Under Pressure

Modern pressure-canning extends shelf life of meats

Raising a multitude of animals for food at Hope River Farm can mean an abundance of frozen meats for owner Nancy Sanderson. Despite a thriving CSA program, sometimes the freezers need to be cleared of excess meat.

“I’ve got ten deep freezers that are mostly customer meat, however, anything that doesn’t sell over the course of a season, you know, I can’t keep it indefinitely, even if I think it is still good, I don’t want to sell that, so I put it in my personal freezer. Once those fill, I need to do something with that,” Sanderson said.

Preserving for many people is about jams, jellies and pickles, but Sanderson learned to take her excess meats and pressure-can them, giving her additional time to use them up. “That way, I can put it in my cold storage room or just stick it in the pantry, it doesn’t matter and it will keep for another year at least.”

Unlike making jams or pickles, which require sugar or acidity to preserve the product, meat preserving is different. Using a pressure canner (not a pressure cooker, there’s a big difference!), allows Sanderson to can her meat in jars. After thawing her frozen meat, she’ll often grind it to start the preserving process. “So basically, I choose to make something like a meatball. I fry them for some flavour, pack it in the jars, pour some broth over top and then pressure-can that. That makes a really nice product.”

Along with ground meats, Sanderson is a big fan of canning extra turkey and chicken. She laughs as she talks about the realities of having a small family and a big turkey. “We’re a family of three, so what are you gonna do with it? An eighteen pound turkey? So whatever the biggest thing will fit in my oven, I’ll cook the whole darn thing and then I’ll just take it off the [bone], shred it, […], pack it into jars, and either put turkey or chicken stock, or even water on top of it and then can it like that.”

Although Sanderson assures me that pressure-canning is easy and safe, she does have some warnings. “When you’re pressure-canning stuff, flying by the seat of your pants is a big no-no! You really don’t want to take that risk that you’re gonna poison yourself.” She advocates getting recipes from a professional canning website like Bernardin or a university extension services website, as recipes must be well tested.

Although the canning process can be long (she suggests it can be an “all-day event”), having extra meat in the pantry is a time saver in the long run. “It’s convenient, like having cans of tuna in your cupboard.”