Pressure canning on a smooth top electric stove

Yes, you can use a pressure canner on a smooth-top electric range! Just be sure it has a raised “foot” on the bottom the size of your largest burner. My Presto (bought in around 2009) has this; the one i got from a friend (mid-1970s vintage) does not. The bottom of the older canner is completely flat, so it keeps tripping the overheat sensor on the stove and will never heat up properly.

Next, be sure you clean your stovetop and your canner bottom really well. Anything on your burner will weld on like enamel after the heat if canning, and anything on the bottom of your canner will scratch of you scootch the canner around. As a disclaimer, the stovetop in this house was a burned-on mess when we bought the house, so I’ve not been super worried about defacing it.

So, you have the right canner and a clean work surface – now how do you regulate the heat? Here’s what I do:

  • Once my jars are filled and loaded into the canner (always follow good directions for this), I turn the burner up to high and close the lid.
  • It will come to a boil; once there’s a steady stream if steam, leg it vent for 10 minutes as per manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Put the pressure regulator on. The pressure will begin to rise rapidly.
  • When the pressure reaches 5lb, turn the heat down to medium.
  • As the pressure reaches 10lb, turn the heat down as low as it will go and still be on.
  • the pressure will continue to climb a but and should settle in between 11 and 12 lb. since the directions say to cook almost everything at 11lb in this particular canner (dial gauge type), that’s just right.
  • Usually, this lowest setting is just right, but I do keep an eye on it; if the pressure goes above 12, I might turn the burner off completely or even slide the canner halfway off the burner.

Winter storage slaw and old country BBQ pork

So I’m inordinately pleased with how tonight’s dinner came out.

Pork and slaw

Totally unphotogenic but immensely tasty bbq pork and tangy slaw

First, the slaw.

Since I wasn’t teaching a workshop every weekend during this canning season, I actually felt like getting creative with my own canning. For the first time, I tried making some relishes instead of just doing straight tomatoes and salsa. I found that three recipes with a lot of overlap that I could make essentially at the same time: Corn relish (with cabbage instead of celery), beet relish, and Dixie relish (cabbage and peppers). All these came from the Ball Blue Book. I made fractional batches of each, and in a surprisingly short time, I had four pints and two half-pints of relishes. They are tasty, but WOW. Very, very heavy on the vinegar. My sweetie loves them as-is, but I can only eat a few mouthfuls before my tongue goes numb and my stomach is rebelling at the acid.

Relish recipes

Fractional recipes for three relishes to be prepared at once

So my brainstorm was to shred several cups of cabbage and some carrots and mix about a cup of slaw into maybe 4 cups of shredded vegetables. Add a little salt, stir, and let sit…and let me tell you, it’s the best sweet/sour slaw I’ve ever had. This one was made with the corn relish, which is less sweet and more zippy because of the mustard and turmeric. The Dixie relish will be more sweet and sour. The beet one has horseradish, and will be an entirely different kind of flavor, but I think it’ll work well.

I love so many things about this dish. First, it’s made from all local ingredients (hm, except the vinegar, though theoretically this area could produce scads of cider vinegar). Second, it’s a storage food, because cabbages and carrots can keep all winter, and the “interesting” ingredients are canned and will keep indefinitely.  And after a winter of plain cabbage and carrots, that hit of vinegar and spice is a real tastebud wake-up.  Third, I like sweet and sour slaw, but it’s usually too sweet. This is not. And it doesn’t come in a plastic tub, so it comes out way ahead of store-bought. We’d had the idea to make our own slaw many times, but somehow that feels like a lot of fuss on a week night. Shredding cabbage and stirring in half a jar of stuff is not.

With the slaw, we had some really good bbq pork. On the old Irish holidays, we like to stick to foods our ancestors would have used before they had access to spices and foods from the western hemisphere and Spice Islands, so this bbq has no tomatoes, peppers, sugar, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, etc. – but it still came out really well, and really “like barbecue.” It reminds me of the barbecue my grandmother (raised in Tennessee) made, only with far less vinegar.

Old World BBQ Pork

  • 3 lb pork shoulder, whole
  • 2 onions, quartered and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (not sure when the Celts got garlic, but I know they had local alliums like leeks, so…pretty close)
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1 apple, in large wedges
  • 12 oz hard cider
  • 12 oz water
  • Salt

Brown the onions and garlic in oil or fat. Sprinkle the pork roast with salt and brown on all sides. Deglaze the pot with cider. Add apples, honey, and water. Either pressure cook for an hour, or bring to a boil and stew for 3-4 hours. The sauce will boil down a lot – don’t let it burn completely away. After cooking, shred the pork, put it back in the sauce, and simmer until thickened.

I finished the sauce with salt to taste, a little mustard powder, and a splash of vinegar. If I hadn’t been serving it with a strong vinegar slaw, I might have used more vinegar, but opted for a more sweet taste to balance.

Serve with cider (sweet or hard), and raise a toast to the ancestors and the spirits of your place with a hit of homemade mead, if you have it.

Slainte!

Permaculture revelation

The reason permaculture isn’t “clicking” for me in my current location is that the space I live in is already a forest. That’s as perma as it gets. You don’t design a forest garden in a forest the same way you design when you’re starting with a degraded, eroded open field.

Must think about this in a different way…

This month’s menu

For the next 4 weeks

Week 1

• Sushi

• Salmon burgers and salad

• Out? Prep for Thurs. dinner with colleagues

• Pork loin, pasta, grilled veg

• Pizza

• Pot roast

Week 2

• Sushi

• Fried rice

• Roast chicken

• BBQ chicken, slaw, buns or cornbread

• Pizza

• Salsa fry-up

Week 3

• Sushi

• Soup and/or salad

• Beef and broccoli

• Sausage and grilled veg

• Pizza

• Chicken korma

Week 4

• Sushi

• Pasta cilantro pesto – chicken & veg

• Salmon burgers or grilled beast

• Veggie stir fry or fried rice

• Pizza

• Fajitas

Em’s food rules

Well, not really rules. More like guidelines.

Givens:

  1. Food serves biological, emotional, and cultural purposes.
  2. People have different biological, emotional, and cultural needs; therefore, there is no one “right way to eat” for everyone – even people in the same region, family, blood type, or other grouping.
  3. An individual’s food choices have an impact on others beyond the self: the beings one is eating, the environment in which those beings live and die, the ongoing health of the land and its ability to feed future beings.
  4. Generally speaking, the edibles of a place provide appropriate nutrition to survive and thrive in that place. Keep in mind the “edibles of a place” may include things you are not accustomed to thinking of as food: weeds, insects, blood, acorns, etc.
  5. Disasters happen: crops fail, vermin populations boom, warehouses burn, gardeners break arms.
  6. “Waste” is a human construct; in nature, all outputs are inputs somewhere else. Human choices can direct waste to benefit human endeavors.

Actions:

  1. Each person gets to decide her/his “right” way to eat. But please, folks, let that be a decision and not a default.
  2. The food economy needs to be both drastically more localized than it currently is, and needs to retain the ability to trade easily between regions in case of crop failure, destruction of stores, or other supply disasters.
  3. Food waste (at all stages of production) needs to be eliminated. And not just by feeding leftover coq au vin to the pigs.

Fruit tree change of mindset

I’ve been getting hung up lately on “where do I put the fruit trees?” and even “what trees do I want to have?” The south part of the yard is what we see from the house, and I want it to look good and be functional. And the south sun (especially full sun) is extremely limited, so it feels like I need to be very careful about what I plant. And it seems like I need to get the whole thing figured out before I start planting. I’m getting a brain cramp from thinking about it. This is not the fun way to garden.

Well, I found a way around that today: I just decided to throw a bunch of stuff into a different part of the yard, a corner we don’t see except when going in/out the driveway.  This will be a quantity, not necessarily quality or pretty, orchard. Throw in a bunch of stuff, in different varieties, give it the minimum care to get it established, and see what happens. Don’t worry about arranging it for beauty; just make sure it doesn’t take over the powerline cut. Plant enough so I might get some after the critters dine. Just get things in the ground, so five years from now I’m not wishing I’d started five years ago.

Here’s the list of species:

  • Serviceberries (aka saskatoons)
  • Hazelnuts
  • Raspberries
  • Bush cherries
  • Bush apricots
  • Red mulberries
  • Cider apples
  • Hardy pecan
  • English walnut

The areas I’m planting this stuff is pretty shady. Some of this stuff is supposed to have full sun, but you know, I’m not trying to optimize yield. There’s already an apple tree back there, and it was more productive than the entire commercial orchard down the road this year because it’s under the canopy and protected from frost. So what the hell. I’ll toss some stuff in there and see what happens. It’ll be fun. And if I get some fruit from it, great! I’ll sure come out knowing what can handle a laissez-faire gardening style!

Boiling water on a Hearthstone stove

20130203-191443.jpg

Usually, I can’t get water to actually boil on the stove – but I found if I stoke the fire and get a full load of wood crackling, I can actually get a full, rolling boil on the soapstone stove.

Fwiw, I’ve also found that a lot of the cooking I do doesn’t actually need boiling temps.

New house = super energy-efficient!

Total carbon production June 2012-January 2013

Total carbon production June 2012-January 2013

I continue to be thrilled by how energy-efficient (or really, carbon-efficient) the new house is! In the summer, we only needed air conditioning in July (when it was over 100 for several days, and over 80 at night, and we hadn’t sealed off the sunroom well yet). In winter, we have only run the propane furnace in the last week or so, and that only for an hour or so a day to take the chill off before the wood stove kicks in. Otherwise, we’ve heated with local wood. This saves not only the propane, but a rather significant amount of electricity, too. (See below.)

Electricity usage June 2012-Jan 2013

Electricity usage June 2012-Jan 2013

I think I can now say that at our old house, 125kwh was used for heating water, 100kwh was used for the furnace, and 200kwh was for everything else (cooking, laundry, lighting, electronics,  etc.).  In this house, hot water is from propane, and we essentially haven’t used the furnace. So the ~210kwh/month we use is for “everything else” plus the sauna. We used the sauna two or three times on this billing cycle, and our usage didn’t really jump at all.

Propane is probably the most astonishing reduction. In the chart below, 2008 was the first year in the old house that we burned wood in the fireplace insert. We still used over 300 gallons of propane in January alone. This year, we used 25 gallons. I know wood is not a perfect fuel – even with our efficient stove, soot is an issue – but it’s local, renewable, and isn’t dependent on fracking or other damaging extraction methods. I think next year, we might even be able to source from the farm around the corner that harvests almost exclusively deadfall from storm damage instead of less eco-friendly practices like land clearing.

Propane use 2012-2013

Propane use 2012-2013

I’m not sure if we’ll be able to keep the furnace off for February and March. It was really cold at the end of January and our thermal mass is now very cold and working against us. But who knows? A week of sunny days could reverse that.

Overall, we are on track to use this year:

  • 36% of US average gasoline
  • 23% of US average electricity
  • 25% of US average heating fuel

It’s not exactly Riot levels, but I’m pretty happy with the electricity and heating fuel, especially.

 

Very simple succession planting for zone 5b-6

Succession planting is the idea that you plant your garden in stages, so there’s always something to eat and you don’t get all your green beans in a 2-week window. There are tons of books and guides out there to help you figure this out, but I thought I’d share what I’ve figured out that works for me. What “works for me” means the most food for the least amount of fussing. Tweak as you see fit.

Some assumptions:

  • The only things I start from seed are things I can direct-sow in the garden: peas, beans, squash, root vegetables, sunflowers. I don’t start my own tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or onions. I buy all those things as transplants on one warm weekend in May and call it good.
  • The one exception to this rule is kale. I’m a kale fiend, and picky about variety. So I do generally start some kale indoors in about March. And oh, while I’ve got the lights up, maybe some other brassicas like broccoli or cabbage.

There are certain things that start early and end early, and only so many things that you can start late and have any kind of harvest. So I tend to think of these things as “pairs” in the garden bed – the early crop and the late crop. For example, after I pull the turnips out, I always then put in bush beans.

  • Early crops: Turnips, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes. These are all things I can plant mid- to late-April, and they will be out of the garden by July 4th.
  • Late crops: Bush beans, fall crop of kale, fall lettuce, spinach, garlic (plant in October). Bush beans planted at July 4th will usually set a crop before frost. Lettuce and kale might need to be started indoors, or under shade, because they don’t like hot weather at all. But if you don’t get those started by August, you won’t have much of a fall/winter crop. Spinach planted after October will really get eaten in the spring, but it’s totally worth planting that late because it’ll be the first thing you eat in June (even without a greenhouse).

I also like to minimize the number of times I’m planting things. So, instead of planting 1/4 of my total bean crop every 2 weeks for two months, I’ve found it works great to plant a row of bush beans and a row of pole beans at the same time. They will start to bear a week or two apart, usually. Then I plant some more bush beans when one of the early crops comes out, and that usually covers me for the whole summer. Other pairings for extending the harvest:

  • Bush + pole beans
  • Indeterminate + determinate (i.e., “patio”) tomatoes
  • Short + tall snap/snow peas
  • Early + late potatoes
  • Everbearing + June-bearing strawberries
  • Early + late “storage” carrots

Your seed catalog should tell you days to maturity and/or key words like “earliest bean we carry” or “great for storage” or “determinate tomato concentrates harvest over two weeks” or “harvest all summer long.” Using these kinds of pairings lets you plant at the same time but harvest at different times.

So – what I recommend for truly simple “succession” planting is:

  • Pick some early/late pairs: for example, turnips + bush beans; lettuce + late kale; peas + garlic – and plan to put those in the same space in your garden. Once you figure out a couple that work for you, you can use the same pairings each year.
  • For other crops, pick varieties that will mature at different times and plant two varieties as indicated in the list above.

That’s it!

Which is greenest? Shower, bath, or sauna?

We have a big bathtub, a standard bathtub, 1.85 gpm showers, and a sauna. When I’m feeling the need to soak my body in some serious heat over the winter, which is the most eco-friendly choice*?

Assumptions:

  • Showerhead: 1.85 gpm x 15 min = 27.75 gallons
  • Standard bathtub, waist-deep: 20 gallons water
  • Non-jetted spa-size tub (no heated recirculation), waist-deep: 30 gallons
  • It takes 83,000btu (.9 gallons propane) to heat 100 gallons of water from 55 degrees to 120 degrees
  • It takes 4.5 kwh (15,354 btus) to run one sauna session (heat for 40 mins to ~150 degrees, then residual heat only)

Results:

  • 15-minute shower: 23,240 BTU + 28 gal water
  • Standard bath: 16,600 BTU + 20 gal water
  • Spa bath: 24,900 BTU + 30 gal water
  • Sauna: 15,354 BTU  + 2 gal water + 1000 BTU to heat water to 95 degrees (quick rinse shower after)

So – if what I want is to be very warm for as long as possible, the sauna is by far the best bet. Warmer than a standard bath, and I can stay in as long as I can stand and it’ll still be warm. Add to that the fact that my husband will usually join me in the sauna (but not the bath), and it looks like an even better option.

This is pretty much the opposite of how I thought this would pan out – I’m really glad I did the math!

Resources:

* I am fully aware that doing any of these is a total luxury and “none” is the greenest answer…but if I’m going to do something, I want to know how these options compare

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