We slaughtered some chickens yesterday, and we'll be doing more Monday morning. The roosters we slaughtered yesterday are all between 1-1/2 and 2-1/2 years old, so they're definitely stewing birds (I feel a pot of coq au vin coming on...). As my supply of homemade chicken broth is dwindling, and winter is a short step around the corner, my plan is to cook up those 4 birds and can the meat and the broth. The roosters to be slaughtered next are younger, all hatched this spring, but they will probably all be cooked and canned as well.
You may be wondering why I would bother canning the meat and broth rather than freezing it. Well, as you know, we live off the grid. This means (among other things) that we do not have full-time electricity. Our house runs on propane, including a small propane refrigerator. How small? A total of 8 cubic feet, of which barely 1 foot is the freezer. We have about enough freezer space for a couple of ice cube trays and a few packages of meat. Honestly, though, even if we had the space for a chest freezer, I'd be inclined to do without, and stick with canning. Here's why.
In the fall of 2009, I had the opportunity to participate in an intensive training course to be a Master Food Preserver. Part of this course was learning about freezing food. I heard story after story about how wonderful chest freezers were, how you could put so much food in them, how easy it was, etc. I also heard (from the same people) how it was inevitable that some food was thrown away because it had gotten "buried" in the freezer and forgotten. By the time some of this food was unearthed, if the label could still be read, it wasn't unusual for it to be 2 or 3 years old, or even older. Then, fearing it was no longer any good, the person would discard it.
Also, when there is a power outage, there's all that frozen food to worry about. If the power is out for any length of time (think SuperStorm Sandy), and the food thaws, it can quickly become unfit to eat.
So that's one reason for not freezing food: to avoid potential waste.
Another big factor for me is convenience. During these short fall and winter days, it's simply delightful to go to the pantry, grab a jar of homemade minestrone, or spaghetti sauce, or whatever, pop the lid and heat it up. In a few minutes (less for you on-gridders who have such things as microwaves) you have a meal on the table. I also have jars of smoked local tuna, smoked brisket, corned beef, and tongue. If we have leftover baked or boiled potatoes, my husband David loves to cut them up and make hash with smoked brisket. If we're in the mood for chili dogs (see the relevant post on the Canyon Creek Farms blog), it's great to be know there's jars of it ready to heat and eat. You get the idea.
But wait. I know what you're thinking. How do you can meat and fish and chicken broth? I thought you could only can things like pickles and tomatoes and jam at home. Well, that's true, if you limit yourself to canning only high-acid foods. But trust me, if you're really into food preservation, you'd be doing yourself a favor to expand your horizons as far as canning low-acid foods.
Yes, you'll need to use a pressure canner. And yes, I know, you have anxieties about it. I've heard lots of pressure canner horror stories too. Every single one of the stories I've heard seemed to me to trace back to not following directions. It took me a few sessions before I stopped worrying about making a
disastrous mistake, but I kept at it, and now I am canning year-round,
not just in the summer.
Have you ever used a pressure canner? Would you like to? Please post your comments and questions, and I will be glad to address them on this blog. It's my hope to convince you to get out that pressure canner that's been languishing, unloved, in the back room, or get together with someone who has one, and give it a try. In my next post, I'll go over the process for canning chicken meat and broth, just to give you an idea of how simple --and rewarding--it can be.