Canning Broth: Easier than previously thought

6832048268_3c29ea55c4_oSo, back near Thanksgiving, I made some turkey broth.  At the time, I measured it out, put it in freezer bags, and froze it.  This has been the way that I’ve done my broth for a while now.  However, I can never get the bags to freeze flat and therefore they take up a lot of space in my freezer.  (What I would give for the space to have a chest freezer!)  A friend came into a pile of beef (her dad had bought half a cow) and she wanted to share.  So we needed to make room in the freezer.

Last summer, when we canned the cherries, I bought a bunch of jars and a pressure canner.  Now, a brief primer on canning.  Most canning can be done in a boiling water bath, with pots you already own, as long as they cover the top of the jars.  This is for things like jams, jellies, and tomatoes.  These foods have enough sugar or acid (or both) that they can be canned with boiling water.  Other foods, such as soups or pasta sauces, don’t have these properties, and so need a much higher heat in order to be safe.  This higher heat can only be acquired at home with a pressure canner.  For more specific info, I recommend checking out a basic canning book, like The Ball Blue Book.  This was the book that I started with.

Ever since I learned about home canning, I’ve dreamt about canning my own soups.  The idea of pulling a jar off the shelf and dumping it in a pot, easy as store-bought soup, but so much healthier!  I’ve since learned that dream is a little unrealistic; most soups can’t be canned in their finished form with everything already mixed together.  But broth can be, and that’s about halfway there.

I’m pleased to say that this experiment was successful.  You basically wash the jars, heat the broth, fill the jars, seal, put in the canner and process for as long as the directions say.  Much more straightforward than making jam or preserves.  In fact, I’m going to make some ham broth later this week and can that too!  I’m also looking forward to canning my grandma’s chicken soup (which is basically carrots, onions, celery and chicken broth).

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Book Review: Real Food on a Real Budget

I haven’t done one of these on this blog before, but I’ve been meaning to.  You see, I actually do read, and lately it’s been half fiction, and half non-fiction like this.  I make great use of the library, and my reading list is a mile long.  I figured some of you might want to know my thoughts on what I read.

So, first up is Real Food on a Real Budget by Stephanie Langford.  Stephanie Langford is the original writer of  Keeper of the Home, which I believe I’ve mentioned before.  I originally bought this when I first started getting into Real Food, because, well, Real Food tends to be more expensive.  So I was looking for a manageable way to convince myself and Andrew that changing completely over to Real Food would still be feasible.  (To be honest, it’s not that feasible on a grad student budget, at least with the way we eat meat.)

Most of the book is actually applicable even if you aren’t trying to eat Real Food.  Many of the tips I’ve seen on other websites about saving money.  Some of them are very common sense: plan meals, cook at home, buy in bulk.  Of course, some of them don’t make sense for just two people.  Andrew and I recently tried to see if it would be worth to get a warehouse membership, but we discovered that except for a few canned/dry goods, we wouldn’t be able to eat it fast enough, and the prices wouldn’t save us very much compared to the other local grocery stores.  However, I know that I would probably order some bulk goods for grains or flours, as things like whole-wheat pastry flour is not so easy to find, and expensive when you do find it.

Other suggestions that Stephanie makes are much different, and definitely something to think about.  Ever wonder why strawberries are cheaper in July than in December?  It’s because it’s actually strawberry season in July (in the northern hemisphere anyway.)  Eating seasonally can save a lot of money, and if you buy it from the farmers market, you’ll definitely know what’s in season or not.  You can also combine this with the buying in bulk to get discounts.  Remember those cherry preserves I put up last summer?  I made those from a bulk container of cherries I bought in the summer, right when cherries are at their cheapest.  Which brings me to another point Stephanie mentions in the book: growing your own food, and learning to preserve it.  Now, you don’t necessarily have to can it (though that’s one of the good old-fashioned ways).  You could freeze it, or dry it.  If you had a root cellar, you could store it.

She also makes suggestions on how to avoid wasting any food, and also on how to make it stretch longer.  Both are things that most people figure out they need to do, but don’t know exactly how to do it until someone gives them ideas.  She also has a whole section devoted to finding the time to cook things from scratch in our busy lives.

I only have two complaints about the book.  First, there’s some religious language.  Given Stephanie’s blog, I really don’t have a problem with this, but it makes it difficult to promote to a wider audience, I think.  Second, Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom, and it shows.  Aside from some comments in the back of the book from other people, she doesn’t really address how someone is supposed to be able to do this while working a full time job.  Sure, she makes suggestions about fitting in the time to cook and meal planning, but a lot of the passages still gave me that feeling of “Well, yeah, if you’re home all day.”

The best thing about the book is a section at the very beginning where she suggest that you write out what your priorities are with respect to real food.  So, for example, for me and Andrew it goes:

  1. LOCAL.
  2. “Real” meat (Grassfed, pastured, unprocessed).
  3. “Real” dairy (as unprocessed as possible).
  4. Managing Grains (soaking, sourdough)
  5. Other real foods (oils, vinegars).
  6. Buy Dirty Dozen fruits and veggies as organic.
Notice how organic isn’t really a priority for us?  It may be for other people.  For us, local food trumps everything (assuming it meets some other criteria too.  Local crap is still crap.)   We’ll take local grassfed meat over organic grassfed meat any day, because we want to support the local economy.  And we’re not going to stress about whether or not we’re eating organic frozen dinners, because we’re trying not to eat frozen dinners at all.  I should also note that Stephanie doesn’t tell you what eating Real Food is.  She assumes the reader has already decided what their version of Real Food is like, and just wants to give you tips to save money.

Overall, the book has some good ideas and certainly offers a variety of suggestions on different ways to save money.  Unfortunately, if you read the blogs that I do, there’s not really much new here.

Real Food: Resources

So, I said in an earlier post, I was going to point you to some resources about Real Food.  Some of these are things that I found early on, some later.  Some are only tangential to Real Food.  But they all gave me good ideas and were part of my motivation for going on this journey.

Websites:

Food Renegade – This was the first website that I came across.  I was linked to it from a Paleo/Primal blog.  The writer, Kristen, posts news articles, recipes, and information on different ingredients.

GNOWFGLINS – Wardeh here has a complicated name for her blog, but it is full of lots of useful information.  In fact, my journey is starting by enrolling in her online courses.  I’m really looking forward to it, and out of respect for her courses, I won’t repost any info from there.  The basic membership is about $10/month, so there’s really no excuse.  Warning: Wardeh is Christian and does talk about her faith in some of her writing.  I’m not bothered by it, but if you are, you were warned.

Keeper of the Home – This blog has several writers.  The focus is on raising families, which doesn’t apply to me, but they do post some neat things on Real Food and living green.  This blog also tends to have a Christian focus sometimes, so you were warned.  The writers have also produced a book: Real Food on a Real Budget.

You can also check out the Weston A. Price Foundation.  They promote old traditional diets as well, but I’ve found the above blogs much more helpful.

Books:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food – Michael Pollan has written multiple books on the topic of food.  I recommend reading only one of these, as he sort of repeats the same arguments.  Very eye-opening if you aren’t aware of some of the less savory aspects of our food system.

Real Food: What to Eat and Why – Nina Planck’s book is a very easy read.  She makes everything clear, and is very reasonable in her arguments.  I also like that she uses citations, and even has a bibliography!  It makes me feel like she really did her work researching the topic.  It’s difficult with all the information out there to tell everything apart.

How to Cook Everything – Mark Bittman’s amazing cookbook.  While not specifically about Real Food, Bittman has a preference for using whole ingredients without a lot of shortcut processed foods.  He has how-tos for things like separating a whole chicken into parts, so you can buy the whole bird (cheaper than buying boneless chicken breasts).  This makes it a great addition if you’re trying to learn to make things from scratch.  It’s my kitchen bible now.

Other:

Of course, there’s always other media about the Real Food battle.  I haven’t seen the movie Food, Inc myself, mainly because I suspected I’d been exposed to most of the information in it already.  I know I’ve seen glimpses of factory farms on some cooking/travel shows.  And of course, there’s always Peta, but I think they’re a bunch of fanatics.  (Hence why I’m not linking to their website.)

I’m sure there are many more blogs, websites, books, and other things out there.  But these are the things I’ve been exposed to.  These are the ones I follow and watch for neat info and ideas of how to make Real Food a real option in my life.  I hope some of you find them useful or, at least, interesting reading.

Real Food: Secrets in Labels

Two Butters
Photo by Ulterior Epicure on Flickr

So, in my previous post, I made a lot of comments about the government and how it interferes with the goals of Real Food, and I didn’t exactly include citations to back me up.  I hope to make a future post with citations and links to where I got the info from, but today is July 4th, Independence Day, and I wanted to focus on one of the things the government got right.  Labels.

Now, I’m not talking about the “Nutrition Facts” they stick on the side of every container.  I don’t count calories anymore, or carbs, or fats.  Sometimes I’ll pay attention to sodium and potassium, but that’s because I tend to eat a lot of salt anyway.  No, the part of the label that I pay attention to is the “Ingredients List”.

In some ways, the ingredients list seems stupid.  I don’t need a label to tell me that milk is in my milk carton or eggs in my egg carton.  Milk is milk and eggs are eggs, right?  Well, sure, but what about other things?  Like butter, for example?  You wouldn’t think so, but yes, you need a label.  Why?

Let me tell you a little story first.  Way back in the early 1990s, I was in kindergarten.  In kindergarten, we did little parties for every national holiday.  For Thanksgiving, my teacher thought it would be a good idea to show us how butter was made, since we had talked about the pilgrims making their own food.  I don’t remember all the ingredients exactly, but our teacher basically filled a jar with milk or cream, and maybe a little salt, and had us shake that thing to our heart’s content.  We all had to take turns, because it was a hard thing for 5 year olds to do.  In the end, we ended up with maybe a couple tablespoons of “butter”.

My point here is that my 5 year old self “knew” what butter was.  She knew it involved milk, and a lot of work, and not much else.  So, theoretically, we all know what butter is.  Butter is butter, just like milk is milk, right?

So why does a package of generic butter at Wal-mart list the ingredients as “Pasteurized Cream, Natural Flavorings.” ? What on earth are “natural flavorings” and why does my butter need them?  Welcome, my friends, to the world of industrial foods, where no basic item is sacred.  The thing is, that much like “fragrance” in cosmetics, natural flavorings could mean anything.  What’s really sad to me is that they feel the need to add these in to something that should just be cream and salt.  What did they do wrong that they need to add flavor to their butter?

Now, butter is actually one of the nicer examples.  Let’s take something a little more complex.  I like cottage cheese.  I eat it over applesauce or on toast for breakfast.  I, like most people, don’t like to pay a lot for my food, so I used to reach for the generic Wal-mart brand.  Cottage cheese is cottage cheese, right?  All the packages say cottage cheese, so they must be the same product, right?  Well, I wouldn’t be writing this if that was true.

Ingredients for Wal-mart brand cottage cheese: Cultured Nonfat Milk, Nonfat Milk, Cream, Whey, Salt, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Cultured Dextrose, Locust Bean Gum, Citric Acid, Polysorbate 80, Acetylated Monoglycerides, Natural Flavor, Enzymes, Carbon Dioxide (To Help Protect Flavor).

I had a problem with natural flavor, but this…mess is something completely different.  I’ve gotten used to reading ingredient labels, so I know what some of these are.  The guar gum and locust bean gum are likely thickeners.  But most of the other stuff, I have no idea what it is or what it does.  Or why I would want to eat it.  To contrast:

Ingredients for Daisy brand cottage cheese: Cultured Skim Milk, Cream, Salt.

See the difference?  You’d never know it looking on the shelf.  You have to look at the ingredients label.  And before you go saying “Shay, you have to know that Wal-mart only makes crap”, Wal-mart isn’t the only offender.  Even my local dairy brand has added crap in their cottage cheese.  The brand that has a factory right here in the middle of town and buys the milk of local farmers.  Can’t get more local than that.  But they put extra stuff in their products, and so I don’t buy them.

I’ve been reading labels judiciously for a while now, starting from when I was dieting.  And the more complex or processed the food, the more difficult the ingredients list gets.  In general, if the list has an ingredient that you don’t know what it is or what it does, then I’d avoid that food.  (Chemists would obviously have to modify that rule a bit. 😛 )  I haven’t completely given up all my processed foods yet, but I try to make sure that it has as short and readable an ingredients list as possible.  And you can bet that if the government didn’t require that label, they wouldn’t put any of it on that container.  We’d all have no idea what was in our food, and we’d be eating crap without knowing it.

So thank you, U.S. Government.  Thank you for getting at least one small thing right for the battle of Real Food.