Finally…GOOD frozen green beans!

I have finally achieved edible frozen green beans from my garden!!! All previous attempts were leathery and dehydrated and went straight to the compost.

Here’s what I did:

  • Grew Fortex beans. I also grew Jade II but I haven’t tried those yet.
  • Rinsed and cut into bite-sized lengths. (Ok, tbh I don’t remember if I actually rinsed them…)
  • Put them into vacuum bags RAW. No blanching!
  • Sealed on the “low” vacuum setting.
  • To cook: cover with water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, cook 3 minutes. Drain.
  • Dress with olive oil, garlic powder, and popcorn-worthy levels of salt.

Might also work in regular frezzer bags – I think the keys are the raw pack and reheat method.

Eureka! Just extended our favorite garden veg into the winter!


Why do I need a root cellar?

I’ve been gardening for about 15 years now. I’ve gardened at home, at a neighbor’s house, at a community garden, in full sun, in half-shade, in the ground, in raised beds, in containers of all sizes, in a small greenhouse, on the windowsill, under lights, and in the weedy strip between two parking lots. I’ve gardened for joy, for science, for security, for reducing my carbon footprint, and for taste. I have explored all kinds of ways of extending the homegrown food season, from  lights to row covers to that greenhouse I mentioned.

And what is the #1 piece of equipment I recommend if you are serious about growing your own food? A cool storage space, like a root cellar.

Why? Root cellars:

  • allow you to eat locally-grown food pretty much all year long
  • are very low-maintenance – much less work than a greenhouse
  • are perfect storage for high-calorie, nutrient-dense crops like root vegetables
  • if you have a bad garden year, you can stock them with food from the market
  • unlike a greenhouse, they let you take the winter off from gardening
  • unlike canning, prepping food for the root cellar takes very little time and energy
  • zero ongoing energy costs for storage

Ways to do cold storage

Cool storage, for winter squash, sweet potatoes, and onions, can be up to 50 degrees, so a cool corner of a basement can work. But true cold storage, for root vegetables, apples, and cabbage, needs to be around 35-40 degrees, but can never freeze. This space will need to be vented to the outdoors (this assumes your winters get down to freezing). Some options include:

  • Large buckets or tubs layering crops between peat moss or wood shavings, stored in an attached garage or unheated breezeway
  • Wall off a corner of the basement that has a window that can be opened/closed as needed
  • Bury a fridge (with a vent installed) in a hillside – see instructions in Anna Hess’s book $10 Root Cellar along with some other DIY ideas!


Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt

Every year we make big batches of strawberry jam and raspberry jam, 95% of which gets used to flavor Scott’s homemade yogurt. Today was strawberry jam day, and as per usual, we were wondering about quantities and comparing relative ease and price of different types of jam. Raspberry takes a lot less work than strawberry because there’s no hulling or slicing, but raspberries cost twice as much per quart (seriously, $8 a quart now!). Blueberry would be a nice compromise, but Scott’s not a huge fan, and he’s the one eating it, so, no.

As it turns out, I had 2 pints of rhubarb compote in the fridge – jars that didn’t seal from a massive batch I did a couple weeks ago. I’d been intending to re-can them today, and I thought…rhubarb yogurt? We immediately dished up some plain yogurt, added a dollop of rhubarb and…you know, not half bad! We then decided to gild the lily and add a couple scoops of strawberries to the rhubarb and – perfection. Added a nice bit of that berry sweetness and brightness – the rhubarb on its own is a fairly subtle flavoring.


  • Rhubarb is incredibly easy to grow, and pests don’t bother it, so it’s basically free.
  • Rhubarb takes a lot less prep than the strawberries.
  • You don’t have to cook it nearly as long since you’re not waiting for pectin alchemy to happen.
  • If you want a rhubarb cobbler or pie, just pop open a jar.
  • It tastes really good!

Strawberry Jam Recipe

For each pint of jam:

  • 4 c. sliced strawberries
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 Tbl. lemon juice

Stir all together in a pot or big frying pan until it’s jammy. Then can it (15 mins water bath).  You can safely do three or even four batches in one big pot (make sure the pot isn’t more than half full because it will boil up at one point).

Rhubarb Sauce Recipe

This is how I make it to eat straight. This is good in a dish as dessert, baked with a crumble topping for cobbler, used instead of applesauce in baked goods or on meat. I also want to try making a BBQ-ish sauce by adding some roasted hot peppers and onions (and maybe a little tomato paste). For each pint of sauce:

  • 1 lb. rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups sliced)
  • 2 Tbl. maple syrup
  • 1/2 c. sugar (might need more to taste)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Simmer all ingredients until it purees itself. Take the vanilla pod out before canning. Leave extra head space when canning; it expands like applesauce. 15 mins water bath.

Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt Sauce

For flavoring yogurt, I might try this next year:

For 8 pints:

  • 7 lb. rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1-inch pieces (about 7 quarts)
  • 1 quart strawberries, washed and sliced
  • 8 c. sugar
  • Does it even need lemon juice?

Simmer until saucy. It won’t set like jam, but if you’re stirring it into yogurt (or eating it as cobbler or pie), who cares? Water bath 15 mins in pints.

Instant Cajun Mashed Potatoes

Ok, so this one was supposed to be sort of a hash made with cubes of potato, but the freeze-dried potatoes were more than half potato dust with a few cubes. So the texture came out like “mashed potatoes with stuff in,” but it was really tasty.

  • 1c. freeze-dried potato dices
  • 1/2 c. freeze-dried sausage crumbles
  • 1/2 c. freeze-dried zucchini
  • 1/4 c. freeze-dried corn
  • 1/4 c. freeze-dried bell pepper
  • 2 tsp. freeze-dried onion
  • 1/2 tsp. Tony Cachere’s Creole Seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Rehydrate with 2c. water.

Emily’s favorite canning recipes

Canning JarsThis is a compilation of the recipes I most commonly can each year. I mostly wrote them down so I’d have them in a uniform format (Four pounds? Two quarts? Eight tomatoes?), with the modifications I’ve settled on over time, and notes on how much of each raw ingredient to buy to yield the quantity of chopped ingredients to go into each recipe. I also dug through my notes from the last several years and added a note on how much of each item we usually eat in a year, so I can more easily figure out what I need to can each year.

It occurred to me that some of you might also find these interesting or helpful…so here you go!

Emily’s Canning Favorites

Apple Compote

Apple CompoteIt’s another great feral apple year! I improvised this dish two years ago when the tree branches were literally breaking under the weight of the apples and pears and I was able to glean literally all the fruit I could eat. This stuff tastes amazing on its own, and it makes a super-quick apple pie or cobbler – just dump a jar into a crust (or put crumble topping on it) and bake until the crust is done.

Measurements are approximate – use any combinations, substitutions, or omissions, though I recommend keeping the pears to no more than 1/3 the volume of fruit so it retains some “bite.”

  • 4 parts apples, chopped in 1″ cubes (peels on or off). Some combination of sweet/tart/firm/juicy is a good idea.
  • 1 part pears, chopped in 1″ cubes (peels on or off)
  • A handful of chopped crystallized ginger
  • A handful of dried cherries
  • Dried cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and/or a hint of cloves
  • Sugar and/or lemon juice to taste – depending on your fruit, it might not need any at all, or you might need a couple tablespoons per quart of fruit

Heat all ingredients until it’s juicy and the apples are cooked through.

An important word about canning this recipe:

This recipe has not been tested for safe canning. Similar apple recipes have notable differences: applesauce is much more fluid, and apple pie filling has a very liquid syrup. That’s important, because in addition to the acidity of a food, the way it moves around in the jar (i.e., water activity) has important ramifications for its safety in a water bath.

That being said, I do can this in pints (20 min in water bath). I feel comfortable with this because a) all the ingredients are high-acid (well, maybe not the ginger, but it’s preserved already by the sugar, and it’s swimming in acid ingredients) and b) it’s not that much thicker than a super-chunky applesauce. HOWEVER – can this at your own risk.  You can freeze this recipe with no worries at all.

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.


Make-in-jar beef broth

I like a good bone broth. I think it has more flavor and minerals than broth made with just meat. Making and canning broth takes a lot of time – 2-3 hours to make the stock (or an hour or so in the pressure cooker), then 25-90 minutes to can.

I found myself wondering if you could pressure cook and can stock with bones right in the same jar. I found that it’s safe to can meat with bones, and of course raw-packed meat is safe to can. Stock (with or without meat) only needs to be canned for 25 minutes, though meat (with or without stock) needs to be canned for 90 minutes. I’m still not exactly sure where you draw the line between “meat with stock” and “stock with meat,” but I figure if half the jar (or less) is meat, you’re probably in the “stock-with-meat” range.

So what I decided to try was to put 2 beef short ribs – each a chunk of bone and some meat – into a quart jar, top with boiling water, salt, and seasonings, and can it for 90 minutes. For the “plain” jars, I added a squirt of Bragg’s and half a teaspoon of salt; for the “ginger” ones, I added two thick slices of fresh ginger root, a tablespoon of Bragg’s, and a big clove of garlic.

The result is a scant quart of ok broth and just enough meat to make the soup register as “meat soup” and not “plain broth. The stock is not incredibly rich; I’m used to stock so flavorful that you can add a quart of water to a quart of stock and have two quarts of really tasty soup. This broth can’t really be diluted, and of course there’s a lot less of it. It does taste good, though – so, we’ll see. It’s definitely a lot less work, but I’m not sure it results in enough of the kind of food we want to really be worth the savings.

Wood stove-assisted canning

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.

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