Friday, February 12, 2016

Canning - making your own MRE's.

MRE's stands for Meals Ready to Eat, by the way.

The weather has been appalling lately. We've been hit by another warm spell and it has been thawing pretty hard. On top of that did we get rain these last few days, so our world now is one of water and ice. Preferably on top of one another on the roads and paths one tends to walk on. We slip and slide our way through the days in the most literal kind of way.....

So what do you do in all this wet, grey, bonebreaking dreariness? You find yourself in the kitchen, keeping warm at the furnace and rejoice because you have found a meaningfull way to pass the time. At least that is what happened to me. I thought it necessary to combine a few things; learn how to can, making sure there is a supply of meals ready to go, just in case (of an emergency or laziness) and use a pile of food and leftovers that were reaching their limit of freshness and usefulness.
I decided to do a batch of Dutch brownbeanstew with shriveled apples and a leftover bag of brown beans and another batch of beanstew with leftover packages of white and kidney beans and a kilo of minced meat we had to cook previously, because otherwise it would have gone bad.

Soo...... let the experiment begin!!
Well, actually I know how to cook, so afternoon one was spent preparing both stews. I prepared the beans as usual; soaking them overnight and then cooking them and let them cool down, while I walked the dogs. This way the beans do not fall apart later on.
Then I prepared the rest of the ingredients by cutting them and stir frying them, after which I put beans and the rest together. I did not further heat or cook this, but set it aside! The flavours will blend more during the canning process..... hopefully.

The first thing with canning is preparation of equipment.
Checking if you have everything you need and that everything is in working order. Our cooker for instance. We bought the thing quite a few years ago and by that time it was already quite old. From the 70's, judging by the design and components used. It is a fairly basic utensil; a large metal kettle on top of a heating element, worked by 2 clocks, one for temperature and one for timing. Our timingclock does not work properly anymore. It stops running when it reaches the final half hour. We know that and take that into account (and of course forget about it too!).
Next are the glasses, rubber seals and clamps. Check them thoroughly for cracks, chips or damages as these will become an issue, when the heat and pressure are on. A small crack in a jar might cause it to burst open and that would not only ruin your meal, but your day as well if you are handling it. Dried or faulty rubber seals will compromise the airtightness of the jar and thus the food will spoil.
There are many varieties in jars, lids and clamps, but in general it is fairly easy to switch around. Except for the Weck-brand. These have quite specific jars and such, which will only fit onto themselves.

After that is done I always wash the jars and lids with soapy water, rinse them thoroughly and sterilise them in a hot oven (150C) for 40 minutes. The rubber seals are cooked in clean water for 5 minutes. The fact that I was expecting company for which my wife baked cookies, meant that the oven was in use and had the right temperature already....
After that it is a fairly simple process: fill the jars with the food. I fill them to the brim and press the food down a little. Then add seals, lid and clamp after you have wiped clean the rims and take away any spillage. As for the cooking times, we follow the recipe in the book. We're not that experienced.

After this you need to let the jars cool down with the clamps still on!! That will create the airtightness/vacuum. Once they are cooled and the clamps are removed, try lifting the jars at the lid. Carefully! If the process went wrong, the lid will come off.

Now the downside of this whole enterprise; it costs a lot of energy in the form of electricity. And that the nutritional value of the food is not as high as with fresh food or maybe even food processed in other ways. And that it runs on electricity... True.
If you consider that you only use a lot of energy once and if done right the food will keep for months or even years. No freezing or cooling required.
You always have food ready to be warmed up in case you forget to thaw out meat or are not able or willing to prepare whole meals. In this case only energy for warming the food is required.
Pretty much everything I used was about to spoil or were leftovers. So instead of throwing food away I kept it. No waste and saving on spending money on buying food. and this is the way I plan on using this equipment; for keeping food that is about to spoil longer. Like halfway through the winter, when some of the harvest has lost its freshness......
And if you do it on cold days, it'll warm your kitchen up quite nicely.
We have a complete backup set to be used on a (woodfed)stove too.

So far we have canned;
Soup with vegetables and meat
A chickenstew with pineapples and raisins. The taste was not as great as usual (to me), but still quite tasty.
Carrots in brine
and now adding 2 sorts of bean stew, carrots in ginger/lemon brine and red cabbage.

This amounted to about 5 or more dozen of jars so far and we had not one we kept fail us, yet.


  1. Fantastic! Those jars look like old fashioned jars. Are they or are they just modern Swedish jars. I want to send you some California beans. Santa Maria poquito beans. They only are grown near the town of Santa Maria on the coast. They don't lose their shape for some reason.. You make them with bacon, ham or beef. They are meaty.

    1. Yep, they're pretty old fashioned. Bought a lot of them, when we still lived in the Netherlands. They were dirt cheap back then, but prices have been rising considerably over the years. I guess the demand for them has increased sharply. I wonder why.... ;)
      And those beans sound just like my kind of beans! So please... feel free. :)

    2. I'm sure you made sure there were no chips or scratches on the rims of those old jars where bacteria could get in, right? Give me your address off line and I'll send them. I think it would be cool to have Santa Maria style beans in Sweden!

    3. Of course I did. And I regularly check if they still are vacuum and the first thing I do is smell them, when I open one.
      Santa maria beans in Dalarna... That'd be cool!!