Product Review – Ball FreshTech Electric Water Bath Canner

I am super excited that my new electric water bath canner is here and I get to tell you all about it! You heard it here first people! If you haven’t seen this yet, Ball just came out with this new product, the FreshTech Electric Water Bath Canner. I got mine yesterday via preorder, and they are now in stock on amazon! Now, this is not to be confused with their other electric canner the Ball freshTECH Automatic Home Canning System, which in my opinion (although I actually haven’t used it), is not nearly as exciting of a product. It’s got half the capacity and is twice the price. And you’re restricted in many ways by their recipes. No thank you. But that’s not what we’re here for. So, let’s talk about this new electric water bath canner. Full disclosure, yes, if you buy it through the link above I will make a few bucks, but this is my honest to goodness review of the product.

Yes, it has some obvious pros, but I had a few other things in mind I also wanted to test, and I wanted to make some comparisons between it and a regular water bath canner, and also the Weck water bath canner (which I have not successfully been able to find for sale, but if you can it’s typically more expensive than the Ball one by nearly double).

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OK so let’s start with the obvious pros:
– You free up a burner (definitely a huge pro in my books – I am a notoriously large batch canner)
– There is a spout for draining the hot water
– Good capacity of 8 pints/ 7 quarts (more on this is a minute)
– Pretty light
– Nice heat resistant handles (including the lid handle)
– Supposedly more energy efficient, but I can neither confirm nor deny that
– Can be used for other things than canning (but of course so can a pot)

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So those things are all well and good, but there are a few other things I was curious about. For one, I wanted to know if it heats up as fast as the canner does on the burner. Sadly, the short answer is no. But I’m not terribly upset about it, because I’ll just get it going sooner than I would the normal water bath canner. If you’re interested though, this is what I did. I filled each canner with jars, 95 F water, and turned them to high. My canner on the burner was at a full rolling boil in 36 minutes and the Ball canner took a full 57 minutes. So I was a bit bummed by that. Then I reread the instructions and they said that you were supposed to put the “steaming rack” (pictured below) on top of the jars and that actually helped it boil faster. Hmm OK if you say so, let’s try that. So I decided to try from “raw pack” temperature (140 F) to boil, and see how long that took, since I wasn’t spending another hour on this test. Luckily, I had also recorded the temperatures at 5 minute increments in run one so could compare. This time it took the burner canner 22 minutes and the Ball canner 36 minutes to go from 140 F to a full rolling boil. In comparison 140 to boil took 39 minutes without the “steaming rack” in there. Not sure that’s significantly better but I guess in theory it could help a bit. If you are hot packing (which I usually am), your water is around 180 F to begin with. To compare there, the burner canner went from 180 F to boil in 12 minutes, and the Ball canner too 21 minutes. So, take it or leave it, at least compared to my burner, the Ball was slower. However, if you have gas or a flat top range, I can’t be sure how it will compare. One time I canned on my neighbours flat top range and it took FOREVER to boil.

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My next question was: can I maintain a specific temperature? Most specifically I wanted to know whether I could maintain 180-185 F for low temperature pasteurization of pickles. More on that here. I was a bit bummed that they weren’t actual temperatures on there, but if it maintains something pretty constant that’s OK in my books too. So I tested what it maintains at low, medium, and high (the canning setting is for a full boil), and I tested if I could get it to maintain 180 F easily. This experiment I’m pretty pleased with. For my unit (of course yours could differ), it maintains temperatures of 120 – 125 F at low, 145 – 150 F at medium, and 190 – 195 F at high. I was able to maintain 180 F about one and a half “ticks” below high, as in the picture below. Of course, I’m at sea level and other things could affect where your 180 F is, but this is going to make low temp pickling AWESOME. Big win on this one I’d say. You certainly still need a thermometer to be sure of the temperature, but this was so much easier than finagling with the burner setting. It can be very easy to overshoot 185 on the burner, which kind of defeats the purpose of low temp processing. The beauty of this canner is the heat turns off and on to maintain the temperature. You can hear it come on too, so if you were trying to find 180 you could easily turn it to high, and then turn it down when you were getting close. You’d hear the burner turn on and off so you could find that sweet spot. So excited for pickling now!

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Another thing I was happy with was capacity. Like I mentioned, the other Ball autocanner has quite a small capacity. They list this one as 8 pints or 7 quarts, and they do mention in the manual that you can fit more than 8 pints, but they call the capacity 8 to allow for adequate water circulation around the jars. Pictured below I have 10 pints in there, and they didn’t seem super snug, so take it or leave it. I think that I will can with 9 in there on occasion – if I can fit 10, I’d say 9 have adequate circulation. It’s partially the nub from the spigot that’s the issue. The Weck does fit more, but like I said, good luck finding it, and it’s more $$.

ball canner jars

Overall, despite the slower heating time, I am happy with the purchase of this canner. I think that heating time may be the only real downside. The only other thing was that the rack on the bottom seemed like it could have been a tiny bit larger, but perhaps that would have made it harder to fit it past the nub for the spout. Not sure. But especially for me having a small kitchen, it’s going to be awesome to not have the canner on the stove. Or if I’m doing huge batches I can have one on the stove, rather than two. I may even use it on the kitchen table, and although that means I still have to lift it to the sink, I could drain some water into a pot or something, and I think it will be worth it. Thanks Ball, good invention, I’ve been waiting for something like this!

Think you’ll ditch your old canner for an electric one? Any burning questions about it before you invest? I am happy to answer.

 

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To start seeds or to buy starts?

For me, this has been a question I’ve asked myself for the past few years, and I just changed my answer this year! I decided to dive in and grow my own, and here is why.

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Some crops (like tomatoes and peppers) really need to start inside and be transplanted outside when the weather warms enough, but the decision whether to start your own or buy them can be a difficult one for a beginner gardener (or at least I thought so!). To me, the answer is easier if you have a really tiny garden, or a really massive garden, but when you are somewhere in between, as I am, the decision can be a little more difficult. With a small garden where you just grow two or three tomato plants, buying a couple quality starts is likely more worthwhile than buying a whole pack of seeds when you only want a couple, and investing in grow lights (but if you want to, go for it!). On the flip side, it makes the most sense to start your own seeds, I think, if your garden is really large. So, if you are currently in the middle somewhere with me, I thought I’d let you in on the math that I did to make my decision. I have about 180 square feet of garden, and in the past three years that I’ve had this garden I’ve usually purchased starts for my tomatoes, peppers, marigolds, alyssum and broccoli; so I thought I’d break down my math for you based on those plants only. Everything else that I grow I just seed outside anyways, so we’ll ignore that part for this math. So how much would it cost me, each year, to buy the starts for my garden, versus starting my own seeds?

Buying starts:

Let’s say I buy all my veggie starts for $2.50, and a pack of 6 flowers for $4.00, since that’s about the ballpark of what I spend on them. Based on last year my cost would be as follows:
12 tomatoes  $30
4 peppers       $10
4 broccoli       $10
12 alyssum     $8
12 marigolds  $8

                       $66

You could, of course, also spend more if you’re buying larger starts, etc.

What if I buy the seeds and equipment needed to start my own? It gets a little more complicated if you are also buying multiple varieties of tomatoes and pepper (which I did). So here is the cost for the seeds I actually purchased this year. And as a note, these are certified organic, non-GMO seeds (the tomatoes and peppers at least), so are also on the higher end of cost.

Indigo Rose Tomato  $2.75
Roma VF Tomato       $2.75
Gilbertie Tomato       $2.75
Brandywine Tomato  $2.75
Marigold                     $1.69
Calendula                   $1.69
Alyssum x2                 $3.38
Broccoli                      $3.20
Jalapeno                     $2.75
Red Bell Pepper        $2.75

                                   $26.46

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Supposing I only bought one variety of tomato, and one colour of alyssum, I could of course reduce that down as well, by as much as almost $10. However, there are some other expenses; I also bought seed starting trays, and a seed starting soil blend. Also, to get a good tomato or pepper start, they do like a lot of light, so  I invested in a grow light this year, and the stand that came with it. Some people also swear by using heating mats, because optimal germination temperature for tomatoes and peppers is pretty warm (75-85 F approximately). I didn’t go for that this year, so I’m not including that in my math. Adding all my accessories to my budget I get:

Hydrofarm JSV4 4-Foot Jump Start T5 Grow Light System   $80
Seed starting trays (48-cell insert plus outer tray) x2           $10
Black gold seedling mix (16 qt)                                                $10.99

                                                                                                    $100.99

All-inclusive, this year’s new endeavour then comes to $127.45, versus my $66 for buying all my seed starts. While it sounds cheaper to buy the starts, I’ll now reuse my grow light and trays every year. I also have seeds leftover, that if I store in a cool, dry place will still be good for next year. In fact the alyssum is from last year and I still have more seeds left over, and they are germinating just fine. You can also save money in other places, like by making your own seed starting mix, or sharing the cost of seeds with a friend who also has a small garden. You can also save your extra seeds for the next year. The price of how much electricity the grow light will use (especially if you have a few) also could factor into the math, but I’m not really sure I can make a good guess at that.

As an additional note on the grow light, I am really happy with it so far. If you want to buy a light on it’s own, and build your own stand, you could go that route, but if you are looking for one that comes with a stand, this setup is really nice. The height of the light is also adjustable so you can raise it as the plants grow, and the stand is very easy to assemble. They also make a 2-ft version if you are looking for something smaller.

All-in-all I’m happy with my decision, despite a bit more upfront cost. I also just enjoy the fact that I can watch the seedlings grow, make sure that they are properly hardened off before planting outside, and move to larger pots when I need to. I also like that I can have more control over the varieties that I plant (I’ve never seen Gilbertie before for instance). So, if you have a little extra time and money, I think it’s well worth it. But hop to it soon, spring has sprung!

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Do you buy your starts or grow your own? Any new and exciting plans for this year?

 

*this post contains affiliate links, please see the “About the Blogger” page for more information

 

Chicken broth – two ways to make it and two ways to preserve it

The winter months definitely have less opportunities for food preservation than summer, but if you are itching for some canning, now can be a good time to stock up on bone broths. Yes, horrible, horrible pun intended. Making chicken broth is a great way to prevent any part of the chicken from going to waste, it’s good for you, and it’s way better than store-bought. Cook up a chicken or two, and hang onto the bones and scraps.

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Ingredients:
1 chicken
2 stalks celery
2 medium onions, quartered
10 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp salt

How it’s made:
Combine the bones and any leftover scraps of meat in a large stock pot with the rest of the ingredients and cover with water. These ingredients are as written in Ball, but you can be a bit flexible in making broth – you could also use a carrot if you want, throw in some parsley or garlic, or if you prefer, just make straight bone broth with no added vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Now, just wait. Occasionally taste the broth; leave it simmering until it reaches the desired strength of flavour. Typically, I let it simmer for the better part of a day.

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A second way to make chicken broth is in the crock pot, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. I recently purchased 100 Days of Real Food, which is a great book by the way, and in it Lisa has a recipe for overnight chick stock in the crock pot. Dang, why did I never think of that?! Typically, I make a chicken for dinner, chuck the bones and leftovers in the refrigerator, and make the broth the next day because I don’t want to leave my burner on while I sleep (especially on my current stove – don’t get me started). This method is just brilliant because you can leave it over night and deal with it the next morning.

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The next morning it looks and tastes so delicious!

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To remove some of the fat more easily, cool the broth in the refrigerator, and then skim off the fat.

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Strain off the bones and vegetables.

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Broth can be preserved either through canning or freezing. If freezing, simply place the broth in a freezer safe container, leave some head space for expansion when it freezes, and place it in the freezer.

If canning it, prepare your pressure canner, jars and lids, and reheat the broth to boiling. Fill the jars, leaving an inch head space. Wipe the rims, apply the lids, and tighten the bands finger tip tight. Place the jars in the canner containing three quarts of hot water.

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As an aside, broth can vary in colour by what you have in it, how well you strain it, and how long you cook it, but it’s really just a matter or personal preference. I generally don’t strain it until it’s super clear (like though cheese cloth, just through a fine strainer), but if you want it nice and clear go for it.

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With all the jars in the canner, lock the lid in place and bring the water to a boil. Once a steady stream of steam is coming out of the canner, time 10 minutes of vent time, and then place the weight on the vent pipe. Bring the pressure to 11 psi (sea level with a dial gauge canner). Process pints for 20 minutes and quarts for 25 minutes. At the end of the processing time, turn off the heat and wait for the pressure to drop completely. Remove the weight, wait 10 more minutes, remove the canner lid, and remove the jars to a hot pad or towel. Cool 12-24 hours, remove bands, check seals, wipe clean, label and store.

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Ta-da! Way better than store bought!

*this post contains affiliate links, please see the “About the Blogger” page for more information

 

The botanist is back!

Wow – I have not written a real blog post in over two months! The last few months are honestly a bit of a blur with finishing up my degree, but I am happy to say that I’ve now defended my MS thesis in Botany and Plant Pathology and I am ready to be back with some new and exciting posts. Thank you for not forgetting about me and thanks to those of you that have still been referring to many of my old posts in my absence, you guys are the best!

In other good news, as a present for passing my mama bought me Ball’s newest invention, pictured below, the FreshTECH Electric Water Bath Canner and Multi-Cooker. This is their picture however, as I don’t actually have it yet (it’s only available for pre-order right now). If you want one, I’d recommend clicking on the link above to amazon since I got free shipping through amazon prime and Ball wants $23 for shipping directly from their site. But anyways – I am super excited about this beast. For one, it’s electric so it frees up one of your burners, and still has the same capacity as a normal full sized canner. This is also a great thing if you have a glass top stove that can be a problem for canning. Also it has a temperature control, so this saves so much headache when you want to do low temperature pasteurization of your pickles! SO AWESOME! However, it doesn’t look to me like it’s actually got temperatures on there, only low, medium, and high, so that’s a bit of a bummer. I’m thinking though that using a thermometer I should be able to pretty easily figure out where to turn it to to keep it at 180-185 F. Then I can mark it on there for the future; but I’ll have to update you on that when it arrives. The electric canner I’ve used for canning class has actual temperatures on it, but no where can I find it for sale (and Janice said it was twice the price of Ball’s when she got them too). See this post for more info on low temp processing of pickles. Finally, it has a spout on the bottom which means no more almost killing yourself dumping out the hot water from the canner. This thing is way cooler than Ball’s last invention, the auto canner. It has a 3 quart capacity – no thank you! For half the price of that thing, which frankly I think is a dumb invention, you can have this awesome canner with a normal capacity and not be limited to only their specific recipes. Note though, this is just hot water bath, not a pressure canner.

Electric Canner

So now that I’m back, I wanted to let you in on what I’m planning for the blog. One thing I’m working on is a new resources tab, which will include things like extension service publications and other resources for safe recipes. I’ve found that it can be hard to find these things online and in one place. Each university extension service often only has their pubs, but there are always valuable and interesting resources missing. Each time I refer to a new publication or tool I use, I’ll add it to that page so that these great resources are easy to find and access.

Anyways, there are many fun new posts coming at you soon. I can’t wait for spring and to get back into canning and gardening (although it’s actually starting to feel like spring here already!) The early spring crops will probably be starting soon!

Is there anything you’d like to see from the blog this season?

Have you been missing the babbling botanist?

Hi there blog! I just wanted to post to let you all know that I am still alive and planning on returning to you soon. Maybe you didn’t even notice my absence but yes indeedy I have been missing from the blog lately, but I promise it’s been for a good reason. The master’s thesis took priority for a bit as I am finishing up in a month! Crazy talk! This is what it looks like right now, and honestly I thought I’d be a little more impressed by it when zooming out but actually it kind of looks short to me. HA! Quality though, it is quality. I do still have to finish up a few parts which are not in here yet, this is basically chapter 1 of 2, but getting close. Anyways, stay tuned, the babbling botanist will be back to babbling before you know it! Wish me luck!

thesis

Eat It! Brie and Inferno Wine Jelly

My first “Eat It!” post is going to be short and sweet. Inferno Wine Jelly is amazing with brie and crackers. Dinner party coming up? Brie and homemade jelly. Presto appetizer! So good. Plus it’s the perfect colours for Christmas if you make it with green and red peppers!

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So delicious I have a belly ache from eating too much.

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Teriyaki Beef Jerky

As promised, here is the longer version of my about.com post on making beef jerky at home. Why make jerky? I like making jerky because I can buy beef in bulk, buy the good stuff, and choose my favourite flavours and still make it cheaper than the store-bought jerky – plus it doesn’t have any of those mystery ingredients in it. Or maybe you are a hunter and have some meat you’d like to use up in creative ways, jerky is a great option. Just make sure you follow the safety instructions here to kill anything that could potentially make you sick.

This recipe is for teriyaki beef jerky, but the same procedures may be used for the marinade of your choice. For a couple other marinade options and another detailed look at making jerky, check out Northwest Edible Life, one of my favourite blogs. Also, check out the publication that I refer to for safe jerky making linked here – PNW 632.

Beef jerky

Ingredients
1.5-2 pounds of lean beef
1 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon minced (or dry) garlic
1 tablespoon powdered ginger (or use fresh)

For the beef, I used a flank steak, but any lean cut is good. Chuck, flank, round, rump and sirloin are all good options, and most cuts of game meat are lean so it all works pretty well.

Partially freeze the beef to make it easier to cut. Wrap it in moisture-proof paper or plastic wrap and freeze until firm but not frozen solid. Trim off any excess fat. Slice the meat into long thin strips, an eighth to quarter-inch thick and about an inch wide. You can decide here whether to cut with the grain of the meat or across it. I prefer to slice with the grain because it’s easier to cut, holds together better and makes a chewier, less crumbly jerky. But try a few of each and see what you like best.

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Prepare the marinade by combining everything except the beef.

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So, here is the safety part. To ensure jerky is free of bacteria, it must be heated either before or after it is dried. There are three options for doing this:

1. Dry the jerky, and then heat it in the oven at 275°F for 10 minutes when it’s done

2. Preheat the meat in the oven at 325°F until an internal temperature of 160°F is reached before drying.

3. Preheat the meat in boiling marinade before drying.

Let’s look first at options 1 and 2 because for each of these options you will marinate the meat. Combine marinade and slices of meat in a plastic bag or glass dish and marinate in the refrigerator for 6-12 hours, turning the meat occasionally.

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Once marinated, you have two options, dry, then heat; or heat, then dry. Option 1, the post-dry heat is probably the easiest one to do. In this case, remove the meat from the marinade and arrange your strips of meat on the dehydrator tray close together but not touching. You can pat them dry a bit if you like to speed up the drying time. Dry them until they are dry (duh – but I’ll explain how to tell in a minute).

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Once the jerky is dry (sorry, the flash totally makes them still look wet), you’ll transfer them to a baking sheet and heat for 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 275°F. At this point your jerky is done. Cool it on a paper towel to absorb any excess fat and then store.

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If you chose door number 2, you are precooking the meat basically. The oven needs to be a little hotter (325°F), and the meat needs to reach an internal temperature of 160°F. The disadvantage of this is that you really need a thin tipped thermometer to measure such a thin strip of meat. But if you already have one, or would use it for other purposes then great! This method also means less dehydrator time, and since you precooked you don’t have to worry about overcooking it with the 10 minutes at the end which I have felt I did with some ground meat jerky.

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After your precook, dry the strips the same as above. (Yes, this picture is of raw jerky – didn’t have a precooked pic).

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For the third option, do not marinate the meat. Instead, heat the marinade to boiling and add the beef strips a few at a time. Allow the marinade to return to a gentle boil and stir for about two minutes. Remove and repeat until all meat has been precooked, then immediately dry the meat. This precook method also has the advantage of a shorter dry time, and it was actually my MFP teacher’s favourite method, but I find it doesn’t have quite as strong a flavour as the marinade methods, and makes the meat a bit crumbly. But again, try all three and see what you like.

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For all options, dry the meat either in a dehydrator or in the oven. Set the dehydrator to it’s highest setting (mine says 160°F, somewhere 145-155°F is what’s called for). Now I can’t vouch for how well it works in the oven because I have always used my dehydrator, but here’s how you do it. Arrange the meat on a baking sheet, and dry with the door propped open for airflow. Dry at 144-155°F. Now some ovens can’t maintain that low temperature, so make sure that your oven can maintain 145-155°F using an oven thermometer before even attempting jerky. Set the temperature, prop open the door , and monitor it for one hour. If it cannot maintain temperature, use a dehydrator. Trying to dry the meat with the temperature too high can result in the meat drying on the outside, but maintaining pockets of moisture on the inside. Moisture=bad!

Dry for at least 4 hours (oven drying takes longer and marinated jerky takes longer, and a fuller dehydrator takes longer) until the pieces of meat are dry. When dry, jerky should bend and feel leathery, but not snap. Remove a piece from the dehydrator, let it cool, and then bend it to test for dryness. If there are still moisture pockets, or if you are unsure, dry it a little longer. Most people judge it as done before it really is (including me last time I made this. I had to put them back on the dehydrator and that’s OK).

Once dry, cool on a paper towel, and then store in a cool, dark place. Since some pieces may be slightly wetter than others, you should also first condition them at room temperature for a couple days. Basically this just means leave them in a jar together and give it the occasional shake. If you notice condensation, you haven’t dried them enough – back to the dehydrator!

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Jerky will keep for 2 weeks at room temperature, 3-6 months in the refrigerator or up to a year in the freezer. I usually don’t make a ton at a time so keep it in the fridge, but if you do a massive batch it’s nice to freeze some and take it out as needed.

For a comparison of the methods, I tried my best to capture how they came out. Between the two marinaded ones, I couldn’t tell a huge difference, but I could with the boiling marinade version. Here, the left picture is method 1, marinade and post-dry heat, and the right is method 3, boiling marinade. The boiled ones were a bit drier and more crumbly, and less strongly flavoured. But when I added spice on the outside they were very delicious. And Janice loves this method, so you decide! If you try multiple methods, let me know what you like best!

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*this post contains affiliate links, please see the “About the Blogger” page for more information