When Canning Jars Won’t Seal


Canning Easy-Peasy Grape Juice.

Anyone who cans food has had the experience – you make your jam or jelly, or process fruits and vegetables, and one or more jars don’t seal. Frustrating but not unexpected. Canning is an organic, biological practice. It cannot be cut and dried and you have to expect variations. Here are some of the common problems and reasons why jars won’t seal.
Getting a perfect seal depends on several factors. These include the quality and thickness of the sealing compound, damage to jars, lids or rings, cleanliness, the temperature of the food and whether you tighten the rings properly. Whether you water-bath or not, in the case of jams and jellies, has nothing to do with getting a good seal.

Making applesauce with a food mill.

I’m as frugal as the next girl, but I also recognize that when I’m working with non-standard canning jars, the chance of something not sealing is a little higher. That’s because those jars don’t necessarily have a perfect fit with a standard canning lid and ring. Don’t let that stop you, just be prepared for a failure or two. Jar rims must be perfect – the slightest chip means a seal may not occur. The same applies to a lid or ring that is even slightly bent. You can still use these jars and lids for storage or make fermented veggies in them (fermented foods don’t have to be canned – a huge time-saver during a busy processing time). And as an aside, you can reuse commercial jars with lug tops for jams and jellies. Again, that means a slightly increased risk of jars not sealing – about one in 20, in my experience.

No water bath required.

User errors are the next most likely problem. If you don’t tighten the rings properly, you won’t get a good seal – tighten to the point of resistance. A drip of jam or piece of whatever you’re canning that lands on the jar rim will interfere with a seal – always wipe clean or, as I do for jams and jellies, use a pitcher to pour in the liquid. Leave the right amount of head-space if you are water-bathing or pressure canning so food doesn’t bubble up. This also helps prevent exploding jars. Air bubbles can also affect the seal – they’re more likely with dense foods like squash or pumpkin. Use a clean knife to pop bubbles and let them escape before putting on the ring.

Please note the date! This picture was taken in 2015. Thirty-plus years and still sealed.

The heating and cooling processes are also important to a good seal. While you don’t have to water-bath jams and jellies, you do need to make sure the liquid is at a full boil when you pour it in the jar. Work quickly, so the jar and filling remain as hot as possible. If you’re processing, make sure the temperature is correct and that you leave it in for the right amount of time. Once your jars are out and cooling, leave them alone until completely cool – this usually takes 24 hours. Always check seals before storing. If the center button isn’t depressed, store in the refrigerator and eat soon. Jams and jellies will store for a few weeks, but veggies and meats should be eaten within a week or so. You can also freeze jars with failed seals, but in most cases, filling to the proper level doesn’t leave enough room for expansion during freezing, so I don’t recommend it unless you have an inexhaustible source of jars and don’t mind cleaning up a mess in the freezer.

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Old-Fashioned Cooking: Meatloaf


This is how cows should be raised; on green grass.

In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.
Meatloaf is one of those quintessential comfort foods. It conjures up visions of gingham aprons, milk with the cream still on and new-laid eggs. It’s an ancient recipe, included in the classic Roman cookbook Apicius. Mind you, that author recommended using cooked brains in the concoction, which – just guessing – most people these days would not want to include. In other respects the recipe is very similar to modern versions: eggs, herbs and broth to moisten. Meatloaf is found in nearly every country and culture. Some recipes include various chopped or ground vegetables, while many include hard cooked peeled eggs tucked into the middle of the loaf. Meatloaf may also include ham, cheese, sausage, breadcrumbs or rice, depending on the origin of the recipe. It is served hot or cold and nearly always with some sort of sauce or gravy. Mashed potatoes are the classic accompaniment in many cultures.
Since meatloaf is such a simple recipe, the quality of the ingredients really matters. Grass-fed ground beef and home-raised pork are the best choices. If you use venison, it may need some added fat (tallow or lard are the best choices) as venison is typically lean. Fresh ranch eggs also make a difference. Making good meatloaf is rather like making good bread – the mixing makes a difference. I’m firmly of the opinion that in both cases, you need to mix with your hands to get the best sense of the proper texture. It’s also more effective to use your hands on meatloaf to distribute the ingredients properly without over-mixing the meat, which makes it tough. Here’s a good recipe for meatloaf, adapted from a variety of recipes including the version in Cook’s Illustrated.

Meat Loaf

2 pounds of meat – all beef or venison or a mixture of one or both of these with an equal amount of ground pork (I suppose you could use sausage, too, although I’ve never tried it, and some recipes use veal)
2 large eggs
¾ to 1 cup of old-fashioned rolled oats
½ to ¾ cup of tomato ketchup
1 small yellow onion or 1 medium red onion, very finely diced
A good sprinkling of garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Crack the eggs into a large bowl and sprinkle with garlic powder. salt and pepper. Mix in the diced onion. Cook’s Illustrated recommends you saute the yellow onion first for about five minutes. I’ve found that if it’s finely diced or you use red onion, sauteing is an unnecessary step. Add the smaller amount of ketchup and stir. Now begin mixing the meat into the egg/ketchup mixture. When it’s about half mixed, sprinkle in the smaller amount of rolled oats. Continue to mix gently. If it seems dry, add more ketchup; if too wet, add more rolled oats. Pack into a 9X5 loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for about one hour. Don’t overcook – you want it pink in the middle, which means an internal temperature of about 130 degrees. It should stand for about 10 minutes after you take it out of the oven to redistribute the juices. I also double the recipe and bake in a 9X13 pan. Expect it to take about 10 minutes less to cook. This is good for a crowd or for making ahead – cut into single servings and freeze on a flat pan, then pack into zip lock bags and take out as many servings as you need for a meal. Reheat in the oven or microwave after defrosting. If you want to fancy it up, saute a chopped medium onion and two cups of mushrooms in a couple of tablespoons of bacon fat, lard or coconut oil. Use as is or turn out of the pan, add a couple more tablespoons of fat and make a simple cream gravy. Dollop some mushroom mixture and gravy over the top of each slice.

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Animal Predators


When it comes to animal predators, my husband and I take different approaches. I figure it’s my job to keep my ranch animals safe with fences, coops or other secure enclosures. He figures it’s his job to eliminate the predators.

Mr. Bobcat made the mistake of coming to call on the chickens during the morning hours.

Take chickens. Free range chickens don’t need the owner to supply as much food. They can find their own grit by eating small rocks they pick up in the course of the day. Free range chickens will find their own shade on a hot day or shelter during a thunderstorm. Their eggs are loaded with micro-nutrients from a broad and varied diet, and high in vitamin D from sun exposure. Downside – you lose them all, eventually, to bobcats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, hawks and eagles. Bears and mountain lions aren’t adverse to a chicken dinner, either. Once these animal predators have honed in on the food source, they tend to keep coming back until the table is bare. Sheep don’t have much in the way of offensive capabilities unless you raise those with horns. Not being the smartest animals on the place, they tend to run themselves to exhaustion when threatened. Horses and cows can protect themselves fairly well, although a mother in labor or a newborn baby are at risk from a lion or coyotes.

Hubby is 6 feet, 220 Lbs – gives you an idea of the bear’s size…

In an ideal world, animal predators and their prey would live in balance. In today’s world, greatly reduced hunting pressure (although the automobile is fairly efficient as a substitute except for bears and lions) means there are plenty of predators out there. The populations of bears and mountain lions have climbed significantly since lawmakers in California put an end to hunting them with dogs about five or six years ago. Given our differing perspectives, I give the predators a sporting chance – If I see one, I keep my mouth shut unless it is clearly an imminent threat. If hubby sees one, he heads out immediately with the artillery, whether the animal is menacing the livestock or not. In both cases, we keep the chickens in roomy, secure pens with bear-proof nighttime coops and lock the sheep up at night. The sheep also run with larger animals like cattle and the horses. Even though they’re different species, our cows and horses tend to think of the woolies as part of the herd and will protect them.

Babies like this one are considered a delicacy by coyotes and cougars.

One of the biggest predator problems we have, however, doesn’t come from the wild animals. Feral dogs and especially feral cats can be a major problem. We were once awakened in the middle of the night to a tremendous commotion in the yearling paddock. Two feral dogs had cornered the yearling colts. Hubby grabbed the shotgun and barreled out in his underwear. He had to shoot both dogs, not only because they were menacing the colts but because when he yelled at them, the dogs came at him as well. Since the colts were right in the corner and he had to shoot over their backs, it was extra traumatic for the youngsters. Feral cats are notorious for killing songbirds, quail, ducklings and goslings, and will also kill chicks of domestic birds. Yet in my experience, most domestic cats don’t seem to have any interest in baby chicks – darned if I know why. We usually use a live trap for feral cats. If the cat is young and amenable to being tamed, we do so, either keeping it ourselves or finding it a good home. If not, sayonara.

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