Monday, July 12, 2010

Two Firsts: Chicken Slaughter & Pressure Canning

Yesterday was one of the biggest homegrown days I've ever had. The total after seven hours of two people slaughtering, harvesting, chopping, boiling, and researching recipes and canning instructions in various books:

Five quarts of stewed chicken and about four quarts of kale. All shelf-stable and ready to store for the winter.

And not just any chicken! I won't post the gory details here, but the stewed chicken was made out of Chicken-Man's homegrown poultry.

Yesterday was the day for the roosters to go, and we needed to make room in the freezer for them. The chickens that were bought about around two months ago were "straight-run," which means that they were too young to tell the difference between male and female.

Now, weeks later, the roosters finally have pronounced combs and wattles. They need to be gotten rid of before they start to crow so we don't get busted. Also the two roosters of the same breed (Rhode Island Red, they're the little guys on the left in the photo below) are beginning to puff up at each other like they want to rumble.

And so, last night I witnessed my first chicken killing. There were three roosters in all. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, luckily Chicken-Man got it done clean and quick. The body gets dunked in hot water immediately, and it's fascinating how soon the feathers come off and all of a sudden you no longer have an animal, you've got meat. I actually only saw the first killing (the White Orpington) because I was washing the carcasses and prepping the stock while the Rhode Island Reds were killed.

To make room in the freezer we took out the chickens that were killed in the spring. (I reference the event in the Sunday section of the May 1st 2010 post.)

And wouldn't you know it, this week's CSA pickup from One Straw Farm had both onions and carrots! Essential vegetables for stock. Too bad I didn't have any leeks or celery, but onions and carrots were great. Maybe next year I will plant a little "stock garden" so I can always have ingredients for stock on hand.

And as I mentioned, fridge and freezer space are at a premium. We needed some way to store all of this stewed chicken.

After poring over the instruction manual and the Ball Blue Book guide to canning, I finally learned how to use this scary implement!

For you canning nerds, this is the All-American 15 Quart canner. I chose it because it doesn't have a rubber gasket that gets warped over time. Instead, you coat the metal to metal seal with a little Vaseline to make the seal. It fit seven quarts, and we packed it full with a little left over!

If you're curious about why you would need to pressure-can anything, I'll try to briefly explain.

Anything acidic like pickles, strawberries or other fruit jams with lemon juice, and tomato sauce are all perfectly fine to can by boiling in a water bath. Just make your food, put it in a jar, and boil. The acid prevents bad bacteria from growing as your food sits on the shelf.

But what if you want to can something like meat, soup, beans, or vegetables?

Foods that are low in acidity run a much higher risk of spoiling because they provide a hospitable environment for bacteria to grow. Boiling water doesn't reach a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria. A pressure canner works by heating the cans at a REALLY high temperature in steam heat.

Different foods need different amounts of time, but luckily stewed chicken and steamed leafy greens both needed to be cooked at 10 pounds of pressure for 90 minutes.

That's right, 90 minutes! The jars got so hot they were boiling inside for several minutes after I took them out of the canner. Take that, botulism!

The kale has been growing in the garden since late May. I've been pulling some to eat every so often, but it was getting woody and was about to be attached by harlequin beetles (I found three as I was picking the kale, and one of the leaves had a bunch of eggs on it).

Kale grows practically year round, so it seems a little silly to can kale to some people. Particularly in the south, where it never really gets that cold. But late November to early March is pretty much a dead zone in terms of local veggies, and I know I'll be happy to head to my pantry in sometime this winter and grab some of my own garden.

I'm thinking a hearty soup with the stewed chicken and stock, kale, and some potatoes will be great in the winter.

We're sending one jar of the stewed chicken to a friend for letting us visit his farm, so the homegrown food is also doubling as a nice gift.

So I managed to take the death of the chickens with delicious grace. Admittedly I'm still kind of nervous about the fate of our new American Chinchilla meat rabbits...

1 comment:

strawberriesinparis said...

Totally awesome Alisa!! I love that you call Lee chicken man. Keep up the good work with all that local cooking!

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