The last post in this series isn't so much about how to use home canned foods as it is about finding alternatives when you have no way to grow your own produce. As you know if you visit here, I live in a downtown apartment, surrounded by asphalt and concrete. After trying to use my windowsills, which are wide enough to hold pots for growing herbs, I find that there just doesn't seem to be enough direct sunlight for anything to grow well there. I am planning to try next spring to plant a few vegetables and herbs in containers on the communal deck on the west side of the building, but even if I am successful, I won't be able to produce nearly enough for canning. At best I will have fresh salad greens, tomatoes and maybe enough parsley and other herbs to dehydrate. A community garden would be nice if one existed here.
The Farmer's Market is an excellent source for fresh produce. I can get cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and squash at reasonable prices and the quality, depending on the vendor, is very good. My son has been going to the Market for several years and has learned which vendor sells the best produce for the least amount of money. Even though there are several Farmer's Markets close by, he drives to the one in St. Paul, which is farther away but where he knows the vendors and knows the produce will be good. It is worth going the extra mile. Some other Markets have vendors who just buy produce for resale, but we know who raised the food we buy in St. Paul. The difference between a store quality tomato and a locally grown tomato is more than obvious.
Sometimes the cost at the Market is prohibitive for canning purposes. The prices for sweet corn, peas and green beans in my area are fine if I want these fresh for a meal or two, but are too spendy for canning. I suppose I could just buy those vegetables in cans from the grocery, but I find that because I am mostly cooking for one person, often times a regular can of corn is too much and won't get used up unless I want to eat corn for several days. And the prices for individual sized cans of vegetables are beyond outrageous, if you can even find them any more. So for much of my vegetable canning, I wait for a sale on frozen vegetables and can those. That way I am able to can them using half pint jars, which is just right for one or two meals for me. I have successfully canned sweet corn, peas, peas and carrots, green beans and mixed vegetables using the frozen vegetables. It is just a matter of pouring the frozen vegetables into a pot, adding water to cover and heating them until they are thawed and warm. They can then be jarred and canned using instructions for timing for that particular vegetable. And why would I bother canning vegetables that are already frozen? Because there may come a time when water is scarce, and the water used in canning is enough to be able to heat the food on whatever heat source is available without burning it. And because a freezer full of frozen vegetables is useless should the power be out for any length of time, causing the vegetables to thaw and go bad. And because canned vegetables, as well as anything else that is home canned, is fully cooked and can be eaten right from the jar if necessary.
When canning tomatoes I have found that it takes too many of them to make my own tomato sauce or ketchup or barbecue sauce. Same goes for tomato juice. I can diced tomatoes in both pint and quart jars. If I want tomato juice I just dump the contents of a jar into my blender and whirl it for a bit. If seeds in juice is a problem, just pour the juice through a strainer. I use the canned tomatoes for any dish that calls for them.
I admit to buying tomato products like spaghetti sauce, ketchup, barbecue sauce and tomato sauce at the grocery. And yes, I know about GMO foods, but when on a budget, you can't always be a purist when it comes to some foods. I do try to avoid food products made in other countries that do not have strict food processing regulations. Now and then I will find #10 cans of tomato products reasonably priced, and then I will re-can them in smaller jars. I have successfully re-canned the above products, as well as mustard.
Another item I like to have on my shelves is beans. I will make pork and beans to can. I don't know if doing that is very cost effective, but I do love the taste of homemade pork and beans. There are many recipes online, those made with a tomato sauce and those made with molasses. I also keep a few jars of canned dry beans like Great Northern Beans on the shelf. When canned, they are fully cooked and can be used for ham and beans or any other bean based dish, without having to soak the beans overnight or spend half the day cooking them. Sometimes older dried beans will stay hard, no matter how long you cook them. Canning them eliminates that problem.
I have experimented with canning foods that might not otherwise be considered when one is planning what to can. The experiment of canning meat for Sloppy Joes was a dismal failure, as the taste of some of the ingredients completely changed in the process. I use that up in casseroles or spaghetti sauce where the taste will be overpowered by other ingredients. But the experiment in canning hamburger made into taco filling was successful. I also tried canning diced celery, and although it softened up considerably, it is good for dishes where I want the taste of celery but don't necessarily need it to be crisp. Don't be afraid to experiment a bit, like with the taco filling, Sometimes I wind up with something that is really handy to have on hand.
Other foods I can like fruit or jams and jellies or pickles require no explanation as to how to use them.
There are those who find it much easier to just buy their canned goods at the grocery. There is nothing wrong with that. Canning food requires time and there is work involved. And there is the initial expense of a pressure canner, jars and lids. Perhaps it has something to do with the way I was raised that makes home canning preferable to me. Canning is something that my parents and grandparents did to insure their families would have plenty to eat over the long Minnesota winters. It is something I have done most of my life, and I will admit to having a sense of satisfaction when I see all those full jars on the shelves. Plus it is the best way for me to insure that my family will not go hungry during hard times. That alone is worth it to me.
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