I frequently receive questions about canning foods and making stock, so I recently wrote two blogs about the benefits of home-made stock and some of my favorite stock recipes. Today I will share some ideas on preserving stock for several years.
The simplest way to preserve many foods is to freeze them, and that is how I started with my vast tomato harvests when I lived in California. There are a few problems with freezing, however. First, you have very limited space. Second, your food is subject to freezer burn, which significantly affects flavor and quality. Finally, your freezer relies on electricity, which can fail. If not forever, as in an apocalyptic scenario, certainly long enough for food to go bad.
You could use your stock quickly, making various meals and eating them before they go bad, freezing part or all of either or both. Once I started making turkey stock, which yields for me 12-14 quarts, I decided it was time to use a pressure canner. This way, I could store them in my pantry, which was MUCH larger than my freezer, and not worry about freezer burn or power outages.
How do I Start?
Picking up where we left off in Part 2 of this series, you now have a nice batch of stock, ready to be processed. What next? First, make sure you have all the equipment you need: the canner, the jars, rings, lids, a funnel so you don't make a mess (there are some specifically for canning jars!). If you are missing something essential, don't panic – if you are able to purchase what you need, you can keep it refrigerated a few days, heat it up before processing and start again. Ask me how I know this...
Unfortunately, canning supplies are very difficult to come by right now; in fact, earlier this year the lids were impossible for people to get, as the major supplier had a huge back order. Just like with other supplies, get what you can over time so you won't be stuck when the time comes!
Let's Get Started!
I like to start with a stock that is fairly hot, and as I am cleaning the jars and lids, I warm up the water in the canner. When all the jars are full, I have the water just below the lids, but you can also have them covered with water, such as when you use pint-size jars and stack them. Make sure the jars are very clean, I put them on the heavy cycle in the dishwasher, and time it so when I am ready to process they are already hot.
I use a soup ladle and a funnel and pour the stock into the jars, leaving about ¾ an inch clearance from the top. This clearance is referred to as “head space.” When the jars are full, take a clean cloth and wipe around the surface of the rim, in case any stock spilled. Have the lids (the parts that form a seal) soaking in hot, soapy water. Rinse them and wipe them dry. Place them on the jars, then put the ring on the jar, turning it just to finger tight. (The lids make the seal, the rings hold them in place.)
Place the jars in the canner, making sure they don't touch each other. In my 21 quart All-America, I can fit 7 quart jars at a time. Put the lid on the canner, and tighten the clamps, first lightly in a sequential manner – do the ones opposite each other and then tighten them down when they are all lightly fastened. Then, turn up the heat!
Let the steam build and vent for 10 full minutes before putting the weight on the vent. 10 lbs is sufficient for up to 1,000 feet of elevation, after that go to 15. The 5 lb option is for cooking meals, and not applicable here.
Once you put the weight on the vent, wait for that rattle, then count the time. Twenty minutes is sufficient for stocks, but NOT for anything else, so if you are making stew, chili, etc., that will require 90 minutes for quarts, 75 for pints. You don't want the rattle going constantly, so turn the heat back a bit if it is; about 4 rattles per minute works. I have never found the gauge reliable, so I go by the rattles, which leave out the guesswork.
When the time is up, turn off the heat and leave it alone until cooled, or the pressure has gone down on its own; releasing the pressure too quickly will prevent the jars from properly sealing. One you are sure the pressure is gone, remove the weight – be careful, as it may be hot. Unless you have waited hours, the jars will be very hot! Canning kits come with a grabber for taking hot jars out, and I love mine!
Set them on a wire rack and let them cool, about 2 inches apart. Leave them alone, don't touch the seals, as tempting as it may be! Once they are completely cool and ready for storage, label them, making sure to put down the date.
If you have a cool, dark pantry, you are in luck! The best way to store them is away from sunlight, in a cool, dark place. Don't let the jars freeze, or they will likely break, and if they get too hot, food will lose nutritional value. Have a barrier so they can't fall from shelves, something I had to do when living in earthquake country. When we put the shelving in my new pantry in Utah, we turned the wire shelves upside down, forming a barrier, preventing the jars from falling. We had an earthquake here in Utah not too long ago, and I was glad we did it that way.
Avoid stacking the jars on each other, as that may affect the seal; however, when I keep the original boxes the jars came in, I will sometimes stack those, as the weight is evenly distributed. The best thing about storing home-canned foods is they are rodent-proof. The downside is, they are hard to move if you relocate (trust me!) but if you want a nice supply of canned goods at home, it's a great way to add to your food storage pantry!
Always check your seal before you store or consume your stock or other canned goods. If the lid is not firmly on, and moves when you put pressure on it, don't eat it. If you notice that it didn't seal properly, you absolutely can process it again. If you see bubbles or mold inside, throw it away, it's not worth getting sick over. Botulism can be fatal, particularly if you are using your goods when it may be difficult to get medical care.
Ending on a Positive Note!
Once you get in the habit of making your own stock, you will be amazed at how much better your meals taste, especially soups, where the flavor of the stock can really stand out. You can drastically reduce sodium intake and still have an amazing flavor, not to mention the glucosamine, chondroitin, calcium and collagen when you make your own! Your body will thank you, and so will your loved ones!