Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Making Baked Beans from Scratch

Well, due to some dietary restrictions that I have meanly imposed on my youngest lad, buying baked beans in cans is now frought with difficulty. He can't have gluten, wheat, wheat by products, or anything dairy. So all those little words like "thickener" and "starch" are a no-no!

SO today I'm making a large batch of baked beans from scratch, so I know exactly what's in them, and I know that they are safe for him to eat.

First step - select the beans. Contrary to popular opinion, you can make baked beans out of ANY type of bean. It just depends on what you like. I happened to have some dry navy beans left from last time I made them, and I also threw in a few handfuls of dry black-eyed peas. (no, not the band.)

These were put in the big stockpot and covered with water to soak. I ended up soaking them for about 18 hours, although overnight is usually fine.

Then I drained them into the colander. At this point I had a heaped large colander full of soaked beans. Yep, that's the sum total of the measurement you'll be getting today *grin*

Now there are a number of different ways that you can follow from here. One is to simmer your beans in fresh water for about and hour - hour and a half. Then drain again, mix with sauce ingredients, and back in oven on low heat for about 6 hours.

However - I don't like the bake in oven for long periods thing. And today I really didn't want to be in and out of the kitchen all day either.

So I pulled out the slow cooker.

Put beans in slow cooker. If you are making these the same way I am, add about 3 cups of water, about 1 litre of passata (mine is home made from last years tomato preserving frenzy - one litre is approximate, i used one size 27 Fowlers Jar) and stir.

Then I threw in - some garlic powder (to taste), about a cup of dark brown sugar, a tablespoon or so of powdered mustard, and a good teaspoon of ground cloves. It now smells like baked beans in there!!!

Switch crockpot on. Here directions may vary. I have read 12 hours on low. But because I chose NOT to pre-cook the beans (as well as the pre-soak) I have put the pot on high for a few hours first.

I will probably stir in once in a little while and see how they are going, and then perhaps turn it to low, all things depending.

And if I was going to work tomorrow, I would definetly be pressure canning these babies. But since I AM going to work, they will go into the freezer instead.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Today i am going to pressure can carrots. I'm following the instructions from an internet friend who is quite possibly the most helpful woman ever whenever I have a preserving question - and I will ask her later on if it's OK for me to publish her instructions here so everything is all in one space.

If I can find batteries that are charged for the camera I will try and do a bit of a step by step photo thing too. But I won't make any promises on that one!

We eat a lot of carrots here - and often they are kinda expensive. So I thought I'd can some, and buy the juicing ones or even the horse ones from the local feed store. Given that I can buy a 20 kilo bag of carrots from there for $10.95, and the stupidmarket carrots are often around the $1.40 per kilo, I figured it would save us some dosh, at the cost of a day in the kitchen. And since it's school holidays, a day in the kitchen isn't that surprising anyway - I'll probably get the kids to roll some biccies for the teeny tiny oven while I peel carrots!

However - it did occur to me that attempting to get 20 kilos of carrots into jars meant that I had to have storage space for 20 kilos of carrot jars... and it meant that I would possibly get RSI from peeling all that many carrots - and I thought it might take me a couple of days....

To get rid of all my excuses, the stupidmarket had carrots on sale for 99c a kilo - so I decided I'd start this venture small rather than large and bought 6 kilos.

So today - canning 6 kilos of carrots. And if there's time a couple of jars of pumpkin cubes too.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Not so much preserving, per se, as cooking WITH preserves.

OK. So I'm a bit of a slap-dash cook. I'm not really organised enough to have things like measuring spoons, cups, sifters and mixing bowls all easily accessible. Nor do I have metres upon metres of empty benchspace in which to do things.

I also have hordes of hungry children.

Normally the two of these things result in home-brand milk arrowroot biscuits. BUT NOT ANY MORE!!!!

With the onset of a DECREASING amount of hours spent at work outside of the home, (starting today YAY!) I decided to stepford things up a little in my home. And I baked muffins.

I know I've baked before, but it's been a long time.

Tomorrow is playgroup day, and I was conscious that there is a little lass at our playgroup who can't have eggs at all due to allergies. I also remembered the upteen jars of plum butter that I had preserved and bottled the year before last that STILL hadn't been opened, sitting in my newly organised preserving cupboard.

So I put the two things together in a some-what haphazard manner and came up with these little gems, mostly allergy safe (unless you happen to be gluten intolerant, in which case use a gluten-free SR flour substitute - or avoiding salicylates, in which case you might not want to make these at all - sorry!!!). They are dairy and egg free however.

Please excuse the measurements. I kinda didn't make any. LOL

Grab yourself a largish bowl, and tip into it a 250 mL jar of plum butter. (oh. haven't blogged the plum butter instructions. Will do so ASAP!)

Add about 3 heaped teaspoons of brown sugar (leave out if you added sugar in your plum butter in the first place!)

Throw in a handful or two of dried cranberries (my fav. dried fruit of all time!)

Then add approx. 7 heaped tablespoons of self raising flour (can you tell I did this a little bit at a time??) and about half a cup of rice milk. Stir lots. Ask small children to stir even more.

Take back the bowl, add more rice milk and stir until you have a general muffin-like consistancy. Smells good already!!!

Now, after the kids have filled your mini muffin trays with mini muffin paper cases (this is actually very important - with no butter the muffins will tend to stick and you kinda have to eat them out of the cases, rather than peel them out first!), drop a heaped teaspoon of mix into each muffin case.

Stick in a pre=heated oven (180deg C) and cook for around 10 minutes.

If you are using BIG muffin tins and cases, I reckon about 25 mins would be fine.

They come out very nice, not as sweet as one might expect. If you have a sweet tooth, you will need to ice them - but my kids are loving them, and there might even be enough left for playgroup tomorrow.

I'd love to add photos but I've had a huge camera disaster, so that won't be happening. But they are little muffins that have met with my kids approval, and are a great use for the plum butter (or apple butter, peach butter, whatever really!) that you might have lying in your preserving cupboard, after being inspired by a random forum post, a slow cooker and a visit from our local "plum man" who trots over every year selling us bags of his cherry plums for practically nix.


ETA: Plum Butter. OK I'm probably not going to have a lot of time to blog it up nicely, so here goes.

There is no butter in it. There is no butter in any of the fruit butters I have preserved. And they are REALLY easy to make.

Get out your slow cooker. Fill it with fruit (pips and skins included, just halve them or whatever is comfortable!) Turn it on to low heat. Add about an inch of water or fruit juice in the bottom of the slow cooker to stop things burning. Leave it going for a good 12 hours. If you like, and your fruit is really juicy, leave the lid slightly askew during the last 4 hours to let some of the liquid evaporate out again. You can add whatever you like to it - I did some apple butter with a hint of cinnamon and cloves, and a little bit of sugar. I did some peach butter too. It's all good.

Once it's all cooked into mush, scoop it out and push it through a fine sieve. Messy, but effective. Throw out the seeds/pips/skins (or feed em to the chooks once they've cooled down, or hurl into the compost) then ladel the resultant gloop into sterilised hot glass jars, wip rims, put on lids and waterbath for 10 minutes.

You're done. And it's good in muffins. *grin*

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In response to a question...

I had an email from a reader the other day, but her return email address bounced. So I've decided to publish the email and my response to it here, minus names and other incriminating evidence *grin*

She Said:
Hi Ali.  I actually wanted to ask you a question about
preserving, but I couldn't figure out how to leave a comment on your blog
(sorry!). I was wondering if you could tell me your method of using the
FV to waterbath jams and such - I'm interested in doing the same for jams
and chutneys. Thanks!!
My Reply:

It's really simple to use the FV to waterbath jams and chutneys. If you have an electric FV unit, put water in it and get it to almost boiling. Then you fill your HOT jars with HOT jam/chutney/whatever (note - wearing gloves is a good idea here, hot jam BURNS!). Wipe rims, finger-tighten lids (or put rings and lids on, depending on the jars you are using) and using tongs, place into the FV unit. You won't have a problem with jars cracking as long as everything is hot - jars, jam, and water in the unit.

Once all your jars are in there, check the water level. If it's not covering the jars, top up the FV with fresh boiling water (I have my kettle going as well to make it all faster).

Once the water level is about 2 inches over the jars, make sure the unit is switched on. Let it come to a rolling boil - then time it for 5 minutes.

Using tongs, pull the jars out carefully, and place them on a bench in a draft-free spot. I usually put a couple of thicknesses of towel under them so the shock of the cold bench doesn't cause jar breakage.

That's about it really. 5 minutes is enough to waterbath jams for. If you do it much longer it can cause the jam to over-set. Chutneys you can easily waterbath for 10 minutes if you feel the need - for me it would depend on the proportion of vinegar and what types of fruit/veg are in the chutney - eg: a naturally low acid food like zuchinni made into a chutney I'd most likely waterbath for 10 minutes, but tomato or apple ones I'd be happy with 5 minutes on.

Hope that helps, and happy preserving!

Thanks! Ali

PS. To add comments to the blog, all you do is click the spot where it says "0 comments" under the relevant post. That will open up a pop-up window where you can enter your comment/question.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Some concerns

I am often reading various forums in various places, and time and time again I read people recommending different methods of preserving.

Now I know my ways aren't the be-all and end-all of it. And that everybody has their own opinion about what is required when preserving different types of food. So rather than become the evil woman who rants at everyone who's opinion is different to hers - I tend to ignore it. I will say my little peice about what I choose to do - then let it lie.

It's very difficult though. Because IMO, people are playing with their health is a serious way if they food they preserve is not properly done. And on open forums, often people who are ready these different methods are completely new to preserving, and don't have the knowledge behind the methodology.

So anyhow - here I'm going to list a few basic things that comprise MY do's and don'ts of preserving food.

DO list.

  • Always have clean, sterile jars.
  • Always have NEW lids (if using recycled jars, or Mason jars, or the bronze-coloured FV jar lids.)
  • Always use NEW rubbers on FV jars.
  • Always completely cover jars with over an inch and a half of water when preserving using the boiling water method (suitable for high acid foods only)
  • Always use a pressure canner according to the directions supplied with it for low acid foods.
  • Always ensure your kitchen is clean, your tools and equipment are sterile.
  • Always use the most up to date preserving information you can find.
  • Always add lemon juice or citric acid to tomato-based preserves to ensure the acid content of your food is high, unless you intend to pressure can.
  • Always check your jars thoroughly for damage, nicks and cracks before each use.

DO NOT list

  • Never use the water bath method for low acid preserving.
  • Never use methodologies in books printed in the 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's etc. (although some recipes can be adapted, best not to until you really know what you are doing!)
  • Never leave part of the jars out of the water in the water-bath method. (there is no way of knowing that the steam produced by the boiling water actually gets or stays hot enough to keep the contents of the jars boiling during the process)
  • Never use old lids (unless you are using the stainless steel Vacola lids)
  • Never eat food that looks off, smells funny, or doesn't seal properly when it cools after preserving.

Well. I guess that's all pretty self-explanatory.

I think I might take things to the extreme - I will waterbath my sauces, my jams, my relishes, everything - even though my mother looks at me very strangely when I do so! But the way I see it is this - I have put a lot of time, money and effort into making this produce. SO I am going to do the very best that I can do to ensure that said produce is kept completely sterile and preserved properly, so I don't get any horrible surprises when I go to use it in the following year.

It just makes sense to me, that's all.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

The first batch and why!

We eat a lot of pasta. And I mean - a LOT. So preserving pasta sauce is high on my list of priorities. Making and preserving it yourself saves a lot of money and you know exactly what is in the jar. I don't like additives and colours and unnecessary numbers in my food and I've noticed how difficult it is to find things that don't have all that!

I decided it was high enough on the list to take a week of annual leave from work to get a good kickstart on the preserving.

At the moment a fruit and veg shop close to me has 10 kilo boxes of sauce tomatoes for $8. Although I know the tomatoes aren't organic, they are local - and if I was to buy organic tomatoes here the costs would blow out so high as to make the whole preserving thing not worth the money involved. Next year I hope to not have to buy any tomatoes - I would rather grow our own.

So out of 40 kilos of tomatoes and a week of extreme busy-ness, I made lots of goodies!

Firstly, the pasta sauce. Using a recipe from Green Living Australia I made 8 jars of pasta sauce. It's a very easy recipe to follow, all you really need is a really big saucepan. As usual, I doubled the quantity in the recipe.

After this I made 8 jars of tomato sauce (ketchup for our US readers!). I used another recipe from the GLA forum, you can find it here. I haven't made this particular sauce recipe before but it smelled REALLY good and I'm betting that after a few weeks/months in the jars it will be even better.

I also did tomato soup from this site. Some of the recipes on this site are not preserved in what I would consider a safe way. So do be careful. But I made this soup recipe last year and preserved it in the waterbath and it worked out fine. I didn't thicken the soup with the flour before waterbathing due to the safety concerns i have - thicker things in jars can not always reach boiling point in the middle, allowing bacteria to breed in the jars once sealed. I also added lemon juice to every jar, just to ensure that the acid levels are high enough. The lemon doesn't subtract from the flavour of the soup at all, and the thickener can be added later when you go to serve and eat the soup if you want it.

I made a few jars of BBQ sauce using a recipe that I seem to have lost already *sigh*. I have never made BBQ sauce before and it smelled amazing.

By the time I had done all that, my time off work was running out fast and I still had a box and a half of tomatoes left over that were fast going soft in the heat here. So I decided to make passata from the rest of them, to be used in other sauces/casseroles over winter.

Passata is essentially, lightly cooked and sqaushed up pureed tomatoes.

It's very easy to make - just core the tomatoes, cut them up a bit and put them in a big pot with about a half a cup of water on the bottom. (The water is there to stop them burning before they cook down and release their own juices)

Once the tomatoes have started to soften, you can give them a helping hand - I got out my potato masher and smooshed em all up. Then I cooked them down for about an hour.

For the next step, you need one of these. I love mine to bits, it's makes life so easy when making sauce. You just assemble it (clean, of course!), pour the cooked tomatoes into the top, and crank the handle. Tomato puree comes out the bottom - and skins and seeds all come out the side shoot.

It is a messy job because tomato juice has a tendency to go everywhere - but it's lots of fun.

Once all your tomatoes have been pressed through the machine, (oh, and I put the 'waste' pile back through a second time, to make sure I've got all the juices out), put them back into a big pot on the stove and bring to the boil. Add salt to taste.

Traditionally, a sprig of fresh basil is put into each jar before the sauce is ladelled in. But I had no fresh basil this year, so I put dried basil into the stockpot and cooked it for about another half an hour till the basil was well re-hydrated.

By now you should have HOT clean jars and lids ready, and a waterbath unit of some description with HOT water in it waiting. (This is the one I used this time, although I sometimes just use my canner as a waterbath. Not enough room on my stove for the big new stockpot and the canner though!) Using a funnel and a ladle and lots of towels on the benchtop, I filled each jar with hot passata, added a squirt of lemon juice, wiped the rims of the jars, put the lids on and put into the FV unit. I then topped up the unit with boiling water from the kettle until the jars were covered by about 2 inches of water.

Wait for the water to come to a full rolling boil before starting the timer, then let them boil for 20 mins.

Once the time is up, carefully take the jars out of the unit. I have tongs for this purpose, and I learned last year that wearing rubber gloves can be extremely handy too! If the tongs slip at all, or you are short like me and it's hard to get a good grip on something that almost higher than you, rubber gloves on your hands will mean you can stabilise the jars without burning yourself.

Put the jars on a towel on your bench, out of a draft, and let them sit for 24 hours. Then you can wipe them over, check that they are all sealed, label them, and put them away.

I bought a label-maker this year, much easier than writing it on annoying sticky notes by hand when you are doing lots of jars.

So that was my first round of preserving for this year. I will have to get some more tomatoes and do more pasta sauce, because 8 jars will only last us about 4 weeks once the weather cools down. My aim is to make enough while tomatoes are in season to last us the entire year. Last year I did 110 kilos of tomatoes, and we ran out of pasta sauce in about October, so I almost made it.

I am thinking that I will buy one box at a time from now on, and just do a box-full every fortnight, into pasta sauce, until the season is over.

So I am happy, because the wardrobe in our bedroom is once again filling up with full jars instead of empty ones!


Well, after losing my recipe book and record from last year's preserving efforts, I have decided to blog it all instead. Because I really don't want to lose everything again!

This year I will start afresh and this way, I will always have my records to look back to.

Briefly - I really enjoy preserving food. I have a pressure canner for preserving low-acid foods such as soup, baked beans, and vegetable and meat dishes. I generally use Fowlers Vacola jars in the canner and in my waterbath canner.

Most of my jars came from scouring op-shops and keeping my ear to the ground! I also use recycled jam and pasta sauce jars, with new lids that I buy. I've been known to buy some new jars from time to time as well - I bought a box of 300ml jars last year for jam, because they fit nicely in my fridge (we have an ant problem, with small children and jars of jam, so any open jars get kept in the fridge). This year I bought a few new passata jars for my tomato sauce because I really like the shape of them and they are easier to pour directly from onto sausages *grin*

Last year's preserving efforts were unhampered by work commitments, as I was a SAHM back then. This year is rather different, as I am at work every weekend, and busy during the week running children to and from school and kindy and swimming lessons and all that other busy stuff!