canning for the urban homesteader

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I have fond childhood memories of spending many a summer day on my grandparents’ farm in the South.  My brother, cousins and I spent many a hot and humid day playing in the fields and romping through the woods, but also working hard and helping to harvest beans, corn and potatoes.  Although I don’t recall Grandma being an avid canner, I do remember several occasions when she and Mom worked all day (or at least in my mind so it seemed) in the small hot and steamy kitchen at Summer’s end.  Its not something I ever really recall having a strong interest in or remember questioning.  Its just what was done.  A seasonal part of everyday life.

Today, like a growing number of Americans, I’m more attuned to food.  Thanks to authors like Michael Pollan (Cooked is my latest favorite), Barabara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) and Karen le Billon (French Kids Eat Everything), I’m at least more aware of our Western industrial food factory mentality and understand to a greater degree the importance of jumping off of that treadmill.  Our family is taking baby steps and one of those steps is canning.  I’ve never attempted the canning my grandmother implemented for several practical reasons.  When I first started canning a few years ago, we lived in a small farm house in northeastern Montana.  Since summers are short there, we didn’t have an air conditioner.  However, when Summer did show up on our doorstep it was blazing hot!  Canning in an already swealtering house was not appealing to say the least.  My solution was to use a steam canner, which I found at our local hardware store.  It was great and allowed me to can fruits, including tomatoes, without heating up the kitchen too much.  Also, we were limited on storage space and it didn’t take up too much room.

This year, much to my surprise and sheer delight, we received an early Christmas gift from my Mom…..a Ball freshTech “automated home canning system”.  Its amazing and just the perfect thing for many an urban homesteader (or suburban homesteader!).  Like the steam canner, it doesn’t heat up the kitchen.  Again, that is really important for our household.  Although we are no longer in Montana, we do live in the high desert now.  Many homes here do not have central air, but rather have a swamp cooler.  Our cooler is quite ancient and inefficient and the last thing I want to do at Summer’s end or even in early Fall (when we are still quite warm) is to heat up the kitchen.  Another unique canning challenge is that we have an old stove with a too-low-who-the-heck- installed-this-thing microwave  hovering above.  I’m serious, folks.  Its a real problem.  I can’t even lift a lid off of a large pot on the back burner without being threatened by steam burning my hand.  So, “old fashioned” canning is absolutely not an option right now.  Nor is a new appliance.  And, lastly, storage is always a question.   And, yes, I know people say you can use the monstrous canning cauldron for other things but I can’t justify giving up that much real estate in my kitchen for it because I don’t see us using it throughout the rest of the year.

In contrast, the freshTech is smallish.   I have enough storage room for it and my canning jars in one small cabinet of the kitchen.  It comes with  a recipe book which I love.  Others who are seasoned canners may not love it because you’re limited to those recipes.  I’m sure that as the freshTech gains in popularity that there will be more “approved” recipes to use.  But, honestly, there are enough in there to keep this {sub}urban homesteader happy.  For example, I really just need one recipe for canning tomatoes.  All I want is to be assured that real food is sitting in that jar instead of buying a can of organic tomatoes from the store and not knowing if there is neotame in it or not because companies, organic or not, aren’t required to list it on the label.  And, I love that I can also make jams and jellies with this baby.  Most of all, the freshTEch allows me to can in small batches.  To me, that is a huge advantage.  I know it may cause others to guffaw.  But it means I’m not spending an entire Saturday canning.  It means that I put aside some time for food prep, put the jars in the machine, push a button or two and then take off with the family for a hike or to go and see my son’s flag football game that morning.  You don’t have to stick around while the freshTech is doing its thing!  It allows me to “homestead” or at least jump away from our industrialized food dependence for a bit and yet still keep up with our more {sub}urban and active family lifestyle.  I can only imagine that if we were living back in the Los Angeles area again or in another true metropolitan area that the time saving aspect of the freshTech would be even more amplified.

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