Why Pressure Canning Scares the Be-Cheezits Out of Me

For most of my life I have had an intense fear of pressure canners.  It's not that I'm afraid of the sight of them, but the thought of actually using one sends me into panic mode.  I've been researching and will probably try it eventually, but since my rental home only has a glass-top stove, I can't use one anyway.

My playroom at my grandparents' home was just off the kitchen.  I'd often watch while my grandma baked or canned.  She would hum a sweet song while she worked.  I'd have cartoons on the playroom T.V. while playing with my Weebles or Barbies.  Totally soothing and traditional mental picture, right? 

I loved when my grandmother would can soup.  Split pea soup is my favorite, especially when it's very thick.  My grandmothers was filled with fresh minced onion, sliced carrots, green peas, and the ham hock leftover from her pineapple glazed ham roast.  Whenever we had a ham, I knew what was coming, and looked forward to the resulting soups.

Until it all went horribly wrong.

The nightmare happened when I was about five or six years old.  One bright, sunny day as I was watching the playroom television, Grandma was just finishing up a batch of fresh split pea soup.  I was vaguely aware of the clanking coming from the kitchen as she set up the pressure canner and filled it with the big jars of soup. 

The pressure canner was enormous and always made a slightly disturbing noise.  It would wobble and clank on the burner, hissing and shaking and shooting steam from the top like an angry dragon.  It had always worried me a little, but I'd gotten fairly used to it since Grandma canned with it quite often. 

Grandma had sternly warned me many times to stay out of the kitchen when she was canning, so I timidly peeked around the doorway at the seething metal monster on the stove.  Today it wobbled and shook and steamed a little harder than usual.  I'd never seen the steam come out from around the edges before.  I stared with wide eyes and a slight tremble as it shook harder and harder.  It was even scarier than when the washing machine was off-balance.  This time the pressure canner was thumping up and down on the stove, as if it was about to jump off of it.

Grandma had started yelling by the point.  She had on her oven mitts and was trying to get to the knobs on the back of the stove, but she couldn't get past the angrily billowing steam to turn off the heat.  There was a very loud CLANK-CLANK-CLANK, followed by a huge BOOM as the lid flew into the air, struck the ceiling with a bang, then slammed onto the floor.  Pea soup had erupted in a tower of green slime along with the lid, covering everything from the floor to the ceiling within a five-foot radius.

 I was left with pea soup-induced nightmares for years afterword.


I'm Gonna Miss Ya, Home Slice

I've been reading for a while now about the possible link between Celiac and Hashimoto's.  I've been working hard to ignore that link.  What fun is giving up gluten to someone who adores baking bread?  Not to mention the extra hassle of checking every ingredient on everything I buy.  Yuck.

Fortunately, there are a large number of gluten-free bread recipes.  Unfortunately, most of them call for things I'm not yet familiar with.  Xanthan gum sounds like alien vomit.  Yippee!

"Kids, get excited!  We're having alien spit biscuits for brunch!"

Yeah, not so much.

I haven't plunged into this with reckless abandon.  The recommendation is to try it out for two weeks and see if it has a positive effect on your symptoms.  It's definitely worth it if it takes away at least some of the fatigue and daily pain.

I'm looking for simple, healthy ways to make the switch.  The good news is that aside from the breads, it's really not that hard.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are familiar and comforting in our current menu.  Pastas and pies will add a bit of a challenge, but I'm certain there are a number of alternatives.  This recipe looks promising.

I'm saving the big switch until I get paid next week, and will have to adjust the grocery list.  The farmer's market will be a huge help.  I'll keep you updated!


That first step is a doozy!

I've lived a very sheltered life.  Until I was a teenager I thought the wrappers on burritos were some sort of edible paper.  That sheltered.  Being afraid to stretch my wings and explore the possibilities did have its upside, since I never did get into drugs, and my wild young adult days weren't all that wild and were certainly short-lived in comparison to some.  The downside of being sheltered and afraid of my own shadow is that I've done much more dreaming than actually experiencing life.

So now, over 40 and a single mom in need of every spare penny, I have begun to seek out ways to become more self-sufficient. The problem is that I've been a little lost in the whole process.  How does a very low-income working single parent with arthritis and auto-immune thyroid disease and living  in a rental home that would make tiny house connoisseurs jealous possibly find the time and space to do things like canning and homemaking crafts?

One step at a time.

The most logical step when entering new territory is always research.  I've spent the better part of the past couple of years poring over homesteading and even prepping blogs, how-to sites, and maker forums.  I've collected as many books as I can on canning, homesteading, and natural healing.  I think I've got the idiot's guide to just about everything, but there is always something new to learn.  When you haven't been physically exposed to the basics, it's difficult to know where to begin.  I need step-by-step guides.

I've also decided to begin collecting as many manual implements as I can.  I've been scouting out things like hand-crank mixers and even looking for a good treadle sewing machine.  It's less a doomsday theory thing than a money-saver.  When your budget is as tight as mine, every cent saved on the electricity bill is a good thing.

The first project I took on was laundry soap.  Yes, even something so small and simple seemed daunting.  Would it get my clothes as clean?  Would it be safe for my washer?  How the heck would I find the five-gallon pails for the finished liquid soap without spending an arm and a leg or have someone else's used buckets that smelled like pickles?

One day I decided to take the leap.  I went out and bought the supplies.  I figured out that with the regular-sized boxes of Borax and washing soda, you can get about 6-7 batches, using a bar of soap for each batch. Each batch is about 50 loads, depending upon how much detergent you use per load!  Since it only costs about $5 each for the Borax and washing soda, plus the cost of each soap bar, my first attempt cost only $12 for enough detergent to last about 6 months!

I began with the Fels Naptha laundry bar, since that was the one most called for in the instructions I was able to come up with.  I'm now using a glycerin soap bar, but I'm going to try the more organic castile soap bar next time.  I haven't tried any essential oils, which I can't really afford to stock up on right now, but I'd like to use a combination of lavender, citrus, and tea tree when I can afford to.

The first time I tried it, I decided the need for all those big buckets was only because of the addition of all the water most recipes called for.  Since the washer added its own water, it seemed like a waste of time and resources to follow the extra steps involved.  I just add a cup each of Borax and washing soda to a shredded bar of soap, mix it all up and put it in a little container.  I use two tablespoons per load, and three on the larger loads.  My clothes are clean, and using vinegar instead of fabric softener keeps them just as soft.

Here's another interesting tidbit:  Did you know that using fabric softener makes your towels less absorbent? Vinegar eliminates that problem and cleans all that residue from the fabric.  Have you ever used the tail of your shirt to clean your glasses and gotten a weird film on them afterward?  That's the massive amount of residue from commercial laundry soaps and fabric softeners.  Imagine what that's doing to your washing machine!

Eventually I'd like to make my own soap, but the lye issue freaks me out a little.  Ok, a lot.  Watching that scene in Fight Club was probably a bad idea.

I'm now looking into CSAs.  Community Supported Agriculture was a term that until very recently I'd never come across.  I first saw it after a friend of mine posted on Facebook about the great haul she got from her local farm share.  I got curious.

"What the heck is a farm share?" I thought.  Whenever I hear or read a term I'm not familiar with I have to look it up.  Turns out, there are several of them locally.  The cost around here is somewhere between $300 and $600 per growing season.  It sounds like a lot at first, but that's spread out weekly from about June through October, and each weekly share can feed up to seven people!  Some CSAs even have work programs where you put in 4-6 hours a week to help out and they pay you with a free share that week.  It's not ideal for everyone, especially when your schedule is already full, but worth it when you have an extremely tight budget and need to save as much as you can.  Some CSAs offer meat and dairy products, as well.  Think of the savings!

So what do you do with all the fresh produce you don't want to go to waste?  I'd gotten all the basic supplies I'd need about a year ago, but between a big move and a lot of other major life changes I'd never gotten around to trying to can anything.  The discovery of farm shares is a pretty good incentive to start.  I got a food dehydrator free from Craigslist, and it's really psyched up to get going on some dried fruit and jerky.  I'm not sure yet how to go about storing the dried goods long term, so that'll be my next research project.

Right now my credit sucks, but my total debt is very low.  With diligence, I should be completely debt-free within the next couple of years.  My goal is to eventually buy a little house in the country somewhere (hopefully with a barn) and go into this full force.  How can I possibly do that on my minuscule income and current situation?


Little by little and with determination, anything can be accomplished.