“I Want To Can Something”

This is not a recipe. This is an instruction about canning for someone who is new.

Canning is easy. Let me assure you. It’s not just for those down-home, red-neck, hippie-homesteaders. Anyone can do it. You can do it.

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You’ve never made jam in your life. You don’t know what pectin is. You think Mason was the fourth President of the United States. This blog is for you. Maybe you’ve decided to make jam, or even pickles. Maybe your grandmother made jam. Maybe you saw a friend’s post on Facebook. Maybe you are thinking about the holidays and want a home-made touch. Don’t worry. At the end of this blog, you will feel confident enough to use an on-line recipe and can something. You will have enough knowledge to put those homesteaders in their place. You can make those brightly-colored jars filled with salty or fruity goodness. It’s completely doable. This blog will give you some insider-tips. There are only a few important things you’ll need to know.

When it comes to canning, in my opinion, there are five levels of expertise: beginner, novice, moderate, pressure-cooker, and someone-who-is-willing-to-can-fish. In the interest of full-disclosure, I’m a “pressure-cooker.” I am able to pressure cook with a fair amount of expertise. I can definitely put up beans. I feel confident that I could pressure cook beef stew and feed my family five months later. I am not at a level where I would feel confident saving fish in jars and try feeding my family with said fish at a later date. That is very advanced.

Let’s start with jam, jelly or sauce. It is very easy to move from beginner to moderate in just a few recipes.

The first thing you should know is that canning will take an entire day. It is not just a fly-by-night project. You will get up in the morning, make the canning substance and sit at your kitchen table waiting for a long period of time. Make sure that you have friends or a bottle of wine handy.

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If this will be your first time canning, there are some important tools that will be useful. I highly recommend getting a “canning tool set”. You can go to your local kitchen store but, if you can wait for shipping, you will get a better deal online. A canning tool set usually includes: a vinyl coated jar wrench, vinyl coated jar lifter, extra wide mouth funnel, tongs with vinyl coated handles, a bubble popper, and a magnetic lid lifter. If none of those things make sense to you, don’t worry. I did not have any of those things when I started to can. I had BBQ tongs, a wash cloth, and an oven mitt. Look on Amazon and you will find pictures that are easy to understand. A canning set makes things easier but it isn’t necessary. That said, I would highly recommend a set of “canning tongs.” Canning tongs are tongs that are fitted to go around jars. They will make your canning endeavors a breeze.

You will need canning jars. Unfortunately, there is no good deal on canning jars. They cost about $1.50 per jar ($16/dozen) at every store. If you find yourself really into canning, start looking for jars at garage sales. New jars cost about the same everywhere. Lids and accessories can be discounted if you know where to shop.

If you are canning as a way to make gifts for the holidays without too much expense, I highly recommend that you start looking into local farms or farmer’s markets for your produce. Check the phone book if you have one. Check Google. Buying direct will save you a lot of money. It is late September and it is peak production for many farms. Unfortunately, fall items don’t usually include things like blackberries or strawberries so if you are going local, your recipes will have to include produce that is in season. Tomato sauce or salsa is a wonderful way to get started with canning. And everyone loves tomato sauce and salsa.

You are probably wondering what the difference is between “canning” and “pressure cooking”. When you can, you put things in jars and put the filled jars in boiling water. When you pressure cook, you put things in jars and put them in a sealed pot at an elevated temperature for a long period of time. You may can things using a “water bath” safely if they have a certain acidity level. Fruits and tomatoes offer a higher acidity level and can often be canned using just a large pot. Pressure cooking requires a special pot that has to be sealed.

When you are canning, it is important to follow the recipe. (If you are like me, you hate following recipes.) I prefer to improvise as I go, throwing a few peppers there and a few spices here. With canning, recipes offer a certain Ph balance that will give you something at the appropriate acidity levels to remain safe to store. Most jam and sauce recipes call for lemon juice. Use it. When canning, it is important to follow directions accordingly.

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Most canning recipes will assume that you have canned before. They won’t add the important little tidbits. Here are the important little tidbits. (If you are like me and hate being told what to do, you will be very tempted to skip this next part. Don’t skip it.)

  1. For canning, it is best to use a published recipe in a book. Published recipes are tried and true. If you are using an online recipe, check the rating before proceeding. Make sure there are enough people to give a fair rating before using an online canning recipe.
  2. To “water bath can”, you will need a very large pot of boiling water. A very large pot. It has to be big enough to cover jars standing in the pot of water. (Most folks don’t have a pot this large.) Make sure you have a deep pot. Test the depth with the jars first.
  3. Sterilize your empty jars before filling them. Check for cracks or nicks and discards any jars that have been compromised. Wash them well and then submerge them in a big pot of boiling water to make sure they are sterilized before putting sauce or jam into them.
  4. Boil your lids in a separate pot. (You can set the rings out separately to tighten.)
  5. Bring your jam or sauce to almost boiling just before you put the substance into jars and slip on the lids. (Even if the recipe says to “simmer.”)
  6. Make sure your sterilized glass jars are hot themselves so when you put hot liquid into them, they don’t crack from the temperature change.
  7. If you spill sauce over the jars, clean the rim with a hot, sterilized washcloth or paper towel before placing the lids so that they seal correctly.
  8. Leave just a tiny bit of room (about a ¼ inch) in the jars for gas or expansion.
  9. When you go to tighten the lids, the jars will be hot. Have a towel ready. Don’t burn your fingers while tightening.
  10. When dropping the jars of sauce or jam into the boiling water canning pot, you will want tongs or a good over mitt. It gets very hot.
  11. Leave the jars in for as long as the recipe says. Don’t pull early.
  12. When pulling the jars out, you will want the same heat protection.
  13. When pulling the jars out to cool, they will be very hot. Place the jars on a moist towel to preserve your counter top or table.
  14. After the jars have been pulled from the pot, they will start to seal as they cool. You will hear several pops as the jars seal. If one or more of the jars doesn’t suction while it cools, you will need to put those jars in the fridge and use them in the next few days. (You can test this by pressing on the middle of the lids and seeing if they pop back.. If they pop back, they didn’t seal.) Do not put up jars that do not voluntarily seal.

If everything is in order, get canning! Put things up. Put produce away. Give gifts to your friends and family. Don’t be afraid to get started!

Complaints: The Goat Epilogue

If you follow my blog then you know that we borrowed two adorable goats and had been keeping them illegally in the backyard, within the city limits of Grass Valley. I fell in love with the two goats from day one. “Nomad” and “Gypsy” were completely loved and completely spoiled from the day they arrived.

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They enjoyed our over-grown field and had plenty to eat. They especially loved eating the figs off our tree. I gave them fresh water every day. Our next-door neighbors enjoyed them and threw zucchini over the fence for them. Every day, when my partner got home from work, we would go out and feed the goats carrots and other organic vegetables. The goats got so used to it that they would bleat every time the car pulled into the driveway. They seemed to be as happy as we were.

***

We recently moved to our place in Grass Valley. We are new to the neighborhood. We moved into the bottom half of a converted Victorian house. We love the new place. We love our large yard. We love our patio. We love the big kitchen. The only thing we don’t love is the upstairs neighbors.

When we had decided to move, we knew that the hardest thing that we would have to give up were the amazing neighbors. At our old place, we never locked our front door and we usually left our car keys in the ignition. We had community barbeques, shared vegetables from the garden, and looked after each others’ pets. We loved and trusted our neighbors completely. They were always respectful, thoughtful and kind.

After moving, I wanted to make nice with our upstairs neighbors. I wanted to be sure to make a good impression since we’d be living in such close proximity. Just after moving in, I brought them a jar of apricot jam. The young woman who answered the door took the jar with a confused look on her face, as though she had never seen homemade jam before. She thanked me the same way a person might thank a Jehovah Witness for a religious pamphlet.

A few days later, they had a party. We could hear every beat of their stereo and every step of each foot on the floor above us. My partner and I just shrugged it off and figured that it must have been someone’s birthday.

Later in the week, when I was pulling weeds in the yard, I saw the neighbors and said hi. I didn’t mention the party. We made a bit of small talk and went on with the day. Our interaction was cordial and friendly.

Not long after, they had another party. It was a Wednesday night and the party started after midnight. So, technically, it was a Thursday morning. I awoke to bass thumping and what sounded like elephants running across the floor above us. I pulled on my robe and walked around the house and up to the front porch.

The windows were open and I could hear every word of their conversation as though I were inside the house. “Oh my God! I haven’t smoked a joint in, like, forever!” They were clearly drunk. There were about nine or ten people in the living room. I could hear my neighbor giggling amongst the crowd.

I knocked on the door and a young man I’ve never seen before answered.

“Hey,” I said, “the music is pretty loud. Do you think you could turn it down, especially the bass?”

He nodded and shut the door.

With the windows still wide open he yelled, “Brianna! The Lesbian neighbors want you to turn down the music!”

Brianna, my neighbor, yelled back, “Fuck that!” But the music was turned down.

I went back downstairs and explained to my partner what had just happened. She asked, “How does he know that we’re Lesbians and how is the adjective appropriate in that context?”

I hadn’t really thought about it. I was too tired and was glad that they had turned the music down. In that moment, I was a sleepy human before I was a Lesbian. We could raise social consciousness after a good night sleep and some coffee.

But a few minutes later, they turned the music back up.

I again put on my robe, walked outside and knocked on their front door. The windows were still open and I could still hear every word. Brianna said something about “that bitch” at the door again. There were a few more exchanges amongst the crowd and someone locked the door.

I walked back in my house and wrote an email to my landlord. I thought about calling but it would have been our first contact since we signed our lease. It wasn’t their fault the upstairs neighbors were rude. We could talk about it in the morning.

When I got up the next day, the landlord and his wife had already written me back. They went over and talked to our neighbors after they saw my email. It was probably after 2am.

Our landlords are a mixed-race couple. He’s white and she’s black. They’ve had their fair share of adversity. When they saw my email, they decided to address the problem immediately. They explained to me later that they really felt the reaction from our neighbors was beyond inappropriate.

***

When we decided to get the goats, we talked to every neighbor except the ones upstairs. They had no courtesy for us. Our days of cordial conversation were brief and over.

My partner and I looked forward to the possibility of goats. We talked to the people behind us and on either side of us. I gave every one of them my phone number just in case the goats became a bother. This is how I met Sharron.

Sharron is “the one with the beautiful garden.” That’s what every other neighbor calls her. And for good reason. Her place is landscaped beautifully. She works at a local nursery. She has amazing trees and flowers, a huge vegetable garden, and a wonderful design for her whole yard. I was sure that she would have some hesitation when we told her about the goats.

When Sharron answered her door, I gave her my best smile and my sweetest girl-scout speech about goats. When I went to hand her my card, she invited me into her hallway and shut the door behind me. I braced myself for her objection to the goats.

Sharron frowned and then asked, “Hilary, what are we going to do about our neighbors?” She nodded her head towards my house.

We both sighed and began to exchange our stories. She had lived next door a lot longer then I had lived downstairs and apparently their behavior had been going on for a while. She explained that she had been calling our landlords and had been leaving them messages.

***

After the goats came to live with us, I started talking to the neighbors a lot. I wanted to make sure the goats weren’t bothering anyone.

I would knock on doors to check in and I would find myself in different living rooms having conversations. From these conversations, I learned that Sharron wasn’t the only one who took issue with our upstairs neighbors. The entire neighborhood was fed up.

***

Nomad and Gypsy had been living in our back yard for about three weeks when we got a call from our landlords. I never told them about the goats. I figured that the goats would clear the brush and leave before they were noticed. “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

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My partner and I were set in our routine with the goats. I would go out in the morning and scratch them behind their horns. We would give them carrots in the afternoons. We changed their water. I checked every day to make sure the field still had fodder. There was still about a week’s worth of brush to clear.

After animal control had stopped by, it was hard to calm my nerves about “getting caught.” I worried that someone would harass us and make us send the goats home. When I saw “one new voice message” on my phone, I immediately got nervous. I went out to the field and gave the goats beet greens, chard and extra carrots before I checked my voice mail.

The message had nothing to do with the goats. It was our landlords letting us know that, after several complaints, they had decided to get rid of the neighbors upstairs.

***

Over Labor Day weekend, it poured rain unexpectedly. We awoke slowly on Sunday morning to the distantly familiar sound of rain on the sidewalk. After a long, hot summer, it took a minute for me to register what was happening. When I heard the goats crying outside, I sprang out of bed.

I threw on clothes and ran outside. Gypsy and Nomad were leaning against our shed trying to stay dry. They looked at me with complete dismay and kept up their maahing. There was no shelter in our field.

About two years ago, my partner and I took a class on caring for goats and sheep. The teacher stressed the importance of keeping goats dry in inclement weather. Goats and sheep are easily compromised from exposure and can become sick very quickly if they become wet and cold.

I went inside and called their owner. He said he was about to call us and that he would leave to come to get the goats in a few minutes.

I hung up the phone and went to the fridge. I pulled out four carrots and went into the pouring rain to give Gypsy and Nomad their last carrots. They looked at me but stayed against the shed trying to stay dry. I thanked them for their help and their company. They went home a few minutes later. I was sad to see them go.

***

About a week after Gypsy and Nomad departed, I saw my neighbor Sharron on a walk. We were both hiking a nearby trail. She stopped me as we passed each other.

She said, “I guess you heard that the upper unit is being evicted.”

“Yeah.” I replied. “There were too many complaints.”

My neighbor and I stood there awkwardly for a minute trying to figure out how to be graceful and not say awful things about the upstairs neighbors.

She smiled and then said, “It’s too bad the goats couldn’t have moved in. They would have been better tenants.”

 

 

 

 

Goat Chicken

I am harboring two illegal goats. The goats themselves aren’t illegal but where they are currently being kept, in my backyard, is illegal. Animal control stopped by our next-door neighbors’ house yesterday and picked up a raccoon that they had trapped. I had spent the night before in my backyard with the goats because the freeway noise unsettled our goat guests on their first night away from home. I snuggled in my sleeping bag out in my backyard, under the stars and with the goats. They finally fell asleep near the fence, spooning each other. I could hear the disgruntled chortle of the trapped raccoon next door until 4am, when I finally grabbed my sleeping bag and retired to my house.

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The goats are a Nigerian/Toggenburg cross. Their names are Gypsy and Nomad. They are brother and sister and were born together in the same kidding. They are bonded, calm, friendly and adorable. Their current owners took them in after a nearby herder needed to thin a herd. Their current owners fell in love and adopted them After knowing the goats for just a couple days, I can understand the sentiment.

The goats spend most of the year grazing a vineyard at home on the other side of the county. When the grapes come in, the goats are moved in with the chickens. This year, they quickly ran out of fodder. The owner wanted their goats to have something to munch on and posted an ad to a local list serve. I felt like we were a perfect fit.

The owner came by and looked at our fenced-in field. We have grasses, blackberries, two cherry trees, a mature fig and a walnut tree. It’s mostly over grown and we both agreed that it would be a perfect vacation for the goats. They would have the greenery they craved and I would have a perfect solution to the brush.

The owner transported the goats in a large dog crate on the back of a pick up. They were nervous at first but I gave them each a carrot to ensure my status as their friend. They were timid on the first day, worried on their first night but felt comfortable and happy when the sun rose after there first twenty-four hours. Everything was going fabulously.

At least, the goats and I thought so.

While picking up the raccoon next door, an animal control officer saw the goats in my yard and came over to thump on my door. Even from the desk in my bedroom, I somehow knew that it was law enforcement out front. They all use the same thump. There must be a special training for mastering a knock. It probably takes months to hone such a skill; it is probably a part of a physical fitness test.

As I approached the door, I could see a man in a black outfit with too many pockets and belt loops. Knowing that I don’t have a record or any unpaid parking tickets, I opened the door and smiled.

“Are those your goats?” The tone transported me directly to the principal’s office. I did a quick mental inventory and was relieved that our cats are up-to-date on their shots.

I looked past the officer into the field down the hill. “Actually no.” I said. “They aren’t my goats. I’m borrowing them for brush clearing.” I smiled sweetly.

“Goats aren’t allowed within the city limits.” He responded flatly. He was a young man, fit and handsome. He was so serious that I almost laughed. We had recently moved from a more rural part of Nevada County but calling Grass Valley a “city” was stretching the imagination. Before moving to Nevada County, I had lived in Sacramento. Half a million people in one place is a city. Twelve thousand people where the tallest building is four-stories high is not a city.

I tried to reason about the goats, “Not even for brushing clearing?”

“Goats aren’t allowed within the city limits.” He repeated.

I stared into the distance and furrowed my brow. I looked beyond our small field, onto the adjacent road. I heard myself say, “I’m so surprised. I had no idea.” I was trying to make sense of how something so ridiculous could become law.

I’m not keeping the goats. They are my honored guests and they are performing an essential service. Our “backyard” is really a fenced-in field across our driveway and down a hill. It doesn’t make sense to keep weed whacking and letting the dried plants and duff build. We live in the foothills, an area that’s very much at risk for fire. Our little field is backed-up against the highway. A single cigarette out a car window could start a grass fire and travel quickly. I thought the goats were a brilliant idea. I thought I was being a conscious citizen.

I saw the animal control officer fold his arms while standing on my door mat. I asked, “Did someone complain?” Before the goats came to visit, I had talked to nearly every single neighbor within braying distance. The field had gone unkempt for years. The neighbors were thrilled. They all had my phone number and promised open communication if there were any problems or complaints.

The officer explained that no one had complained; he had heard the goats when he was picking up the raccoon. He finished with, “I don’t make the laws. I just enforce them.” I managed not to roll my eyes at the cliché.

I thanked him. I said, “The owner lives nearby. I’ll give him him a call. He’ll come get the goats.” I took a breath and added. “I’m really sorry. I just didn’t know.”

The animal officer thanked me and left.

I haven’t called the owner. I haven’t made a move.

I’m playing goat-chicken.

I’m not entirely sure how the enforcement of animal-ordinance regulations unfold. I assume that they usually begin with a complaint. I assume that someone who is upset with the presence of an animal complains before the ball gets rolling. Someone has to call before paperwork is filed.

I am also assuming that Animal Control is probably facing what every other first-responder organization in this nation is facing: under-paid, under-staffed shifts with nearly no budget and no central office. Animal control is probably doing what most police officers are doing: responding to the most prominent, pressing problems.

If no one complains, is there really a problem?

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I’m not sure what will happen to the goats. If there were a real problem, if someone were to complain, if I were cited, I could just have them picked up. Their owner loves them and I know that we will both ensure their health and safety. If I were cited, they would just return to their chicken coop outside of the city limits.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the officer might come back and take the goats.

I’m just baffled that it might come to that.