The (once) Lost Art of Food Preservation

Ah Fall.
Some of the traditions that are popular this time of year include trips to family farms, pumpkin carving, leaf pile jumping, book reading, cooking, football watching, friendship building, the list goes on. However, for me, one of the most iconic pictures of late summer and fall is the expansive amount of food preservation- canning, dehydrating, freezing, etc. I love the smell of cooked jam or smoked fish wafting through the house and through the windows. Especially in this season when the air is brisk, the trees are losing their golden leaves, the constant sound of rain, and comfort is found in the soft light and the warm smell of hot food in the ever busy kitchen.

The wonderful thing about home preserved food is that if it is done correctly, there is no flavor to match it. Nothing beats the taste of home canned peaches, tomatoes, and green beans- home dried mushrooms, peppers, and sweet potato fries- or home smoked pork, salmon, and brisket.

There was once a time in this country when people were encouraged to grow and store their own foods. They were encouraged to learn how to cook and preserve produce and how to be prosperous by their own means. And before the times of the mid 1900s, most people lived off of food that they procured themselves. It has only been in the last century that people have lost almost complete contact with their food sources.

But that hasn’t changed the way a child feels when they open up a jar of mom’s or grandma’s strawberry jam and put it on a nice warm piece of toast. The jam makes the toast automatically better, yes. But it’s knowing that the jam was made for them, by someone they love, that it is all the more sweeter.

Food preservation isn’t just about saving food- it’s about saving the heart of what makes people feel good. You can’t explain to someone the sound of opening a jar of homemade pickles. The lid on that jar has such a different one than the lid from the one you buy at the store. And if you get the right recipe, there is nothing that tastes better.

The best resource for beginning to advanced canning recipes is the Ball website: freshpreserving.com

If you go to the website and are completely overwhelmed by all the high tech canning supplies, take a deep breath. It’s not as scary as it looks, and you don’t need all the gadgetry to be effective in your purpose. Quality is important. But it also doesn’t need to be shiny and digital to serve its function.

For those of you who are starting out, start with easy recipes such as peaches, salsa, pears, cooked jams, etc. Then progress to the more advanced levels such as pressure canning or fermented pickles or non-pectin jellies.

For those of you who are getting into pressure canning, remember to breathe. It is extremely important that your equipment is in working order, and that you have the ability to meticulously monitor the pressure. If the pressure is too low, your food isn’t safe, if it is too high, everything in moderate proximity isn’t safe.
Make sure that your gauges are checked by those who know what they are doing- a great resource is your county Extension office. Search: “your county here 4H” online, call their office, and ask if they will check the gauge on your pressure-canner. Many Extension offices will do this for free and they will be more than willing to answer any questions you may have.

It is more important that you ask a question if you have ANY doubt, than it is to assume you have the answer. Remember that when you are preserving food, yes it is fun, but it is also something than can have adverse effects if done incorrectly or unsafely.

Note: There are many options when canning. But it is very important that unless you are beyond expert level in this delicate art, that you stick to the tried and true Ball Blue Book recipes and do not alter them. When you do not take every precaution, altering recipes alters pH levels and can lead to spoilage, botulism, and other issues creating food that is EXTREMELY unsafe to consume.

HOWEVER. Do not let these concerns stop you from learning this valuable skill. Canning is incredibly fun and something that the entire family gets to enjoy! So long as you follow the rules and play it safe, then the benefit from this activity is superb. Once you get the hang of it, preserving food becomes a fun tradition that kids never forget!
And who doesn’t like the taste of their favorite home canned fruit?

As always, comment below if you have any questions or would like more information on this topic.

Pumpkin Cake

Today’s recipe is from the kitchen of Eliza Jeanfreau!

She is an amazing baker and wanted to share this yummy seasonal favorite.

Pumpkin Cake 

Super tasty! Like pumpkin pie, but with a yummy topping.

Mix together:

1 box yellow cake mix

½ C. butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
Save one cup of this mixture and press the ret in bottom of buttered cake pan ( 9X13 or 10X15)

Filling:
1-29 oz. Can pumpkin
1 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
½ tsp. ground cloves
1 can evaporated milk

Mix and pour over crust.

Topping:

1 cup of the saved crust mixture
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ cup soft butter

 

Mix topping and sprinkle on top.  (Mine usually isn’t crumbly, so I make little pancakes of the topping and drop it on top.)  Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes or until knife test proves done.
 
Enjoy!
 
 

Cottage Pie? Don’t you mean Shepherds’ Pie?

A Brief History
So before we get into the food tutorial, let’s have a history lesson.
What Americans refer today as “Shepherds’ Pie” is actually called “Cottage Pie”.  
Both dishes have meat, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. So what’s the big deal?
Cottage Pie originated in Britain/ Ireland around 1791.  During this time, the people were experiencing financial hardships.  Then came the discovery of the tuber. Yes, they realized the many different uses of the potato.  A poor family could eat potatoes mashed, boiled, scalloped, baked, etc. As an added bonus, they were relatively inexpensive to grow or buy at the market.  Potatoes changed the diet of every low income family during this time.  So mothers and wives started to get creative, and they invented this wonderful thing called Cottage Pie.  They could take the meat and other vegetables they prepared during the week and have a new meal with what was leftover.
So why isn’t it just called Shepherds’ Pie?
Shepherds’ Pie was not actually created until 1877.  Shepherds pie has mutton or lamb not beef.
Put simply:
Cottage Pie = Poor Man’s Pie (poor people lived in cottages)= beef
Shepherds’ Pie= Sheep Pie (shepherds herd sheep)= lamb or mutton
That’s about the only difference…
Okay. So we are done with the history lesson. Let’s get Cookin’!
Ingredients for Cottage Pie: 
  1. 2 pints(1 quart or 32oz) of ground beef browned with onion
  2. 1 quart (32oz) of cooked/ skinned tomatoes
  3. 3c. instant potato pearls + enough Hot water to reconstitute potatoes
  4. 4c. mix of corn and halved green beans
  5. about 1/2 c. dried Carrots
  6. about 1/2 c. dried Celery
  7. 1/2c. dried onion
  8. salt and pepper for preferred flavor
  9. parsley
  10. brown rice flour 

Oh…and if you are curious, yes this is all food storage…

(shhh it’s a secret)
Okay so now what?
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 192 degrees Celsius.
In a skillet, add tomatoes and cut to bite-sized pieces.
Add celery, carrots, parsley, salt and pepper to smell.
 
Let tomatoes cook down slightly then add meat and onion to taste.
Let cook down further. Salt and pepper to taste

If the meat and tomatoes are too runny for your taste, put about a half cup of fluid in a bowl and thicken slightly with flour. Add the impromptu gravy back into the skillet and mix with the rest of the dish. We used about two table spoons of brown rice flour to keep the recipe gluten free. Because wheat flour has gluten and brown rice flour doesn’t, you will use less wheat flour than rice flour when thickening your meal.
Next, grease a casserole dish and add the meat and tomatoes from the skillet to the pan.  There should be plenty to get a good layer on the bottom.  On top of the meat, layer the corn and beans. 

Cover the entire dish with the mashed potatoes.  Spread it out evenly across the top (it’s similar to frosting a cake).

Bake at 350 F for 30min. or until the crust barely browned.
If you want fluffy potatoes, guard the top with tin foil…either entirely covered, or as you would with a traditional pie.

If you notice the upper right hand corner or the picture, the juice from the meat and tomatoes boiled a slightly to the top. When the potatoes are barely golden and it is boiling, that means it’s done.
It’s easy, it’s cheap, and it tastes good.
We hope that you enjoy your Cottage Pie!