Ultimately, my goal is as close to self-sufficient as I can be and local where I can’t and ethical small businesses and farms for all the rest. There are things I use pretty regularly that there is zero chance I’m going to be able to grow – like vanilla beans and shea butter and mango butter and cocoa butter. And because of where in the world I am, it’s not super likely I can get those things local – but there are reputable businesses and small farms and coops that are a lot better than picking it up from people who don’t care about the earth (I’m looking at you, 98% of palm oil people).
Part of being self-sufficient is learning to preserve the harvest – whether you get a great sale or you hunt, fish, or forage, or you grow it all yourself.
I’ve had a dehydrator for years and it’s one of the most used appliances in my house. My youngest is autistic and has some pretty significant sensory issues around food. We struggled for ages on finding a protein he could take to school and then my aunt and uncle bought us our first dehydrator and we dove head first into jerky. We were making jerky from a deer my husband harvested. And my super picky, sensory avoidant kid ate most of the batch. I must have made 100 pounds of jerky that year (and trust me, making it is SO much cheaper than buying it) but I had a protein to send in his lunch.
I’ve done dried fruit, dried meats, dried herbs, dried vegetables, especially dried mushrooms, in our dehydrator. It’s the only way to get morels from spring harvest to Christmas dinner after all. But dehydrators can’t do everything.
We’ve frozen all the things – we use a vac-seal machine to help cut down freezer burn for meats and such and I’ve frozen stocks, soups, vegetables, fruits, meats.
I tried canning a couple of times. The first time I canned meat, we were told you had to use extra salt and bullion and while we didn’t explode the kitchen, it was really awful stuff. I put the canner away and carried on with my dehydrator and my vac-seal machine. But there’s only so much room in our freezers. During hunting season, if we have a good year, we fill both freezers to bursting and don’t have room for some of the everyday stuff we need to have in there.
So I found an online canning class (ok, two). I am so very glad I did things that way. By the time I was done with both, I really felt confident enough to dive right in. And boy have I!
Today, I’ve canned fish. Specifically, Walleye. I don’t actually eat fish – I have a hard time with the smell to be honest. But the other people who live in my house, they love it. And a small half-pint jar of fish, heated up over a little bowl of rice makes a good lunch at work (or a dinner for my kid if I’m being lazy).
I have a pretty long list of things I want to try next and a whole bunch of people getting ticked off my Christmas making lists with all the deliciousness coming out of my kitchen right now. I found a recipe in my canning book for a carrot cake jam. I am really looking forward to that one. And looking forward to giving it to my grandmother who hasn’t had a bite of carrot cake since she was a very young woman, before her egg allergy emerged.
No one else can smell the fish smell and it’s not nearly as bad as it usually is when anyone cooks fish in the house, but I can smell it. Just a bit. Definitely lighting a candle or two. I think I have a couple of fall ones sitting around somewhere!
Canning is definitely a whole new type of magic. Someday I’ll have the kind of pantry I can show off, full of amazing things that I can make even more amazing things with. And really, it means I always have stuff on hand that takes very little effort on nights when I’m just not up for cooking or if we have any outages.
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