Bottom up: Tomato, Curried Pumpkin & Parsnip, Spicy Thai Chicken & Corn, Leek & Potato, Scottish Cullen Skink
Those of you who read our weekly blog will know I’ve been busy bottling soup for lunches through winter. My plan was to do 5 soups, 10 jars of each, to take to work and reheat for lunches. But I couldn’t bottle some of my favourite soups safely without a pressure canner because they’re low in acid. Fish, meat and most veges fall into this category.
Boiling water only reaches 100C and to safely bottle low acid foods you need to be able to heat them to 116C inside the jar. For this you’ll need a pressure canner, which is a big stock pot with a tight fitting lid and a pressure gauge. The pressure creates steam which raises the temperature inside the pot above 100C. This is the only way to kill harmful botulism bacteria in low acid foods.
I bought a Presto pressure canner off Amazon.com for less than the price of a smart phone. And you know I think I’ll have more fun with it, even if it doesn’t let me play Flappy Birds. I’ll give you the soup recipes at the end but here’s a few things I’ve learnt from this little project.
- Don’t bottle creamed soups, leave them chunky so the heat evenly penetrates the jars – you can blitz them when you reheat them
- Don’t bottle dried peas and beans as they expand too much during cooking
- Don’t put dairy products and fats in your bottling – add milk or cream when you reheat if you want
- Leave 2.5cm of headroom in your jars (keep a clean ruler in your kitchen and poke it in the jars) as the contents expand during cooking
- Use only Agee jars with no chips or cracks in them
- Don’t over-tighten bands – just finger tighten before you put them in the canner
I’ve also learnt that to preserve food on a scale that really sustains your household throughout the year then you have to think big. It’s one thing to faff around making 3 jars of chilli jam with fancy lids that you’ve seen on Pinterest but if you do the maths we each eat over 1000 meals a year, breakfast lunch and dinner. That’s more room than I have in my freezer so the pressure canner appeals for making food in bulk to store safely on the shelf.
To make a meaningful contribution to that number of meals from your own pantry requires some forethought and planning. A lot of us have forgotten this bit of the equation. We have the instinct to stock the larder, it feels good to see the jars on the shelf, but once it’s done we sometimes forget to actually eat it. I’ve been guilty of dusting my preserves or playing the great chutney giveaway game.
My mum never did this. I don’t know how many jars she would have bottled each summer but I remember her and dad at the kitchen sink with the preserving pan bubbling, mum filling jars and dad screwing the bands on.
And we ate them – we ate them all. Blackboy peaches on our weetbix, apple and blackberry in our pie, spaghetti toastie pies, tomato soup, piccalilli in our sandwiches, pickled beetroot, relish and pickled onions with our cold meat.
She knew what we’d need to eat and that is what she bottled. It sounds so basic when you boil it down but then most things in life are. So I’ve learnt that if your starting point for food preserving is what you and your family like and need to eat then you won’t be dusting your jars and wasting your efforts.
And it doesn’t have to be what your mother bottled. Aside from mum’s tomato soup recipe that I shared with you a couple of weeks ago my other soups are my own creations using spicy sweet sour flavour combinations.
Here are the recipes and you don’t need a pressure canner to make them. If you fancy soup for lunch too this winter you can always freeze them in lunch sized pots.