Letter Re: Home Canning Your Garden Produce and Meat

I’ve seen several mentions of sealing home canned food with wax, most recently in the email from Troy H. My grandmother did this for jams and jellies, which she put up with enough sugar to preserve them even without canning. The wax seal was intended to keep the jam from drying out, and to stop mold from forming on the top. It would too often fail, and we would find mold growing under the wax. I suspect that it failed to seal more often than the mold grew, too!

I would very strongly advise against using a wax “seal” on any food which might spoil if not canned. High sugar jams and jellies are probably fine; after all, my grandma got away with it for decades, and yours probably did too. At best, “sealing” vegetables or meat with wax will probably result in wasted food, and it might “seal” just well enough to allow botulin toxin to build up. Remember, the wax layer doesn’t have the “button center” which will spring up if the seal is lost [on a steel lid]. You have no warning other than your nose if there is a problem, and botulism is odorless.

Potting is an early variant of this wax seal technique. Potted meat is cooked, and a layer of hot meat is tightly packed in the bottom of a clean crock. Very hot fat is then poured in to cover it, then, once the fat has cooled and solidified, another layer of meat, another layer of fat, and so on. Walton Feed has an article with much better instructions. The instructions suggest that you cook the meat again, thoroughly, when you take it out of the pot, to kill the bacteria which have inevitably prospered in the crock.

Salting seems to be a safer alternative to potting, with better potential for longer storage. To salt meat, take a wooden cask or plastic bucket large enough to hold what you need to preserve, and put in the meat in chunks of a pound or two. Pour on a salt brine, strong enough to float a potato. Don’t pack tightly, because you want the brine to reach all of the surface of each piece. Weight the meat down slightly so it stays covered. It will take several weeks to pickle. This is a batch process: if you get some more meat to pickle, put the new meat in new brine, then, if necessary, put the old, pickled meat in the new brine, too, on top so it gets used first. Soak the meat in fresh water several times before use to get the salt out. I got these instructions from a fellow who preserved his food that way for years. I’ve done it once myself, and it made fair corned beef.

If you are concerned with long term self-sufficiency, investigate ice houses, root cellars, drying, salting and smoking. Don’t plan on pouring wax in jars. – Nels T.