Recently we announced the winners of our Preserving the Harvest Contest. We had so many great entries that we wanted to share a few more!
A few years ago, my wife and I watched the movie “Food Inc” and became quite concerned about the consumption of commercially raised meat. Soon afterwards, we began to try to find ways to change the source and quantity of beef that we consumed. As enthusiastic carnivores, this became more about changing the source than the quantity.
We decided to try to substitute whitetail deer to replace part of our annual consumption of red meat. With help from a colleague who was an experienced hunter, I shot my first deer in 2008. Although we found the meat to be excellent, it was a small deer, and we ran out within a few months, so we had to go back to eating beef. As we developed our taste for deer and our repertoire of venison recipes, my wife and I decided that we could make use of two deer per year, thereby reducing our reliance on commercially-raised beef to nil.
Because deer are particularly abundant in Lunenburg County, the Department of Natural Resources currently gives out Bonus Deer tags to encourage hunters to harvest a second deer, which must be a female, to try to reduce the deer population in this part of the province. Because the areas of high deer and human population density overlap strongly in this Lunenburg county, and because most property is privately owned, archery is a much safer and more effective means of hunting deer in this part of the province. After an initial investment in some archery equipment, and significant investment of time to acquire the skills to be able to make a certain and ethical shot, I was able to kill two deer in 2010. The only problem was how to preserve so much meat (approximately 60 lbs per animal) for a 12-month period until the next hunting season.
Aside from the energy requirements of running a large deep-freeze, there is also the issue of freezer-burn, which affects the quality of the meat and can ultimately result in waste. Although vacuum sealers work wonders for this, the bags are expensive and add up to a lot of non-reusable plastic. I was aware of the very common practice in Newfoundland of bottling large amounts of moose meat, so I inquired with a friend from The Rock. After a quick email to his mother, I had my recipe, and it could not be simpler.
Although it is common practice in Newfoundland to bottle meat in a conventional canner, and no-one seems to suffer from it, the internet is full of dire warnings about the dangers of bottling meat this way, with links to companies selling expensive pressure-canners designed to increase the heat of processing to ensure a safe product. Luckily, I was able to borrow one from a colleague, saving me the expense and allowing me to give it a try.
When the butcher asked me how I wanted my deer cut, I decided how many chops, roasts, steaks and how much hamburger I wanted to for my freezer, and then asked for the rest cut up as stew-meat, which was destined for canning. When I was ready, I sterilized the jars and prepared the lids/rings as per normal canning practice. I heated the water in the large pressure-canner while I further trimmed that meat, removing as much fat and sinew as possible (which I froze into small patties to be mixed into my dog’s kibble). The canning recipe could not be simpler. I put a quarter of a small onion in the bottom of a 500 ml Mason jar, added a half-teaspoon of canning salt, then packed the raw meat into the jar up to the neck, using a plastic knife from my camping kit to remove the bubbles from between the meat and the glass. I put the lids and rings on and finger-tightened them. I loaded them into the pressure-canner, clamped down the lid, and raised the internal pressure to 15 lbs for 70 minutes.
The product is simply wonderful. The fat, which accounts for most of the gamey taste of deer that some people find hard to get used to, is congealed on the top of the bottle and is easily picked out. The meat falls apart at the touch of a fork, and the broth makes a wonderful gravy. The meat can be simply heated in a pan in its own juices, or added to spaghetti sauce, or used as a base for simple stews. It is also a nice way to share the meat with others – making a nice gift to drop off for non-hunting friends and family to be able to try some venison. This year I plan to bottle some 250 ml “single-serving” jars. I also plan to try some “hot packing” recipes that incorporate potatoes and vegetables in jar with the meat, making complete ready-to-heat meals. Stay tuned next year for the results!
In the summer of 2010, a friend and I tried our hands at running a small veggie CSA on her family’s organic farm. As new gardeners we thought we would lean on the side of caution and plant more than we needed: this way (we hoped) our customers would have a better chance at receiving full baskets for the duration of the season, and if we had extra veggies, we could learn how to preserve them ourselves. Four cracked hands, two sore backs, and a near fatal entrapment in the jungle of a greenhouse later, we were knee deep in the most beautiful veggies just singing out to us to be made into relish, pickles and ketchup. We chopped, washed, froze, canned, and fermented for days and days. We listened to every CD we had, with a few repeat sing along to Joni Mitchell and Old Man Luedecke. We learned which dance moves are appropriate for working with sharp knives and boiling water, and which are not. We stunk like vinegar and garlic, and by the end of everyday, we were tired, sweaty and likely burned in a couple of places. Nevertheless, it was all worth it when we congregated around the latest batch of pickles or relish in anticipation of the mason lid symphony to serenade us with that satisfying, “pop…POP! poppop…..pop POP pop”.
Check out the haul of peaches that Jen canned! She says, “When I was buying these in the grocery store, filling my shopping cart with peaches, somebody thought that I worked there.”
Thanks again to everyone who entered our contest. Stay tuned for more entries!