Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Food Dehydration

Drying food is the earliest methods of food dehydration.  Speed, uniform slices, and best quality of produce are determining factors in food dehydration as is air circulation. 

Sun drying is the oldest and cheapest method of food dehydration.  In places with low humidity, like Arizona, all you need is a couple of screens and two blocks to place them on for air circulation.  I live in a high humidity area and food would turn rancid before it would dry.  Humidity below 20% is ideal.
Oven drying is another option.  Place your produce on a tray and set your oven to 140F.  Leave the door open slightly.  Some use a fan to blow into the oven also to help with air circulation.  My oven has 170f as a low temperature so this is not an option for me.  You don't want to cook the food, just dry it.
Electric food dehydrators are a popular choice. 

Available with multiple trays, fruit leather trays and temperature control.  You can place your produce in the trays and let the food dry overnight.

Fruit and Berries:

All foods need some type of preparation prior to drying.  Cherries, blueberries, grapes, and other fruits and berries with a waxy coat should be put into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds then submerged in ice water.  This helps break the skin and allow moisture out.  Light colored fruit that can brown, such as apples should be treated first with ascorbic acid.  For apples dissolve two teaspoons in one cup of water and one teaspoon in one cup of water for all other light colored fruits. Sprinkle on slices and mix or quickly dip slices in the solution.  You don't want to saturate.

Uniform slices are key, most fruit and vegetables should be slice 3mm to 5mm thick.  If you are not consistent with a knife a mandoline might be a better option.

Place your slices in a single layer on your tray(s), and set your temperature.  Most fruit will take 6 to 10 hours to dehydrate depending on how juicy the fruit and humidity.  The finished product should be leathery and no moisture should remain in the center.  If you are using a lot of trays you may have to rotate half way during your drying time.
You can puree your fruit and spread 1/4 inch thick on an oven tray or fruit leather tray and dry also.  It should not be sticky when finished and can be rolled up in wax paper and Ziploc bag.


Vegetables should be blanched before drying with the exception of onions, garlic, okra and mushrooms.  A handy blanching chart available from the University of Minnesota Extension.
Submerge blanched vegetables in ice water or run under cold water.  Vegetables can take from 6 to 8 hours depending on size and humidity.  They should be brittle when finished.


Lean meats should be used in drying.  Trim off as much fat and connective tissue as possible.  Fat turns rancid in drying.  Meat can be seasoned or marinated before hand and ground meat can be used also to make jerky.  Meat should be sliced thin.  A meat slicer comes in handy.

Also for making jerky out of ground meat you might want to consider a jerky gun.  I have successfully made jerky out of ground venison with the help of one.

You can marinate meat overnight and dehydrate in the morning.  Dehydrate meat at the highest temperature setting for six hours and finish off in the oven at 275F for ten minutes.  As always, single layer and blot of excess fat when taken out of the dehydrator.  When using a marinade make sure it does not include oil.


Herbs are great to grow and great to dry.  They can be tied up on the branch and suspended in a cool, dark area or can be separated from the stems and dried between paper towels.  Larger leafed herbs can be dried without stems in an electric food dehydrator.  Some microwave them between paper towels for a minute or two.

Mason jars with screw top lids and Ziploc bags can be used to store dehydrated goods.  Dehydrated meats can also be frozen.  Dehydration makes food highly portable as well. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Pressure Canning

PSI refers to pounds of processing your foods in a pressure canner.  There are two types of pressure canners.  The first is a rocker type pressure canner that you find on regular pressure canners, the difference is that the rocker has different weights added to it to achieve different levels of PSI.  There is no gauge.  This is the one I use.

The second is one with a dial.

You need to process most foods in a pressure canner except for the ones listed in water bath canning.  Also if you plan on mixing high acidic foods, tomatoes, with low acidic foods, tomato sauce with meat.  For meat, poultry and seafood I would suggest wide mouth canning jars.  As with water bath canning you need to check and sterilize your jars and lids and make sure they are intact.  Also you will need to make sure your seals, dial and vent are in working order.  You might want to do a test run with just water to make sure.

Some useful canning charts:

Credit NDSU

This is a chart to use with a dial canner:

Credit: NDSU

Beef, poultry and most seafood is cooked first.  Salmon is soaked in a brine.  Again, a good book on canning is an essential tool.  Always adjust cooking time with your altitude.  Never leave a pressure canner unattended.

Basic Beef Stew Recipe:

5 lbs. meat (can use chuck) cut into 1 inch cubes
10 - 12 peeled, cubed potatoes
10 medium carrots sliced
3 cups chopped onion
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon pepper

Brown meat in a pot, add vegetables, cover with water and bring to a boil.  Fill clean hot pint jars and leave an inch free from the top, make sure air bubbles are out and wipe rim.  Place lids on and screw down with rings until fingertip tight.  Place in pressure canner with three inches of water and put the lid on and lock it.  Process at 10 pounds pressure for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  If you are using a weighted canner it should rock steady.  When time is done, turn off your burner.  DO NOT MOVE THE CANNER.  Let it cool down on it's own.  It could take a while.  Remove lid and let sit another 15 minutes.  Remove jars and let cool down completely.  Test seals, wipe down jars, write date and contents on the lids.  Store in a cool, dark place.  Never reprocess food that hasn't sealed.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Water Bath Canning

Photo Credit: CDC

Water bath canning is the easiest way to get started canning.  A typical canning kit consists of an aluminum canner, though they also have stainless steel now, a jar funnel, jar lifter and a rack.

Only certain foods can be water bath canned.  Tomatoes, pickles, jams, jellies, relishes and chutneys.
First step is to use jars made for canning.  I use Ball wide mouth.  Make sure your jars are free of nicks and cracks and sterilize.  If you are sterilizing in your canner boil them for 10 minutes and use your jar lifter to  empty and place on a clean towel on your counter.  In a separate smaller pot I do the same with the lids but I just bring it to a boil and turn it off and let sit until needed. Make sure your rings are clean, washed in hot water and dry.  Another method is to use your dishwasher on the sterilize setting.  The jars need to be hot so as not to crack when you pack them.

While doing this, whatever recipe you are using to can should already be cooking on your stove. 
Bring the water in your water bath canner back up to boiling.  Pack your jars with what you are canning and use a small spatula to run around the inside of the jar and pack down to discourage air bubbles.  Leave about 1/2 inch from the top to allow for expansion.  Place lids on the top of each jar and screw on a lid firmly, not wrenched down, then place in your rack.  Submerge the rack into the bath canner and make sure the water covers two inches on the top.  Processing times vary from size of jar you are using and type of recipe.  Once processing is complete, carefully lift jars out of the canner and place on your clean towel.

Canned jars typically take about 24 hours to cool down but you should hear the tell tale pings of sealing jars before that.  Never store a jar that hasn't sealed, just count it as a loss.  It could be a faulty lid or too much content bubbled to the top compromising the seal.  Best not take the chance.

Once cooled you can wash jars if needed and remove the rings.  Make sure they are dry and store in a cool dark space.  Clean and dry rings for next use. 

Canned food is good for a year but we have used older canned food without problems.  Always check that the lids are not rusted and the food has not spoiled before use.  There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your pantry filled with glass jars of food you processed yourself.

A good book about canning is a great investment. 

Hot pack means that you have cooked all ingredients to be filled in jars.
Cold back usually applies to fruit in which the fruit is just cut or placed in jars and a hot syrup is poured over them. Then placed in the canner to process.

A Basic Hot Pack For Tomatoes

You will need close to two dozen tomatoes depending on size.  Clean, peel and quarter saving the juice.  Simmer gently in their own juice, stirring to prevent sticking for 5 to 10 minutes.
Fill clean, sterilized pint jars leaving 1/2 inch of space, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar.  Place clean sterilized lid on each jar and clean canning ring.  Place in rack and lower into pressure canner.  Process for 35 minutes.  Remove with jar lifter and place on clean towel on counter.  Make sure seals set and let cool for 24 hours.  Label and date the contents on the lid.

Never try to short cut the process.  Also a note about glass top stoves.  Some cannot handle the pressure of having a big heavy canner with water.  I have not had trouble but I have read where others have.  A solution to this is an outside propane burner.

It will also help keep the house from becoming overheated while processing food.  I have one but not this particular brand.  As always make sure your work station is clean and jars and lids are sterilized.

Next up:  Pressure Canning

Monday, May 7, 2018

History of Canning

As we begin dying from the second we are born, food begins to spoil from the moment that it is harvested.  Food preservation has always been an issue for survival.

In the 1790's Nicolas Appert discovered like wine, if you put food into heated,  sealed glass bottles it would keep.  In the early 1800's the French Navy elevated his methods on a wide range of foods.
Louis Pasteur discovered the relationship between food spoilage and illness and Raymond Chevalier-Appert patented the first pressure cooker.  Although it is the year 2018, canning foods is a relatively new concept in food preservation.

Canning didn't catch on until the Great Depression into WWII.  There were places called canning centers that would pool resources for canning equipment and jars and set up in rural areas. Aluminum was scarce during the war and jars were expensive.

Statement from Harry S. Truman:

June 2, 1945

IN THIS FOURTH YEAR of war the need for every ounce of food which the American people
can produce and preserve is greater than ever before.

The supply lines to feed our troops and the millions fighting and working with them are the longest
in the history of warfare. Along the thousands of miles of these lines, food must be kept moving.
Our soldiers in Europe are eating more canned fruits and vegetables because they are changing
from combat rations to regular meals.

Beyond our tremendous military requirements lies the task of working with other nations to help
liberated peoples regain their strength and rebuild their countries. There can be no lasting peace in
a hungry world.

We Americans must do our part to help swell the nation's food supply.

I call upon every American to help discharge this obligation in every way possible:

By growing a victory garden--whether it be in the backyard, in a community or company employee
plot, or on the farm. There is still plenty of time to plant in most parts of the country.

By dedicating ourselves to growing larger and better gardens and seeing them through to the

By preserving our food at home or in a community canning center. Civilian supplies of
commercially canned fruits and vegetables are now at the lowest point of the war, and next winter
will be one-fourth less than last year.

By conserving food in every possible way--wasting not an ounce. In anything so hazardous and
difficult as growing food, we cannot afford to take chances. We must always reckon with the
weather, which in some parts of the country delayed plantings and damaged some fruit crops. We
must plan for maximum production.

With millions of American men and women dedicated to this task, our food will make a real
contribution to the final victory and the peace.

With that Victory Gardens and canning took off.  It was our patriotic duty.

Credit:  National Archives

Credit:  USDA

Canning was more popular in the northern states than the southern with it's shorter growing season.  The south soon caught on with relishes and chutneys and found they could can things normally put into the slop bucket. 

Pickled Watermelon Rind

2 lbs. watermelon rind
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
4 cups sugar
1 stick cinnamon
1 tsp. whole cloves
1 tsp. whole allspice
1 lemon sliced thin

Remove all pink portions of watermelon from rind.  Cut into 1 inch pieces and soak in water with 1/4 cup a salt per quart to cover.  Weigh cover and let sit overnight.  Rinse with clean water and drain.  Cook rind in water until tender.  Add spices to a pot with boiling water then add rind and cook until rind is clear.  Pack into hot sterilized jars with juice and seal. 

Directions are a little skimpy and considering how expensive sugar was at the time not very economical but it must have made the person canning this feel as if they were saving and contributing to the pantry.

Canning food has experienced a bit of a resurgence over the last 10 years as people want to learn a new skill and be more self-sufficient.  Gone are the times of being afraid of a pressure caner blowing up....ok, I was a little afraid of pressure canning, but with the modern tweak of a safety valve, it is a relatively safe endeavor.

Next up:  Water Bath Canning

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Lavender Oil

I would be remiss after having a post about Roman Chamomile if I did not provide one for Lavender Oil.  In 1910 a French chemist burned his hand and used lavender oil to treat the burn. Afterwards he used lavender oil on WWI soldiers.

Lavender oil, Lavandula angustifoilia, if you are starting out can provide a multitude of benefits.  A little bit goes a long way.  It only takes a drop on a bee sting, one or two for a minor cut or burn. Diluted in carrier oil, it can be used on eczema or chapped skin and lips.  Lavender oil can be used in cooking and flowers can be added to salads.  It can also be added to homemade cleaning products.

It can be inhaled to calm, to perfume, and to aid in sleep.  Chamomile, Neroli and Lavender make a nice blend to calm down and encourage better sleep. One or two drops of Lavender can be combined with most essential oils.

There are other ways in which ingesting Lavender oil can help with leaky gut and other ailments but I have only used it topically. 

Lavender oil is a solid economical oil to add to your medicine cabinet.

Morel Mushrooms

If you have never had a Morel you are missing out. The Morchella genus is a meaty, woodsy, textured mushroom that has enchanted and allured many a mushroom hunter.  They grow in pastures, wooded areas and in places where there had been a summer burn the previous year. 

Are Morels good for you?

From Untamed Feast:

Absolutely. Morels are loaded with all kinds of nourishment not listed by the required nutrition facts table of Canadian Food labels. As morels tend to grow in rich soils they come packed with vitamins and minerals. While the nutrition can vary based on the soil they are found in, morels will generally contain significant amounts of Iron, Copper, Manganese, Phosphorus, Zinc, Vitamin D, Folate, Niacin, Riboflavin and a decent dose of Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Selenium, Thiamine, Vitamins E and B6.
Morels are also loaded with antioxidants, balance blood sugar, and repair liver-damage. Plus, they are high in protein and fiber.

I have been unlucky in finding Morels but my brother-in-law has been a Morel hunter for many years.  He does not share his locations, as is common, but has shared his bounty with me. Over the years his territory has increased.  When friends and neighbors are too old to hunt for their own, they tell him where they hunt and he hunts for them.  It is sad, either they do not have family to share their location with, or their children are not interested in the hunt.  My sister-in-law dries them in the sun on a screen and every once in a while I get a package of dried Morels.
You can use a dehydrator to dry them but heat will destroy them. You will know if they turn black.

Morels command a pretty decent price.   Morel prices are high because they cannot be farmed.  Just like crops there are good years and bad years. You can also buy dried Morels online.

I keep it simple with Morels.  I just make a basic cream of mushroom soup.  I rehydrate Morels in water enough to cover in a pot.  I add a little cream a dash of salt and pepper and whisk together.  A teaspoon or two of flour if there is too much liquid.

Roman Chamomile

Roman Chamomile, Anthemis nobilis or Chamaemelum nobile,  is one of my favorite essential oils. 
Having been used for centuries, it works wonders on the nervous system.
As an essential oil it is always diluted in a carrier oil.  It can also be combined with lavender for an extra calming effect.

It can be used topically on stress points, arthritic areas, and for abdominal problems.  Use on a cotton ball for acne and wrinkles.  It can be diffused to fill a room or a couple of drops on a pillow.  For extra convenience it can be inhaled directly from the bottle.  It helps reduce anxiety and improves sleep.  I have used cooled tea made from Roman chamomile for stye on the eye.  It is gentle enough to use for children.

Can it help with cancer?

From The UMC:

Most evaluations of tumor growth inhibition by chamomile involve studies with apigenin which is one of the bioactive constituents of chamomile. Studies on preclinical models of skin, prostate, breast and ovarian cancer have shown promising growth inhibitory effects (39–43). In a recently conducted study, chamomile extracts were shown to cause minimal growth inhibitory effects on normal cells, but showed significant reductions in cell viability in various human cancer cell lines. Chamomile exposure induced apoptosis in cancer cells but not in normal cells at similar doses (18). The efficacy of the novel agent TBS-101, a mixture of seven standardized botanical extracts including chamomile has been recently tested. The results confirm it to have a good safety profile with significant anticancer activities against androgen-refractory human prostrate cancer PC-3 cells, both in vitro and in vivo situation (44).

If you have time read the whole study, it lists different maladies in which it has been proven to help and the areas where more research is needed.

Roman Chamomile essential oil it is more expensive than Lavender but it is well worth having in your medicine cabinet.