I am officially terrified of my pressure canner

So last night’s foray into pressure canning went almost as badly as these things can go.  Almost.  No one got injured, so it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it was still pretty bad.  Here’s what happened.

I heated up my jars and cooked my beans, per the directions.  I filled the jars and got ready for processing.  I put the jars into the canner and locked on the lid.  Then I let the steam vent for 15 minutes, per the instructions.  And then I was too terrified to close the vent myself with the weighted gauge, so I got Michael to do it for me.  I have a hilarious photo of him in his “safety gear” because I spooked him so badly by being terrified of doing it myself.  I’ll post the photo later, I promise.  Then I waited a few minutes until the gauge started rocking.  That took about five minutes, and then I started the timer.  75 minutes of processing time.  I finally felt pretty relieved at this point, as nothing had blown up yet.  I just needed the pressure to maintain at that level for 75 minutes, and then let the canner cool (overnight, it was pretty late), and then I’d have tasty beans, yay!

Wrong.  So I stayed in the kitchen the whole time just to make sure the gauge was still rocking, so I could know for sure the pressure stayed at the right level.  Unfortunately, at about the 50 minute mark, the canner dropped pressure.  The weight wasn’t rocking anymore.  I wasn’t really sure what to do.  I emailed the lovely Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars about the issue, and she suggested it might be an issue with the gasket.  I turned up the heat on the stove to try to bring the pressure back up.  It worked for a few minutes, but then the pressure dropped again.  I turned the heat up again.  Same thing.  And then my safety vent blew and steam shot out of it like a volcano.  That is not an exaggeration.

So, that was terrifying.  Turns out the gasket was cracked.  I’ve decided to replace my canner, however.  I’ve had a few too many terrifying experiences with this one.  Yikes.

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Pressure canning

For those readers out there who don’t know me personally, this will be a new story.  For those of you who do, you already know this one.  Feel free to skim.

Last summer, I was canning some pickled asparagus I had made (using a recipe from Ashley English’s Homemade Living Canning 101 book) in my brand new-to-me canner my grandmother gave me.  It’s an 8 quart Mirro-Matic (does that brand even exist anymore?!) pressure canner, and I was soooo excited to use it!  The thing is, I didn’t really understand that you can do water bath canning in any large pot with a lid, basically.  I thought you had to use a canner.  Like the pressure canner I had just received.  Disaster ensued.

An 8 quart canner really isn’t large enough to hold enough water to completely cover three pint jars and not be at risk of boiling over.  And locking the lid in place over all that?  Terrible idea.  Naturally, I got scalded.  Badly.  Badly.  My right arm, stomach, and right breast all received 2nd degree burns, and I still have the scars (at least) six months later.

So I’ve been a little afraid to actually try pressure canning.  Of course, now I know why what I did was wrong, but it still makes me a bit nervous.  And yet, here I am, pressure canning some black beans for the very first time.  So far, I’m injury-free, but I’m definitely still nervous.  I’m currently venting the pot and am going to start timing it pretty soon.  I’ll post an update on my beans (and well-being) later.

Some things I’m excited about…

This is just a quick and dirty post of some ideas I’ve gotten myself all excited about, and then off to bed with me!

1. I’m doing Foodie Pen Pals this month!  I just got paired up with my penpal yesterday, and I’m really looking forward to hearing back from them and getting started.  I’m just absurdly excited about this whole concept.  A STRANGER SENDS YOU AWESOME FOOD, GUYZ!  Anyway, more on that when I do the big reveal!

2. I just found this recipe on Phickle (a truly awesome blog about fermentation, if you aren’t already familiar) for vegan cheese!  I am promising myself that I will try this!  I’m a little nervous about this being my first fermentation experiment, though.  Maybe I’ll try sauerkraut first or something…

3. This post on how to pressure can beans also has me absurdly excited.  I think this might be my project this weekend.  I just need to overcome my fear of my pressure canner.  I got burned pretty badly using it this past summer.  But it’ll be totally fine this time because I have this wonderful step-by-step guide to ensure I don’t screw up!  Right?

4.  This is an idea I’ve had brewing for a while, and I’m putting it in writing (typing?) as a way of making sure I eventually try it:  I’m obsessed with the idea of making a lavender earl grey pound cake/shortbread/cupcake/muffin/something doughy and tasty.  I’ve been meaning to start experimenting with this for a while now.  Maybe this weekend?  Probably not, but soon!

Adventures in Sourdough

Well, it’s finished, and I have to say, it came out pretty darn well for a first attempt! Okay, my slashes were a little… limp, and the dough was pretty tough at first, but it came out really well nonetheless. The crust is lovely (I put a pan of cold water in the oven to help it along), and the flavor is just a little bit sour. I actually could make it a little more sour next time, but the result was really good. Ze photos: Continue reading

Icky weather

Well, if you’re reading from the Philadelphia area, you’ll already know that the weather today is of the ickiest variety: a freezing mix of snow expected to accumulate up to eight inches with rain, woo hoooo!  So naturally today is a kitchen kind of day.  Any time the weather gets cold and disgusting I just want to spend the whole day making yummy things in my kitchen that will warm everything up and make everything a little more cozy.  I’d really love to be making some jam today, perhaps this one from Food In Jars’ Marisa McClellan which looks absolutely incredible, but I’m running pretty low on the fresh fruits and veggies, and there haven’t been any pears in this house all season (a travesty!).  So, instead, I’m tackling sourdough bread today for the first time.

I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous.  I’m basically harvesting wild yeast and hoping that they create a beautiful loaf of bread, instead of, I dunno, poisoning us all?  Okay, it’s probably not that serious.  My starter smelled pretty much right… at first.  Er.  When I scooped out my one cup of starter for the recipe, there was a bit of a… puke-esque aroma from the bottom of the jar.  :-/  So I’m not 100% confident about this.  Anyway, the dough is currently rising and needs at least another hour, so I’ll update you with the results when it’s all done.  Here’s to hoping?

The beginning is a wonderful place to start

Thanks for joining me in this collection of my thoughts, recipes, and miscellany.  I’ve started this little blog as a way to channel some of my enthusiasm about food–both as an academic subject and as that tasty stuff I shove in my mouth.  I’d expect to see here documentation of my latest food adventures (in canning, baking, pickling, and dining), and my ideas about being an ethical eater.  I’ve been a vegan for nearly eight years (when did I get this old?!), and I’ve recently become pretty enthralled of the local food movement.  I can’t really call myself a “locavore,” because I’m really not there (yet?).  I do the majority of my grocery shopping at Wegmans.  I still buy some processed foods (I’m looking at you, Daiya!).  I’ve been guilty of buying tomatoes in the wintertime.  I swear I’m getting better, though, and I’m hoping this summer to try to take some more steps towards food self-sufficiency (more on that another time, though).

I began canning because I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I became obsessed with the idea of reducing my food dependency, both on other regions and on other people.  I began just by trying to do more of my own cooking, from scratch!, than eating out or eating processed foods.  But I’ve always been a crafty person, and I love diy-ing, so when I tried a family friend’s homemade pickles, I knew I had a new project.  I made my own pickles, which were a little too salty perhaps, but otherwise a success, I asked my facebook friends, “If I can pickle, can I can?” and received a lot of encouragement from my foodie facebook friends.  The journey began.  I borrowed Ashley English’s Homemade Living: Canning and Preserving with Ashley English from the local library.  My first project was the Peach and Lavender Butter pictured in the header of this blog, made with the help of my mother.  I’ve been hooked ever since.

So what’s in my pantry now?  Well, I have one jar left of that Peach and Lavender Butter, which I’ve decided to save for late winter/early spring as a treat for the coming summer.  There’s one jar left of the amazing Herbed Pickled Asparagus I made with Michael in the summer, another item being saved for an early taste of spring.  There’s a jar of Pickled Cranberries, and at least one left of Spiced Cranberry Jam, which came out a little thicker than intended, but is still very tasty.  There’s one last jar of Apple Cider Jam, which I gave out as Christmas gifts to great acclaim.  I’ve also just started a sourdough starter a few days ago, so I’m hoping to try my hand at sourdough bread in the coming week.

So pull up a chair and a cup of hot tea.  There’s more to come!