Catching Up On Canning – Sauerkraut

March is the best time I have found to can homemade sauerkraut.  Because of St. Patrick’s Day and the hype to serve corned beef and cabbage, every super market and specialty grocery store puts cabbage on sale.  Typically cabbage is anywhere from $.33 to $.49 a pound.  The first two and a half weeks of March though you can get it as low as $.14 a pound, which is exactly what I paid for it this year.

At this great bargain price I bought six large heads of cabbage for less than $5.00 and with this I was able to get 8 1/2 quarts of sauerkraut.  This will be enough until I buy the token couple of heads of cabbage at the fall markets just because I love to buy farm fresh produce locally whenever I can.

I am not a big fan of fermenting cabbage or pickles in a crock.  I find it more cumbersome than doing it in jars and less sanitary.  For me, fermenting in a jar is the way to go.

Sauerkraut in jars is so simple, it took me about three hours from start to finish.  If I had used my food processor to shred the cabbage rather than a mandolin, the time would have been cut at least in half, but for some things I just like doing it a certain way.  A food processor will shred the cabbage quick, but not as thin as I like it.  My mandolin makes it paper-thin and then I use the chopping blade on my food processor to finish up any cabbage that couldn’t be done on the mandolin.

Here is what I do:

Homemade Sauerkraut Part 1

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  • 6 Heads Fresh Cabbage
  • Pickling/Canning Salt
  • Quart Jars

The first step is to shred the cabbage to the desired thickness.  The thinner the cabbage, the easier it will be to tenderize.

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Next you will add 2 tablespoons of pickling or sea salt for each head of cabbage.  Massage and knead the salt into the cabbage, reducing the volume by at least half.

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Squeeze the liquid from the cabbage and pack into clean quart jars.  Add another teaspoon of salt as you are packing the jars.  Be sure to really pack down the cabbage in the jars with a pestle  This is crucial to remove excess air.

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Once the jar is packed, add reserved salty liquid over cabbage and top with a folded leaf of cabbage.  This leaf will help keep the sauerkraut from floating to the top.

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Cover the jars with clean lids and bands.  Do not over-tighten bands as the jars will begin to ferment and liquid will need to escape.  Sealing them finger-tight is good.

Let jars sit in a cool dark place for at least three months.  During the first couple of weeks you should check on the jars every other day or so to burp them.  Also, check to make sure that the liquid in the jars does not fall below the folded cabbage leaf.  If it does, add a salt brine to top it off.  To make brine, combine 4 1/2 tsp. pickling/sea salt and 4 cups water.  Bring to boil to dissolve salt.  Let cool to room temperature.  I usually make a jar of brine the same time I make the sauerkraut so I don’t have to worry about having to do it later.

Once the sauerkraut has fermented for at least three months, you can remove it from the jars, heat, replace in clean jars and seal for storage.  I typically let mine sit for at least 4 to 5 months, as we like it pretty sour.  Some people don’t open the jars after they are done fermenting to re-jar them.  I have mixed feelings on this.  Although I have not always re-jarred them using the water bath method, I somehow feel more secure in doing so because I think it will prolong the shelf-life of the sauerkraut.  I’m not a huge believer that botulism would be a factor here because the jars seal themselves during the fermenting process and we never got sick when we ate them without resealing them, but everyone should make their own decisions and do what they are most comfortable with.

In a later post I will go into greater detail as to how to re-jar the sauerkraut, as my jars that were made in October are ready to be sealed now.  Possibly next week.

With St. Patrick’s Day over, so is canning sauerkraut for another year, unless I have success in planting cabbage in my garden this year, in which case I’ll be doing this again in October — keep your fingers crossed, and for this I am — Simply Grateful. 

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Holiday Entertaining – Plan Ahead Mini Pies In Jars

I know I might be behind the times here, but this is something new to me.  There are lots of results out there when you search for pies in mason jars and I guess these were all the rage a few years ago, but I’ve never been one to follow the crowd — at least not when it’s popular.  Always a day late…

Anyway, planning holiday get-togethers can be very stressful, especially when it comes to planning the food.  I like to have as much of the menu done days in advance, weeks if possible.  That’s why I like freezing cookie dough.  Just one less thing to worry about and it gives me the freedom to make way too much.

Yes, I am one of those over-achievers when it comes to party planning.  Trouble is I usually have more ambition than time and then stress comes into play and there goes the joy in the holidays.  So, when I found the idea of making mini pies in tiny 4 oz. mason jars last summer, I put it on my “Wishful Thinking” to do list and hoped for the best.

Well, lo and behold, this year I have been fairly lucky in that I’m pretty organized and on top of things and I actually got to this little project.  What an awesome dessert!  I made four different type of fruit pies, baked a couple fresh for a test, froze the rest, and then baked up a few for a dinner party we had yesterday and they were an immediate hit.  Here’s what I did:

Mini Fruit Pies in 4 oz. Mason Jars

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  • Pie Crust (homemade or store-bought)
  • Pie Filling

After the mason jars are clean, line them with pie pastry.  This was a bit intimidating when I read about it, but it is so easy and fun that I know exactly what I am doing each and every time I have any leftover pie crust — making mini pies and freezing it.

If you are using fresh pie crust, you don’t have to roll out the dough unless you want to make a lattice or pie crust top. All you do is press pieces of the crust in the bottom of the jar and then work your way up the sides.  This took all of a few minutes to finish.  It’s quick and easy.  Even easier if you use store-bought pie crust.

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If you plan on topping your pie with pie crust, you will have to roll it out and use the lid from the jar as a cookie cutter to cut out top crust.

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Next you fill the pie with pie filling.  I filled to about 1/4 inch from the top and then either put on a pie crust top or a crumble topping.

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Plum Pies

Plum Pies

Grape Pies

Grape Pies

Apple Pie with Crumble Topping

Apple Pie with Crumble Topping

That’s it.

Now, if you want to bake right then, put jars on a lined cookie sheet (to catch any overflow) and bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes.  If the tops start to get too brown, you can cover loosely with foil.  Remove from oven and cool.

Otherwise, put on lid, screw the band on loosely and pop right in the freezer.  Then when you want to bake, remove jar from freezer and put in oven on lined cookie sheet.  Yes, put in oven FROZEN.  I did this yesterday and half thought the jars would crack — nope.  I put the pies on the cookie sheet, put them in the oven, then turned on the oven to 350 and baked for 55 minutes.  They turned out perfect.

I have to say that the pies I baked from frozen were neater.  For some reason when they were baked fresh the filling overflowed far more than when baked frozen.  This definitely means I’ll be baking them frozen, less mess.

One of my favorite things about the holidays is getting together with friends and family.  At times it can get hectic making entertaining more of a hassle.  Having these little pies ready in the freezer for holiday get-togethers takes just a bit of pressure off and made for a great conversation piece at my dinner last night, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

101 Uses for Canning Jars

Although canning season is still in full swing, I am always on the lookout for new ways to use my surplus of canning jars.  I say surplus but I never stop looking for good deals on them.  Right now in the garage I have more than 200 jars waiting to be filled.  I have them fairly well organized, but have yet to do a count.  Canning daily makes a count somewhat pointless for the moment, but it is very comforting having so many ready for use whenever the occasion arises.

I might not have exactly 101 uses to list today, but here are a few that you’d see in my home if you happened to stop by:

1.  Storing surplus sugar, flour, canning salt, Clear Jel, brown sugar, confectioners sugar, or any other kitchen staple.

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2.  Keeping baking soda in.  I don’t know about you but that little box has a tendency to spill and make a mess in the cupboard more often than not.

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3.  Storing homemade yogurt in.

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4.  I use one with a pump on it for hand soap on the kitchen counter.

5.  Storing cereal in — those boxes are just too cumbersome.

6.  Bookends — Yep, I have two 1/2 gallon jars filled with water that serve as bookends on my counter to keep my cookbooks from falling over.

7.  Memory Jar – Grace and I both have a jar in our rooms that we put tiny slips of paper that we write special memories on when they happen. At the end of the year we open them up and share them.

8. Bank – I keep one in my laundry room for spare change that I find in everyone’s pockets and the occasional dollar.

9.  Dill Keeper – I use a 1/2 gallon jar whenever I buy dill for pickling and need to keep it fresh for a few days.

10. Lard Keeper – I use a mason jar to store bacon grease or lard after making cracklings and store this in the fridge until use.

11. Pen Keeper – I use one on my desk to hold pens, pencils and a pair of scissors.

12. Yogurt Parfait – Grace uses a wide mouth 1/2 pint to make yogurt parfait to take to work with her.

13. Butter Keeper – I use 4 oz. jars to store homemade flavored butters.

14. Workshop Organization – I use mason jars to organize nuts/bolts/screws and nails.

15. Cotton Ball holder.

16. Collector’s Storage – Zeb uses a gallon jar to hold his bottle cap collection.

17. Snack Keeper – I store potato chips, pretzels, crackers, nuts, and other salty snacks in jars for storage.

18. Flower vase.

Ok, so this isn’t even close to 101, but it is a start.  These are ways I use mason jars every day.

What do you use them for other than canning?

Finding multiple uses for something that I love to see in every room in the house gives me great comfort, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.