So I've been canning a bunch of stuff that the USDA does not recommend. It is a learning experience. Many of them, you learn WHY they do not recommend it. For some, there is a compensating tactic. For some, there is not. But I have learned that in the majority of cases, the reason they do not recommend it is NOT a safety issue. It is usually an issue of quality, aesthetics, or sometimes because getting it right is tricky.
I've done some interesting things, with excellent results. And some that needed adjusting.
- Tamales turned out great. But they need more headspace than you'd think - like an inch and a half or more. Tall pint and a half jars work best for them. They also SWELL during canning, so you only put four skinny ones into each jar, and make sure there is plenty of room around them. They swell so much, that if you ignore my advice here, you will end up with tamale masa mixture in your canner, and mealy glop under the edge of the jar lid, which will cause the seal to fail either soon, or later, and if you overpack enough, you can burst the lid on the jar.
- Pork and Beans have been tricky, because you get the sauce just right, then can it, and the sauce darkens in color and flavor. I'm still working on that, but have got something pretty close.
- Korean Barbeque turned out excellent. Darkens a bit during canning, but it is really good!
- Potato soup needs more headspace than you think. A quart jar needs clear down to the bottom of the shoulders on the jar in order to not blurp out all over into the canner.
- Turkey gravy ends up tasting like it was made with toasted flour. Really weird.
- Split Pea soup darkens some. Otherwise ok.
- Butternut Soup, with bacon, and cream cheese instead of sour cream, was fabulous. I made it thinner than I'd normally want it, so that it would heat through well during canning. Love this stuff. It is so great!
- Meatloaf is fabulous. Just leave a little more than an inch headspace. I do this in half pints, they heat through fine during canning because they are so small. Once you account for headspace, each jar holds a single serving. Convenient.
- Meatloaf with potatoes on top, and water around the potatoes, is ok. Did this in pints, with 1/4 of the raw meatloaf from 1 lb of ground beef. The potatoes kind of congeal, and the water around them absorbs and solidifies with potato starch. But it is fast to open, heat, mash the potatoes with butter and milk, tip the meatloaf onto a plate, and have a fast meal. It could be better.
- Pot roast is easy, and makes a nice meal. Chunk of beef in the bottom, carrots and potatoes on top. I did skin-on potatoes. Add broth, or salt and water to fill around it. I did a raw pack. Turned out good, if you can eat canned potatoes (some people do not like them). Easy meal.
- Gumbo soup. Subbed crab for shrimp since shrimp does not can well (goes all mushy and crumbly). Used sausage and chicken, and put some brown rice into it. The rice is soft, but did not disintegrate entirely. Brown rice holds up better for canning than white rice. Parboiled rice might also.
- Canned sausage, no casings, in wide mouth pints. Summer sausage - works, but need to get the recipe right. Liverwurst, turned out good, but the liver flavor does go stronger. Polska Wiejska turned out good, but garlic got stronger. So a few changes and I'll have this one down.
- All kinds of green tomato and tomatillo salsa and relish. Some interesting outcomes, but very usable.
- Experiments with lowering sugar and added pectin in jam and increasing boiling time. It works to a certain extent - you can push it so far and then the longer cooking time no longer compensates. But I've got some new and interesting recipes anyway that save on the cost of pectin.
- Reusing canning lids and oddball jars. Lots of people do it. I have my own set of rules about what I will use for Pressure Canning, what I'll restrict to Waterbath canning, and what I'll restrict to use for short time waterbath foods (like jams, jellies, relishes, etc). This set of experiments has been outstandingly successful. I'm having more failures on NEW lids than on reused.
I've done a lot of pre-seasoned meats. Some were raw pack, some were cooked meat. Toss the meat with the seasoning, pack as usual, and can. I've used chili powder, curry, salsa, pineapple sweet and sour, Korean BBQ, sesame pineapple, and tomorrow I'm going to do bbq chicken (dilute the sauce so it does not darken too much).
I've seasoned pork, chicken, and rabbit, and I've canned venison, beef, and lots of beans with bacon, and ham and bean soup. Beans are tricky, you either pack raw and hope you get the amounts right, or you pack soaked but not fully cooked (the best option for tenderness) and hope you get the bean amounts right, or you pack fully cooked and know you got them right but you end up with mushy beans! Not bad for bean soup, but not good for Pork and Beans.
It's nice to have easy meals, and it is also nice to have old standbys like applesauce and butter, and cranberry sauce and jams, ready to go when we crave them.
My energy levels have been up and down, so having fast meals has been so nice. Days when I'm functioning, I can make sure everything I do produces some leftovers to can up for when I am not able to even stand up to cook dinner. It is a way of storing up my body energy from good days, to get me through the harder days.
Canning is also how we manage to preserve our home raised meats, with just a tiny freezer. We butcher, and it all goes in the freezer. I know people who can it up the same day, or the next day. But we have no place to hang meat, not enough fridge space to keep it overnight, and I only have enough energy to butcher, then I'm done for the day. I can't come in from that, and can it all up! So into the freezer it goes, and it comes out over the next few weeks, as I'm able, and goes into jars and into the storage room. Freezer is empty and ready for the next thing. We try to always keep room in it for something big, because kind people think of us sometimes, and a deer or sheep takes up a bit of room!
The thing I've learned about rebel canning, and ignoring the "recommendations" of USDA, is, to find out WHY. Once you've tried a few things, you'll be able to know ahead how things behave. But if you never try them, you won't know. As stated, it is almost NEVER a valid safety issue (many of the "safety" issues are declared unsafe based on a "maybe it could" rather than on any actual evidence that it DOES, or ever HAS). We find out WHY, and then we can decide whether the risk is worth it to us, or whether we want to take the time to experiment to come up with a way that works for us. When we know WHY, we can make rational choices about it, instead of just running scared because someone said we should not do that.
I've always been somewhat of a rebel, THINKING for myself. Here are some things I did differently, and WHY.
- I never boiled lids. There really was no point. Rubber does not soften permanently from boiling, so there is no long term change achieved by boiling lids. Short term there is no need for it either, since the canning process softens the rubber (or plastic) seal as much as boiling would, since it involves boiling! This is a leftover recommendation from the days of open kettle canning, which was never needed for Water Bath or Pressure Canning. Now, with newer lids, failure rates go up if some brands of lids are boiled.
- I never heated or sterilized jars. The jars are washed, they are clean. That is good enough. If you "sterilize" your jars, the minute they cool below 140 degrees, or you touch them, expose them to the air in the room, etc, they have been re-contaminated anyway, especially if there is still moisture on them. Sterilizing them is not only a fruitless effort, it is not necessary if you are starting with clean jars, because the canning process sterilizes EVERYTHING that is in the canner. Why do it twice? It does not increase safety AT ALL. No, it does not serve as a safety net "just in case", it does NOTHING to improve the safety. If germs are not killed during the Water Bath or Pressure Canning process, they will not have been killed when you sterilized the jars either! It is a waste of time and energy, so I do not do it!
- I cold pack almost everything. I just don't have time to mess with heating up peaches and pears in syrup before I bottle them up. If I cold pack, I put cool water into the canner. If I hot pack (jam, and many other cooked foods), I use very warm or hot water in the canner.
- I open kettle a few things, but not many. (Open Kettle Canning refers to heating the food to boiling, and ladling it into the jars and capping immediately, with no further processing.) Typically I will open kettle for short term storage, when I am planning to either use the food for something later (juice that I intend to make into jelly but don't have time, or something like that), or when I am saving up enough for a canner load to process later.
- I use my Pressure Canner for a steam canner. I put 4 quarts of water in it (instead of the 3 that is used for pressure canning) because it will vent steam the entire time. I start to time it when the safety latch pops up. Time is the same as for water bath canning. This is faster, because the water comes up to temp faster because there is less of it. Steam canning has been tested, and the USDA FINALLY admitted grudgingly that it is as safe as water bath canning, after some 50 years or more of equivocating, saying there was not enough evidence to know "for sure", in spite of rigorous testing by every company that manufactured or branded a steam canner!
- I have ALWAYS changed recipes. There are certain things you CAN change, and certain things you should NOT change. When you understand the rules, there is NO PROBLEM with "using untested recipes". When you can mixtures of low acid foods, you time it for the longest one. That's all. That is the rule. When you combine high acid foods, you time for the longest one. When you combine low and high acid foods, use a tested recipe as a start, and as long as you do not change the high acid/low acid balance, you won't have a problem. When pickling, as long as the vinegar to vegetable balance is the same, you can change the spices, and even the vegetable TYPES, all you want (remember, tomatoes are fruit, not vegetables, and always moderate to high acid, even low acid tomatoes are moderate acid fruits). Currently, if I make up a recipe, to pre-season meat, for example, I just time it for the meat, even if there is vinegar on it, or something else that MIGHT change the time lower, I just do it for the regular time for the meat.
- I have ALWAYS reused mayonnaise jars, when they were glass. I have always reused jam and jelly jars with lug lids (the short lids with tabs on the bottoms). I now reuse lids, though I did a little previously, I now do so routinely. I have my set of rules about what I will use them for - Mayo jars and other non-mason jars that take a standard canning lid get treated like mason jars. I've had ONE break in the pressure canner. Jam jars get used for sauces, relish, or jam. Not generally for fruit, and not in the Pressure Canner. Reused lids just get tossed into the mix, get used wherever. Oddly, I've not had ANY lid failures from reused lids. I've ONLY had them on brand new Ball lids (and Kerr, they are the same), and not on any other brands!
- I store my jars with or without the rings, depending on what is in them, and whether I get around to removing them before I send them to the basement. I wash the jars after processing ONLY if they are messy. Otherwise I do not bother. I do not believe in making work where it is not needed!
The key to being a rebel, remember, is understanding WHY. Then we can take risks where they are reasonable, or we can understand that there really IS no risk, someone was just being over-zealous in the processes because they are paranoid, and not because there is any logical reason for what they are doing. Some people LOVE the fussiness and meticulousness of a carefully complicated routine so much that they will make up reasons to make it MORE complicated than necessary - and other people, believing this person to be the "expert", will do whatever they are told to do by the "expert", and not question it, even if the little common sense center of their brain tells them that it is not necessary. We all want to be safe, so we are often afraid to defy the experts, EVEN WHEN THEY ARE WRONG. But science says that one sterilization is as effective as two, and that pressure canning for the ingredient with the longest processing time is logically safe. So we BREAK THE RULES, when the rules are WRONG.