Saturday, March 12, 2016

Canning Vegetable Soup

One of our all-time favorite things to have for supper is vegetable soup.  We eat it year-round but it is especially nice on a cold winter day.  Unfortunately, we are exceptionally spoiled.  No veggie soup is as good as the veggie soup that Granny Reba makes.  And Granny Reba's soup is made using some fresh veggies, some frozen veggies, and lots of fresh tomatoes.  Well, the only way to get those super fresh tomatoes is to can your own soup mix.  In addition to tasting better than other soups, it is super convenient on a busy day.  Just brown your meat, open 3 jars (2 soups, 1 tomato), and heat through.  Since the veggies are already canned together you don't even have to wait on the flavors to meld together.

Last fall we ran out of veggie soup so we knew that we either had to make some or go all year without soup.  So, we got up and headed to spend a day at Granny Reba's making soup.  I think we've done this a time or two before but we always forget how she does it and, until now, we've never written down the process.  This time, I not only wrote down directions, I took some pictures so we can see what "looks right".

So in order to save our directions in a place that I won't loose them and to share with any family members who want these directions as well, I'm putting them here.  Anyone else who happens to use this recipe to take advantage of the convenient and super tasty veggie soup that we enjoy frequently can mail royalty checks directly to me and I'll ensure Granny Reba gets her cut. (Just kidding!)

There is just one more thing that I should warn you about before I get to the recipe.  I don't have exact amounts of what veggies we used and many times you have to add something "until it looks right".  The next time we can veggie soup, I'll try to keep track of how much of everything we use to get to the "look right" stage.  But this time, I didn't manage to get amounts.  The other problem is that we worked in batches so every batch of soup is probably a little different in veggie content.  The good news is that there is no right or wrong answer so if you want to go heavy on one something because you like it more or have a dietary need for extra whatever, go for it.  As far as being prepared and having what you need on hand goes, I'd recommend buying frozen veggies in bulk and being prepared to throw any leftovers back in the freezer or pass them along to a nearby family in need.

Ingredients/Veggies for Soup Mix

  • Fresh Veggies
    • Tomatoes - I think we used about 25 pounds of tomatoes
    • Onions - I think we used about 5 to 7 pounds of yellow onions
    • Potatoes  - I think we used about 7 or 8 pounds of Russet Baking Potatoes
    • Yellow Squash - No real idea here but we probably used about a grocery bag full.
  • Frozen Veggies (all these were from bags of frozen veggies and I have no idea how much of anything got put in.  You could also use all fresh veggies if you have a couple weeks to spend on this canning endeavor)
    • Peas
    • Carrots
    • Mixed Veggies (carrots, corn, green beans, peas)
    • Extra Peas
    • Butter Beans
    • Lima Beans
    • Okra
  • Canning Salt (a.k.a. - non-iodized table salt)

 Directions for Veggie Soup Mix

 Tomatoes:  Best method to peel and prep a million tomatoes
  • Heat a very large pot of water almost to a boil.  You may see tiny bubbles forming on the bottom of the pot with just a few rising up to the surface.  
  • Place your fresh tomatoes into the pot of hot water
  • Prepare another very large bowl, dishpan, etc. about 1/3 to 1/2 full of ice water
  • When the tomato skin begins to split, remove tomatoes and place in ice water bath
  • The skin of the tomatoes should now be easy to peel away with your hands.  
  • Remove the core from the top of the tomato using a paring knife
  • Coarsely dice the tomatoes into a very large bowl, dishpan, bin, etc.  

Onions: We use a food processor/chopper/Cuisinart machine to prep the onions quickly,  Remove top and bottom of each onion, peel, and then quarter the onion to feed into the food processor.  Using a slicing blade, run onions through the food processor until bowl is full.

Potatoes:  Again, we used a food processor with a slicer blade.  Peel potatoes, wash well, and then cut length-wise until the desired diameter of potato slice is achieved.  There's nothing that says you can't also finely dice your potato or make it another shape... This is just how we do it.  If you do something different just be sure not to get your pieces too big or they may not cook all the way.

Yellow Squash:  Wash thoroughly, cut off the top and bottom (stem and root) of the squash.  Quarter the fat part of the squash then dice.  Leave the skinny part of the squash whole to dice. 


Mix up the veggies:  We used an very large dish pan type thing to mix our soup ingredients.  The pan was probably 24x18 inches and made of heavy duty plastic.  Any clean bowl will do, but being able to really stir/combine with your hands is a definite plus.   We added the veggies a little at a time until the combination looked right.  Again, no right or wrong answer.  Just start adding fresh and frozen veggies. Notice though that you'll need lots and lots of tomatoes (maybe 30-50% by volume).   Then get in there with your hands (clean hands) or a large wooden spoon and mix, mix, mix. 

Mixing the veggies in this huge dish pan.  Notice how many tomatoes we used... Go heavy on the tomato.

Cook the Soup: Scoop out the soup mix into a large pot.  Fill the pot 2/3 to 3/4 full.  Add just enough water that when the pot is tipped to a 45 degree angle you can barely see the water pooling near the top surface of the veggies.  Heat the soup mix over med-high heat.  The goal here is not to cook the veggies but to heat everything up all the way to prepare for canning.

This pot is being held at a 45 degree angle.  Notice the water just barely pooling near the bottom of the photo.
Prep the Jars:  Begin with jars that are clean and sterilized. (Either use really hot water or run them through the dishwasher.) Place 1 tsp of canning salt (canning salt is non-iodized salt) into each of 7 quart jars (more or fewer jars based on the size of your pressure caner).   Once the soup mix is hot, use a canning funnel to scoop the soup mix into the jars packing tightly.  Leave about 1 inch of head space at the top of each jar.  Ensure there is enough liquid in each jar - make it look like these.  Wipe the lips of each jar with a moist cloth to ensure they are clean.  Place a new canning lid on each jar and secure with a ring. 

Filled jars.  Ready for cleaning, lids, and rings before going into the caner. 
Canning the Soup:  Place water into the pressure caner per the instructions for the caner.  Place the jars in the caner and put on the lid.  Note: you always want to have your caner full if possible.  Granny's caner holds 7 jars and she said you can use as few as 5 jars safely. Heat the caner over high heat until desired pressure is reached.  For veggie soup, we use 10 lbs of pressure.  When pressure is reached, allow jars to cook for 30 minutes.  Then remove caner from heat and allow to cool until all the pressure is gone from the caner.  Do not remove lid or weight from caner during this time.

The Waiting Game:  Once all the pressure is off the caner, carefully remove jars and move to rest on a thick towel on the counter.  Cover jars with additional towels for several hours after removing from the caner.  As the jars cool they will vacuum seal.  You can hear the popping lids meaning a seal has formed.  Move the jars as little as possible during this time.  Once the jars are completely cool, they should all be sealed.  If not, put the unsealed jars into the fridge and use within a week.  Or, you can try to get a better seal by cleaning the lip again and including the jar in the next batch for the pressure caner. 

Ingredients for Canned Tomatoes

  • Tomatoes - I think we'd need about another 25 pounds of fresh tomatoes.  You want 1 jar of tomatoes for every 2 jars of soup mix when you make soup.  So it may be more or less tomatoes.

 Directions for Canned Tomatoes

 Prep Tomatoes:  Best method to peel and prep a million tomatoes
  • Heat a very large pot of water almost to a boil.  You may see tiny bubbles forming on the bottom of the pot with just a few rising up to the surface.  
  • Place your fresh tomatoes into the pot of hot water
  • Prepare another very large bowl, dishpan, etc. about 1/3 to 1/2 full of ice water
  • When the tomato skin begins to split, remove tomatoes and place in ice water bath
  • The skin of the tomatoes should now be easy to peel away with your hands.  
  • Remove the core from the top of the tomato using a paring knife
  • Do not dice tomato  

Prep the Jars:  Begin with jars that are clean and sterilized. (Either use really hot water or run them through the dishwasher.) Place 1 tsp of canning salt (canning salt is non-iodized salt) into each of 7 quart jars (more or fewer jars based on the size of your pressure caner).  Place whole tomatoes into jars until full.  Run a kitchen knife into the jar occasionally to ensure there are no air voids and tomatoes and juice of the tomatoes settle all the way to the bottom.  It takes about 10 small tomatoes to fill a quart jar. Again, leave 1 inch of head space.

Canning the Soup:  Place water into the pressure caner per the instructions for the caner.  Place the jars in the caner and put on the lid.  Note: you always want to have your caner full if possible.  Granny's caner holds 7 jars and she said you can use as few as 5 jars safely. Heat the caner over high heat until desired pressure is reached.  For tomatoes, we use 5 lbs of pressure.  When pressure is reached, allow jars to cook for 10 minutes.  Then remove caner from heat and allow to cool until all the pressure is gone from the caner.  Do not remove lid or weight from caner during this time.

The Waiting Game:  Once all the pressure is off the caner, carefully remove jars and move to rest on a thick towel on the counter.  Cover jars with additional towels for several hours after removing from the caner.  As the jars cool they will vacuum seal.  You can hear the popping lids meaning a seal has formed.  Move the jars as little as possible during this time.  Once the jars are completely cool, they should all be sealed.  If not, put the unsealed jars into the fridge and use within a week.  Or, you can try to get a better seal by cleaning the lip again and including the jar in the next batch for the pressure caner.

Making Vegetable Soup from Canned Ingredients

This is what we do when we're ready to enjoy our home-canned vegetable soup.

Brown 1 pound of ground beef in a large pot.  Sometimes we add another onion to our beef sometimes not.  Season ground beef with salt and pepper to taste.  Open 1 jar of home-canned tomatoes and 2 jars of home-canned vegetable soup mix and pour into pot.   Heat on high until it begins to boil then reduce to a simmer.  Let cook for around 10 minutes until the soup is hot through.



TIP:  I frequently brown and freeze ground beef ahead of time.  If I see it on sale at Sams, I'll bring it home, brown it, and freeze it in 1 lb portions.  1 pound of raw ground beef typically translates to around 12 oz cooked.  This means that I don't even have to wait on the beef to thaw.  You can just thaw the pre-cooked beef in the microwave enough to get it out of the plastic baggie and then throw the semi-frozen beef into the pot until it's thawed and heated through.

TIP2:  You can freeze diced onion and use it straight out of the freezer too.  I've also done this with celery and carrots but you have to dice those super fine or shred them to get them soft from the crock pot.

TIP3:  Extra busy day?  Throw your frozen diced onion and frozen ground beef into the crock pot, pour veggie soup mix and tomatoes on top.  Cook on high 2-4 hours or low 6-8 hours.  Stir when you're ready to eat. Supper done!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Eli - 4 years, 7 weeks; Ava - 2 years, 44 weeks; Mae - 19 weeks

Again we started the week off by going to church and then coming home to have some family time.  Sunday afternoons in the spring and summer are designated for playing outside and relaxing a little.  And this day, Daddy had a big surprise for Eli and Ava... he had finally gotten their swing set back together after the move.  It was pretty windy so we put some hats on to cover the kids' ears and went right on about our business.  Eli and Ava were so excited that they went up and down the slide over and over. 








Brian also had the deck box where we keep their outside toys sitting beside the swing set and the patio furniture right there so that we had a comfy spot to sit.  The kids would play a few minutes, run over to the creek and throw a few rocks into the water, and then come back to do it all again. 













Mae enjoyed sitting in the sunshine while Eli and Ava played. Brian and I sat for a while and watched the kids, chatted, and waved to the passing cars.  I can't tell you how nice it was just to sit and enjoy some quiet family time together.  It was like we were finally home.  I didn't want it to end.
 






But like all things, our Sunday afternoon came to an end and we had to start our week.  Only, the week got a little delayed.  Sunday night Eli started running a fever.  Mae had her 4 month checkup anyway so I called the doctor and got Eli in as well.  I figured if we were going anyway we might as well take 2 kids at once. 


Mae measured 24 inches long and weighed in at 13 lbs 2 oz.  She is going to be a little on the short side and is somewhat under the average weight for her age but overall she's growing nicely and meeting all her milestones so she was declared a healthy baby girl. 


I'll admit that I was more than a little nervous about taking Mae for her checkup and shots at the same time as Eli.  Eli has never been a fan of the doctor and usually screams bloody murder almost the whole time we're there.  And forget about it if they have to touch him (which they always do).  He'd always scream when they checked his ears, would refuse to cooperate in any way, and generally be a complete handful all by himself.  So the thoughts of having a very unhappy 4 month old who had just gotten shots and Eli at the doc by myself was not something I was looking forward to at all. 


But Eli surprised me.  He was a super big boy and played nicely with his toys while we waited.  We spent about an hour in the waiting room and he played with his Ninja Turtles and looked at my phone fairly patiently.  Then when we were called back he stood on the scale like a big boy and let the nurse take his temperature without even a whimper.  I was greatful but nothing could have prepared me for the moment the doctor came in. 

The doc and I chatted for a few minutes and then agreed that since he was happy we'd look over Mae first.  Then it was Eli's turn.  I laid Mae on the table beside me so I could keep an eye on her and then put Eli on my lap.  When the doc asked to look in his ears, he didn't fuss at all.  When it was time to check his throat he opened right up and said, "Ahhhh".  When we needed to check his breathing, he breathed on command.  I'm certain that my mouth fell open at some point because I was in complete shock!!!!  He even made it through a strep test without any real fuss.  I began to wonder if this was the same little boy who usually screams "I wanna go home" the whole time we're there and then I realized that I didn't care who this kid was I wanted him to stick around.  I had a new toy hidden in the back of my car so as soon as we got him and Mae buckled in I gave him that new toy and then we went to Dairy Queen and bought not one but two milkshakes.  I just hope that this kid comes back for our next doctor visit.  



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We ended up spending Tuesday at home as well because Mae started running a fever in reaction to her shots and Eli needed about 24 hours on antibiotics to be able to kick his fever.  We watched lots of TV, laid around a bunch, and Eli showed Mae how to use the Ipad. 














I also got a few minutes to show Mae herself on my phone.  When she saw herself she started talking to the baby in the phone. 

 

By Tuesday night we made it to 50's Show practice where Eli got to play with one of his new favorite buddies, Levi.  These two share a love of all things super hero.  They both bring their toys and it frequently looks like the Avengers had a wild party and all passed out all over the floor.






Ava is enjoying her 50's Show practices this year too, playing with some of the other little girls (and apparently picking her nose is way fun too). 







That does it for this week.  Hope you're looking as forward to the warm weather and start of spring as we are.  It shouldn't be long now until we can play outside every afternoon.

Eli - 4 years, 6 weeks; Ava - 2 years, 43 weeks ; Mae - 18 weeks

We began the week simply enough by going to church and then spending a day around the house and doing a little work on the farm.  By the end of the week there had been a huge change in the weather and suddenly it was feeling less like winter and more like spring.  We were finally able to be outside in shirt sleeves and everyone was ready to enjoy some nice weather.  Brian was working on the farm so the kids and I went by for a few minutes to spend some time exploring.  While we were there, Brian taught them how to walk along a log.  Eli and Ava had fun balancing and walking but never got brave enough to let go completely.  They did, however, get brave enough to jump. 


 







While Eli and Ava were busy playing and jumping, Mae enjoyed spending some time in the Moby wrap and watching her brother and sister.  She soon got tired and took a little nap too.  She loves her Moby time and sleeps every time she's in there.




When the kids tired to walking the log we walked back to evaluate the burn pile.  It was still the size of a school bus and I had a couple kids who managed to find a few mud puddles to step in along the way.  I tried to tell them to stay out of the mud but little kids are drawn to mud puddles like moths to a flame.  There is just no keeping them away. 







After a few minutes exploring around the burn pile and throwing rocks into the pond, Eli and Ava were ready to do something different.  With a brush pile burning and a beautiful day, I could easily have spent the whole afternoon just sitting and watching the fire.  But the little ones had different plans so we left Brian to tend the fire and do some additional cleaning up while I took the tiny dictators on to their next objective - TOYS!