I love to make soups. I love to make BIG batches of soup. Work hard for a little bit and end up with many, many meals for the effort. Hello! What's not to love? In the past, I would make 2, 3 or 6 gallons of soup at a time and then I would freeze the leftovers in individual and family serving sizes. Sometimes I would use freezer bags and sometimes I would use plastic freezer containers depending on what I had available. I would rarely reuse the freezer bags but I would use the containers over and over until they pitted on the sides or perhaps if I lost a lid.
Anyhow, at some point in the past year, I become aware that you could can soups and meats if you had a pressure canner. It just never dawned on me that you could do this at home. I did hear that you could pay to do your own canning at the county extension office but they had rules and it wasn't cheap to do. You had to use an approved recipe AND you had to cook it there before canning. To make it worthwhile, you'd almost need an army of people to process a large amount of food quickly.
So I started doing research and found that serious canners recommend the All-American brand of canners. For Christmas, my darling hubby surprised me with the 21 1/2 qt model. yippee! (He would have gotten a larger one but we have limited space on our range because of the built in microwave.)
I read the instruction manual...and it scared me!! So many warnings about serious injuries that could occur every step of the way if you screw something up. yikes! I panicked and tried to find a canning friend to walk me through it. Hubby went online and found some fantastic canning videos on youtube. That helped allay my fears and I was ready.
Hubby picked up 2 cases of canning jars and extra lids for me... $30 (ouch!)
First recipe...beef stew.
We had a 6# beef roast in the freezer from a previous sams' club trip so we decided to use that. Cost $15.03
Then I was going to break down the other costs but I seem to have lost some of the receipts! Well, OK...whatever 3 qts of cubed red potatoes ($2.50), 3 cups of diced onion ($1), 3 cups of diced celery & 8 cups of carrots costs...add that in. (I don't count the seasoning because we buy that in bulk at sams' for cheap.) I'm thinking it was probably around $23 for everything.
So this is what the stew looked like when we threw it together before canning. Browned cubed beef, veggies, beef base and seasonings. If I were making this for immediate use or for freezing, I would have thickened it with flour but that's a big no-no with canning.
Then it was time to start canning! I filled my quart sized pre-washed & pre-warmed canning jars with stew but left 1 inch headspace like my directions stated. I wiped the rims with a clean damp cloth and then put the lid & rings on.
The jars were very hot so I was thankful that my hubby bought me the canning accessory kit which included a jar lifter. The jars were then loaded into the canner which already had hot water in the bottom. (We accidently put a little too much water in. Whoops!) I will say that the directions in the manual were very confusing! You had to look at this page and then refer back to that page and then look at yet another page. I guess because there are so many options with canning. It would have been easier to a beginner like me if all the directions were complete in one place...even if it would have made the instruction manual a lot thicker.
Once I had 5 of the jars in, I realized that I forgot to swoop the insides of the jars to get the air bubbles out. Whoops! We pulled them back out and redid them. I was careful to rewipe the edges before we rescrewed the lids back on.
That's my hubby's hand, not mine, if you are wondering why it looks so masculine. ;)
We got all 7 jars in, screwed the lid on the pressure canner and started the process.
We first had to wait for it to steam for 7 minutes. It looked like this.
Exciting huh? Then we put the little regulator on, using the 10 pound setting since that's what our recipe called for. Then it was 90 minutes of process time at 10 pounds with the jiggling of the regulator. It looked like this...
The pressure canner is done but it hasn't cooled down enough for me to open it. They warned you heavily not to try to rush this part so I won't! Although I can't wait to open it and make sure all the jars sealed the right way. I know we ended up with a bit more then 8 qts worth of hearty beef stew made without preservatives with ingredients that I was in control of for around $2.75 per quart. (It could be made more economical with less meat more veggies.) And the best part....it won't use up freezer space! And it will be much quicker to reheat.
All in all, this wasn't too bad at all. Tomorrow we will turn these ingredients into WW Taco Bean Soup and 15 bean soup.