Posts Tagged ‘canning’

Here is all the food I pulled out of my new favorite dumpster!!

Here is all the food I pulled out of my new favorite dumpster!!

Last winter I wrote an essay entitled The Tragedy of a Disposable Culture.  It was inspired by my observations of a world gone mad by garbage and a particularly good dumpster score at a construction site.  I ended up pulling out a bunch of 8 foot 2x4s, 2x12s, ½ by, 8 foot sections of plywood and other random, but useful materials.  Some of that lumber has been used in beehive equipment and a lofted bed for my son, while the rest awaits a future project of some kind to manifest itself.

My days as a dumpster diver started in earnest back when I was 19.  As a poor college student who excelled at missing class due to environmental activism, joint rolling, and hangovers, I had plenty of time to explore the small college town I was living in.  On the north end of town there was a grocery store that kept an unlocked dumpster.  I stumbled upon it one night and felt like I had hit a jackpot.  Inside the dumpster were pre made veggie platters, bagels, and bags of apples.

Being the good vegetarian I was back then, this was a great find.  I loaded myself up with as much as I could carry and headed back to the dorm to figure out how to proceed.  I got my friend Chris to join me, and we headed back up to the dumpster with some bags, warm coffee, and a joint we shared together underneath the stars.

That night we made it our mission to liberate as many of those goodies as we could; not only feed ourselves, but to feed as many other college kids as we could find.  We loaded up the veggie platters and apples, and also realized there was a whole garbage bag worth of bagels for the taking.  Without hesitating, everything that could be salvaged was, and we headed back.

As we entered into the main part of the campus, enough people were out walking around (it must have been a Friday or Saturday night) that we decided to just start handing out the bagels.  Some people thought we were nuts, but most (being poor college students like ourselves) were grateful for some free food to go along with their beer.  We nearly emptied the bag in less than an hour!

The next day I gorged myself on veggies and finished the apples, and with what I couldn’t eat fresh, I turned the excess produce into a big stew that contained broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots – nothing had ever tasted so good as that dumpster stew!  For the remainder of that year in Wisconsin I would often visit the dumpster.  Some days were better than others, but I usually came away with at least a snack to tide me over in those lean days of my failed attempt at higher education.

And so that is how I got my start diving into dumpsters.  Since those days back in Wisconsin, I have a hard time passing a dumpster without peeking my head in to see what might be hiding down in the deep, dark, and sometimes stinky depths.  Most times it is just truly garbage, but on those rare occasions something great is procured – romex wiring and brand new electrical plug-in boxes, boxes of nails, a whole universe of dimensional lumber, box fans, books, extension cords, a multi-tool, cleaning supplies,  and five gallon buckets have all been found in my local dumpsters and back alleys.  But it hasn’t been since the glorious food dumpster in college that I have had luck in finding high quality food for the taking, that is until yesterday!

Yesterday I was doing a bit of grocery shopping at a store that is fairly new to us and our area.  While it is not a store I typically shop at, I was intrigued by a flyer we had received with the Sunday paper and thought I would check it out.  Surprisingly, the prices are pretty affordable, and if you are an ingredients list reader like I am, most of the products I was interested in purchasing contained a short ingredients list that I could read and pronounce all of the words contained in the list with no problems!

I got the small amount of items I had set out for, but was amazed by a few things I noticed while walking the aisles.  Almost all of the fresh produce is over packaged – snow peas laid out on a foam tray wrapped up in plastic, individually wrapped cukes, two tomatoes to a tray – you get the picture.  Upon seeing this, my mind flashed backed to the dumpster of glory I talked about earlier – that dumpster contained the same kinds of things, over packaged produce that was still good for eating, and lots of it.

I paid for my items, and decided right then and there to see if my suspicions were correct.  I pulled my small car around to the back of the strip mall, found the proper dumpster, and casually went and stuck my head in.  WOW!!  Not only were my suspicions correct, they were exceeded by what I saw in there!  Snow peas, bunches of celery, cabbage, citrus, and a tray of multi-colored bell peppers that were just out of reach.

Being that it was the middle of the day and well past 90 degrees, I quickly grabbed what was within arms reach and got out of there.  Checking for cameras as I left (which I couldn’t find), I felt secure about going back later in the night to check back in on the dumpster.  On that first trip I left with a perfectly good head of cabbage, a few trays of the aforementioned snow peas, and celery.  Because of the heat I ended up feeding the peas and the celery to the chickens, but still a good use of otherwise unwanted food – spoiled veggies turned into egg protein!

As day turned into night and I finished my evening chores, I suited up in working clothes, put on my boots, grabbed a flashlight and a couple of buckets and headed back to the dumpster.  This trip was even better!  I ended up leaving with 8 pints of grape tomatoes, a bunch of organic bananas, 3 oranges, and more celery.  I was stoked!

With the tomatoes we are going to make a salad with mozzarella balls, and basil from the garden, and salsa using cilantro and purple jalapenos from the garden as well.  The bananas, just slightly soft to eat fresh are going to be turned into banana bread with some sunflower seeds in it, the cabbage is most likely going to get fermented into a small batch of kraut, the oranges are perfect for eating by themselves as is, and once again the celery went to the chickens.  What a great abundance of food that otherwise would have been tossed into the landfill.

It breaks my heart knowing that this dumpster is filled with food almost everyday.  What is even worse, is that there are millions of other dumpsters just like it around the world.  Lucky are the ones that are not kept under lock and key and compaction, but most are.  So really, the crisis of kids going to bed hungry, and people not knowing where they are going to get their next meal is not a matter of there not being enough food, but a problem of distribution.  If a company can’t make money off of the product, it is easier to just toss it, rather than offering it to food shelves and kitchens or directly to the people.  This is insanity, and it is wrong!

FNBWhile this topic is too big for me to tackle in one small essay, there are solutions to this problem of distribution.  The group Food Not Bombs who I used to work with back in my punk rock days is one of these solutions.  Founded in Massachusetts in the early ‘80s by anti nuclear activists, Food Not Bombs has grown into a worldwide movement of independent collectives that serve free vegan and vegetarian meals at rallies, protests, and impromptu gathering.  Lots of the food that FNBs uses is dumpstered and donated, and then cooked up and offered for free to anyone who is hungry.

Food Not Bombs, along with many other groups that have similar intentions, are fixing that distribution issue.  Just like in Permaculture where we can take the problem and turn it into the solution, FNBs is liberating perfectly edible food from dumpsters and feeding those who are in need of a good, wholesome meal.  Not only is this act one of compassion towards our greater community, it is also a shot across the bow of the corporate, food elites.  It is taking the food back to where it belongs, in people’s stomachs regardless of who they are or how much money they have to their name.

It is hard to imagine what the possibilities might be if all the food that can be found in dumpsters – fruits and veggies, packages of cheese, and crates of olive oil (just to name a few) were to make it into the hands of the people who need it the most.  What would happen if everyone went to bed with a satisfied belly?  What would happen if we no longer equated the ability to eat with how much money you earn?  What amount of resources could be saved if we ate all this food (or at least fed it to livestock or even composted) instead?  These are questions we can ponder all we want, but in reality it comes down to one thing – If you have access to a dumpster(s) like this, take full advantage of it.

Take what you can and eat it yourself.  Experiment with recipes using what you have on hand.  In the case of the cabbage, practice preservation techniques like fermentation.  Or if you find a bag of lemons, preserve them in salt or make lemonade.  The possibilities are endless.  If you find more than you can use or preserve, share it with friends or family.  If you have a local chapter of Food Not Bombs, or some equivalent organization, donate the food to them and even better, volunteer and get involved (This is something I need to start doing again as well).  And if you have produce that is not fit for human consumption, feed it to your chickens or other livestock.  Novella Carpenter, in her book, Farm City describes how she fed her two urban hogs a diet of dumpstered fish parts, peaches, and other produce that Bay Area residents discarded on a daily basis.  Whatever you decide to do with your dumpstered food, the important thing is removing it from the waste stream and keeping it out of the landfill.

As for me, I plan on visiting this new dumpster a few times a week.  While my family is not starving from a lack of food, I plan on taking full advantage of this resource and using it in conjunction with our garden produce and eggs from our chickens.  I have no qualms about eating produce or other grocery items out of a dumpster, and if I can cut down on my monthly food costs, and fill up my larder at the same time, even better.  And if I come across someone in need in my community, I am going to share this little secret of mine with them so they can reap the benefits of this magical dumpster as well!  Peace & Cheers

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Some of tomorrow's shining lights - My two kids at Split Rock Lighthouse!

I sit here this afternoon with a pint of my latest finished homebrew (a hoppy, brown lager), honoring the late freedom fighter Martin Luther King Jr. and thinking about all the current events of late. Another thing comes to mind, today is also the one year anniversary of this blog – Autonomy Acres! Yes, Autonomy Acres is one year old, and what a year it has been, not just for the blog, but for myself and family and the world as a whole. I look back at the first post I wrote, and compared to some of my most recent ones, I truly feel that I have grown as a writer. My motivations and intents for the blog have also evolved, I no longer feel obligated to post once a week (not that I ever really did to begin with!), but I feel more compelled to write quality articles rather than quantity. I have also been inspired by so many others out there doing similar things as me – El at Fast Grow the Weeds, Rob at One Straw, Novella Carpenter of Ghost Town Farm, Mike at New Growth, Ran Prier, John Michael Greer and all the folks at the Sustainable Country forum. The world we are entering due to climate change and Peak Oil (and most likely peak everything) is going to be a much different, and difficult world to live in. Autonomy Acres is just my response to our current predicament, so do not look here for a single answer to our problems. One thing I have learned in the last few years is this, if we are going to successfully survive and navigate this new planet and paradigm, then we need a thousand, or a million answers and responses to the problems we face, not just one. I live in Minnesota, and what works for me most likely won’t work for someone living in Florida, and vice versa. Also, we all have different skills, passions and hobbies. I write about what I know and love. As much as I’d like to tell you how to convert an alternator from a truck into a power generating, backyard wind turbine, I can’t (at least not right now!), but I can tell you a bit about apple trees, gardens, and home brewing (to list a few!). I really enjoy sharing my thoughts through a blog; when I was a punk rocker back in high school and college, I put together a few different ‘zines, and a blog is a lot like that. Blogs are not as personal or as fun to look at, but the information is there and the audience is much bigger and broader. As long as we still have the internet I will be publishing articles here at Autonomy Acres, but on a more sober note, it is all of our duties as citizens of this Good Earth, to be shining lights for our neighbors and communities. Peak Oil along with a chaser of climate change is forever altering our homes and lives and landscapes; and skills like knowing how to grow and preserve a portion of your own food, keeping yourself warm, animal husbandry, home repairs, and so many more will become a necessity in the near future – Peak Oil doesn’t just mean gas and fuel-oil rise in price, it also means transportation and production costs go up for everything. So in the mean time, hunker down and keep warm (we still got a little ways to go this winter!), read some good books, brew some beer, and continue adding skills and ideas to your tool box. See ’ya next time! Cheers!

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Atleast ten pounds of pears that will be turned into pear sauce and preserves!

              glean – verb – Celtic origin – to gather grain or other produce left by reapers

The above definition of glean is slightly antiquated for the fact that the majority of our population now dwells in urban landscapes, but it was not that long ago when people would head out to the freshly harvested fields and collect the fallen and discarded produce the farmers left behind. In some cases it was a charitable act by the wealthy, land owning farmers to help feed their poorer neighbors; in other cases it was easier to leave the undesirable produce in the field then to properly harvest it and cull it out later. Either way, that discarded produce provided a source of nutrition and sustenance to folks who needed it. In the recent economic hard times, gleaning has made a comeback as evidenced in this article. Gleaning has also evolved into another new buzz word, Urban Foraging. This modern take on the age-old practice of gleaning is more akin to wild crafting herbs and fruit than it is to digging through a freshly harvested field, but the results are the same; free food and nourishment for those who want to do the work.

A majestic tree - loaded with thousands of pears!

I suppose my story of urban foraging starts back in childhood. I can remember grabbing handfuls of raspberries through the neighbors fence and picking apples out of the tree at a friends house. I took summer classes at a nature center near my house and that was the first time I ever ate dandelions. Those early experiences with free food have obviously stuck with me and is probably part of the reason I do the things I do. In more recent years in the wake of Peak Oil and the local food movement, we here at the Autonomy Acres family have started to pay much more attention to all the possibilities of free food in our neighborhood and surrounding semi-wild areas. We have our perennial hikes and forays into the woods hunting edible mushrooms, wild onions, making notes of where the giant stands of wild grapes can be found and where the elderberries grow. I know a tree stump down in the river valley that has had hundreds of pear-shaped puffballs on it every October for the last three years and a stretch of railroad track that has the sweetest blackberries that ripen every July. Hiking up from the river valley and back into our urban neighborhood, we have started to make mental notes of all the different fruit trees that grow around town. There are crabapples galore (not much good for raw eating, but you can make crabapple preserves and chutneys, and they are also a great addition to hard cider), mulberries (kind of like a black berry from a tree) that are great in pancakes and jams, cherries (both domesticated and wild), apples, and pears. It is the last three that I want to talk a little more about. The apple, cherry, and pear trees typically grow on private property rather than on public boulevards or city parks. Don’t let this stop you from at least attempting to harvest these fruits. Go talk to the homeowner, introduce your self and explain what you are hoping to do. More often than not the homeowner will graciously allow you to help yourself to at least some of the fruit, if not all of it. A lot of people love having a fruit tree in their yard, but hate having to clean up the fallen fruit, so they are more than happy to have someone come and clean it up for them. Now if you are lucky you might know of a good fruit tree that is on public property, or property that is no longer occupied or cared for. In the last two years we have found an apple tree and a pear tree. The apple tree is on a boulevard behind a Baker’s Square restaurant and the pear tree is on a boulevard of an abandoned and for sale industrial site. Both trees are probably hold-outs from a time when that land was still agricultural homesteads and they are still producing an abundant amount of fruit.

Having access to free food, especially the fruit trees is quite a treat. Not only does it help to sustain our bodies and minds, it is also a welcome challenge for our culinary skills. What do you do with a hundred pounds of mixed apples and crabapples that are slightly blemished? Well if you have the right equipment you can make cider – either hard or soft. How about apple sauce? Apple butter? Chutneys’ and relishes, or pies and tarts! The same goes for the pears and cherries. If you are finding morels in the spring, puffballs and chanterelles in the summer, and oyster mushrooms in the fall you can dry them, marinate them in oil, vinegar, and herbs, or just eat them fresh. How about those raspberries and mulberries from the neighbors yard, make jams and jellies. The possibilities are all delicious and rewarding. Any way you cook it, free food is priced right and is good for the soul, happy gleaning! Cheers!

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I am not known for my predictions, but my guess is when it is all said and done, 2010 will go down as the hottest year on record to date. Here in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, we are going on close to two weeks of 90 degree weather. Throw the humidity into the mix, and the heat index can hover close to one hundred degrees. Both the North East and East coast of America have had record setting summers with temps of one hundred degrees or more. You can also look at Russia and the Ukraine where they are seeing their wheat harvest decimated by on going three digit temperatures. I am no global warming or climate change skeptic, but the Earth is very old and she has her own cycles and shifts of normality. There is a part of me that wants to believe that these extreme weather patterns are normal and that everything is okay. However, the other more rational part of me looks at the evidence and the facts and sees all the awful atrocities committed against our only home and true provider, this good Earth. With over a few hundred-million tons of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year by smokestacks, car exhaust, and rapid deforestation, our human hands definitely play a part in climate change.

On an individual level, the lifestyle choices we choose to make to reduce carbon emissions have to be done because they are the right thing to do, not because they are going to change the world. For any real, positive, and lasting change regarding the environment, government and industry must be held accountable for all their actions; past, present and future. Until we the people pull off the sheets of the bed that government and industry are lying down together in, we can expect no real change. Knowing that we can’t stop global warming and climate change by ourselves, there is something that we can do to keep our own houses cooler in the heat of the summer, cooking food outside. This tradition goes back to the beginning of time when the first humans learned about cooking meat over an open fire all the way up to today where we cook our meat over a propane gas grill at an outdoor bar-be-que. Not only is this tradition fun, but it can also help to keep our houses a little cooler in these 90+ degree days.

Roasted root veggies and okra cooked outside on our grill!

The modern day example of a bar-be-que is but one of many of the ways to cook outside. Until very recently, when many more people than today grew a portion of their own food, harvest surpluses of all different vegetables and fruits were preserved with canning. Pickles, relishes, jellies, jams, and plain fruits and veggies were all processed using a hot water bath and sometimes a pressure cooker. Using prohibition as another example, though illegal, people still consumed beer and liquor, and a lot of the time they made it themselves, over a fire outside. This process of preserving food and making hooch, though not hard, takes some time, energy, and boiling water. Doing this in the summer heat can be overwhelming, hence the outdoor, summer kitchen. This idea of a summer kitchen could be as simple as a folding table for prep work, a propane burner for canning and beer brewing, and a charcoal grill for the meat and the veggies. Our family grills out over real lump charcoal at least once a week. Sometimes meat, sometimes veggies, and sometimes both. But with all this excessive heat, I decided to try and use the grill as an oven. In our large cast iron pan, I mixed potatoes, rutabaga, and onions (all from the farmers market), our home-made maple syrup, olive oil, butter, and salt and pepper and roasted them on the grill for about an hour at roughly 300 degrees. In the last twenty minutes I added another pan with butter and sautéed fresh okra from the garden dredged in cornmeal. It all turned out wonderful and helped to keep our house that much cooler.

Along with the charcoal grill and the propane burner, there are a few other ways of cooking outside. We will start with my favorite. My blogger friend El, who writes Fast Grow the Weeds, has built the most beautiful outdoor kitchen. It consists of the Loven (a wood-fired, brick oven) a rocket stove, and a fold up table. I aspire to something of this quality someday. Another nice example, not as pretty, but just as functional is Novella Carpenter’s cob oven. Same idea as the Loven, but different building materials. The rocket stove is an incredibly efficient way to cook and heat water without a lot of fuel. You can use anything from twigs, scraps of lumber, and broken pallets for fuel. For my own use, I hope to build a rocket stove that will take the place of the propane burner for boiling water for canning and beer brewing. The solar oven is another great way of cooking food outside using nothing but energy from the sun. I have never tried one myself, but I hope to eventually. One last example of cooking outside comes from The Simple Appropriate Technology website. This is a 55 gallon barrel that has been modified for roasting vegetables. I think this idea has a lot of potential also. It would require more fuel than the rocket stove, but you might be able to more effectively boil water, and in larger quantities.

As stated before, cooking outside is not going to change the world, far from it. But it will help to keep us a little cooler on these hot summer days. Ideas like the rocket stove, a converted barrel, and a solar oven are great ideas because of low amounts of fuel you need. In a world where all different types of fuel are getting more expensive and eventually harder to come by, these low-tech methods of cooking will become more popular. Outdoor masonry ovens and grills are great as long as you have a reliable source of high quality hard wood and charcoal. I hope this has been a fun post for you all to read, and I hope you can try cooking outside to help keep your house a little more comfortable and cool. Cheers!


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One critter I don't mind finding in the garden!

Hey Everyone!  It has been quite awhile since I lasted posted, I apologize for the brief  hiatus.  However, summer is starting to wane and we have been very busy; family, friends, a road trip, garden chores, and painting the house.  Between all those events and my work schedule, there has been very little idle, indoor computer time.  And you know what, I am completely OK with that.   I started this blog about six months ago in the dead of winter.  I remember writing those first couple posts just itching for gorgeous weather so I could write about it and all the crazy projects that I have goin’ on.  Well you wanna know something, right now we have gorgeous ( if not a little hot) weather, I have plenty of projects (in different stages of “not being done yet”), and absolutely no time to write about any of it.  I find the irony hilarious.  I am the kind of person that when I get into something, i.e., a new hobby, a new book, or a new skill or project, I jump in with both feet and learn and gain as much experience as I can.  Take this blog for example.  At first I really wanted to have a new post at least once a week, and sometimes that actually happened.  Sometimes I even managed to get two done in one week!  I noticed this spring that as the weather got nicer, I was less interested in being glued in front of the computer and more concerned with being outside with my family.  So here we are, August sixth, 2010 and what a summer it has been so far.  First, we have gotten so much rain this year.  The chore of having to go out and water the garden has been very minimal this year, and I can honestly say that I cannot remember a year in recent times that has been as wet as it has been this year.

The house that use to be next door. Now the lot is ours and being nursed back to health!

Second, we made a huge purchase about two months ago.  We bought the vacant lot that adjoins our original urban homestead, and so now we have a total of three city lots, about .41 acres.  Compared to a rural farmer, .41 of an acre is nothing, but doing what we do here in the city,  this piece of land is priceless.  We have a lot of ideas and projects planned for the new land, but for right now it is has just been seeded for a lawn.  The main reason for planting the grass seed is simple, we have had so much rain we needed to plant something that would germinate quickly to help keep the erosion down.  The quick story is this.  We bought the lot from the city.  The city purchased the lot and the house that was on it from the previous owner and then proceeded to tear down the house.  Needless to say, we got a pretty good deal on this lot and it would have been stupid to not purchase it, but the front half of it was a giant mud pit, hence the new green lawn.  Other stuff that has been goin’ on here at the Autonomy Acres homestead: the garlic is in and we had a great season, 300 plus heads consisting of seven varieties, we are having a bumper crop year of cucumbers ( LOTS OF PICKLES!) , still no chickens,  we bought a trailer for hauling compost-manure-firwood-etc. that still needs to be fixed, japanese beetles are eating my plum and cherry tree, we are growing water melons successfully for the first time in five years, the cucumber/squash-beetle/bug just showed up and is hungry, the apples are almost ripe and I have a broken wheel on my lawn mower that needs to be fixed.  So there is a summary of my summer so far.  I will really do my best to post much sooner this next time because I really do enjoy writing and hearing from the few readers that I have.  Until next time, Cheers!

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Radishes and spring garlic, all cleaned up and ready to be pickled!


I would be lying if I said everything from this recipe came from the garden, so I won’t say that.  The radishes came from the farmers market, but the spring garlic did come from our garden.  And that in it self is an interesting story.  For about three years now I have been working on a garlic project.  The varieties of garlic that I grow are all hardneck garlics, garlic that set a top “flower” or scape, genetic clones of the garlic clove planted in the ground.  These “flowers” or scapes  produce what are called bulbils, not truly a seed but miniature cloves of garlic that are smaller than a kernel of corn.  These bulbils can be planted, and with care and a whole lot of patience, can be grown up into a  full head of garlic over the course of two to three years.  The garlic that I dug up today was most likely the variety Metachi, planted three years ago as small bulbils, and replanted each year at a little bit bigger size.  The advantage of planting garlic this way is the amount of individual genetic material that can be planted.  Traditionally, you break up a head of garlic and plant the individual cloves, anywhere from 4-10 cloves depending on the variety and quality of the garlic cloves.  But with the bulbils, you can plant hundreds of garlic plants with very little work.  You just need a little extra space, an accurate garden map, and lots of patience.  We will discuss garlic more in-depth in a future post, but now it is time to get pickled!  

Pickled radishes! Yum!


Last year I pickled radishes for the first time and was completely surprised at how awesome they were.  Radishes are one of those plants that I love growing in the garden, but have a hard time using and eating.  Pickling the radishes really changes their character, and for my palate makes them much more appetizing.  They are wonderful by themselves, as an addition to an appetizer tray with cold cuts and cheeses, or on a sandwich with lots of mustard.  Give ’em a try, and now on to the pickling recipe.  For these pickles I used a very basic brine and spice mix.  Two parts water, one part vinegar, and salt portioned out to the amount of liquid.  For example, if you are making 1 gallon of brine, you would use two and a half quarts of water, one and a half quarts vinegar, and one cup pickling salt.  All variations can be based off this.  For two quarts of finished pickles, I knew I would need about a quart and a half of brine.  I used four cups of water, two cups of vinegar (white, cider, or red wine vinegar will work), and a quarter cup of pickling salt.  Combine all this and bring to a light  boil.  While making your brine, have all your ingredients cleaned and ready to go and boiling water to sterilize your jars and lids.  Using sterilized jars, pack them with the ingredients, in this case radishes and spring garlic, a quarter teaspoon each of mustard seed and Penzey’s pickling spice, and proceed to ladle in the brine.   Put on the lids, but only hand tight, do not over do it.  Place the filled jars back into the boiling water and give them a ten minute water bath.  This will help to insure complete sterilization and a proper seal of the lids.  After ten minutes in the water bath, pull the jars out and let them cool.  If you want you can listen for the “pop” which means they are sealed, or you can use your finger and feel for a rigid lid, if it can not be easily pushed down, you have a proper seal.  I would recommend letting these pickles sit for at least a month before eating, but two or three would be better.  Feel free to change up the types of vinegar for different flavors, and add or subtract any spices, veggies, sugar, etc. to add your own touch to these pickles.  Pickle on! Cheers!

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Freshly cut rhubarb from the garden! That was only about half of what was available!


Rheum rhabarbarum, or rhubarb is a hearty perennial, and is one of the first food items to come out of our Minnesota garden.  It is very leafy with long edible stems, and grows from a short stout rhizome.  Rhubarb is propagated by splitting up the rhizome in early spring.  Rhubarb is a vigorous grower, it seems to get bigger just over one night!  Due to it’s early arrival in the garden, it is a favorite at our house.  The kids like to grab a spear of rhubarb and munch on it while they adventure around our yard.  Rhubarb is technically considered a vegetable, but most people use it as a fruit in desserts such as pie and rhubarb crisp or cobbler.  One word of caution relating to the edibility of rhubarb, avoid at all costs the leaves.  The leaves of rhubarb contain oxalic acid which is poisonous.  You would have to eat a fairly large amount of the highly sour leaves to become sick or die, but don’t tempt fate,  AVOID the leaves. 


Four and a half pounds of cleaned up rhubarb!


On to canning.  The basic principles of preserving food through canning are fairly simple.  You can use an acid based recipe such as pickles.  This style of canning uses vinegar and salt as the preserving agent.  Another way is using sugar.  Examples of this are jellies and jams, preserves and syrups.  One last way of preserving food through canning is with a pressure cooker.  This last technique will be talked about in a future post, but all three of these techniques use and rely on hot water bathes.  Start by cleaning up the rhubarb, remove the leaves and wash the stems with water.  After that I like to slice the stems in half lengthwise and then cut up into half-inch sections.   This is where the sugar comes into play.  In a stock pot, add for every four cups of cut rhubarb, 1/2 cup of sugar and mix.  Continue this until all the rhubarb has been mixed in with the sugar.  I believe for 4 1/2 pounds of rhubarb, I used about 3 1/2 cups of sugar.  Let this mix sit  for about half an hour.  Sugar naturally draws out moisture from whatever you add it to, and in this case it is rhubarb, and rhubarb has a high water content.  At this point start to slowly bring this mixture up to a boil.  I let it simmer and cook for at least an hour before I really let it boil.  While the rhubarb is cooking collect 

On the left is the rhubarb after just having sugar added, and on the right is thirty minutes later. You can see the difference!

and prepare all your canning equipment: cleaned and sterilized jars, new lids, and a big stock pot of boiling water.  Once the rhubarb is brought up to a boil, cook for an additional five minutes and then ladle the mix into you jars.  Before putting on the lids and bands, make sure the lips of the jars are clean and free of any rhubarb debris.  Just barely tighten the bands and place the full jars into the stock pot of boiling water.  This is called a water bath and helps to ensure a sterile environment for whatever it is that you are canning.  Let it sit in the water bath for fifteen minutes and then 

Two and a half quarts of preserved rhubarb!

remove.  When you hear the lids pop, you know they are properly sealed.  Sometimes it can take a while for the lids to pop, so you might not always hear it, but you can feel a properly sealed jar.  The lid feels very solid and not give under finger pressure.  Let the jars cool, label and put them away in your pantry for later use.  One note on canning.  I highly recommend finding and reading some other sources and books about canning.  It is good to have some different perspectives on how to go about canning and preserving food.  Using canned rhubarb in recipes is very simple.  In  most recipes fresh and canned rhubarb are interchangeable, but make sure to use most of the liquid.  Baking times and temperatures may or may not change, and amounts of flour and sugar may also change slightly.  Rhubarb pie, cake, crisp and cobbler are all great ideas.  Other ideas are chutneys, rhubarb pickles or relishes.  Be creative and CAN-ON! Cheers!

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