Saturday, August 31, 2013

Canning Homemade Bean Soup

September begins tomorrow...and September around here is when canning reaches it's zenith. Everything is ripening at once it seems, and with the days getting noticeably shorter, the urge to put food up for the winter kicks into high gear. I've been canning the obvious food: fruits, vegetables, tomatoes, and pickles. But this morning I decided to can a load of white bean soup. We were raised on this soup, and in our house we called it Senate Bean Soup. You can get fancy with the ingredients, but here's what I do--and the recipe that follows will be the canning version--enough to make 7 quarts with enough left over for lunch for two or three people.

First, though, I'll share two photos of the tasty results:

And here's the recipe:

Senate Bean Soup

8 cups dry white beans, small white (Navy) or Great Northern
lots of fresh water
1 large onion, chopped
1 lb. ham, chunked (today I used a 1-lb. canned ham, but I usually use leftovers from ham dinners)
2-3 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 tsp. parsley
1 tsp. summer savory

First off, you want to rinse your beans to remove any dirt or other debris; while you're rinsing, look for anything that's not a bean, such a small stones, and throw those out.

Place the beans in a very large pot and add cold water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat source, cover the pot, and let it sit for 1 hour. Drain. Again, add water to the beans to cover by 2 inches. Add the remaining ingredients and bring the soup to a boil. Turn the heat down so it simmers, cover the pot, and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add water if necessary; you want the liquid to cover the beans so you have enough broth when you can them. Note that the beans won't be quite done, but they'll finish cooking during the canning process.

I go to the trouble to count how many chunks of ham I put into the pot so I have an idea of how many chunks go in each jar. I also go to the effort of dividing my beans equally between the jars also. I like to have plenty of broth, so I usually ladle in enough beans to leave about 3 inches of headspace, with the broth filling up the top.

Hot pack only: Pack the hot bean soup into your sterilized, hot quart jars, leaving 1 inch headspace. Process quarts for 90 minutes at 10 psi, adjusting the psi as necessary for your altitude.

If you don't have an up-to-date canning book, consider purchasing my canning cookbook, The Amish Canning Cookbook.

Also, check back on Tuesday because I'm going to be giving away five of these canning cookbooks as well as two homemade aprons that are perfect for canning!


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Vinegar--More Than Just for Pickles!

I've got vinegar on my mind lately, because it's canning season and pickles use up a lot of vinegar.

But did you know that vinegar has many other uses as well? Plus, it's absolutely nontoxic and a natural disinfectant, so you never have to worry about using it in areas where food or little fingers will be. The following ideas are taken from my book What the Amish Can Teach Us About the Simple Life, available in stores and online.

  • Mop floors: Use a good glug of vinegar in a bucket of warm water, or your kitchen sink, and get mopping. There is no need to rinse, and when your floors dry clean and streak free, there is no lingering vinegar smell. You can use this on wood laminate floors, by the way.
  • Disinfect counters: Spray full-strength vinegar on kitchen and bathroom counters and leave it to air dry. It kills most bacteria, molds, and viruses. Keep a spray bottle filled with vinegar handy in both the kitchen and bathroom and you can spritz and go.
  • Clean windows and glass: A quarter cup of vinegar mixed in a quart of water makes a great window and glass cleaner. Keep it in a spray bottle and wipe dry with newspaper, paper towels, or a clean, lint-free cloth.
  • In your laundry: Use a cup of vinegar in the rinse cycle of your washing machine. It will make your clothes soft and remove soap residue.
  • An old-fashioned drain cleaner: This is my personal favorite. When my kids were younger they loved "helping," and now that I have young grandchildren I expect the help will continue in the coming years! Once a month or so, pour half a cup of baking soda into your drain and then follow that with half a cup of vinegar. You can eyeball the quantities because amounts aren't critical. The resulting volcano is great entertainment and the reason you'll have enthusiastic helpers! Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes and then pour boiling water down the drain. If you have an actual clogged drain, use this method instead of buying commercial drain cleaner, and when the time comes to add the boiling water, use a clean toilet plunger and plunge until the clog shifts and the water disappears effortlessly down the drain. A few times over the years, I've had to plunge twice, but this method hasn't failed me yet.
Here's a picture of the volcano. It definitely loses something in the translation. :)

There are many more great ideas for using vinegar in my book. But these will get you started. Best of all, vinegar is inexpensive. And if you buy by the gallon, you've got lots of cleaning power for just pennies. Frugal. Simple. Practical. Can't beat that!

I hope today finds you and your loved ones happy and healthy and enjoying plain and simple living at its homemade best!


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Here's a soup "recipe" that I throw together when I have the ingredients and want a special treat.

Place some cut up chicken pieces in about a quart of chicken broth; add a small handful of rice so it can cook while the chicken does. The amounts aren't critical, but you'll want plenty of broth. I like adding hot sauce to the broth mixture. Try using Cholula Hot Sauce--it's very tasty but not so hot that it burns your tongue.

Meanwhile, chop up some onions, tomatoes, and avocados; shred some Cheddar cheese; and have broken tortilla chips and sour cream handy.

Ladle the soup into big bowls, leaving plenty of room to add the toppings. Because I love the crunch from the broken tortilla chips, I add those a bit at a time as I'm eating so they don't get soggy.

That's all there is to it. I make this dish even simpler by always having quart jars of home canned chicken and broth on my pantry shelves. Then all I have to do is throw in the bit of rice to cook while the soup is heating and I'm chopping vegetables. A very tasty meal can be on the table in about 20 minutes. Not bad!

I hope you try this quick and easy soup. You're gonna love it!
May you and your loved ones be blessed today!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Peach Apricot Jam

One of my readers recently sent me a recipe for Peach Apricot Jam, and since peaches are currently being harvested in my neck of the woods (and probably where you live as well!), I thought this particular recipe would be a timely offering.

Peach Apricot Jam

2 1/2 cups apricots, crushed
2 cups peaches, crushed
1 package MCP pectin (powdered)
1/4 cup lemon juice
7 cups sugar
1/4 tsp. butter
Measure the fruit crushed--you'll need a bit more fruit than what's listed because when you crush the fruit you lose volume. Place the measured fruit into a very large, stainless steel pot. Measure out the sugar and set it aside for now. Add the pectin and the lemon juice to the pot with the fruit and turn the heat on to high. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil on high heat while stirring constantly.
Quickly stir in the sugar and return to a full rolling boil; boil for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the butter. Stirring occasionally, allow the jam to settle for 4 to 5 minutes, so the fruit is dispersed throughout the jam. Skim off any foam that collects on the top.
Ladle the jam into clean, hot pint or half-pint jars, filling to with 1/8 inch from the top.
Wipe the jar rims and threads using a wet paper towel or cloth and cover with the two-piece lids, screwing the bands on tight.
Place the jars in the canner that has been filled half full with simmering water. Make sure there is a rack on the bottom of the canner so the jars sit off the floor of the canner. When all your jars are in, make sure the water covers them by 1 to 2 inches. Add simmering water if necessary to cover them adequately.
Cover the canner and bring the water to a boil. When the water comes to a full boil, start the processing time as follows:
0 - 1,000 feet in altitude: 10 minutes
1,001 - 3,000 feet: 15 minutes
3,001 - 6,000 feet: 20 minutes
6,001 - 8,000 feet: 25 minutes
8,001 - 10,000 feet: 30 minutes
When the processing time is complete, carefully lift the lid and remove the jars from the water. Set them on a surface that has been covered with a folded towel and allow them to sit undisturbed until completely cool. Check the lids to make sure a tight seal has formed; if a jar didn't seal properly, it will need to be refrigerated and used within about 3 week.
Once the jars have sat for about 12 - 24 hours, remove the rings and wipe down the jars and lids before storing.
Enjoy the season of harvest!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Dutch Babies--A Breakfast Treat!

This morning dawned cool, windy, and cloudy. There's already a hint of fall in the air, which is about a month earlier than normal. It makes me wonder if winter will come early and strong this year.

In thinking what to have for breakfast on this cool and cozy morning, I decided Dutch Babies would be just the thing to brighten my day and fill my stomach.

Dutch Babies are economical and tasty, and, when topped with powdered sugar, maple syrup, or jam, they have a certain elegant look to them. No one but the cook would guess that the ingredients are few, quite inexpensive, and generally on hand in most kitchens.

Here's the recipe, which, by the way, can also be found in my cookbook, The Homestyle Amish Kitchen Cookbook, published by Harvest House Publishers:

Dutch Babies

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
2 T. butter
powdered sugar for dusting (or you can use syrup, jam, or jelly if you prefer)

Place a 10-inch cast-iron or heavy, oven-proof frying pan with sides inside your oven and preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

While the fry pan is heating, in a medium bowl, beat eggs with a whisk until they are light and frothy. (This will take several minutes.) Add the milk and whisk again to mix well. Gradually whisk in the flour, salt, and nutmeg if using.

Remove the fry pan from the oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees. Melt butter in the hot pan so that the bottom and sides are completely coated with butter. Pour the batter into the pan and immediately return to oven.

Bake at 425 degrees until puffed and lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Serve immediately, either plain, or with powdered sugar, syrup, jam, or jelly.

The Dutch Baby looks small in this picture, but it's in my 10-inch cast iron pan!
And here's a picture of my breakfast, half eaten before I remembered to take a photo. Powdered sugar was the choice of the day for me.

If you have toast and sausage or bacon to go with these, you can actually feed four people with one batch. But if Dutch Babies are the only thing on the menu, two people can fill up on one pan. However, if you have big eaters in your family (read "teenage boys") they might be willing and able to eat an entire Dutch Baby by themselves--so plan accordingly!

I hope you give these a try. They are delicious!

Blessings to you and your loved ones,

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Lard--Good for You and Your Family!

Used to be, pretty much everyone used lard for their baking needs. Many families lived in rural areas, and keeping a hog or two wasn't out of the question. Besides the hams, bacon, roasts, and chops, farm women rendered their lard supply from the pork fat at butchering time.

When I was raising my sons in the country, we kept hogs. Our first foray into raising our own pork was less than stellar because we fed them store bought feed with the end result that the meat was too lean and dry. But then we got a new neighbor--a retired man from Oklahoma who, as a kid, helped his family to raise hogs. He taught us how to feed our hogs mash, and our next batch of pork was fabulous! The meat was marbled and very tasty, and the color was richer. At butchering time, I decided to render the lard so I'd have a supply to use in the kitchen and for making soap.

Now a bit of pork fat facts: You don't want to use fat from the entire animal. The very best fat (that renders down to white and odorless) comes from around the kidneys and is called leaf lard. The next best area to harvest pork fat is along the back and shoulders of the animal. This is known as back fat or fatback. Leaf lard is what you hope to have for pie crusts and other pastries, biscuits, and doughnuts. Fatback can be used for baking as well, but it really shines when used for frying and sautéing. You could use the belly fat, but why would you want to? The belly (along with the marbled fat) is what gets made into bacon, which to my way of thinking, is a much better use.

If you want to render your own lard, it's not difficult, but you will probably get better at "reading" the rendering once you've done it a few times. Here's what you do:

Using a heavy pot (stainless or well seasoned cast iron), first place about 1/4 cup of water into the bottom of the pot. (This isn't absolutely necessary, but it will help the fat to not burn on the bottom of the pot before it begins melting.) Next, add cut up or ground pork fat. Turn your heat to fairly low and, stirring regularly, melt the fat. Once the fat begins to melt, bits and pieces of "stuff" will start to show. These are called cracklings. Don't overcook the fat. If you are using water, the hot fat will tend to spit and sputter so be careful not to get burned. But the water will gradually evaporate. Once the fat is melted, pour the liquid through a fine sieve that you've lined with a coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth so as to catch the bits of cracklings. Put the melted lard into sterilized jars (wide-mouth canning jars work great), cover, and let them sit on your counter until they've congealed. When the lard is liquid, it will be light yellow in color, but will harden white. Store your lard in the fridge or freezer so it will last longer before going bad, although it will be fine in your pantry for probably several weeks (at least) if you don't have fridge space.

By the way, you can toast the cracklings in the oven, sprinkle on a wee bit of salt, and use them to top casseroles or add to salads or vegetables. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about loving to eat the cracklings when Ma and Pa rendered lard and for good reason . They are tasty!

But I no longer raise hogs and I don't have a line on a local hog farmer willing to give up his/her fat, so I bought lard this week:
I'll grant you that store-bought hydrogenated lard has little in common with homemade naturally rendered lard, but I was feeling nostalgic and used it.
I made biscuits (see recipe below):


 They were wonderful! Very light and flaky. If you've never eaten a biscuit made with lard, you are in for a treat. Here's the recipe:

Light and Airy Lard Biscuits

2 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 T. lard
3/4 cup milk
In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the lard with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbles. Make a well in the middle and add the milk all at once. Mix with the fork until a soft dough forms. Then use one of your hands to gently knead the dough right in the bowl, about 10-15 times. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll to 1/2-inch thick. Cut with a biscuit or cookie cutter and place the biscuits on a greased baking sheet.
Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for 12 minutes.
While the biscuits were baking I whipped up a batch of sausage gravy:

Give lard a try. I think you'll agree that your baked goods will taste better.