10 Things I’ve Learned in Business That Apply to Preserving

I’ve worked in different businesses most of my life.  I’ve worked in all sorts of different companies in all sorts of roles.  I’ve never been a big believer in completely separating work from the rest of my life; there are all sorts of things I’ve learned at work that I use in the rest of my life – and all sorts of things I’ve learned in life that I use at work.

Here’s 10 things I’ve learned from work that apply to preserving:

  1. Teamwork
    A good team will out perform a group of solo-stars.  While I do plenty of preserving by myself it’s fun to preserve in small groups – especially when preserving large batches.  I adore a good pickle or jam session with Dana and/or a few friends, great music and a supply of wine or beer.
  2. Organization
    Be organized.  It makes the task easier, faster and more enjoyable when you’re making preserves.
  3. Planning
    I once made more than 300 jars of jam in 60 days.  I was jam-drunk.  I was having so much fun making jam that I didn’t think of the consequences – specifically what the heck I was going to with 300 jars of jam.
  4. Mesure twice, cut once
    Each year I make at least one dreadful mistake related to measuring.  I forget the sugar, double the vinegar or forget a key ingredient.  Read the recipe in advance, check as you go and measure everything carefully!
  5. Cheer the progress
    Take time to pat yourself and others on the back for preserving.  It feels good to put food up for the winter – celebrate the little victories to stay motivated.
  6. Fun
    It’s difficult to get good at anything you don’t enjoy.  Preserving is a lot of fun but if you’re too focused on the results it can be easy to forget to ‘fun’ part.
  7. Practice
    Make small batches (Food in Jars has a ton of recipes for them), swap with friends and preserve with others before making giant batches.  When learning to ferment hot sauce I would ferment a cup or hot peppers at a time (over the winter) before committing to make a gallon (or more) of hot sauce.
  8. Learn
    Read, study and watch videos.  Go beyond the usual sources and look for inspiration from other cultures, chefs, books, blogs and magazines.
  9. Share
    The more you share, the more that will be shared with you.  Talk to friends, family and others that share your passion and you’re bound to learn more about it.
  10. Coach
    When you’re comfortable with the process of preserving, help others learn how to do it.  The more you share your knowledge, the more you’ll learn!

What would you add to this list?

3 Minutes of Reality; Preserved Food and Sad History

This is a sobering 3-minutes.

It’s a simple monologue from a Canadian woman named Mary who shares how her family depended on preserving meat in order to survive the winter and shares that starvation wasn’t the only threat.  It’s an important story to share; one that reminds me of the importance of the journey of preserving as well as a reminder of a sobering part of Canadian History that’s rarely shared:

I know this goes beyond the levity of most things we share here; but it’s a video that’s really had me reflecting and thought others might appreciate the chance to see and share it as well.

Book Review: Pickles & Preserves (A Savor the South Cookbook)

We’re close to spring and that means a lot of us are getting ready for our gardens, farmers markets and the ramping-up of preserving season.  All of this means it’s also the time of year where a bunch of cookbooks and preserving books hit the shelves.

I was excited to receive an email from Andrea Weigl who offered to send me a copy of her book to review.  When it comes to reviews like this we have a simple approach: we welcome people sending us copies but only write about it if we love it.

Book Review: Pickles & Preserves (A Savor the South Cookbook) books Book Reviews Andrea Weigl [Read more...]

What Temperature to Dehydrate Food at

I wrote an article a few years ago that walked through the theory (i.e. WHY) of dehydrating food at different temperatures.  I also gave a few examples but fell short with a definitive guide.

Here’s a quick guide, courtesy of the thermostat of our Excalibur Dehydrator:

  • Herbs (95F/ 35C)
  • Living Foods (105F / 41C)
  • Raising Bread (110F / 43C)
  • Making Yogurt (115F / 46C)
  • Vegetables (125F / 52C)
  • Fruits/ Fruit Rolls (135F / 57C)
  • Meats/ Fish (155F / 68C)
  • Jerky (155F / 68C)

While that’s a decent guideline, there’s a few things to keep in mind, including some fine print:

  • The dehydrator gets warmer than those temperatures.  A thermostat on an Excalibur is set for the surface area of the food (which will never equal the ambient temperature of the air around it).  The actual temperature of the air fluctuates; at it’s highest it’s around 10 degrees higher than the numbers above (but the food is at the temperatures in the chart).
  • Many want to keep the integrity of living food in tact and dehydrate everything at a lower setting.  The disadvantage of doing so is that it can take much longer to dry things and be more expensive and some food (such as meat) isn’t safe at certain temperatures.  When I dehydrate Ghost Peppers (they are SUPER hot) I generally don’t worry about the temperature as I’ll never eat enough dried Ghost Peppers to gain any significant nutritional value.
  • Some food (especially meat and seafood) must be dried at an ambient temperature of 165F or more (the guide above says ’155F’ but the first bullet explains the variance).  I share this because dehydrating allows us to safely experiment a lot – but there are certain safety precautions you should always follow (I always look to the National Center for Home Food Preservation for such guidance)
  • Circulation is a vital component.  Herbs will dry at 95 degrees (and even less) if they have free airflow.  Jam them in a plastic bag and they won’t do what you’re hoping.
  • The above are guidelines.  Experimentation may reveal that you prefer different temperatures (I love to air dry mushrooms without added heat for example).
  • The end result matters.  I sometimes ferment dried hot peppers and dehydrate them at lower temperatures to keep as many of the nutrients/ bacteria in tact as possible.
  • Lastly, you might not have an option.  Many people dry food in dehydrators that don’t have a thermostat.  It’s not the end of the world as long as you’re following their guidance (some of these units call for pre-cooking of meat in order to make jerky as an example).

What are your tips for ‘the right temperature’ when dehydrating?

 

Book Review: Preserving by the Pint (Marisa McClellan)

I occasionally get frustrated by how complicated and scary that certain books or articles make preserving sound.  I’m not a renegade (I’m one of the more cautious people I know when it comes to these things) but we sometimes make preserving sound like a near-seat activity with warning labels larger than we place on alcohol or cigarettes.

I’m also cautious when it comes to haphazard writing that encourages people to contravene standards set by science, safety or common sense.

Marisa’s book weaves a wonderful path away from both extremes.  Although her instructions and eyes to safety will keep you on the right track it’s the tone of her writing that I adore the most.  When reading the book it’s easy to imagine that you’re sitting on a stool at a farmer’s market discussing jam with her.

Book Review: Preserving by the Pint (Marisa McClellan) Marisa McClellan Food in Jars

This is the follow-up book to Food in Jars (named after her incredibly popular and well-respected website of the same name).  It’s focus is small-batch preserving; most of the recipes are 1-2 pints.  This makes the recipes quick to make and easy to store.

  1. Once again the book is beautiful.  The photography is great and the design elements are sweet.
  2. It’s seasonal.  Each of the 4 sections are almost equal in length which thrills me.  Winter recipes aren’t an afterthought that were thrown in to make things work; this book is absolutely useful all year long.
  3. There are multiple techniques.  Fermenting, freezing and water bath recipes can all be found in it.
  4. The recipes are simple.  Although they’re easy to follow, it’s the confidence in simple ingredients and flavours (many of the recipes have 3-5 ingredients) that make her recipes shine here.
  5. The small batch concept.  I know I’ve mentioned this above but this is a great resource for showing how easy preserving can be and for saving small batches of food that you might otherwise lose.

Book Review: Preserving by the Pint (Marisa McClellan) Marisa McClellan Food in Jars

As I read through the book I was floored to read a mention of Dana and I and WellPreserved.  Marisa and I have been online friends for the last few years and we had chatted about my ‘Blueberry Crack’ recipe (it’s made of wild blueberries and maple syrup) and she had made a tweaked version of it.  She used her version of the recipe in her book and went above-and-beyond by sharing us as the influence behind it.  I am beyond thankful.

Marisa is travelling extensively to promote the book.  Try to get out to meet her at an event or grab a copy of the book for your self (affiliate link).

preserving by the pint book review

HomeEcNight #27: Jam Session

Here we go again – it’s time to announce another HomeEcNight!

The theme this month is:

HomeEcNight #27: Jam Session

After 3 packed HomeEcNights (Hot Sauce Tasting, Craft Beer Salon and our Pickle Party), we’re pumped to announce our next pop-up: Jam Session!

Come to Hi-Lo Bar (Queen East, Toronto) on the evening of Wednesday, April 30th for a night of jam tasting, chatting, jam cocktails and $5 food.

We dig jam. And we’re excited that summer is so close – yet it’s so far when it comes to local fruit.  Come and meet some of our professional jam-making friends:

Each of them will have samples of their small-batch jam for you to sample.  There will also be:

  • jam cocktails made by Emily and Hi-Lo
  • $5 food from the team at Table 17 (who are partners with HiLo)
  • We’ll be there to chat about making your own as well.
  • A friendly crowd and lots of jam lovers

This is an informal night, there’s no talk or lecture or anything like that. We’re bringing together some great people we thought you’d be interested in meeting, so come out and have a pint, sample some jam and celebrate the early days of spring with us!.

Although you don’t have to RSVP it really helps us plan for the evening, helps reduce waste and allows us to know when to stop promoting to try and stop the bar from overcrowding and helps us keep this event free.  You can RSVP on Uniiverse here.

PS. Are you a blogger looking for content? If you’d like to request an interview with any of our guests, let us know (hello@wellpreserved.ca) and we’ll do our best to arrange a meeting prior to the event so you can get your story and then enjoy the event with every one else! HomeEcNight #27: Jam Session

The Best Can Opener – In Praise of Simplicity

I walked up to the counter of the local convenience store and set my item on the table.  I mindlessly pulled out my wallet and reached for a $20 knowing that the $8.99 can opener would be more than the ten-spot I had once the taxman (woman?) got involved.

No.

The reply was unwavering.  It wasn’t a suggestion.  It was a command.  I looked up and didn’t know what to say.

The Best Can Opener   In Praise of Simplicity [Read more...]

Pressure Canning on Glass Top Stoves?

I’ve never thought a lot about our stove.  We live in a rental unit and I’ve always kind of seen it as the hand I was dealt; I work with it, it tolerates me and we get along.  It’s an older electric (coil) stove and oven.  It has hot and cool spots and several of the plastic dials have started to break off but it’s our stove and it will do.

Every once in a while we hear a comment or a question from someone thinking a lot about their stoves.  It’s generally after they have bought a pressure canner, opened the box and found a warning sticker saying:

CAUTION/ WARNING: DO NOT USE ON GLASS-TOP STOVES

The warning always seems to come too late; it either wasn’t written on the label/ online description or it wasn’t seen.

From all I’ve read, there is not a single pressure canner that’s safe to use on a glass-top stove (if you bought one, don’t fear – I’ll provide an option that won’t require replacing your stove!)

I’ve never spent a lot of time worrying about glass top stoves as I’ve never had one (though my Aunt had one as a child and I remember being told to stay away from it as it could be hot).  I love the idea that they clean easily but they just aren’t my cup of tea.

When I first heard about the issue of pressure canning and glass to stoves I assumed that the issue related to weight.  I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it: 6 one-quart jars weight about 15 pounds when  full.  If you add 10 pounds for a few inches of water and a canner, this weighs less than a fully dressed turkey (with other pots to boot) and isn’t a lot more than 6 quarts of water that many use to cook pasta.  And I’ve never seen a warning on a pasta pot regarding weight…

My next assumption was heat.  It was a logical assumption as increased heat is the differentiator between a pressure canner and a regular pot.  I concluded that glass could be heat-sensitive and, therefore, pressure canning could cause potential problems with glass surfaces because it gets hotter than a regular pot.

I was only partially correct.

Pressure canners do get hotter than regular pots.  This could present a potential problem for a glass-top stove EXCEPT the stoves have safety measures built-in.  When the element recognizes the cooking surface as getting ‘overheated’ it lowers the intensity of the heat (overriding the temperature you’ve set the element to).  There is no such sensor or coil or gas-to stoves.  The change in temperature means that the pressure in the can will vary and this will make the safety of the product unpredictable.

If you have a glass-top stove, do not pressure can on it.

What are your options?    The easiest option is to buy a propane stove to do the job.  Propane (or a unit modified to accept natural gas) is a superior system to any kind of electric stove as you have ultimate control over the heat/ energy used.

There are 3 options for this (from potentially cheapest to most expensive).:

  • Some BBQs have side elements.  My parents have a BBQ like this and have adapted it to natural gas.  We use it for canning all the time.  If you already have one of these, you’re set!  This could be the most expensive option but many people have these already and overlook them (as we did).
  • Camping stove.  It’s the lease expensive option.  Take your time choosing the right unit for your needs as some will support heavier weights than others.  We have a Coleman Fold ‘n Go InstaStart Stove (affiliate link) that I’ve never canned with but think would do a fine job.  I like that the  racks that hold the pot are heavy duty and would easily support my canner.  Camping Stoves are generally less than $100.
  • Brew Stove/ Tomato Burner.  We have two large elements (like this one; also an affiliate link) which we use to process huge batches (8 or more bushels) of tomatoes in the fall.  We’ve also used them for large batches of beets, corn roasts and I know several who brew in them.  They’re generally less than $150.

The biggest disadvantage of any of these systems is the need for an independent fuel source (you do not want to run out of propane in the middle of pressure canning).  There’s also a significant advantage: they are all used outside so any heat produces by canning can stay out of your kitchen (important in the middle of summer)!

10 Things to Consider before buying a Pressure Canner

We’ve shared considerations about buying a dehydrator (and then shared some more) and we’ve shared some do’s and don’ts when looking to buy a pressure canner.  Earlier this week we even showed you two types of pressure canners to avoid and two to consider.  These posts are all intended to help guide you to the right ‘model’ or piece of equipment that will suit your kitchen and your home.  Today’s article is different than those.

The following list isn’t a guide on acquiring a canner – it’s meant as a list of questions to ask yourself before choosing a model.  I’m hoping it will help you determine if pressure canning is worth your time and investment.  There’s no right or wrong here but I hope the list will help you decide what’s right for you:

  1. Do you have a deep freezer?
    A deep freezer will store a LOT of food and will generally preserve it’s texture and nutrients better than pressure canning.  We don’t have room for a deep freezer so this makes it a good option for us.
  2. Do you have a cold cellar?
    If you do, fermenting and learning to store vegetables (tomatoes can last for weeks and even months is treated right) can be kept in a cold room.  It takes less energy and can be more affordable (if you have a cold room).
  3. Do you grow your own?  Have you considered winter crops?
    Many crops, including kale and spinach will last into early winter and reduce the need for processing as you can keep them in the ground.  It’s less work and saves energy.
  4. Do you grow your own?  Have you considered building a hoop house?
    A simple technique to preserve autumn veg is to cover your gardens.  It won’t last all winter but it will extend the harvest and cut into your need to preserve food via canning or pressure canning.
  5. Are you doing this for health benefits?
    A lot of people are surprised to find out that many nutrients are reduced during pressure canning.  Freezing, fermenting, and dehydrating can all preserve food with high nutritional values.  But, compared to buying cans of peas or commercial broth, pressure canning is far superior.
  6. Do you have room to store the canner?
    It does take room as it’s rather large (we have 1 closet in our entire house so we live with it on display).
  7. Do you have room to store the jars?
    A small amount ofpressure canning (i.e. 12 pints of peas, 12 quarts of asparagus, 12 quarts of stock) starts to take up a lot of storage room very quickly.  Thankfully we have the Great Wall of Preserves to stow it all away.
  8. Do you know what type of canner you are going to buy?
    Don’t make this decision lightly; you’ll want to be sure that you’re choosing a dial gauge or a weighted gauge canner with open eyes.
  9. Chose a dial gauge canner?  Do you have a place to have the gauge checked every year?
    A lot of people feel more comfortable with the perceived accuracy and easy of a dial-gauge canner.  Make sure you have access to have it checked before committing to buy one.
  10. Do you enjoy preserving?
    This may seem like a silly question but if you don’t enjoy it, you probably won’t get as much out of this as you can (pun intended!)

If these questions seem negative, they’re not meant to be.  I love our pressure canner and frequently use it.  It’s most common use is to preserve a few liters of stock at a time to get us through the winter months.  I love the ritual of making stock, filling the canner and having them on the shelf.

Pressure Canning Problems: Siphoning (Missing Liquid)

When it comes to pressure canning people often share two related problems:

  1. Jars enter the canner full of liquid and when processing finishes you are surprised to see how much liquid is missing.  The outside of the jars are a little dirty and it appears that liquid has siphoned from inside, out.
  2. Related to question 1; is it ok to still eat preserved (and pressure canned) food that is missing a lot of liquid?

People often ask question 2 without resolving question 1 first.  I say this because I was one of them – I was so focused on what to do with the ‘problem jars’ after processing that I missed getting to the root of the problem and preventing them all together.

And, while I have the occasional jar that siphons, it’s an extreme rarity.  So, let’s start there..

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