Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Obsessive Pioneer

All I can say is that if Pa could see me now, well, Ma Ingalls might have something to worry about. Because our shelves our now lines with rows of glass jars: blueberry jam, wild grape jam, pickled beans, bread and butter pickles, Kosher dill chips. (About those last: did the Jews actually have time to can anything? I can't imagine. Maybe we just put our pickle barrels on wheels and fled with them across the desert.) Eat your heart out, Pa. I'm all sweaty in my canning frock.

What I am is totally obsessed. Also totally going to die of botulism. Because I'm careful? But I'm not that careful. I'm kind of new to this whole canning thing, and part of me wants to do something called "the open kettle method" which is how my mother makes jam. Which all the books warn you against doing because you don't pasteurize the jars and will surely botulize your entire family. But it just seems so honest somehow. But part of me wants to eat pickles and live to tell.

Hey--wake up! We're still talking about canning!

No? Are we done talking about canning? Were you less bored when I merely waffled on and on about freezing peaches?

Okay. New wondertime columns are here and here. And thank you so much for your kind words about our fish. Both fish. Our fishes.

37 comments:

  1. Vanessa11:55 PM

    Ah Catherine - I too am using the open kettle method to make oodles of blackberry jam from the overabundant berries growing next to our driveway, but am paranoid that I'm growing some colony of deadly microbes in those jars of black gold...

    BTW - I recently re-read the "Little House" books and found to my surprise that my perception of them had changed: when I was a kid I thought Pa Ingalls was the coolest guy on the planet - but upon re-reading I thought "Pa Ingalls, you crazy dreamer" - putting his wife and family through all sorts of hell - grim starvation and near-death at the hands of angry Native Americans etc. Whoa! Ma Ingalls was a patient woman!

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  2. Do you know, my eyes actually FILLED WITH TEARS hearing about all the poop in your goldfish bowl?

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  3. Those rules are really funny, and also kind of ouchie.

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  4. canning? I am mucho impressed. I open cans and empty them, not fill them and store them.

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  5. Yeah, I'm a bit startled over how I got all teary-eyed about your goldfish. We have a fish, you see, and I'm apathetic about him.

    I make jam, but just the freezer kind. A)I'm lazy and B) My mom does marathon canning sessions of pretty much everything and it would just be RUDE to steal her thunder.

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  6. canning scares me. a lot.

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  7. Anonymous8:29 AM

    It's very very unlikely that you will get botulism! Jams and pickles are acidic. Botulism only occurs in alkaline environments.
    From Wikipedia:
    Foodborne botulism has more frequently been from home-canned foods with low acid content, such as carrot juice, asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn.

    If you're pickling the beans, that's a different story. Vinegar is (obviously) highly acidic.
    We have been making jams and pickles for years!

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  8. I made strawberry, cherry and peach jam at various intervals this summer. I just sterilize the jars and lids, keep them hot until I fill them, and then top with those Bernardin pop-down lid thingys. If the lids invert during the cooling process, I assume they are safe for my family to eat.

    I am such a preserving rebel. :)

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  9. Wow, I feel so inadequate...you say "jam," I say "smuckers." Well, when it comes right down to it, you say "food," I say "frozen" so that's that.

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  10. Oh, geez. Yet another reason to feel like I am totally failing at this whole living thing. I have long desired to spend an entire weekend in late summer canning and preserving food for the family for the winter. But the time? Where do they find the time?

    Oh, and yes, to add to what anonymous said, my mother always said that canning fruit and pickling was safe, but that canning vegetables was more dangerous because of the low acid content. I might, however, check out a more reliable source than Wiki, just to be sure.

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  11. I want to can I really do but I can't bring myself to do it. First of all I don't have the cash to buy the equipment and I'm totally paranoid about botulism.

    I froze everything from my garden, which is just as much a pain in the ass.

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  12. I want to can! But I'm scared...
    Go, Ma Newman!

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  13. I am so proud of you! Canning rocks. No botulism! I am officially putting the spell of anti-spore protection around you. Woooie-woooo.
    xo

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  14. My eyebrows went up after reading the second sentence. "Canning?Doesn't Catherine have like this crazy fear of botulism?"

    Yes, I have creepily memorized everything you have written.

    Well, not really. It just feels that way.

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  15. Catherine, you are just my hero! Two kids, work, and canning! I want to do some canning, but it seems like such a big process, especially if you've never done it before. I felt good just growing a few (very few) veg in containers. There's always next year, I suppose!

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  16. henna2:01 PM

    Catherine, these were too much, I laughed out loud :)

    Hemlock, heh.

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  17. I freeze some things and THAT even scares me. I don't think I'd be a good canner. Good luck with all that!!!

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  18. Anonymous4:02 PM

    I loved the poop whisperer! We got fish tanks 2 years ago.. Ben would have been 5 I think.. same age as my Emily. We have Mollies and we had Tiger Barbs. I am wondering now if we could have saved our Tiger Barbs with peas! It turns out Mollies have lots and lots of babies every 40 days or so. We didn't know, we also didn't know because the Tiger barbs ate them. Tiger Barbs bodies are not meant to eat that much protein. Hence dead gas bubbled Tiger Barbs. Where was the poop Whisperer when I needed her?

    Vicki

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  19. I actually loved your story about freezing peaches. Every time I see the peaches in the grocery store I have an image in my head of you stripping the fuzzy peel off in one satisfying piece.

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  20. You know, if you're so worried about giving your family botulism, I'll take all those jars off your hands...

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  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  22. I just canned some summer fruit for the first time this year. Mostly apricots because apricot season is far too short. I was not too worried about poisoning my family, though, because those crazies don't like canned fruit. What, are they nuts? Anyway, I figured I'd only be making myself sick and I can live with that. Oh--and I'm still alive after breaking into the jars.

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  23. I'm just overall kind of fascinated with the fish poop. When we got our fish a while back, I don't know, I guess it never occurred to me that they pooped.

    So I watched them for days on end, the poop ribbons that is.

    Then it turned out that we were over feeding them and that's why the poop was so noticeable. We are now down to two fish, from 9.

    Not so much poop anymore.

    I don't know why what you write is always so relevant to me. :)

    and I just don't have it in me to can anything.

    Ever.

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  24. OK - Here is a very serious question that needs a response...I noticed yesterday that our fish looks "bloated" --having none of the other described symptoms, is this the beginning of the end for him? What exactly is a poor fish diet?

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  25. I love you. I just do.

    I don't can, or pickle.
    But I do prune when I sit in the tub for too long.

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  26. Anonymous9:50 PM

    Hurray for canning! And, btw, "Canning and Perserving for Dummies" agrees that the open kettle method is ok for fruit and other acidic stuff.

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  27. I live in a farming community in Japan where no one seems to can. Every summer, I get piles and piles of fresh tomatoes from our farmer neighbors, and we never get them all eaten before they start to rot. Every summer, I think about my mom in our kitchen in Michigan, canning the summer away. Why, or why didn't I pay attention? Why didn't I get her to teach me to can?!

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  28. The whole canning thing made me laugh, because my first reaction was, "Yeah, she has SOOO been reading 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle'. I read it too and have also begun an obsessive canning campaign. While 8 1/2 months pregnant, no less. (And I don't even know what the "open kettle method" IS, so I guess I'm much more likely to poison my family than you are.) I was so taken with that book that we are now considering getting CHICKENS to raise in our yard, which will be the last straw in terms of convincing our extended family that we've gone round the bend.

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  29. Catherine, this was great! I have never tried canning, but have made freezer jam before. I can't wait to head over to Wondertime to catch up.

    Hope all is well at your house during this first week of school.

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  30. Anonymous1:03 PM

    I love your canning enthusiasm! Canning what we pull from our garden has always been a way of life. Too often I hear how someone can't believe I waste the time when canned tomatos are on supermarket shelves year 'round. But it isn't the same I tell you!! Those pulverized little tomatos aren't MY pulverized little tomatos. And those are the ones I love best. -Marcey

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  31. Anonymous1:38 PM

    you still have to be careful, even with tomatoes and chilies, which each have high acidity but have been known to harbor botulism! I've seen exploded cans of tomatoes with my own eyes!

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  32. Between reading your blog entry on canning and just finishing Animal, Vegetable, Miracle based on your mention of the book a few months ago, I now feel woefully inadequate! OK, not really. I've got loads of other stuff on my mind at the moment. Catherine, if you actually read these I have enjoyed your writing for years. I'm am in the midst of a career change and your writing inspires me each time I read it. I live overseas and keep a blog at http://www.overseasfamily.blogspot.com/

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  33. Love the canning! I meant to pick our plums and make tons of plum jam this weekend, but my appendix decided to plague me and I ended up in the hospital with an emergency appendectomy. So. Hopefully the plums will hold on for a few more days.

    And I couldn't agree more with Vanessa's comment re Pa Ingalls. That Ma really was a patient woman.

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  34. Anonymous9:50 PM

    All the comments about high acid food and the open kettle method are accurate. Botulinum spores won't grow in high acid environments. Anything low-acid (green beans, etc.) need to be canned in a pressure cooker. These come with either weights or a gauge. Note: if you have the gauge model, it must be periodically tested for accuracy. If you have a local agricultural extension, they will test it for you. I know this all seems like to much science to deal with, but canning is totally worth it! Nothing feels better than eating your own bounty, even if you only get 3 quarts out of the deal. An invaluable resource for canning info. is in the Ball Blue Book. Their methods are tried and true. And as my stepmother cleverly told me, for decades women (and men)relied on these methods not to kill their whole family!

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  35. Thank you all so much for your advice and encouragement! So far, so good.

    A few things:

    Vanessa: I so hear you, about Pa. I had that *exact* same experience reading those books to Ben a few years ago. Maybe I'd confused the book character with Michael Landon? I wasn't sure. Because I was just blown away by what a nut-job he was. Every time there was, like, one other family living within a thousand miles of them, he got claustrophobic. Oy vay.

    Vicki: I'm so sorry about your dead gas bubbled Tiger Barbs.

    Bensmom04: What's going on with the bloating? Did your fish have babies, explode, or need to poop?

    Anniemcq: I love you too.

    Ally: I hope you're feeling better!

    xo

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  36. Well, the fish is still alive, still looks funny, but nothing ever came of the bloating. Still seems perky and eats like crazy. Googled a bunch of nasty bloated fish stories, but frankly - guilt or not, was not gonna cook peas for the little guy. So far so good...

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  37. Okay.. i;ve been reading a lot of your post.

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