • Onion (can be a green or bulb onion)
  • Salt & pepper
  • Optional Fresh mint, cilantro, or lemon balm

Another great thing about this recipe is that it doesn’t need to be exact. I like to keep the ratio of grated carrots to beets at about 1 to 1. However, you may find you prefer it a little differently.

Begin by peeling your beets and grating them and your carrots. You can then toss them together. If you’re using bulb onions, I would also finely dice up a handful or two and toss them with the grated root vegetables at this time.

After I grate and mix the beets and carrots, I begin grating and adding fresh ginger about one tablespoon at a time to taste. Especially if you’re not used to cooking with fresh ginger, you may want to start with less than you think you’ll need. You can always add a bit more later. 

Next, toss everything with a small amount of rice wine vinegar and lemon or lime juice. I would use about two tablespoons of vinegar and one tablespoon of lemon juice for every one pound of beets. 

The last step is to season with a bit of salt and pepper and any roughly chopped fresh herbs or vegetables you’d like, such as green onions, mint, cilantro, or lemon balm.

You can serve this salad fresh at room temperature or chilled. It’s a perfect healthy, quick recipe that’s sure to impress guests at holiday get-togethers.