Using Canning Jars For All Food Stores and More – Part 2, by Sarah Latimer
What We Store In Jars
- Dry, bulk goods. This category of items includes grains, dried pasta, dried potato flakes, dry beans, and rice for long-term storage. We buy these in 40- and 50-pound bags from the Mormon storehouse, Costco, and online vendors and then repackage them into the half gallon jars, which are then vacuum sealed, using our FoodSaver Jar Sealer connected to an electric vacuum pump system that Hugh installed into my kitchen. It takes less than a minute to put the lid on, vacuum seal a jar, and put the ring on. All I have to do at that point is label the jar and place it in storage. I can easily open the jar without damaging the flat lid by using the dull side of a butter knife laid flat along the jar’s screw-top thread and slide the knife along the threads upward toward the top of the jar until it lifts the lid and breaks the vacuum seal. Then, it’s just 30 to 45 seconds to once again put the contents back into a vacuum seal, using the same process, after I’ve retrieved whatever portion I need from the jar. I haven’t heard of an easier way to do this, especially repeatedly without heating the contents and potentially damaging the nutritional value and flavor of the contents. For the times when electricity might not be available, we have an easy hand-pumped vacuum option. However, it takes a bit more time and certainly more effort, so we are trying to get the bulk of our needs put away while the grid is available. The spring-loaded hand pump will work after TEOTWAWKI.
- Wet, canned goods. These are the things that are traditionally canned in a canner for short- and long-term storage. I appreciate my All American canner and wouldn’t be without it, as I use it often during the garden harvest for canning things like tomato sauce and tomato meat sauce, which are stored in quart jars, as those are just about the perfect size for a meal for our family. However, most of our vegetables, and even some of the tomato sauce is freeze dried rather than canned, because we prefer the firmer texture in our vegetables and want to have flexibility of extracting only a small amount of tomato sauce for some recipes without having to open and use (or refrigerate and soon use) a whole quart at a time. Additionally, while the wet canned foods will last for years, the freeze-dried items will last for decades. In the long haul, if the grid goes down and our solar system is not able to keep up to power the freeze dryer and the dehydrator, we’ll resort to wet canning everything. Until then, we will limit the wet canning, because it creates heavy jars and boxes, and once those jars are opened the contents more quickly go bad, even with refrigeration, when compared to freeze-dried goods.
- Freeze-dried meals, meats, refried beans, vegetables, eggs, fruit, herbs, and dairy. Other than the dry, bulk goods, this is where the majority of our jars are used. For these, we use quart jars, as they are the perfect size for meals and for most ingredients in both short-term and long-term storage. I often make double meals and freeze dry one. When the beef is processed, a significant amount of the meat is cooked and prepared and freeze dried in quart jars. This is true of other meat we process, too. Vegetables are freeze dried and stored individually or in combination in quart jars as are many herbs. I find that freeze-dried herbs retain more of their flavor than dehydrated ones, so whenever the freeze dryer is available, I opt to use it for my herbs rather than the dehydrator, and I grow the vast majority of my large and continually expanding herb and tea flavoring pantry. Fruit does beautifully in the freeze dryer, especially berries, and they look lovely in the jars. I enjoy popping some freeze-dried berries in my mouth for a burst of sweet flavor when I get the inkling for candy. They’re better tasting and better for you! Freeze-dried blueberries or mixed berries are so easy to use; just pull a couple of tablespoons out of the jars to add to pancake or muffin batter or to add to hot cereals. Yum! Again, there is no giant can to open and worry about resealing. It’s just a pretty little quart jar in my pantry that was pulled out of the larger storage larder. Dried milk, buttermilk, sour cream, freeze-dried cheeses, and more can be stored easily in the jars and used by the spoonful or handful, as freeze-dried shredded cheeses also make for a yummy snack right out of the jar. I can put more than two dozen freeze-dried raw eggs in a quart jar. It just takes about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the Ova Easy egg crystals and 1 1/2 tablespoons of water to equal an egg in recipes or for making an omelet. Furthermore, homemade breakfast burrito filler is a breeze in a quart glass jar. I just scramble a half dozen raw eggs and cook them, adding some crumbled cooked sausage, and sauteed onion and peppers. This goes into a freeze dryer tray with some shredded cheddar cheese on top. Then, a tray’s worth goes loosely into a quart jar, which is vacuum sealed. When traveling (or presumably when TSHTF), all I have to do is add a cup of boiling/hot water to the jar, put the lid back on, and roll it around a little for about three or four minutes. I can open it up and scoop out about one-third of the contents into a tortilla and roll it up for a nice, hot ready-to-go breakfast. The jar serves two or three, and there is only a jar to clean up afterward, too! On trips, the tortillas don’t even have to be refrigerated. I can take the jar in our vehicle with a thermos of hot water and not even have to stop to start a fire to heat water. We can truly have a hot breakfast while on the go. This is something that seems to me could be very handy, too, for those hunting or fishing trips, when you just don’t want to have to haul pots and pans (or share a lot of aroma for long), but you can fit a quart jar, package of tortillas, and a wide-mouth Thermos in your four wheeler or fishing boat. (Just be careful not to break that jar!) So many dried dairy products are stored in plastic, but plastic is not the best material for long-term storage. There are numerous reports of health concerns associated with plastic, so I feel much safer using glass for long-term food storage and, therefore, immediately transfer any purchased items that come in plastic to my glass jars.
- Cereal Blends and Mixes. We crack and grind grains to make our own hot cereals, but I like the germ, bran, and vitamins to stay active and viable, so we either produce only a small amount at a time and vacuum seal it in a quart jar or freeze it. I will also sometimes grind flours and make mixes, like biscuit mix or pancake mix and store these in jars.
- Jams, Jellies, Sauces, Extracts, and Syrups. Quart jars are excellent for making homemade vanilla extract with fresh Madagascar vanilla beans and vodka. They are also good for canning jellies, jams, and syrups, as well as pasta sauces or barbecue sauce using the wet canning method.
- Dried/dehydrated Meats, Herbs, Fruit, and Spices. We store our meat jerky in vacuum-sealed jars. These jars can be opened and a jerky stick removed anytime it is needed. Herbs, fruit, and spices that are dehydrated are stored in quart jars also.
- Teas and tea flavorings. Tea bags as well as tea flavorings are stored in quart size tea jars. By vacuum sealing the jars, we seal in the flavors and keep them lasting a long, long time!
- Sugars/sweeteners (including brown and powdered sugar, molasses, and honey). Brown sugar particularly benefits from being kept in a glass jar. It no longer dries out, as it is kept under a vacuum, which keeps its moisture inside the jar. Other sweeteners are stored in glass quart jars and protected against insects and theft, as is necessary. Powdered sugar is usually kept in half gallon jars though, because it is so light and is often required in large quantity for frostings. Powdered sugar does not get moisture in it, but it can get compacted when vacuum sealed. (It just requires a little stirring to break it loose when you first open the jar.) Vacuum sealing fine powder contents can be a bit tricky, but it is quite possible. The vacuum is opened slowly into the jar and then increased gradually to full capacity. It still barely takes a minute to seal a jar. Molasses and honey do not require vacuum sealing. I do seal the sugars and extracts made for long-term storage, to keep them from attracting (or hatching) bugs, though they naturally last a long time.
- Green coffee beans. Hugh buys green coffee beans in large quantities and then stores it in half-gallon jars. Green coffee can be stored for a very long time within a vacuum-sealed coffee jar and then brought out to be roasted the night before you want to use them. Then, you just grind and brew your coffee.
- Dog biscuits and treats. Quart size jars stashed in key locations around the house means I can reward good behavior close by and quickly.
- Lotions, ointments, salves. I make a variety of these, and glass is the best storage for them.
- Hair clips, clasps, and claws. It is handy to have all of these hair components in one place, and the quart size jar is a good collector. Furthermore, because of its height and clear glass, the jar can be used to help you find your jewelry or whatever you were hunting inside.
- Medicinal herb infusions for soap and lotion making. I make many of our lotions, salves, and soaps and have realized that glass is perfect for making tinctures and infusions as well as storing these healthful ingredients. Glass doesn’t absorb the flavors or aromas of its contents, so even though many of the infusions are very strong, the jars can be used again and again, just as if they were brand new.