Preserving Dried Fruits

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Have you ever noticed how quickly fresh fruit seems to go out of date? By drying fruit, it extends the length of time during which it’s still suitable to eat – sometimes by up to a year. Dried fruits are great, tasty snacks, and they’re high in energy. You can dry almost any type of fruit, but the most common include apples, pears, apricots, strawberries and pineapple.

To begin with, some fruits need to be pre-treated before they are dried. These include common fruits such as pears, peaches, apples and apricots. There are many different techniques which you can use to pre-treat your fruit, but the simplest is by simply combining equal parts of water and lemon juice (from a bottle is fine), then placing the fruit in this mixture. It should be left for 10 minutes or so, before being placed on the drying tray. By pre-treating fruit in this way, it will give your dried fruit a much better color, and also reduce the amount of vitamins that are lost during the drying process. In addition, you will be able to store and eat your dried fruit for longer periods of time.

It isn’t strictly necessary to peel your fruit before drying it, but it can help with thefruit process, as often the skin makes it difficult to remove moisture. Thinly, evenly sliced fruit works the best, as it will dry quickly and evenly. These sliced pieces of fruit should be placed on a tray inside a special food dehydrator, and make sure that none of the slices overlap. For the first hour, the fruit should be kept at a temperature of about 145ºF, after which the temperature can be reduced slightly.

There are several other methods which you can use to dry fruit, but using a dehydrator is by far the easiest and most reliable method. You can use your oven, as long as you’re able to set it to the correct temperature; convection ovens work effectively, as their fans move the air inside the oven around. Drying fruit outside of an oven at room temperature is possible, but very tricky, as the levels of humidity, temperature and air flow all have to be finely balanced. The same is true for drying fruit in the sun, as humidity levels may mean that there is too much moisture in the air for the fruit to dry properly.

Condition Fruit in JarsNevertheless, once your fruit has dried, it should be conditioned before being stored. Conditioning is the process by which all the remaining moisture within the fruit (which should be at about 20%) is distributed evenly amongst all the pieces. To do so, it is simply a case of packing it loosely into a glass jar for around a week to 10 days. By shaking the container daily, you will help to distribute the moisture evenly, but if any condensation does appear then the fruit will need to be dried some more.

Once your fruit has been properly dried, it can be stored in home canning jars, or plastic bags or containers for freezing. Luckily, dried fruits require less storage space than home canned foods, as well as less effort!

As you can see, preserving fruit by drying it is such a simple technique. With minimal effort, preparation and storage, you now have all the tools you need to create a delicious, healthy snack which will last for ages!

Home Canning Vegetables for the Self Sustained Family

Home Canning Vegetables

As a child, my parents had a huge garden. We were not poor but were far from rich. My mother canned everything. Heck, one year we had so many tomatoes, she made homeade ketchup for my one brother who ate everything with ketchup on it. She grew up on a farm during the 40’s and 50’s. I suppose it was in her genes. We spent numerous hours during the summer as “endentured servants” weeding and picking vegetables. I swore when I was an adult I would never have a garden or can anything. As an adult, I have come to realize that my parents actually had a lot of sense. Also, they saved a lot of “cents” with the garden and mom’s canning.

Growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs can be a rewarding experience. It is a lot of work yet fun. The sense of satisfaction you get when you see something that you have planted and nurtured grow into something delicious is incredible! Gardening is a wonderful way of gaining quality family time by getting kids to interact with gardening. Although, I will admit total failure in that department! In order to turn this hobby into something more serious, such as to become a self-sustained family it is a good idea to start canning your vegetables. This will make them last as long as possible as well as add a variety to your diet.

Despite the name ‘canning’, food is usually preserved and stored in glass mason jars. These jars are available from a wide variety of retailers. By using the canning method, your food has a shelf-life of about one year, which is hundreds of times longer than fresh food. An additional benefit to canning is you will know exactly what you are putting into the food you serve your family. Not only are home canned vegetables healthier they can also be tastier than store-bought canned food.

The process is actually rather simple. There are two types of canning methods, water bath canning and pressure canning. I’ll cover pressure canning later in the article. For water bath canning, all you need is a large pot filled with boiling water. Most big box stores sell the familiar grey speckled canning pots. You need to make sure you have thoroughly washed and sterilized your jars, lids and rings. This can be done by washing in the jars hot soapy water and rinsing thoroughly with hot water or you can simply run them through the dishwasher. For the lids and rings, simply put them in a pot of boiling water with the heat turned off. Do not boil them, simply submerge them in the boiling water until you need them. If you are using a hot pack recipe where you will be filling the jars with something like boiled tomatoe sauce, you need to fill jars with hot water until ready to fill.

Prepare your recipe and fill jars, leaving at least an inch of head space. Once the jars have been filled, carefully wipe off the mouth of the jar with a sterile cloth and secure the lid with the metal band. The jars are then put in the water bath canner and completely covered with hot water. Bring to a boil and process for the period of time designated in your recipe. The type of food being preserved and the size of the jars you are using will determine process times. The time can vary between anything from a few minutes to over an hour. Sealing the jars in this way not only kills bacteria, it also removes extra air from the jar. This allows the food to last longer and ensure it is less likely to spoil.

The most important thing to be aware of when home canning is the use of proper sanitation. When you are home canning, there is a possibility of botulism if items are not properly processed. You have to use the proper canning method for yoour food items as well. Botulism is a form of food poisoning that can cause serious illness, paralysis and even death. While it is a rare occurrence in high acid foods, it can occur in low acid foods if the proper method is not used. The bacteria that causes botulism cannot be killed by using water bath canner, so low acid foods need to be processed in a pressure canner. Using a pressure canner is the only way to be certain the bacteria are killed, as the temperature reaches far higher points than the water bath method canning water does due to the pressure. This is essential, as botulism is usually undetectable. You should not eat any canned items that appear cloudy or have a slightly sour smell or taste.

Take care to avoid endangering yourself, your family and others, by using a pressure canner for all low acid foods. Remember however, this only applies to foods that are not very acidic. High-acid foods such as tomatoes are acidic enough to kill the bacteria, whereas foods like beans, corn, meat, fish and poultry are not. It is not necessary to use a pressure canner for high acid foods. Most high acid recipes will include the processing time for it. Low acid recipes will always include a time and pressure at which to process the jars.

The internet is filled with countless recipes, tips and suggestions on how to prepare your canned food items. However, the best way for you to master it all is just to jump right in and try things out! As long as you are careful and follow the basic guidelines, then you are well on your way to becoming a home canning aficionado!

How to Corn Your Own Beef

Home Cured Corned Beef

How to Corn Your Own Beef

Many people think of corned beef as traditional St. Patrick’s Day fare, which originated in Ireland. Whether or not you have Irish heritage, it is still fun to get involved with the celebrations! Next time, instead of going to the store and buying pre-packaged corned beef, why not take a stab at making your own? It is not as difficult as you might think. In fact, the hardest part is leaving it alone for a few days to process! If you like the idea of having homemade corned beef which is tastier than the store-bought stuff, then give this a try.

When selecting the meat to be corned, it is important to purchase a good quality cut. The best choice is a flat-cut brisket, but make sure that the beef has been carefully reared. Organic, grass-fed beef will give you the best flavor, more vitamins, and it is healthier than other beef. In addition, for some people it is comforting to know that the meat that you’re eating enjoyed a good life!

Once you have your brisket it is time to select the rest of the needed ingredients. You may find that many recipes tell you to use sodium nitrate to cure the meat, however, recent concerns over whether nitrates are damaging to our health may change your mind. Various organizations, including the American Cancer Society and National Academy of Sciences, have declared that there is no risk of sodium nitrates causing cancer if you are using it in cooking. Therefore, it is ultimately your decision whether to use it or not. Why use sodium nitrates? The main reason for using sodium nitrates when making corned beef is to keep the meat looking pink. If you do not mind your beef turning a little grey-brown, then you can leave it out as it is not an essential ingredient, it just makes the meat look like you are accustomed to seeing it appear. Only you can weigh up the risks with the benefits!

The name ‘corned’ beef actually comes from the type of salt which is used in processing. Essentially, corning beef is just soaking the meat in brine, and the best type of salt to use has large crystals, called ‘corns.’ Whatever you do, do not use ordinary table salt, as the grains are too small. You would end up using more salt than the recipe calls for, and the dish would end up being far too salty. Generally, coarse ground Kosher salt is recommended, due to its large grains.

Spices for Home Curing of Corned BeefIn cold water, you should combine the Kosher salt with a little sugar and some pickling spices (if you’re feeling really adventurous, you could even try making your own pickling spices, as well!). The general rule of thumb is that the brine should be made up of ten parts water, two parts Kosher salt, one part sugar and half part of pickling spices. Basically, ten cups water, two cups Kosher salt, one cup sugar and a half a cup of pickling spices, but feel free to adjust the amounts slightly to suit your tastes. Mix the mixture until the sugar and salt have dissolved.

Corned beef is delicious if the flavor runs throughout the whole piece of meat, and there are several ways in which you can achieve this. The most technical method is to use a marinade injector to inject the mixture deep into the brisket’s tissue. If that sounds too complicated, then it can work just as well if you pierce the meat all over using a small-bladed knife. The brine will be able to soak into the meat through the pierced holes.

Once the brine is made, and the meat has been prepped you may add the pierced brisket of beef to the brine. Use something heavy to weigh it down so that the meat stays submerged. Then it is simply a case of covering it and leaving it in the refrigerator for a number of days.

This is not the sort of dish which you can prep the day before you want to eat it. Different recipes will tell you to leave the brisket in the refrigerator for anywhere from four to eight days. In reality, the longer you can get away with leaving it in the refrigerator, the tastier the flavor will be. If you can prepare it around a week in advance, that would be ideal. Just remember to take it out of the refrigerator after about four days and flip it to ensure that the entire brisket is marinating evenly in the brine.

When the beef is ready, remove it and rinse it under cold running water. You are then ready to cook it however you please, although boiling in water is the traditional option. If you have cured your beef well, with a selection of tasty pickling spices, then you can probably get away with slowly cooking it in plain, simmering water for a few hours. That said, you can choose to add other ingredients such as garlic, allspice or additional pickling spices to the water and the brisket before boiling.

After around three hours of cooking, remove the beef from the pan and allow it to cool. Then all you have to do is slice it and enjoy a little taste of St. Patty’s Day, made from scratch! Another twist is to smoke the brisket in a smoker after coating it with cracked pepper. You’ll end up with some of the tastiest homemade pastrami you’ve ever tasted.

Living a Self-Sustained Lifestyle: Crazy or Just Plain Smart?

Self Sustained Living - Crazy or Just Plain Smart?With the rising cost of living and resurgence in the popularity of growing your own fruit and vegetables, becoming self-sustained is an increasingly appealing option. However, to do it properly, it is more than just a hobby; it becomes an entire lifestyle. Yes, you may be living a more independent and healthy lifestyle, but it will be hard work and you’ll be amongst the minority. Is living a self-sustained lifestyle worth it? I will address some of the things you will encounter as you attempt to live more self-sufficiently.

If you succeed in becoming self-sufficient, you will be able to provide everything that your family needs, without having to rely on any outside suppliers (or the government for that matter). You will build a knowledge base and skill set which will likely surprise yourself. There is no way to go about this half-heartedly; you will need drive, determination and motivation, and you’ll need it in bucket loads.

There are many reasons why you may choose to go down a self-sustained route. For some, it may be something like the desire to be prepared in case of an emergency. Should there be a global, political, economic or environmental crisis, you will be ready to bounce back and continue with your life quicker than others. On the other hand, you may be thinking purely of the environment. There is no doubt that becoming self-sufficient dramatically reduces your carbon footprint; so if you  are conscious about how your actions are affecting the planet and future generations, then this is a way to alleviate any self-imposed guilt. Furthermore, by becoming self-sufficient, the food that you eat is certainly going to be healthier as well. By becoming self-sufficient, you will eliminate the pesticides and other chemicals applied to food that is produced in bulk for mass consumption. Not only is this great for your own health, but it great for the health of the environment as well.

Home Cooked Meals with the FamilyOne of the biggest influencing factors for people to become self-sufficient is the sense of personal satisfaction that they achieve. There is nothing more satisfying than eating a meal made from food that you’ve grown, prepared and cooked yourself! My opinion is that any effort you put into self-sustained living is worth the time. We need to be examples to the next generations. We simply cannot sustain this generational mindset that the government will take care of everyone. There simply isn’t enough money in the coffers to accomplish that socialistic pipe dream.

Another massive advantage to being self-sufficient is that your living costs will go down over time. It is true that you may have some start-up costs, such as buying dried goods like rice and beans in bulk for long term storage or seeds to plant in your garden. However, the amount of food you receive for the initial investment far outweighs the cost of purchasing the products from the grocery store. You will also want to consider purchasing local grass fed beef, local organically raised pork and chicken for long term freezer storage. If you have the land, consider raising the livestock yourself. Over time, you will more than pay for the up-front bulk purchase and storage costs with the amount you save on grocery shopping. Keep in mind, however, you will need to balance these out against the costs. Buying a side of beef and a hog once or twice a year is more expensive up front however; the price per pound will be significantly lower. When you are trying to save money, is spending hundreds of dollars to get yourself set up worth it?

One of the most appealing, fun and rewarding things about taking on this lifestyle is the new range of skills that you are going to learn. Don’t know how to skin a rabbit, make your own soap, or fix a leaky roof? More basically, if you do not know how to cook from scratch with whole foods, you will soon enough! It is all about trial and error and learning. Grandma's Cookbook RecipesDon’t be afraid to try a new food like rabbit or make a meal from a cookbook your grandmother had her entire life. In fact, one of the most rewarding things my family enjoys are simple home cooked meals that we share around our family dinner table. Knowing that I produced the food on the table makes it all the more rewarding.

However, it is important to remember that it is almost impossible for a single person (and even a single family) to do everything themselves. Think back to centuries ago, before the advent of technology, when everyone farmed their own food and washed their clothes by hand – even then, people did not do everything themselves. There was a lot of trade, so they still had to rely on each other. In that sense, it would almost be better to have a whole self-sufficient community. Trying to convince your neighbors and friends to follow suit may be a challenge! So many people have grown up in the “handout generation” that they may not have a clue about where to start. The important thing is not to be too hard on yourself. Self-sufficiency is a difficult lifestyle initially.  Don’t be afraid to ask others who live the lifestyle for help whenever you need it.

All in all, the decision on whether or not to have a self-sustained lifestyle does not have to be a difficult one. I will concede that it is certainly not a way of life that will suit everyone. However, it does have many advantages, namely the sense of freedom and feeling of control over your lifestyle that it will give you. To many, it may seem like living a self-sustained lifestyle is crazy – the hard work and upfront costs might feel like more effort than they are worth. It is more of a mindset that you do not have to be dependent upon commercial suppliers of processed foods. You can easily consume home grown and healthy foods. It just takes more planning up front. You do not have to be dependent on the government to take care of you. You are in control of your life, not the politicians in Washington, DC.Politicians Don't Control Your Life

Those who have already made the transition to a self-sustained lifestyle would probably argue that they are just plain smart! They can live simply, how they wish, without needing to rely on anyone for anything. Ultimately, it all comes down to you as an individual, and as a family. What do you ultimately want to achieve? Are you prepared to put in all of the hard work and dedication? If you think that the pros of living a self-sustained lifestyle outweigh the cons – if you think you have what it takes – then you may well end up having the last laugh!