Planning for Canning

One of the wonderful surprises I have had over the last few years pressure canning meat, fish and poultry, has been the convenience of using these foods when preparing breakfast, lunch or dinner.  At first I was nervous using a pressure canner, as we have all heard the stories about how they blew apart from too much pressure during grandma’s days.  I was also frightened that I would kill my family with the deadly botulism malady.

I am glad to report that I just don’t worry about those problems anymore.  I am very careful to follow each recipe from a reputable source exactly as written, I have become more familiar with my pressure canner, and follow every food precaution known with regard to cleanliness, temperature and cross contamination.

Because of this, I have been canning a lot of salmon, chicken and beef.  I bought a kindle book about canning beef called (of course) “I Can Can Beef”, written by Jennifer Shambrook, Ph.D. Her instructions are simple and direct and follow the Ball Canning Book almost exactly.  But the book goes much further into the subject, in that she lists quite a few recipes just for the canned meat.  I was so impressed with this book that I bought her other books, “I Can Can Chicken”, “I Can Can Beans” and “I Can Can Ground Beef”.

Pressure canned beefWhen I found Zaycon, the company from which I buy all my bacon, chicken and ground beef, I found that canning the meat was a very easy and convenient way to prepare what I had purchased.  Once the jars had been processed and the seals confirmed, I had shelf stable protein that did not need refrigeration or freezing!  Living off grid, this is a very important feature, as refrigerator and/or freezer space is oftentimes limited. If you haven’t heard about Zaycon, click on the Zaycon button on my sidebar!  If you order from them, I will receive a small “finder’s fee”, which will not increase your cost in any way.  It’s their way of saying “thank you” to me for spreading the word about their wonderful company.

You can see in the picture below some of the items I canned this past year on my working pantry shelf, which used to be the bottom bunk bed in our travel trailer.  I store the bulk of my canned goods in our cargo container, and go “shopping” there when I need to replenish the working pantry in my trailer.  As we build our new home and live part-time in the trailer, this is where I do most of our cooking.My Canning Pantry

Yes, I know.  As much as I talk about a self-sufficient lifestyle, I do have some store bought items on the shelf, also.  Guilty  😉

However, if anyone can find me a copy-cat recipe for Rice-A-Roni pilaf that actually tastes like the original… Please Share!  We love this as a side dish, but even better love adding the prepared mix to our chicken soup!  I also like making my own pasta, but unfortunately I don’t have enough space in my tiny RV kitchen to make batches of pasta, nor do I have the time while we are busy building our new home.

What I have found is that one pound of browned ground beef fills one pint jar, hence one 10 pound portion of ground beef will fill ten pint jars of processed ground beef, so one order of Zaycon ground beef (each order is 40 pounds) will fill 40 pint jars.  Since we use, on average, two pint jars of ground beef a week, one order will last us about 20 weeks. So, it would follow that if I want to can enough ground beef for a whole year, I would need about 2-1/2 to 3 full orders of ground beef from Zaycon.  Hmmm….  that probably won’t work for me right now.  First – I don’t have enough room in my small RV refrigerator to keep the second and third order of ground beef cold while I process the first batch. Second – My All American pressure canner holds only 19 pint jars at a time, so it would take two full batches in my canner to process almost the ground beef.  Since it takes at least 5 or 6 hours to heat, process and cool down my canner for each batch, it would take two days to get three batches of canning done. Whew! That would be a lot of work! However, I could process 38 pounds in one day – two full batches or one order of Zaycon ground beef – and that would almost get us through about half a year.

The same goes for the chicken.  Zaycon sells their chicken breast in 40 pound lots.  I usually can the chicken breast in chunks either by itself in pint jars, or with onions, celery, carrots and broth for a home-made chicken soup, in quart jars.  The chicken breast can be used in lots of Canned Chickendifferent recipes including stir fry, chicken enchiladas, Pad Thai, etc.  To the chicken soup I add noodles or the aforementioned Rice-A-Roni.  Seriously, if you know of a good copy-cat Rice-A-Roni pilaff recipe – Please let me know and I will be ever so grateful!  Ten pounds of chicken breast, cut into 1 x 1 inch chunks – raw pack – will make about 12 pint jars. When making soup, I don’t pack as much chicken into the quart jars so that there will be enough broth to cook the pasta or rice or other fresh vegetables when I am serving it, so ten pounds of chicken will usually make about 16 quart jars of soup for me.  We go through an average of 1 pint of chunk chicken and 1 quart of the chicken soup per week, so one 40 pound order of chicken breast works out to about 30 pints of chunk chicken and 20 quarts of soup per order.

As spring is quickly approaching I am starting to plan my vegetable garden, with an eye toward canning and/or freezing the produce to last at least one year.  That is my goal right now – one year.  I have read that one should actually have enough for two years, just in case of crop failure, or other disaster, but right now that would be just too overwhelming for me.  This has been quite a challenge for me, and I am still learning what works for me and what doesn’t. The problem is that I have to improve my gardening skills before I can be sure I will have enough food for a year.  😉

Last year I planted Kentucky Wonder beans and they did an amazing job.  Not only did we eat fresh green beans twice a week for a few months – July, August and September – I was also able to preserve 24 pint jars of green beans.  But it wasn’t enough.  I am already down to my last several jars of green beans and we still have at least three months before I can expect to get more from my garden.  So, I will have to plant more beans this year.

Bald faced hornets in my beans

I have trellised the bean plants to make it easier to reach the beans. So much easier (and safer) than a ladder.  Though these beans produced very well, I want more!

How many more?  Well, I figure if I want to have 3 dozen jars of beans, which would give us one jar per week during the non-producing months, I would have to plant half again as many beans as I did last year.  But if I wanted to have 4 dozen jars, I would need twice as many plants.  Therefore, I am going to plant twice as many plants because we really love

green beans pressure canned

I like to raw pack my green beans when I pressure can – it is so much easier and the final product isn’t much different that hot pack!

green beans.  We eat them plain as a side dish, cold in salads, thrown into stews and buried in casseroles.  In our family, the more the better!  Last year I planted cucumbers among the green beans, as well as the Chinese Red Noodle Beans.  While I love pickles, and the noodle beans were a fun experiment, I am going to use the entire side of the raised bed for green beans this year.

My black beans also did fairly well.  Out of the 9 plants that I had, I got about a quart of dried black beans.  The black beans shared the raised bed with the green beans, cucumbers and noodle beans, but were planted on the opposite side, which seemed to work well.  The black beans were a bush bean and didn’t interfere with the vining green beans.  The book “I Can Can Beef”, explains how you can fill up you canner with simple jars of either plain or chili beans.  Say, for example, you are canning 10 pints of ground beef.  My pressure canner holds 17 pints, so I have room for another 7 pints.  Why not fill those 7 pints with beans, which only takes minutes to do.  You will spend the same amount of energy processing the canner but have seven jars of delicious beans to add to your pantry!  I processed my black beans and got 9 pints of beans.  We need more than that, so I will also double the amount of black bean plants this year. Maybe triple!

These are the black turtle beans I grew last year. These are very tasty, can well, and as a bush bean doesn’t take too much real estate in the garden, but is well worth the effort.

My other garden vegetables I plan to grow and can include potatoes, carrots, beets and chili peppers.  You can see on the picture of my working pantry that I have four small jars of chopped peppers.  These worked out great when making chicken enchiladas, chili beans, meatloaf, etc., but sadly, those didn’t last long at all!

canned chili peppers

My fire roasted diced and canned chili peppers

The small size of the jars was perfect for adding to recipes, however, so I will continue canning peppers in that size, it’s just that I didn’t have enough. We had six Anaheim Chile plants last year.  Along with eating them fresh (mmmmmm… BBQ pepper poppers!) I want to have at least two dozen of these small jars for next year, so I will need to plant at least 12 Anaheim Chili plants this next year.  We also had two Ancho Poblano peppers that didn’t produce very well.  I wanted the Ancho Poblano because they would be great for Chili Relleno, but alas the plants just didn’t do as well as I had hoped.  So this year I will grow only Anaheim Chiles as my hot pepper.

My carrots?  They didn’t do well.  I ended up with little three inch long bunches of carrot flavored fuzzy roots.  I’m not sure what I did wrong, but I need to improve my carrot growing skills because I want to be able to can carrots also.  Not sure what happened to my potatoes this year, but they also suffered.  Alas, there is always another year!  🙂

These are the cherry tomatoes that I grew last summer. They were oh so good!

And the tomatoes?  I need more tomatoes.  The canning type to make sauces, pastes and chopped tomatoes.  Last year I grew both cherry tomatoes and paste tomatoes.  We ate the cherry tomatoes fresh and I canned the paste tomatoes.  I had two paste tomato plants and that wasn’t near enough to supply my pantry shelf.  This year I am going to grow two cherry tomatoes for fresh eating and probably a dozen paste tomato plants.  I will have to keep some space in my freezer for the tomatoes, because I like to throw them in a bag I have in the freezer and then process the tomatoes into sauce in one large batch, rather than several smaller batches. You can see that process HERE.  I haven’t tried making my own ketchup yet, but if I have enough tomatoes this year, making ketchup will be one of my new experiments.

It will be interesting to see how these changes in my garden will effect my canning this year.  Until we are able to move into our new home, canning will have to continue being done on my outdoor propane burner.  This presents a challenge, sometimes, because I have to plan my canning days around windy days, which can effect the flame of the outdoor burner, and therefore the canning process.

So, here’s to a new season of gardening, harvesting, canning and learning.  I hope my pantry will be still overflowing at this time next year.

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Here’s The (Ground) Beef!

I bought 40 pounds of 93/7 hamburger and processed it all into meal sized portions for the freezer last weekend. Whew!

Ground Beef from Zaycon

The Zaycon 93/7 Ground Beef comes in four – 10 pound packages.

I have been buying my boneless/skinless chicken breasts through Zaycon foods for about a year now and just love it!  The breasts (also sold in 40 pound packages) are huge with hardly any fat on them! You can see what I did with all those chicken breasts HERE.

Then I tried their bacon.  Mmmmm…. bacon!   The Zaycon bacon comes in twelve 3 pound packages.  What I like to do is bake an entire package of bacon all at once (yes, I bake mine in the oven – so much easier!) and store them six strips wide on layers of paper towels in the freezer. I don’t bake them until they are crispy, just lightly browned and almost done. Then, when we want bacon for breakfast, or baked in squash, or to crumble on a salad, all I have to do is place some strips in a cast iron pan over medium high heat for just a few minutes to “refresh and crisp”!  It’s a great time-saver.

I was so happy with the chicken breasts and bacon, that I decided to try their 93/7 ground beef.  It’s unbelievable how much cheaper the Zaycon ground beef is than the grocery stores around town, and the meat is also a lot fresher!  Since I got four 10 pound packages of ground beef, I decided to use each package in a different way.  Every time someone uses the link on the right to purchase Zaycon foods, I am compensated a dollar – so, thanks to those of you who have supported this blog with your purchase!  :0  If you would like to see if Zaycon delivers in your area, the link has a map of all the delivery sites in the United States.

Zaycon Hamburger

I got this hamburger press from Tupperware many years ago. It makes perfectly uniform hamburger patties for even cooking! It also speeds up the process of making lots and lots of hamburgers!

The first package of ground beef was made into hamburger patties.  I got this hamburger making press many, many moons ago and have loved it ever since.  It makes perfectly sized hamburgers that are all just about the same weight.  That way, when cooking up the burgers, they are all done at the same time.  Using this press it took very little time to get a bunch of hamburgers formed!  I mean, a bunch!  The only thing I added to  the burgers before forming them was a little bit of sea salt and some black pepper.  That way, in the future, if I have run out of the frozen cooked ground beef, I can always use the burgers instead!  Once the hamburgers were formed, I layered them between parchment paper and placed them in the freezer. When they were frozen solid, they were packaged two by two with my sucky machine (aka Food Saver).

Then, it was time to make meatloaf. Or should I say meatloafs.  Maybe meatloaves?

Whatever.  😉

Hamburger from Zaycon

Some of the ingredients I put in this batch of meatloaf. I don’t think I have ever made my meatloaf the same way twice!

I don’t usually follow a recipe when I make meatloaf, just some of this and a little bit of that.  I always add eggs, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, catsup and onions.  Then, I tend to throw in whatever else sounds good and may be at hand, such as garlic, jalapenos or chiles, rice, carrots, parsley, cauliflower, etc.. Most of the time the combinations are really good.  Sometimes, not so much. Ask me how I know a combo of chiles, jalapenos, garlic and onions may be a bit too spicy in a meatloaf!  I usually combine all the ingredients in my mixer with the dough hook attachment, and then finish off with my hands.  When ready for making into the actual meat “loaf”, I have found that the small aluminum loaf pans or the plastic tubs that sandwich meats come in work perfectly.  We don’t buy sliced sandwich meat anymore, but these tubs seem to last forever, and have come in handy in so many ways! Then, off to the freezer.

Ray and I just love meatloaf and baked potatoes…   mmmmmm,  comfort food.

But I think Ray actually prefers to eat the left-overs the next day in a meatloaf sandwich.

What to do with Ground Beef

Nine dinners (and lunches) all ready to defrost and cook! Easy Peasy!

The next day was meatball day.  I searched for recipes on the internet and found one that Ree Drummond (Pioneer Lady) uses.  It was fairly simple and plain, so I could serve the meatballs in any number of different sauces:  teriyaki, beef gravy, spaghetti., etc..  Ray and I spent a couple of hours mixing together the ingredients, making the meat mixture into balls and then frying them on fairly high heat to get a good brown crust on them, but not cooking them completely through.  The meatballs were then placed on parchment lined cookie sheets and popped into the freezer.  Once frozen, I placed 25 meatballs into gallon sized freezer bags.  I got 4-1/2 bags, or 115 meatballs!  Now, whenever we want to have a meatball sandwich, or meatballs in gravy over mashed potatoes, I just pluck some meatballs out of the bag, let them thaw for a few minutes, then add them to whatever sauce I’m using – easy peasy!

Frying up the meatballs. I am so glad I found Ree Drummond's recipe - the meatballs turned out just perfect!

Frying up the meatballs. I am so glad I found Ree Drummond’s recipe – the meatballs turned out just perfect!

On top of spaghetti,                       All covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meatball,
When somebody sneezed.

It rolled off the table,
And on to the floor,
And then my poor meatball,
Rolled out of the door.

It rolled in the garden,
And under a bush,
And then my poor meatball,
Was nothing but mush.

So if you eat spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Hold on to your meatball,
Whenever you sneeze.                 Remember that blast from the past?

Finally, I had one more 10 pound package of ground beef.  Whew – almost done!  I decided to just brown the ground beef, wash it, then package it in 2 cup increments.  This is the perfect amount to make tacos, chili, stroganoff, etc..

Two cup packages of ground beef all ready to be thawed and made into a pasta sauce, chili beans, enchiladas, etc...

Two cup packages of frozen ground beef all ready to be thawed and made into a pasta sauce, chili beans, enchiladas, etc…  In the end I had 15-1/2 two cup packages!

“Wash it?” you ask.  Why, yes, I wash my ground beef by placing the hot ground beef under hot water running from my kitchen faucet. Tilt the pan just a bit. The fat floats up and over the top of the pan and runs down the drain, rendering your ground beef nearly fat free!  Or, you can put the ground beef in a colander and run it under hot tap water.  Either way works.  Yes, a lot of the flavoring does go down the drain with that fat, but if you are adding stuff back like taco seasonings or peppers and onions, you won’t miss the fat flavoring at all!  And it’s much better for you!  Caution: if you aren’t using a fairly lean ground beef, you may have a lot (and I mean a lot) of fat, which could be a potential problem for your plumbing. Try draining the ground beef in a colander that you center over a large pot and run the hot water over it that way.  If you do this, chill the fat/water combo and all the fat will rise to the top, solidify, and now you have tallow!  What can you do with tallow?  Make soap!  Tallow soap is wonderful!  Click on my Soapmaking link at the top of this page for more ideas.Olive Oil and Lard Soap Recipe

So, there you have it!  For a few hours of labor (it was actually fun making meatballs with my dearest) you can prepare lots of freezer ready food.  In the morning when I know I am going to have a busy day, I will place a meat loaf in the refrigerator (on the door where it is the warmest) and then around 4ish in the afternoon pop it and a couple of Idaho’s in the oven for a delicious, easy meal.  But then, the easiest thing for me is to tell Ray it’s his night to cook and have him grill up some burgers! 😉0001

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Forty Pounds of Chicken!!

This post contains an affiliate link. If you make a purchase from the link, I may earn a small commission, at no cost to you, which helps to finance this blog.  Thank you.

Recently I purchased a 40 pound box of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The chicken came in four bags of 10 pounds each, and this is what I did with it…

(drum roll, please)

What to do with 40 pounds of chickenWith the first bag of chicken, I sliced the breasts into planks and soaked them in marinade.  My dear hubby, Ray, then smoked the chicken planks before grilling them to perfection.  Once they had cooled a bit, I placed them on waxed paper and slid them into the freezer.  An hour or so later, when they were frozen, I used my Food Saver (aka “sucky machine”) to package them into meal sized portions.  We have done this many times before and really enjoy using this chicken sliced onto salads or mixed into pasta. Because of the smoked/grilled flavor and spicy marinade, it’s also great shredded in tacos and enchiladas, or used to make southwestern chicken chili or soup.  Of course, it’s really good just eaten as is – you don’t even need to reheat – just thaw and enjoy!marinated and grilled chicken planks

While Ray was grilling, I took another ten pound bag, sliced the breasts into cubes, then packed them into pint sized canning jars.  After adding plain ole’ water with a generous 1 inch headspace, I wiped the rims with vinegar (to make sure there wasn’t any grease, which could prevent a proper seal) placed the lids and rings finger tight, and pressure canned Canned Chickenthem for 75 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.  I opted not to add salt because this chicken would be used for cooking and/or baking, at which time I would add the appropriate amount of salt. The canned chicken can be used to make pasta dishes, ravioli fillings, chicken tacos, chicken soup – the list goes on and on!  The best part about canning chicken is that no further energy is needed to preserve it once it is properly canned!  If you will be pressure canning at an elevation above 1,000 feet, please follow current guidelines for processing time and pressures. You can get that information here:

Freezing and vacuum sealing chickenNext, I prepared the rest of the chicken breasts for freezing whole.  There wasn’t really much to do except cut the two halves apart, and place them on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet to flash freeze. I used four cookie sheets to do this because it’s important that the chicken doesn’t freeze together.  Also, the air space between the breasts helps to freeze them quicker.  I did cut off that weird nugget piece that goes under the wing of the chicken, and any fat on the chicken, and saved these pieces to make chicken stock. Once frozen, they were individually placed into Ziploc Bags and vacuum sealed.  This ensures freshness for at least six months, usually longer.  Our’s won’t last that long because chicken is our favorite meat protein.vacuum sealed frozen chicken breasts

The bits, pieces and parts that were trimmed off the breasts were slow roasted for several hours (to get that how to make and can chicken stockwonderful flavor),  then dumped into a large pot of cold water and stored in the refrigerator overnight.  The next morning, I skimmed off the fat that was floating on the top of the water, and then simmered for several hours with carrots, onions, garlic, salt, pepper and one bay leaf.  The broth was strained (reserving the chicken meat) and returned to the heat to reduce until it was a beautiful amber color.  I let the broth reduce to about half the volume I started with  because this really intensifies the flavor.  The broth was strained once more as it was ladled into pint sized canning jars, then pressure canned for 20 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure to preserve it’s goodness.  I live lower than 1,000 feet in elevation, so 20 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure are sufficient to stop botulism in it’s track for me.  If you live at a higher elevation, please see the current recommendations for processing time and pressure for your area.  Again, you can read about the current processing times and recommendations on this website: and can chicken stock

The final tally from 40 pounds of chicken:

15 bags of marinated smoked and grilled chicken strips, each bag consisting of 5 to 6 planks (which is 2 meal sized portions – perfect for hubby and I)

8 pints of pressure canned chicken breast chunks.

14 frozen whole chicken breasts.

4 pints of canned reduced chicken broth (plus one half pint which is in my refrigerator)

2 cups of shredded chicken from the trimmings used to make the broth.  Chicken enchiladas, anyone?

So, where did I get this wonderful looking, fresh chicken?how to preserve 40 pounds of chicken

Zaycon Foods.  This is how Zaycon Foods describes their service:

Zaycon Foods is a privately owned company based in Spokane, Washington. The company was founded in 2009 with the simple mission to bring farm fresh meats direct to consumers at wholesale prices. You see, we knew all the farmers who had the best stuff around. Thanks to our experience in the grocery industry, we knew how to quickly move that great stuff from point to point, preserving its freshness, taste, and nutrition. So we asked ourselves: “Why are there middlemen involved? Why aren’t we just getting this food directly from the farms to the people who are going to eat it?” That idea grew into the company we are today. When we started off just a few short years ago, we offered only a few meats in a few areas. But thanks to the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response we’ve gotten from all of you, Zaycon has grown like wildfire!”

That sounded pretty good to me, but I am a skeptic, so I decided to try it out by buying just one forty pound box of boneless, skinless chicken.  I paid $1.89 pound, which is a very good price where I live here in Northern California.  Zaycon calls the delivery of their food an “event”, and there are “events” all over the place!  All I had to do was arrive at a certain parking lot in my city between 5 and 5:30 PM on the specified date.  Easy enough.

how to freeze and or can chickenI was amazed to see just how simple the whole process was.  Ordering was easy. Then, on the appointed day, we got in the line-up of cars (we were #4) and in just a few minutes we were at the front of the line.  The gentleman asked us our last name, confirmed that we had bought one box, and forty pounds of chicken was placed into the trunk of our car.  It took less than 10 minutes and we were already on our way home.

When I got the chicken home and inspected it…

Holy moly!  Heavens to Mergatroyd!

These breasts were huge!  And to be honest, I had never seen chicken breasts sold like this before, still attached to the other breast!  I was also pleased to see that there was very little fat clinging onto the breasts. When I opened the bag containing the chicken, the odor wasn’t at all like the odor ofl store bought chicken.  Ah ha…  so this is what fresh chicken is supposed to smell like!!

Will I use Zaycon Foods again?  Yes!  YES!  This was the best chicken I have ever purchased in my life – seriously!  Cross my heart!

The next “event” in my town that I will be ordering from will be the bacon event.  I have to be careful not to buy too much, because my freezer space will be limited when we move up to the future homestead (hopefully soon!).  But, this will give me a chance to try canning bacon!  To me, having to buy in bulk is really the only disadvantage of buying from Zaycon…   You see, 40 pounds is the smallest box of chicken breasts that they sell.  That being said, having customers buy in bulk is exactly how they are able to keep prices so low – which is okay for me because I am able to can some and freeze some.  However, sharing the cost of a box or two and then processing the meat with friends sounds like an excuse for a party!

If you would like to see the Zaycon web site, click HERE.  I promise, if you buy chicken from Zaycon Foods, you will be impressed!


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