Hey all, I just want to being you up to date with what we've been doing lately.
Melissa has been pressure canning chicken breast and pinto beans this past week. If you don't know what that means it's basically pressure cooking food, but in bottles. I grew up with my mom doing this to put food by, but it's been surpirsingly revealing to follow the process while Melissa has been doing it. There are aspects of this neat trick which I missed completely as a child.
If you are interested in doing this, I need to encourage you to seek out a mentor. Ask someone who has done it before for some tips and tricks. Hopefully the person who you are asking will not mind fifteen phone calls to verify stuff, including the very real possibility of one or two close to midnight, because you took too damn long and still have a lot to do before bed. If that has you a bit deterred, there are books at the library on the subject, and there are a whole slew of websites with printable materials.
Melissa canned chicken. It doesn't need to be refrigerated. Now before you get all grossed out, realize she doesn't have to use ANY preservatives, and the taste of the chicken is pretty amazing because of that. If you have ever bought chicken from the store, you know the kind, it can have a strange aftertaste. Not this stuff! She purposely leaves the chicken bland (only chicken, 1 tsp of salt, and water); that way we can make whatever we want with the end product, only limited by our imagination. On Friday, she made chicken salad sandwiches (the pressure canned chicken, walnuts, grapes--yum!). We have also eaten the same stuff over at my sister Anna's--she made enchiladas with chicken and beans, both which she had put by. Didn't tell us all it had been pressure canned until we were raving about how tasty the dinner had been. It was like one of those "reveal" commercials on TV.
To make this neat trick happen, Melissa adds a teaspoon of salt, the filleted chicken breasts, and water (filled up to about an inch from the top of the jar). Then she adds a lid, twists on the ring, and puts it in the cooker. Next she adds 2 quarts of water to the pressure canner (in our case a borrowed 32 quart Mirro, compliments of my mom). You may want to add more, but you really don't need that much. The pressure and heat are what cooks the meat and seals the lid. Don't give in to your traditional thinking here, it will just waste time.
The next step is to get some pressure going. Put the lid on, and lock it in to place. You don't put the cool little round doo-dad in place quite yet. This little whatsit is the pressure regulator, and in the case of my mom's Mirro, it has 3 pressure settings--5, 10, and 15 lbs. The round pressure regulator rattles and ensures the pressure stays at the required setting, venting off all steam i excess of the pressure setting (this sound brings back many memories of my mom, slaving over a hot stove during late summer and early autumn evenings). Put the heat on high and wait for steam to start and escape from the nozzle, then look at the round pressure regulator. Find the 10 stamped on the side and place the corresponding cutout on the nozzle.
Before I go any further, I suspect this is where most of you would typically interject a story. Something about how your blue-haired Aunt Zina once killed an invading army with her pressure cooker. Most of that is hog wash. It is true you can spray boiling hot water all over the place if you try and open a pressurized cooker when it is in the thrall of a rolling boil. Ouch! But if you use common sense, and allow the cooker to (slowly) fully release the pressure, you will be just fine. Aunt Zina's H-Bomb need not apply to our scenario.
For beans, the prep work is a bit different. Since we're talking about dried beans here, we add only 1 & 1/3 cup of the dried stuff to a quart jar. The same teaspoon of salt applies, and we keep it simple for the same reasons. The water fills up the rest of the void, and believe me those little beans are thirsty! If you do add too many beans, the pressure of them swelling will rupture the bottles, the expansion too great for the glass to handle.
Coincidentally, both chicken and beans require 90 minutes to become fully cooked.
The great thing about this is that Melissa and I eat all our food which we put by, never bottling anything strange or exotic (malted toucan fricassee anyone?). Instead we bottle things we know we will be using in our recipes--again, the main reason for the bland nature of the bottling recipe.
Hopefully this post has taken away some of the mystery of canning and bottling, enough so you will want to try and supplement your weekly shopping with some products you can prepare yourself. We estimate the cost of the beans is a 30-45 cent savings over the best priced generic brand beans (and I have seen them go for as much as 99 cents a can, depending). Our beans cost 5-10 cents to bottle. Now, the huge caveat I must mention is that canning/bottling can be a fairly significant initial investment. The canners run approximately $120, the bottles, if new are close to $20 a dozen, and then of course the lids and rings are on top of that. If you can borrow a canner, and find Ball/Mason/Kerr/Atlas jars at a yard sale, DO IT. I am fairly certain some of these jars we are using are 50+ years old (some show dates stamped on the bottom). The glass containers do not spoil or go bad (in other words, don't throw them out!).
Finally, a handy table for food precessing times can be found here