We also had a gas stove which provided consistent, reasonably priced heat at the turn of a dial.
Here on the homestead, canning hasn't been terrifically convenient, even if the fruits of the labour involved certainly were. Having access to pre-cooked meats or vegetables that don't require refrigeration, and only need to be reheated and mixed, sure makes life easier here.
The problem we had was that the wood cookstove doesn't lend itself to easy pressure canning. Even in winter, keeping the stove ticking along sufficiently to keep the water in the canner boiling non stop for 75 or 90 minutes just isn't that easy. Not even counting the time it takes to bring a large canner full of cold meat or veggies to that boil, and holding it there an additional ten minutes while the canner is evacuated of non-steamy air.
It just required too much tending of the stove at too high a temperature for too long. By the end the cabin was hot, even in midwinter, and we weren't that enthused about trying it again anytime soon.
In the summer, we had also experimented with canning outdoors on our propane stove. Donna had volunteered to monitor the stove outside by sitting and reading while listening to the jiggling weight, but still, this was limited by the weather and season, as well as burning propane. While I would also argue that it involved a consistent (albeit non-engaged) watchman, I'm sure that Donna would be more than happy to fulfill such a role.
The final option I also contemplated would be to simply accept the cost of butane, and cook indoors on our small butane burner. This little burner has been invaluable during the spring and fall when we may not have enough power at the times we want to heat up a pot of water for dishes or beverages, but it's also too warm to justify stoking the woodstove for those same simple pleasures. At $3.00 a can, and the notion of probably having to use *at least* one can for every batch, I wasn't too keen on this thought and so put thoughts of canning in the back of my mind. Donna also interjects at this point her reluctance to have the odour of butane combusting in the cabin for that length of time.
Bringing it back to the forefront of my thoughts happened while on another cleaning/organizing binge in our pantry. Staring at our collection of jars that had been mostly empty for the last couple of years while we've been here, I started to think again - either admit that they were no longer earning their place in our cabin and life, or find a way to use them. It didn't take me long to come up with a bit of a plan.
As I have complained to most anyone who will listen, when you are off grid and solar, it can be a feast or famine lifestyle when it comes to electrical power. Once your batteries charge, the remaining sunlight just gets ignored by your system. You can see a huge opportunity - but finding ways of utilizing it is the key.
Enter my thoughts of using that power on sunny afternoons to do the canning for us.
At first I started contemplating a hot plate - even 1500 watts wouldn't be unreasonable I figured - the solar panels should be able to pull down about 2000 watts for most of a sunny, summer day - and in the endgame of absorption, we often were using under 300 watts to keep the batteries in shape. Not to mention the trickle charge that will be all that's needed once our batteries begin floating again.
Several poor reviews of cheap hot plates had me open to alternatives - and that's when I started to see induction cookers beginning to appear on the periphery of my vision - that is to say - in the "other people looking at this have bought" column on my webpages.
Induction cookers kept touting their ability to efficiently heat only the pot and contents - delivering all of their energy to your cooking utensil, rather than heating up an element, which in turn heated up your pot. That sounded fine to me.
Then it was pointed out that induction cookers can only heat up cookware that is magnetic. That didn't sound like an issue - our cast iron was very magnetic. Our saucepans - check!
Our pressure canner - that's when the party ended. It's clearly (and commonly) aluminum. Bummer. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound.
The only pressure *canner* we owned was a large, Mirro 22 quart workhorse. It was pretty awesome in its ability to do large quantities - but that actually wasn't always a benefit. It's a pretty big item to be putting on and off the stove full of jars of food. I was quite mentally prepared to purchase something a bit smaller. In fact, while still contemplating woodstove canning I had remarked a few times on the notion of downsizing the canner and simply doing it more regularly in smaller batches for convenience.
Just a bit more research revealed that certain stainless steel canners would work. By far, the best deal was the Fagor Duo 10 quart canning kit. It had many advantages over what we were use to.
It was half the size. It was stainless steel but rated for induction cooking. It used some sort of spring valve for controlling the pressure - this really appealed to me. I never liked the notion of a gauge that needed to be checked yearly. I had liked the weight, but after a few uses I noticed that the interior pin on it was pitted and a bit rusty - so I began to have a slight doubt about the accuracy of its abilities.
Stainless shouldn't stain the way the aluminum did during canning. It wasn't a big deal, as we never had food in contact with the canner, but it still hurt my delicate sensibilities.
I ordered it up from Amazon, even going so far as to sign on for a trial month of prime - it gave me two day shipping, which was pretty sweet. Of course, that's to the city, but Donna was in town anyway and graciously picked it up for her husband. I have a note in my calendar to cancel the subscription before the month is up.
- Sidebar - she must really be special to have been willing to marry me. How many husbands get all worked up about being able to start canning again? [No, this is one of the many reasons why I married you! - Donna]
I also purchased the Salton portable induction cooktop.
The next shopping trip I had noted to pick up some sort of meat for canning. I was mostly thinking chicken, but we didn't see any we liked, and then Donna's eyes set on some salmon fillets that were on for around half price. We grabbed six and headed home.
I did my best to remove the skins at home - I'm certainly not an expert, but it's remarkably easy when you don't care much how the finished product turns out. I knew that after canning, this salmon was either going to end up as pieces in a pasta, salad, or sandwich.
|Doesn't look pretty, but it sure will taste good!|
I tucked them all into 500mL jars (pints for those of you who lean that way) and put them in the canner with three litres of water.
|Excited to play with the boxes - I added a few potatoes to round out the cookspace.|
|Reorganized to get them all to fit.|
|Yup, only the pot gets hot. I can totally touch the cooktop - no probs!|
As soon as the canner started boiling properly though, I was able to set it lower and the solar system returned to stasis.
Just as the sun set, and my voltage dropped to the point that the system was within a minute of shutting down, the 100 minutes of pressurized boil had passed and the induction cooker was shut off. Perfect timing!
|By this time I've already gotten into my bathrobe.|
We were back baby :)!
Since then, I returned to canning on another sunny day and was able to process a bag of potatoes and a bag of carrots in two batches back to back. This made me realize that I shouldn't get rid of too many of my jar rings - I would need enough to not have to remove them between batches.
|The fruits of our labour!|
Firstly - the cooktop I purchased has a built in timer! I'm not sure if this is a common feature, but it sure is sweet. Once you reach pressurized boiling - you can dial in the time it needs to be kept there and then essentially forget it. It will run until the exact minute, and then shut itself off. No wasted power, no setting egg timers, no returning to turn the stove down.
Secondly - the cooktop I purchased ALSO has a built in thermostat! Once I reached the boiling point, I was able to dial it down to 120 degrees (250 degrees for those of you that swing that way), and the cooktop put in just enough power to hold it there, again, for exactly the correct amount of time.
It's terrifically convenient for me on the homestead - as it would be for anyone.
It's also about as efficient as one could get - so even if you are paying for your hydro, you'd be well served to do your canning with this system as it only uses exactly what you need to get the job done safely and accurately.
I'm really excited to be canning again! This will go far towards making our lives easier and perhaps even healthier as we can begin eating less commercially processed foods.