Friday, November 30, 2012

Dry-canning Meat

When you cover meat with broth or water and then run it through your canner, the meat will be tender and juicy.  That's a good thing for most meat.  If you're going to use it in stew, soup, or gravy, it's excellent.  But if you want to use ground meat for things like spaghetti and tacos, it'll leave the meat soggy no matter how much you try to fry the water out of it.
When you make hamburger or sausage patties and can them covered with liquid, the burgers will likely crumble as you lift them out of the water.  In our opinion, it also boils the flavor out of the meat.
A few years ago I heard about something called  'dry canning', a technique for canning meat.  Now it's the only way I can burgers and ground meat.  Sometimes I can stew chunks and roasts that way too, but they do okay with water or broth over them.
Most of our meat-canning starts like this.  It's usually an animal we've raised or hunted.  This particular animal is (was?) a buffalo.  Some people are squeamish about this part of it, but to me it's part of the package of being self-sufficient.  I also like knowing that the meat I ate had a good life, wasn't confined, and didn't spend time in a feedlot being pumped full of anti-biotics or hormones or anything else.  But this post isn't an argument for home-grown or wild meat.
Regardless of how you acquire your meat, the first thing to do is prepare it for canning.  In this picture I'm browning ground meat on our woodstove. 
While the ground meat was browning I made burger patties out of some of the rest of the meat.  I use a canning lid from a wide-mouth jar as a sizer.  I want the patties to be about the size of the diameter of a wide-mouth jar. 
Then I brown them on both sides.
Once they're browned I drop them in jars, stacking them until the jar is nearly full. Now that they're browned they've shrunk a little bit and they fit perfectly in the jar. 
I don't have many of these jars. They're a short pint with a wide-mouth.  I can fit four nice-sized patties in them, which is just right for my husband and I.  If the kids or grandkids are here, I can use a quart jar of patties, or a couple of jars.  Eight patties fit in a quart.
From left to right I've canned burger patties, ground meat, and stew chunks.
Even if you don't add any water there is moisture in the meat.  You can see that it has pooled in the bottom of the jars.  This meat had been frozen and thawed before prepping and canning it, so I think it had more moisture.  Sometimes if the meat is exceptionally dry I add about half an inch of water to the jar.  It steams through the meat as it cans and keeps the meat moist.  I canned a batch of dry stew meat with no added water and the top inch or so was dry and somewhat hard.  I had to soak them in water.  So I think a little bit of water helps.
Most of the meat we can is lean, so fat isn't an issue.  However, we can bacon and sausage, which can be fatty.  Dry-canning is good for these foods because they're not as likely to boil over as high-fat meat, which can lead to jars not sealing properly.
These are browned sausage patties ready to be canned.  I make the sausage patties smaller and fatter, and I put them in regular mouth pints this time.  Generally it's hard to get the meat out of a regular mouth jar, but I was out of wide-mouth jars so I used what I had. Since the patties were smaller, they weren't hard to get out.  I put about 1/2 inch of water in the jars before I canned them, but I didn't need to add salt or anything else.  Sometimes I can a blob of ground sausage instead of patties and use it for sausage gravy with biscuits, but usually I make patties and if I want some for gravy, I crumble them up when I use them.
To can bacon I put a piece of wax paper on the counter, then lay the bacon on it, putting the strips side-by-side.  A second piece of wax paper goes over it.
Now I roll is up.  I cut the strips of bacon in half before I put them on the wax paper so they won't be as long.  You can fold the bundle in half after you roll it up if you don't want to cut the strips.  I shove the wax paper bundle of bacon strips into a jar and can it like that, nothing extra added.  When you go to use it, carefully unroll the wax paper, lift the strips off and into a pan.  They're fully cooked in the canning process, so all you have to do is heat them.  You can eat it right out of the jar, too, if your power is off or if you're camping and don't want to heat it.  It's great on sandwiches or burgers.
You can also just shove the bacon in a jar and can it, but you'll never get it apart.  I can some in half-pints and we use them in omelettes, as bacon bits on salads, in stir-frys, or added to homemade baked beans or bean soup.  Without separating them with waxed paper they pretty much crumble into pieces, but they're delcious.
You MUST use a pressure canner to safely can meat.
Be careful, too, not to over-stuff the jar with meat.  Dense meat, like roasts or chicken breasts, might not reach the very high temperatures needed to kill pathogens in the middle of the meat.  It might be best to can those in broth or water, or cut them in half lengthwise before putting them into the jar, so the piece of meat is smaller and the heat won't have to penetrate as far.
Yes, it's okay to leave the bone in chicken breasts when you can them.  You won't fit as many in a jar, but some people prefer them that way.  Same with pork chops or other meat.  It takes up space but it's safe to include bones.
When your jars are cool, remove the rings and wash the jar.  If you want to store them with the rings on, dry the jar and ring, and screw the ring back on the jar.  You can store them either way.  Once it's sealed the ring isn't necessary, but the ring can protect the lid from accidental bumps on the rim, which could unseal the jar.
Canning times and pressure:
For beef, pork, venison and all other "meat" meats:
90 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure if you're under 3,000' of elevation
90 minutes at 15 lbs. pressure if you're over 3,000' of elevation.
For chicken and turkey:
70 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure if you're under 3,000' of elevation
70 minutes at 15 lbs. pressure if you're over 3,000' of elevation

For fish:
100 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure if you're under 3,000' of elevation
100 minutes at 15 lbs. pressure if you're over 3,000' of elevation
(Some canning guides say 90 minutes)
Follow the standard canning prodecures of putting the lids in hot water to simmer, etc. 
Storing canned meat:
The best place is cool and dark with a steady temperature.  If you have cabinets in a back room or basement, those are good.  Try to avoid excessive moisture, such as a damp basement or root cellar.  The lids and rings will rust, which could make it hard (or impossible!) to get the rings off.  If the rest gets bad, it could rust through the lid, but that's rare.  A dry root cellar or basement are okay.
You can put the jars back in the box they came in, or find a box from the grocery store, and push them under your bed.  Dry-canned meat doesn't have to be protected from freezing.  Meat canned with water or broth can't be allowed to freeze because the liquid will expand and could break the jar.  That's why it's safe to put dry-canned meat in an unheated shed or garage in cold climates.
Light is the enemy of fat, and even lean meat has some fat.  That's why it's not a good idea to store them on shelves that are open to light, such as a basement with windows.  If you want to store them there, consider stapling or tacking an old sheet or blanket across the front of the shelves.
Shelf life
Shelf life is tied to how you store it.  In ideal conditions of dry, dark, cool, steady temperatures, and if you've been diligent about safety and following instructions while canning, it's probably safe for 10 to 20 years.  Definitely safe for five years, if you're very sure they were processed the full length of time at the right temperature, and if you're sure the jars really sealed on their own and you didn't get antsy and tap them and the lid popped down but isn't really sealed.
If you're unsure, try to use them up within two years.  Take a quick sniff and look it over when you open the jar.  If the flavor is off or you're suspicious about anything, throw it away.  The contents, not the jar.  The jar can be washed and boiled, and reused.  Never, ever, reuse a canning lid, especially for meat.  Some people take a chance when they're canning things like fruit, but it's not recommended.  Don't take a chance on it with meat.
I'll be happy to answer questions about anything I neglected to include here, or track down answers if I don't know the answer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

We have a website!

Well, sort of...

I just got off the phone with the most wonderful business consultant at  You can't go wrong with an internet company that will sit and talk with you at length and offer to help with anything you need to build your site.

Let's back up.  When I published "Poverty Prepping" I wanted to make a wesite to go with it so I could provide more information on prepping, especially pertaining to low-budget.  I didn't know anything about making a wesite, so I made this blog instead, since I know how to do a blog. 

Last week, when I discovered the take-off of my own book, I decided I better grab the domain name while I could.  My daughter bought the domain name for me and set up my account with godaddy.  She told me it wasn't much different from making a blog, but that she would help me.  Life got busy with Thanksgiving and the acount sat, untouched. 

This morning, while I was tripping over my 2-year old grandson, a very patient and informative young man called from GoDaddy and talked to me at length about web sites and made suggestions for things that would make it a good site and bring more traffic.  I appreciated his blend of just enough "techi-ness" and just enough "real person" that I understood the things he was saying.

While discussing the basic ideas of Poverty Prepping in relation to what sort of content I would have on the site, it turned out that this man and his wife are preppers.  We had a nice conversation on the subject and I felt even better about our choice of company for hosting our site, besides liking an approachable company that will help people use their service or product.

So, the bottom line is that we're going to be building a website to go with this blog!  It'll be:  There's nothing on it at this minute, but hopefully we'll have it started today.  I'll keep you posted.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dave's Kitchen - Brined Green Beans

When bringing in produce from your garden, there are times when you have more than you can eat but not enough to warrant getting out the tools and utensils out to process it.

Produce can be stored in the fridge until you have enough but but things like Green Beans can spoil if kept more than a few days.

Green Beans can be "Brined" and kept that way for weeks without spoiling.  That can preserve them until enough are gathered to work with.

Brined Green Beans

To brine the beans, wash snap, string or cut them like you would
when preparing them to cook or can.

In a crock, cooking pot or other container, put a thin layer of green
beans in, then add a layer of salt and repeat until the container
is full or you run out of beans.  Top with an additional layer of
salt. Cover the container and set it aside.

Fairly quickly the beans will start to "cry" and after a day or
so the beans will be "swimming" in a brine formed by the salt and
liquid that was drawn out. They can be covered and stored this
way for weeks.  Just make sure the level of the liquid
stays above the green beans. If the brine level drops, just add

More beans can be added and layered with salt as they come
in from the garden until the container is full.  Again, just make sure the
level of the liquid stays above the beans.

When you get ready to prepare them for preserving or eating, drain
the brine and soak them in fresh water for several hours or until the
salt leeches out, and process them like fresh beans. They can be
dehydrated, strung to air dry, or canned. Just process them
and treat them like fresh.

Keep in mind that if the beans are left in the brine for too long, they
may start to ferment and become "Pickles". Theres nothing wrong
with Pickled Green Beans but they will need to be treated like pickle
and processed accordingly.

 The freshly snapped green beans in a bin
layered in salt.

 The same bin after it has sat overnight, the salt has drawn
the juices out of the beans and formed the brine.

This is not an indefinite long term method of preserving and store
your green beans but is a good process to be familiar with.
I have a fresh email from Dave about the beans:

Just a note about the green beans...
We had our Thanksgiving meal and one thing on the menu was Green Beans so I made up a batch of the ones that have been in the brine for about 10 days now. They were every bit as good(and crisp) as if they had been prepared fresh. I soaked them in fresh water overnight then lightly boiled and drained the water again, they cooked up with just enough salt to season them to taste.
I am leaving the rest of the batch in the brine to see just how long they will last before they start to pickle.
I hope he'll let us know about the green bean brine-to-pickles process!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Food Storage Cheeseburgers

This cheeseburger was made entirely out of our food storage.
I started canning hamburger patties about five years ago.  My first efforts weren't so good because I still canned meat by covering it with water and leaving headspace.  It left the burgers soggy and tastless.  Then I heard about dry-canning and I've been doing that ever since.

Canned Hamburger Patties
I brown the burger patties on both sides, then set them on a platter to cool a bit.  When I form the patties I use a lid from a wide-mouth jar as a sizer so the burgers will be just slightly smaller than the jar after I brown them, but not too big to drop in the jar.  I use wide-mouth jars because it's easy to shake the burger patties out, or to fish them out with a fork if necessary.

Canned cheddar cheese
I learned about canning cheese about a year later.  The instructions for that are just a couple posts away from this one on this blog.  When I'm ready to make a cheeseburger I slide the cheese out of the jar and slice off what I'll need.

Using my stored flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and oil (or shortening), I make dinner rolls. Some of my tips for storing these items will be at the end of this post.  Right now I want to stick with the cheeseburgers for those who don't need information on how to store these ingredients.
When the dinner rolls are ready I take however many I need for the meal, and slice them in half, then set them aside.  I open a jar of hamburger patties and pull out the number of patties I need.  The burgers are heated in a pan on the stove.  The burgers in the top of the jar will be drier than those farther down.  If the ones you are using feel a bit too dry, add a little bit of water to the pan. 
The burgers are already cooked, so they only need to be heated.  If you have a microwave oven you can heat them in there and skip using the stove.  Just place the burger patties on a paper plate or other microwave-safe dish and heat them in the microwave.  You'll have to experiment with time since all microwaves are different, but I wouldn't give it more than a minute at a time.  30 seconds might be better until you know how much time your own microwave will take.
Take the jar of cheese and dip the outside in hot water for a couple of minutes.  Run a knife around the inside of the jar between the cheese and the glass, then using the knife, gently pull the cheese out of the jar.  You don't have to pull it all the way out if you don't want.  You can edge out enough for a cheese slice and cut it off with a knife or cheese slicer, then edge it out a little more and cut another slice.  Or you can pull the whole thing out and slice it.  Simply push the leftover cheese block back into the jar and put the lid back on.
 Slicing canned cheese
Once the jar of burgers or cheese is open, the leftovers should be stored in the fridge
For condiments, I have dried onions from my own garden.  I soften them in water while waiting for the meat to heat.  When they're rehydrated I drain the water and let them air-dry for a few minutes while I slice the cheese.
I keep ketchup in my food storage, but if I didn't, I'd take some of the dried tomato slices from this year's garden and put them in the blender to make a powder.  This is assuming there is electricity available to do this, by the way.  If not, you might want to just rehydrate the tomato slices in water and put them on the burger.  But if you can make the tomato powder, then you can add some sugar and vinegar, and water if it's still dry.  Stir it and you have a reasonable imitation of ketchup.
I store bottled mustard and the spice jars of dry mustard.  If you only have the dry mustard, add little bit of vinegar or water, or both, and spread it on the bun.

If you don't have pickles stored, adding vinegar to the tomato powder or mustard powder can fool you a little bit, into thinking there's a pickle in there somewhere.
Mayo, if you use it on burgers, can be stored in jars, either store-bought or homemade, or you can make it on the spot if you have eggs and the other ingredients. 
It's possible to dehydrate lettuce, and I've done it, but mine crumbled when I tried to rehydrate it.  The chickens enjoyed it.
If all you have is butter or margarine it'll at least add moisture and flavor to the sandwich.
One of our favorite variations to the standard cheeseburger is to lay the bun open face on a plate and place a heated burger on each half.  Pour chili over it, sprinkle with rehydrated onions, and shredded cheese from the block of canned cheese.
We have enough solar power now to run a small refrigerator in the summer, but until a few years ago we only had meat or cheese if it was canned.  The exception was in the winter, which is consistently cold enough here that we can keep food in a cooler on the north side of our cabin.  We still disconnect the refrigerator in the fall because of the very short hours of daylight this far north in winter.  The canned meat and cheese has provided us with many good and varied meals. 
Canned meat and cheese are great to keep on hand in case you're stranded at home during a bad storm and want something interesting to eat.  Or you can take the meat and cheese with you on a camping trip, and either make or buy buns before you leave, and have a treat in the wilderness.  If you're preparing for long-term disasters it'll give you a nice break from basic storage food like rice, beans, flour, etc.
One of my upcoming posts will include pictures and instructions for canning meat.
 I store flour and sugar in 2-gallon plastic buckets from a local bakery.  I don't do anything special to it; I just pour the contents of 25-lb. bags into the buckets, then label them with a marker.  Before I discovered this source for buckets I put the bags in a large plastic tote. I taped over the vent holes in the handles with masking tape or duct tape, to keep out bugs.  If it was going to be stored more than a month or two, I also ran tape around where the lid and container came together.  I've also at times put the bag of sugar or flour in a large plastic trash bag if I had to store them under a bed or somewhere similar, but I'm not comfortable with what chemicals may be in or on the trash bags.  Some are treated with pesticides.
I set cans of salt inside a 2-gallon bucket and snap the lid on.  That keeps the salt dry, since the cardboard cans it comes in are susceptible to moisture.  I can fit 3 cans on the bottom layer and 4 cans on the top layer.
If you have a Food Saver or other vacuum-sealer you can seal the salt in bags, and then place it in the bucket or other storage container. 
If I've missed anything, please let me know.  My two-year old grandson has been playing on my lap during most of the writing of this post, so who knows what I might have missed!  :)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My book has been pirated

(Inserted note, November 30th, 2012:  The book seems to be gone from Amazon now, but I'll leave this post on here for now.)

A friend sent me a link to this book:
The title is shown on Amazon as,  "Poverty Prepping: Saving for a Rainy Day when you Don't Have Much Today"    
Now, how many people would have thought up that title on their own?  It's kind of close to my book, "Poverty Prepping:  How To Stock Up For Tomorrow When You Can't Afford To Eat Today", don't you think?  My book was published 6 months before this one.
This book was published by an App mill.  They steal other people's books and publish them with similar titles, and steal sales.  Click on the author's name, which is shown as "Malibu Apps", and you'll find over 100 of these stolen books.  They re-write them enough to avoid plagarism laws.
The heartbreaking thing is that I'm just a regular person who wrote this book to help people get started prepping.  My heart is for others like me who have almost nothing to spend beyond our needs for today.  I charged the Amazon minimum of .99 for a kindle book, of which I get 35-cents per sale. 
I wasn't planning to buy a vacation home on a tropical Island with my earnings.  I hoped to get new eyeglasses, since my grandson broke the earpiece a couple months ago, and they're still taped with duct tape while I save the money for the exam and glasses.  I hoped to replace some of the preps we've had to eat heavily out of this past couple years during our economic hard times.  Maybe I'd have enough for new tires for my car, a 1996 Jeep Cherokee, and to replace the windshield that has two cracks all the way across it.
The world isn't always a fair place.  I'm old enough to know that, but it still hurts when things like this happen.  I have no idea what to do about the pirated similar book, except hope that I can rise above it and keep writing books, keep up this blog, and carry on.
Thank you for your support.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Canning butter and cheese

By request from a reader, here are directions for canning butter.  I've also included directions for canning cheese, after the section on butter.  I appreciate the request.
 Canning butter
Home-canned butter
It's easy to can butter and cheese at home.  It can be done in a water-bath kettle, or any kettle big enough to cover your jars with water.  You need some kind of rack in the bottom to keep the jars slightly elevated, but I've used a cooling rack in the bottom of a kettle, or a rack from the bottom of a roaster pan.  You can use a pressure canner, either with the lid latched and brought to pressure, or just with the lid settled on top.
Some people melt the butter first, in a pan, and let it simmer for a while before pouring it in jars.  I set my jars in a pan that has a couple inches of water in it and the stove burner turned low.  Then I slice chunks of butter into the jars.  The heat of the water melts it and I keep adding butter.  I fill the jars to about an inch from the top, to allow for 'head space', which is a space you leave between the product in the jar, and the lid.
I found this explanation of head space on a site called
"This space is needed for expansion of food as jars are processed, and for forming vacuums in cooled jars. The extent of expansion is determined by the air content in the food and by the processing temperature. Air expands greatly when heated to high temperatures; the higher the temperature, the greater the expansion. Foods expand less than air when heated. This is why you must leave more headspace when using a pressure canner!"
Although it says "when using a pressure canner", I think head space is also needed in water-bath canning, since the air is heated in the jars during that process too.  At any rate, the extra space at the top would prevent boiling over.
While I'm letting the butter melt I get a small pan and put the jar lids in it and cover them with water.  I let them simmer on another burner.  What I've always been told is that it softens the rubber strip around the edge of the bottom side of the lid and allows it to seal to the jar.  My mother always simmered hers for at least half an hour, so I have too.  The one time I forgot to get them started and simmered them for just 15 minutes I had quite a few jars in that canner load that didn't seal.  So science aside, I stick with the half hour minimum. 
When the jars are filled I lift them out of the pan of water and set them on a towel. I go around and wipe the rims with a clean, damp cloth. Using a fork I fish a lid out of the small pan of water, and touching only the edge of the lid, I place it on the jar. Then I screw a ring on it until it's snug but not over-tight.  This is a picture of the lids and rings, sometimes called caps and bands, or other terms.
I set the jars in my canning kettle, which usually already has hot water simmering in it.  Sometimes I have to use the jar-lifter tongs to put the jars in the water, if the water is too hot.  When all the jars are in I check to see that the water covers the tallest jar by at least an inch.  If it doesn't, I add water. 
Now the lid goes on and when it boils, I begin timing.  I've seen directions that say they need to boil for half an hour, for 45 minutes, and for an hour.  I went with the hour, for safety, but butter isn't a dense food once it's melted, so it's probably safe enough to boil it for the shorter time. 
When the butter comes out it looks like this.
After it's cooled about 15 minutes you need to start picking up the jars, holding them in a hot pad or towel but making sure you can get a good hold on the jar, and tip them upside down and back upright a few times.  The butter has separated during canning and this mixes it back up.  Some people shake their jars but I prefer to tip them over and back upright instead.  I suppose I imagine the butter getting bubbly and frothy-looking if I were to shake it!
Pick them up about 10 minutes, and more often if you think it needs it, until it's cool enough that it stops separating as it sits.  When it's cool it'll look like this:
As you see in the picture at the top of this post, I use different sizes of jars for butter, but I tend to stick to small jars, such as half-pints and jelly jars.  I have canned butter in jars as big as pints, though.
* * * *
Canning Cheese
In addition to butter I also can cheese.  The thing I like about canning cheeses is that they return to their original texture and firmness after they cool.  For example, canned cheddar firms back up and can be slid out of the jar and sliced:
or shredded:
I use jars that have the same size mouth, or opening, as the sides of the jar.  In this picture the cheese was in a half-pint jar.  It uses a regular-mouth lid, but since the jar is so small it looks like a wide-mouth jar, with straight sides.  If I use a pint jar I use a wide-mouth one.  It's easier to get the cheese out of the jar.
To remove the cheese from the jar I hold it in a pan or bowl of hot water for a couple minutes.  This softens the cheese where it touches the glass.  Remove the lid and run a knife around the inside of the jar.  Keeping the knife between the cheese and the side of the jar, apply a litttle pressure to the cheese and slide it out with the knife. 
When you're done cutting, slicing, or shredding it, push the leftover block of cheese back into the jar.  It's easier to slide it out when you go to use the rest of it later.
Mozzarella cheese cans up nicely.  It turns a darker color and is a bit more crumbly as you shred it, but once the pizza or lasagne, or whatever you've made, is done baking, you can't tell the difference.
Cream cheese is one of my favorite cheeses to can.  This time of year (November) cream cheese is on sale for a good price at our local store, so I buy several boxes and can them.  Later in the year when cream cheese is twice the price I paid for them, I still have lots of cream cheese.
Cream cheese looks pretty after it's canned.  It doesn't darken during canning like other soft, light-colored cheeses.  The texture is the same as a fresh block of cream cheese.
I can cheese the same way I do butter.  I set the jars in a couple inches of water, in a pan on the stove over low heat.  It takes longer for it to melt.  One time I crammed the jar full of chunks and canned it without waiting for it to soften or melt, figuring it would melt during canning.  I ended up with jars about 2/3 full.  I also didn't know if I'd allowed enough time for the cheese to melt and then get hot enough for canning.
Cheese is denser than butter, so it really does need more time than butter.  I can mine at a full boil for an hour.  Pressure canning is a good option for dense cheese like cheddar and mozzarella.  I haven't tried cheese like pepper jack and provolone, but I plan to do that some time this winter.  I'm watching for a sale.
Cheese doesn't separate like butter, so once you remove it from the canner you don't have to do anything to them.  Place them on a towel and let them cool.
Other dairy products I've canned have had varying results.  Egg nog cans up nicely but darkens a little and separates somewhat.  It needs to be shaken before you drink it.  We can up a jar or two at Christmas time, then in the summer we open them for a surprise treat.  The first year we didn't chill the jar first, and egg nog tastes icky at July room temerature!  Be sure to chill it first! 
Milk can be canned but you end up with a product that looks like evaporated milk.  The flavor tastes slightly scorched but is otherwise good.  It, also, tastes better if you chill it before drinking. 
If you're a margarine user I would imagine it could be canned the same as butter.  Not knowing how the scientific properties work in the 'healthier' mixes of margarine I'd recommend using only real margarine.  If you're using a heart-healthy variety that says it can be used in baking or melted in cooking, then it would probably do okay for canning.  If you find a really good sale on it, canning might be a money-saving option.
I go one better on my canning.  I don't have extra energy costs for canning butter and cheese.  I almost always can it this time of year when it's on sale for the holidays, and here in Montana we're using our woodstove all day to heat our cabin.  Our woodstove has a large flat surface big enough to hold two canner kettles, side by side.  I take advantage of the heat source that would be hot this time of year anyway.  For those of you that heat with wood, you might be able to do that too.
If anyone has something they'd like to add to this discussion, please leave a comment here on the blog or email me at:
November 20, 2012:  I received a question by anonymous post -
"Can you tell me how long the butter and the rest last as far as shelf life?

Six months to Five years.
The shelf life, or storage life, of canned butter or cheese depends in part on how you store it.  The most ideal place dark and cool with a steady temperature.  Dark keeps the oils in the butter and other dairy product from oxidizing and becoming 'off-flavor'.  Cool temperatures extend the lives of any canned or dehydrated food, but especially those with a high-fat content.  There's probably a scientific explanation (and maybe someone will share it with us?) for why.  I just know that it does.
Steady temperature is easier on the food than a constant cycle of heating and cooling.  Daily temperature fluctuations, such as night time and day time temperatures, are harder on the food than seasonal.  Since canned butter and cheese can be frozen, you could store them in a shed or garage even in a cold climate.  Try to put them near the floor and cover them with old blankets, newspapers, or cardboard to insulate them against fast rises or drops in temperature.
I have butter and cheese I canned in 2009 that I'm just now using and it's as fresh tasting as if I just bought it.  It's been stored in dark containers but has been subjected to some temperature fluctuations, mainly seasonal.  If I had stored it in a kitchen cupboard at regular household temperatures, or even worse, in a place where it was exposed to light, I would try to eat it within six months.
With optimum storage and proper canning procedures I would say it would be safe to eat for at least five years.  Beyond that I'd inspect the jar carefully before I opened it.  Look for discoloration or mold spots, and make sure the jar is sealed tightly.  To check the seal, tap on the lid.  If it pushes in when you touch it, the jar isn't sealed even if it seems like the lid is tight.  Don't take a chance on eating it if you think it has come unsealed in storage. 
Open the jar and smell the contents.  Does it smell like the original fresh product?  If might smell a bit old but that wouldn't mean it's not safe.  If it smells rancid you might want to discard it or mix it with pet or livestock feed.  Some cheese like cheddar can get a white crusty-looking scum around the edges or top of the jar.  This is normal.  It's crystalized fat.  It's safe to eat but you can scoop it off if you prefer.
Thank you for the question.  It's something I should have thought of when I wrote the post!
From the mailbox:
"Thank you for the great instructions on your blog on canning butter. Guess what I finally did today? 12 half pints and 6 pints of butter ready for the pantry (okay, it is a closet that I took over). Woohoo!

Thank you again, I wouldn't have done it if it weren't for your expert tutorial
" - Cindi
It's always nice to hear from people who try these things!  Thanks for writing to me about it!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Soap Making

This post is a reader-contribution and has information for making soap.  I'm sure there are many of you who have made your own soap, and possibly do so regularly, but a lot of people never have, including myself.  It's on my list of things to learn and do!

Simple Lye Soap


3 Pounds Lard
1 16 Ounce Container Lye
1 1 Quart Canning Jar
1 8 Quart Enameled or Stainless Steel Pan
1 Plastic or Stainless Steel Stirring Tool ( long handled)
2 9 x 13 Glass or Coated Baking Dishes
Cooking Thermometer.


1. Lye is extremely corrosive, you may want to wear rubber gloves.
2. When Lye is mixed with water, it gets HOT. Possible as high as 160 - 180 degrees.

3. Vinegar applied to splashes of Lye on the skin can help nutralize it. Wash any lye
spills Immediately with lots of water then finish it with a wipe of vinegar.


- Melt the 3 pounds of lard using a low heat in the enameled pan. Do not

let the lard start to smoke.  The lard doesn't need to be hotter than about 120 degrees.

- Pour the lye into the 1-quart canning jar, then add water to make a total volume of 1 quart.
Do not pour the lye into the water, it could boil, splash out of the jar or over run the jar and
spill. Using a canning jar will ensure that it will not break with the sudden temperature
change created by the lye.

- Let the lye solution cool to no more than 120 degrees.

- Make sure the lard is about 120 degrees.

- Pour the lye solution into the pan with the lard and start stirring. the mixture.

- Continue to stir the mixture until it starts to "Trace".

Tracing is when the (at this point Soap) starts to show a lighter color in the ripples when
stirred. The soap will gradually start to thicken and if you dont see a trace but do notice
that the ripples from stirring start to remain above the rest of the soap for a short while,
that will be sufficient. The soap will usually have to drop below around 90 degrees(but not
always) before it trace. If you pour he soap
too soon, it may "sweat", while it is setting.
The sweat is beads of lye forming on he surface, it doesn't mean the soap is bad but you
dont want it to contact skin or unenameled utinsils.

- When the trace is seen, pour the soap into the baking dishes and let it harden. Hardening
may take a day or more. When a trace is seen, you can add any fragrance or oils as desired.

- After the soap hardens enough to hold a cut without it filling back in after slicing, cut the
block into bar sized pieces and let it continue to harden(in the baking dish) until about
the consistancy of regular bar soap.

- Remove the bars from the baking dish, seperate them and put them in a safe place to
Cure(in the open air).

The curing process is the period of time that the chemical reaction uses to make the lard/lye
mixture into usable soap. A safe bet is about a month or longer. If you use the bars before it
is fully cured, the lye will burn your skin(sometimes severly).

- Once the soap has cured, it can be stored in a bin, box, jar or other suitable container.

After the soap has cured, it is very mild and safe to use for most cleaning jobs. Be advised
that the bars will not lather near as much as commercial soaps but will clean, IMO,
better than bought bars and it usually leaves less residue on your skin and in your hair.

A good habit to make is to immediately wash all utinsils used, with plenty of water and
vinegar solution to ensure that no lye is left to cause problems. Some people dedicate
specific utinsils and pans for the sole use in soap making.

Different people have procedures for making lye soap that may differ from this method. It
doesn't mean that either is right or wrong. The imporant thing is that the result is usable

I have a few questions myself after reading this, so I'll be emailing the contributor to ask about them.  I was confused about the jar.  The directions say to put the lard in the jar and add water to make a quart.  Then it says that when the lye has cooled to around 120 degrees, add it to the lard in the pan.  But it said that using a canning jar made it so the jar wouldn't break with the sudden temperature change of adding the lye.  But I thought we were combining them in the pan?  And if we've filled the jar with lard and water to make a quart, we wouldn't have room to add the lye mixture to the  jar. 

I'm running on extreme sleep deprivation so it's probably me and not the directions that are confused!  My daughter's car broke down 40 miles from home in the middle of the night last night, so I've pretty much been up since yesterday morning.  I'll clarify these directions and update it later.

I have a couple things of my own to add.  My other daughter has made soap, but it was while she was living some distance away.  She had a hard time finding lye and finally got some at Ace hardware.

Several years ago we had a neighbor who made his own lye.  He took an old washtub and made a small hole in the middle of the bottom.  He filled the washtub with ashes from his woodstove and poured water over them.  The water seeped through the ashes and out the hole, into a bucket under the washtub.  That water was lye. 

He only burned oak and hickory in his woodstove, which are hardwoods.  I don't know if the ashes from pine woods or other wood would also produce lye.  I'll see if I can find that out too.  Here in our part of the country we only have pine and fir trees.

I would love to hear from other soap-makers.  Anything you want to add would be nice.  Email it to me at, or leave a comment here on the blog.


From the mailbox, November 19, 2012:

"Hi -

I came across your blog today. Nice job!

You posed a question about what kind of wood ash to use when making lye
for soap - it generally needs to be hardwood. I tried using pine once
outdoors and the results were not good- usable in a pinch but it never
firmed properly. It was usable in making biofuel but was not as
efficient as using hardwood ash.

I also wanted to send you this link which you might find interesting:

Thanks again for the great blog and I'm looking forward to reading your

Thanks for your email, and for answering my question about making lye.  The link you included is very helpful on the subject too. 


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dave's Kitchen: Making hominy

Dave's been busy in his kitchen lately, while most of us slowed down as gardening season winds to a close and the harvest is preserved and stored.  Here's what he wrote to me today:

I use "Feed Corn" purchased from a local feed store to make Hominy
and to grind as "Corn Meal".  Many will say that this is not a "Healthy"
practice but I dont accept that argument as a general rule. That debate
can be pursued in other places.

I dont use "Deer Corn"; it is usually full of garbage, bits of cob and less
than perfect kernels. Also it doesn't usually have any limits of "Aflatoxin"
content like much of the feed corn, and all the corn marketed for human
consumption does.

How To Make Hominy

Pick and clean 2 quarts of corn.  The kernels can be poured on a table
top and picked through as one would do for dry beans. Reject any
kernels that are broken, damaged or otherwise not perfect. Cracked
kernels will break down in the soaking process and "Gum Up" the
works, making the finished hominy harder to rinse clean.

Place the cleaned/washed corn in a 4-gallon granitware pan and fill it
to about 4 inches of the top. Add 1 rounded tablespoon of Lime(Pickling
Lime from the Grocery store will work) per pint of corn and gently mix
it into the water. Be careful not to let the dust get airborne, it can be
hazardous to breathe. It may seem like a lot of water for the amount
of corn but at the end of the the "Liming", you will see why.

Place the pot on the stove and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to just
under a boil. Cover and let it sit for about 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally.

When the kernels have doubled or even tripled in size, pinch one between
your fingers and if there is no "Dry" material inside, it is ready to rinse.

Drain the lime water and rinse the corn in clean water and return it to
the pot.

Fill the pot with warm water and, using your hands, gently rub the
kernels together to remove any dissolved shell that may still be on
them, and rinse. Repeat until the water is clean and clear.

At this point the "Hominy" is finished and can be eaten. I usually
dehydrate and grind it into meal and use it to make cornbread, but it
can eaten fresh, cooked with peppers and onions and eaten like corn,
or made into tortillas. It's also good cooked into soups or chopped fine
in a food processor and added to Chili.

To dehydrate/dry the Hominy, it can be spread on a flat surface in a
warm, dry and clean location that is free of insects and other pests.
To dry in a dehydrator, spread the kernels on your tray in a thin
layer and dry at medium heat. If the dehydrator heat is set too
high, it may "Glaze" the outsides of the kernels and seal in the

This batch of Hominy is destined to be ground into "Meal" so I
left much of the "Germ" in during the rinsing.  It adds flavor, fat
and other nutrients. If you are going to use the hominy as a table
dish, you may want to rinse the germ out for a better appearance.

 Two quarts of whole kernel corn straight from the feed
bag, along with the "cast offs" seperated from it. This bag of
corn had more broken kernels than most I buy but it was still
a good clean bag of grain.
The limed and rinsed kernels, ready
to eat or dehydrate.
 Kernels spread on the dehydrator tray, the layer is
thin enough to allow air flow around the hominy to speed the
drying process.

The finished dried hominy, ready to store or grind
into meal for use as "Grits", in cornbread or other recipes.
Thanks, Dave, for sharing this with us.  It sounds like something that would be good in Taco soup, among other things!  I'm looking forward to trying to make my own hominy.  We've always bought it in cans from the store. I love learning how to make things myself.   I appreciate all that I've learned from people as I've worked on this blog.
Please keep sending your emails with comments, suggestions, and questions!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Feeding your garden

A lot of people add kitchen scraps to a compost pile for enriching their garden dirt.  I've always heard that it should primarily be scraps from fruits, vegetables, and grains.  That's what I've done for years, saving those things for composting and feeding the meat and dairy scraps to our dog.  Just like humans who thrive on the occasional treat or junk food, our dog thrived on the occasional variation from her diet of dog food.
The point of this isn't our dog, it's that I neglected to think about other things I could be composting or scattering on the garden.  Egg shells are one.  We dried and crunched them and mixed them with our homemade layer feed for the chickens, to give them extra calcium for good, strong egg shells.  Then I read in a gardening book that egg shells add calcium to the soil, which is good for growing potatoes in particular, but also good for other vegetables.
A lot of people probably already know that, but I didn't until a couple years ago.  We still feed some of the egg shells back to the chickens, but a big portion of them are crumbled and scattered on the garden now.  Sometimes if we're in a hurry we just dump them in with the compost pile, but if the garden isn't too muddy and I have the time, I scatter them.
Another thing that adds minerals to the dirt is tea or coffee grounds.  We dump the coffee grounds in a can until it's full, then either add it to the compost or scatter it around the garden.  I set tea bags on the window ledge behind the kitchen sink to dry, then tear them open and dump the tea grounds into an old hot chocolate can.  When it's full, I do the same thing; I add it to the compost pile or scatter it on the garden soil.

Here are a bunch of tea bags that I'm tearing open.  The empty ones are at the upper right, and the grounds are in the can.  This was back in the summer when we were making pitchers full of iced tea and used a lot of tea bags in a short time.
Coffee and tea are acidic, so be careul not to add it too thickly to one area.  The exception is acid-loving plants like blueberries, and to a lesser extent, strawberries and plum trees.  I spread coffee grounds heavily around my blueberry bushes a couple times a year, and lightly the rest of the summer.  I haven't bought commercial "blueberry food" for a few years since the coffee grounds seem to have kept the soil in balance for my bushes.  Our plum trees and strawberry plants are thriving as well.
So there's three things from your kitchen that are often thrown away that you can use to feed your soil!
From the mailbox:
November 28, 2012
    "I came across your blog this morning, much to my pleasure! I read with great interest the post on Feeding Your Garden and it brought to mind a few seemingly unconventional things I compost that I thought might be useful.

First off, I'd say you don't need to take the time to tear open all those tea bags. We don't drink much tea but when we do, we just toss the whole bag (leaves, bags, string, tag, and even the little package, if its paper) into our kitchen compost bin with all the rest of the "green" waste. I've been successfully putting my coffee grounds AND filters in my compost pile for a couple of years now. The filters seem to decompose just as fast as the rest of the typical kitchen "green" waste. I have never seen any of them in the pile without seeing the other stuff too.

As you know, egg shells are great in the pile, too. I try to crush them up but probably half of them are just cracked in half. Crushed or not doesn't seem to slow decomposition.

I also put shredded junk mail in the pile too. Nothing too shiny or heavily printed, but letters, envelopes and stuff like that. I add it when I'm turning the pile and mix it in until it "looks" like any more would be too much, if you know what I mean. :)

Peanut shells have also been no problem, but those I did see when I sifted the compost to add it to the garden this spring. I figured it just added more "fiber" to help keep the soil from clumping. By the time I harvested, the shells seemed to be gone.

We're physically doing our best in our own little "more-urban-than-suburban-but-definitely-far-from-rural" homestead. I daily long for the day when we move to our own self-sustaining, off-the-grid homestead. Being dependent on government service like water concerns me greatly. Plus all the crazy covenants, rules, laws, and other restrictions on anything that might facilitate a little independence like no chickens and restrictions on allowable garden size, plants, and location, etc is a difficult and frustrating way to live. The neighbor can have several wild pit bulls that can rip my head off but I can't have a couple of hens for "city" fresh eggs or a tomato plant in my front yard? :O

Anyway, I admire your courage and commitment to your lifestyle and appreciate sharing your experiences and knowledge.

Thanks, Randy, for your email and your ideas.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

My husband's book

I can't believe I never made a post about my husband's book!  It came out in september, from Paladin press!
This is a very indepth book about our off-grid, self-sufficient life here in NW Montana, plus it has lots of pictures! 
It's a little pricey but the price was set by the publisher.  If you're interested in the book but it's out of your budget, watch the publisher's site because they run sales from time to time.  The last sale was 40% off.  I can try to keep track and let you know on here if I find out about a sale.
Here's the link to the book, on the publisher's website:
My husband has been writing for magazines for years.  His articles have appeared in Backwoods Home Magazine, Fur Fish & Game, Backwoodsman, Back Home, Traditional Archer, and Primitive Archer, and the now-defunct magazines Primitive Way and Modern Survival magazines.
He maintains blogs about our daily life at:
and at Grit Magazine's website:

There's a lot of useful and interesting information to be gleaned there.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dave's Kitchen - Acorns

Below is a letter from Dave.  A lot of people don't realize that acorns are edible for humans, but they do require some processing first.  Acorns are widely available in most parts of the country and could be considered a supplemental food source.  Here is Dave's letter:
I had a call from my dad this morning and he said that he had gathered up a 5 gallon bucket of acorns from his "Burr Oak" trees and told me that I could have them If I wanted them. I couldn't say no, it's been a while since I have had acorn cakes so I went and picked them up. He is going to have several more buckets as soon as they fall off the tree and I will be getting them also.

Burr Oak acorns are pretty big so shelling them was fairly easy but time consuming, in about 45 minutes of leisurely work I had enough to make a batch of meal.

The acorns from the Burr Oak Oak trees are very low in astringent, mild in flavour and are really easy to prepare and use. This is the meal after I ran the acorns through the food processor to chop them.

This is the wet meal after leeching and the final is a picture of the finished cakes. Daing Sue, they are good. The total time from acorn to cake was about 1 1/2 hours, most of the time was shelling them.
To process the acorns, you shell/peel them, run them through a food processor until they are the consistency of course meal, wash the meal in fresh water and strain, repeat until rinse water is clear(a taste of the meal at this point shouldn't make you pucker), press the water out through a mesh strainer and it is ready for use. If you dont want to use it right away, put it in the fridge or dehydrate it for long term storage
The recipe I used was:

2 1/2 Cups Wet Acorn Meal
1 Cup Wheat Flour
3 Eggs
1/4 Cup Cooking Oil
1/2 Tea Spoon Salt
4 Table Spoons Sugar
1 Tea Spoon Baking Soda
Vinegar water to desired consistency

I cooked them on a hot skillet like pancakes or corn cakes. They can be eaten with syrup, buttered or just straight off the griddle, the acorns give the cakes a mild nutty flavor.

(Thank you, Dave, for sharing this information!)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Just out of reach

Sometimes it seems as though the things we want are always just out of reach.  Or it seems like the things we want to do are just too hard.  I sometimes evaluate something and then say "nah, it's too hard.  I'll fail."  I might not give another go at it.  Just give up.
A lot of things in life seem insurmountable.  To others it's easy, but we just can't do it.  What kid of attitude do we have about that?  Discouragement, certainly.  But sometimes we feel sheepish or humiliated.  We don't want others to know of our failures.  Of our inability to accomplish was we set out to do.  We accept defeat, and often hide with it.
That's the kind of attitude I was addressing when I wrote "Poverty Prepping".  The last line of the book is "It is only when you have done nothing that you have lost the battle."  So many people I knew would not even start learning about preparedness or thinking about ways they could store things.  They bemoaned the fact that they had nothing put by for hard times, so it's not like I was pushing the idea on them.
It's not just getting started that sometimes stalls us out.  It's staying the course; working toward our goals.  I taught piano for several years, and I could divide my students into two categories.  One group would stumble in a piece of music and say "I'll never be any good at this", and the other group would say "I can do this".  I encouraged both, but I wanted to try and be like the second group, in all areas of my life.
I'm not, though.  I get discouraged and frustrated sometimes, and I feel like I'll never find an answer for a problem.  I've been feeling that way since we got back from our trip to Kansas, where my husband's mother and sister lives.  A planned two-week trip ended up being almost six week, after one of his sisters died, and then my Father-in-law had a stroke on the day of her funeral.  Now that we're home, I'm overwhelmed with a tremendous amount of things to be done, and some of them I don't know what to do about.  I froze in a state of inaction and just focused on daily or regular chores.
Last night I finished reading a book that has put me back on my feet.  It's inspiring in a way I didn't expect.  The book is about a man who has three times attempted to climb Mt. Elbrus in Russia.  It's one of the "Seven Summits" that he is trying to conquer.  Three times he went through months of training, and three times he made the journey to Russia to climb this mountain, with the best of gear and good guides. 
Three times he failed to meet his goal.  Not many of us have the endurance and determination he had, and my hat is off to him for his perseverence. I feel more inclinded to push myself and pursue my dreams after reading this book. He helped me realize that even if I don't succeed, the journey is worth the effort.
If you would like to read the book, it's called "Elbrus, My Waterloo".
Even if you don't read the book, remember to always have hope.  Always give it your best try.  And try again if you have to.  If the world collapses around you, stand up in the midst of the rubble and find something to do.  Don't give up.  Ever.