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stock-potI am a huge fan of stock, I can dozens of jars of salmon and deer stock every year, and I use it all the time. Stock is the ultimate thrifty person’s food, there’s probably as much nutrition in the bones of an animal as in the meat, and different stuff too– like loads of calcium, and gelatin (which comes from the cartilage and is supposed to be real good for you). All I know is, I can’t hardly make soup anymore without cracking a jar of stock. Seems on a par with onions. And, hey, I don’t want to brag, but my soups are good. A friend visiting recently became obsessed with some soup I’d made the day before. It was just a bean, veggie and macaroni “oh-this-ole-thing?” kinda soup, but she said she’d never had anything like it. “It’s not my cooking prowess,” I told her, “it’s the stock.”

If you’ve never made stock before, there’s little easier. Just cover bones with cold water, bring to a simmer, and continue simmering for a few hours (just 30 mins for fish, too long gives it a weird flavor). When you’ve cooked all the goodness out of the bones, they’ll look sort of bleached, all the meat will have fallen off and the cartilage dissolved. Then just fish out the bones and strain the stock. That’s it!

You can reduce it to make a concentrate if you want, just return to the pot and keep a boil on it until it cooks down by half or so. But I never bother, I just can it straight up. You have to have a pressure canner to can stock, follow the manufacturers directions and process at 10 lbs pressure for 20 mins (for pint jars). If you don’t have a pressure canner, you can freeze stock beautifully. Pour into straight-sided pint jars, tupperware, or even zip-locks. Slightly less space efficient, but way more handy is to freeze the stock in ice cube trays or any small plastic containers (like yogurt cups) overnight, then pop them out into a big zip-lock for storage. That way you can just grab however much you need, and throw it straight into your cooking pot.

Here in Cordova it’s easy to get bones, everyone here puts up a home-pack of fish, and many more of deer as well, and I’m one of about three people that uses the bones. (I’ve always felt something of a heretical evangelist when it comes to making stock…) But I suspect, with a little research, you too could track down a good bone source. For one thing, butchers usually give ‘em away for free or near to it. Is there any kind of hunting in your area, maybe contact a hunting association…? Or you could just save up bones from your own kitchen.

I ought to mention a few refinements, not at all necessary. One that I’ve never tried is adding vinegar to your bones, before you cook ‘em. Somewhere in the ballpark of ¼ c. for a big stock-pot. It’s supposed to help draw the minerals out.

Another thing, which I sometimes do and sometimes don’t depending on how pressed for time I am, is cracking the bones. Unless you’re getting cut bones from the butcher, all that marrow goodness needs a way to get out. Be forewarned: raw bones are hard to crack, take ‘em outside to your chopping block and use your maul if yer gonna do it.

Lastly, if your stock looks very fatty, you’ll probably want to let it sit somewhere cold overnight, so you can lift the fat off before you freeze or can the stock. I’m usually a big fan of fat, but since it goes rancid relatively quickly it decreases the shelf life of your stock. It also seems to carry flavors in the stock that are less desirable.

Now that we’ve gone over making stock, what about making bullion?

I recently read an article in Backwoods Home by Selina Rifkin about making bullion and I just had to try it. It was a great article, and might be a great idea for somewhere else, but after trying it here I can unhesitantly say, I can’t fucking believe I just did that.

When you make bullion you pretty much just boil the hell out of your stock– boil it down, she said by three quarters, but that was still nowhere near done. I started with about 3 gallons of stock, and ended up with about 2 cups of bullion. That means I just put 2 and 7/8th gallons of water into the air in my house!!!! Considering our humidity in this coastal rainforest is already almost 100%, I might as well have just taken a bucket and poured 2 and 7/8th gallons of water all over everything! What the hell was I thinking?!

In addition to cultivating more mold and fungus in our house than ever before, making bullion took more of my time, and way more stove energy than just canning the stock. I tried it on the woodstove, but it wasn’t hot enough. It took 6 or 7 hours of medium-high heat to turn that much water into steam and distribute it to the nether reaches of our home. Not even remotely worth it.

If you live somewhere really frickin’ cold, keep your woodstove crankin’ and get chapped lips and static-y hair in winter, then it would probably be awesome. If you do, look up her article in Backwoods Home, Issue 114.

I must admit– the finished little cubes of brown, rubbery bullion are cute as hell. And I haven’t tasted it yet, but it smells like it got a nice carmeley-roast flavor.

And now, I’d better go mop my carpet.

blueberry jamOften one of the first homesteading projects people tackle, making jam is fun and easy. But I’ll let you in on a secret– it’s even easier than they tell you! Once you try this, you’ll never go back to spending $5.95 on a jar of jam (actually, I have no idea how much jam costs, I just pulled $5.95 outa my ass– I haven’t bought jam in over twelve years)

So. Secret #1.

Don’t buy pectin. Or at least, don’t buy the standard kind that every grocery store stocks. That kind is a royal pain. You have to use a buttload of sugar and if you stray from their stern instructions to NEVER ALTER THE RECIPE, DO NOT DECREASE THE SUGAR, and DO NOT ATTEMPT TO SUBSTITUTE HONEY OR OTHER SWEETENERS you will in fact end up with a lot of jars of syrup, when maybe that’s not what you were going for.

img_10951No, instead seek out the classic hippie-science invention– Pomona’s Pectin. This stuff is seriously brilliant. I don’t know how it works, and I don’t need to know. But it somehow comes from citrus, and relies on calcium, not sugar, to activate. Hence the box comes with two packets- one of pectin, and one of calcium. They include an instruction sheet with recipes for several kinds of fruit and berries, but it says all over, “DO alter the recipe, add however much sugar you damn well please, or use honey, or any other sweet thing, or don’t use sugar at all!”

They have recipes for sugar or honey jam (using about half as much sugar as a standard pectin recipe), and recipes for no-sugar jam. I do like my jam sweet, so I use a combo of sugar, honey and white grape juice concentrate. They also have guidelines for making your own recipe. It’s fantabulously awesome. Want a bonus? I’ve never had a batch of Pomona’s jam fail. Sometimes it’s a little softer than I’d like, but NEVER has it been syrup.

Okay, there is one (small) drawback. With so much less sugar, your jam actually is capable of going bad. If you leave it out on the counter for a week, it might mold, and unlike candyjam, the mold flavor occasionally permeates, meaning just scraping the mold off the top and making your sandwich might not work (do try tho!)

Secret #2. They used to recommend this, I once saw it on a new box of mason jars. Instead of all the bother of water bathing, you can just turn jars upside down for 5 minutes to seal. They would seal right side up too, but upside down is just better chances. You still do have to sterilize your jars (I tried skipping that step once and got a lot of moldy jam), and you have to make sure your jam comes to a full, rolling boil before filling. But it’s still a real timesaver.

Secret #3. Sterilize your jars in the oven! Who wants to dunk a few jars at a time in a giant pot of boiling water, when you can just stick ’em all in the oven, set a timer and be done?

So, here’s my adaptation of the Pomona’s recipe for Blueberry Jam and the process, step by step.squashing the blues

4 c. squashed blueberries
1 c. honey
1 c. white grape juice concentrate
1 ½ T. calcium water
1 ½ c. sugar
(I use whole evaporated cane juice)
1 T. Pomona’s pectin

*this makes nine ½ pint jars of jam

First you’ve got to squash your berries, so you know how much you have, and can tweek the recipe accordingly and figure out how many jars you require. You can use a potato masher or any other kitchen utensil you deem fit. But I myself prefer my own two hands. Works quickest, with easy cleanup. How much you squash determines how many whole berries your jam will have. I actually don’t think I squashed enough this year, I like a few whole berries in my jam, but I ended up with more like some jam in with my whole berries.

sterilzing jarsWhen you’ve squashed to your personal specifications, measure your berries into a big pot. Do the math to figure your recipe, and write it down so there’s no mistakes. Now you can gather your jars. Better to prepare too many than not enough! Put jars into a cold oven, then set heat for 250 degrees. When oven reaches temperature, set a timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, they’re good to go, you can turn the heat off, but leave ‘em in the oven to keep ‘em hot till you’re ready to fill.

Now back to your berries. Put the pot on medium heat. Add the honey and white grape juice concentrate (or whatever liquid sweeteners you’re using), and put a lid on it! Make your calcium water by stirring ¼  t. calcium powder into ¼ c. water until thoroughly dissolved. Measure out and add the required amount to your berries. Stir occasionally as they heat. When they get close to boiling, remove the lid to avoid big messy boil-overs.

Erstwhile, in a separate bowl mix your sugar with the pectin and set aside. (If you’re not using sugar, the process is different, but you’ll have to refer to the box, I’ve never done it that way…)

Now get your lids together. Count out one extra, just in case. If you’re reusing old lids, check carefully for dings, warps or rust spots. Don’t use questionable ones. Of course they tell you not to reuse them at all, but that’s bullshit to keep you buying more. Put your lids in a pot of water to cover and slowly bring to a boil. Remove from the heat as soon as they come to a full boil, but leave lids in the hot water till ready to use. Notice a trend?

While you’re waiting for the berries to finish heating is a good time to get everything ready for the canning process, which should go as fast as possible. You’ll need:

  • ample counter space, preferably right next to the stove
  • a ladle
  • jar funnel if you have one
  • a couple of potholders
  • a fork or magnetic “lid wand” to fish the lids out
  • enough lid rings
  • a clean, damp cloth (dip in boiling water to sterilize)

a full, rolling boil!Okay! Have your berries come to a boil yet? They need to come to a full, rolling boil— jam is deceptive because it’s thick. A full rolling boil means that when you stir it, it keeps boiling. When that happens, it’s time to add the sugar/pectin mix. Stir vigorously as you add it, and for about a minute afterwards.  Now you have to wait for it to come to that old full, rolling boil again, which takes longer than it seems it should. Don’t rush it. Just breathe.

When the magic moment occurs, it’s time to bust out! You don’t want to hurry, that’ll mess you up for sure. But don’t dawdle, don’t stop to answer the phone, make sure dad has the baby, etc. The jam now needs your undivided attention. filling jars

Leave the pot of jam on the stove and set it as low as possible, just enough to keep the jam hot throughout the process. Remove the jars from the oven and arrange next to the pot of jam, working in batches of 6. Ladle the jam into jars, filling to that fat ring at the bottom of the threads. Fill all six jars, then use your clean cloth to wipe each rim clean. Now fish out six lids, making sure not to touch the inside part of the lid with your grimy little fingers, set onto jars, and screw on rings– you don’t need to reef on ‘em, but pretty snug. Turn jars upside down (and out of your way) then move onto your next batch of 6 jars. After 5 minutes or whenever it’s convenient, you can turn your jars back right side up and let them cool. Be sure to enjoy the ping of sealing jars an hour or so later!

“It’s a sad and stupid thing to have to proclaim yourself a revolutionary just to be a decent man.”

-David Harris

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