Because I’m a big dork, I have spent a lot of my holiday vacation working very hard. :) Actually, I love it – the freedom to do all the household fixups and food preservation I want without having to interrupt my Work for my job is rather luxurious.
This break, I decided to can a whole heck of a lot of meat and stock. I had three stewing chickens (small roosters, about 7lb total) that a friend raised, plus nine pounds of chuck roast and 5 pounds of beef short ribs from Family Farms Co-op. From that, I got eight quarts of chicken stock with meat, eight quarts of beef stock with meat, and eight pints of stewed beef. Twenty-four meals in all from about 21 pounds of meat and bones – I’m learning that this is a pretty respectable ratio, and I promise you, there’s nowhere near a pound of meat in each of these meals. Bones weigh a lot!
This time around, I experimented with using the wood stove to assist with as many steps as was practical. I did the actual canning on my kitchen stove; canning meat is too finicky and potentially dangerous for me to feel comfortable doing it on the wood stove just yet – I really don’t know much about regulating the temperature yet. Here’s what I did:
- Pressure canning a chicken. I browned one stewing chicken and an onion in my 6-quart pressure cooker on the wood stove. I then added about 4 quarts of water and waited for it to heat up. An hour later, it still wasn’t boiling, so I threw it on the electric burner until it boiled and came up to pressure. Then I put it back on the wood stove for another hour. It kept enough pressure to remain sealed, with a little steam escaping, but not enough to “rock” the weight. After an hour, the bird was fall-apart tender. I removed the meat, put the bones back in the broth, and returned it to the electric burner for half an hour. This made really wonderful stock that gelled in the fridge when it was done.
- Stewing chickens. For the second two chickens, I browned them (with onions and ginger root) on the wood stove, then added water and salt and let them simmer all day. The water never boiled (it was generally around 180 degrees) but after 5 hours, the chickens were very tender. Again, I removed the meat, returned the bones to the pot, and simmered them again (wood stove) to get the last nutrients out of the bones. This stock also gelled when chilled.
- Preheating water. For some of the beef stock, I needed to pour boiling water into my jars. I preheated a big pot of water on the wood stove, then finished bringing it to a boil on the electric burner.
I think anything that would work in a slow cooker will cook nicely on the wood stove, but I don’t think I’ll ever get it to really boil water. One interesting side effect of this sub-boiling stewing is that the both is amazingly clear. The Joy of Cooking says not to cook your stock at a boil for just this reason, but I could never be bothered to fuss that much when making soup on the stovetop.
It also requires a totally different cooking rhythm than what I’m used to, since I’ve never really cooked with a slow cooker. Making stock became an all-day affair – though really, on the stovetop, it takes 2-3 hours, anyway, so it’s not like it’s either “instant” or “all-day.” Preheating the water wasn’t difficult – in fact, it was nice to have that pot off the stove and out of the kitchen – but I did have to remember to do it early on in the canning process.
And, needless to say, using the living room wood stove would really bite in the summer. But for this cold-season preservation, it worked really well. I’ve never really determined how much electricity canning uses, but if you figure I kept the stove off for at least seven hours when it would otherwise have been on constantly, that’s gotta amount to something.
I also hit on a new way of doing beef broth, which saves a lot of time and energy. I’ll write that up in the next couple days.