Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Marjorie's Busy Weekend

Last weekend was a very busy one.  Besides visiting Carstens Farm on Saturday and having a potluck brunch and church service in the park on Sunday morning, pretty much the rest of the weekend was taken up with canning and preserving.

Many different produce items are currently ripe in our corner of the world, so we had a wide variety of tasks to complete, and despite temperatures in the 90s and considerable humidity, we fired up Marjorie the Margin Gem to do the canning.  First, we quickly canned the small batch of sweet pickles that my mother had been working on for the last two weeks.  She used my great-grandmother's recipe, which all of my dad's side of the family is quite fond of.  While they were in the canner, we started making pectin out of the unripe Jonathan apples which we plucked from the broken branches of my favorite apple tree in our orchard.  We also put a kettle of Roma tomatoes from my mother-in-law on the stove to cook down for homemade ketchup.  Then, we canned green beans from my sister-in-law's garden, and began to work on canning the pears from the tree in our orchard.  All of this kept the Margin Gem's cooktop quite full.

A very busy Margin Gem cookstove pressure
canning and water bath canning at the same time.

Notice in these two photos that the Margin Gem is accommodating seven vessels.

A closer picture of the many pots on the cooktop.  Pears boiling
to be hot-packed are on the lower left.  The apples being cooked
for pectin are in the middle rear; the tomato and onion mixture is
in the right rear.  The two canners, the teakettle, and scalding lids
round out the picture.

Things had to move once the pressure canner reached the
appropriate point. 
On Sunday afternoon, the stovetop looked quite similar except that the pears were replaced with peaches.  The pectin was on its second cooking, and we filled the sixteen-quart kettle with a second batch of tomatoes.

I'm terrible at guessing quantities of food to be canned, and I frequently miss my guess when it comes to how much fruit it will take to fill the canner.  Therefore, one of the things that I really like about using the wood cookstove for water bath canning is the reservoir.  If I have more fruit prepared than I can actually fit in the canner, what I've taken to doing is going ahead and filling the extra jar with the fruit and boiling syrup, putting the lid on it, and then placing it in the hot water in the reservoir.  This way, the jar won't seal prematurely (like it would if you were open-kettling), and I'm quite sure that the high temperature of the reservoir prevents any bacteria growth in the short time before the jar of fruit is removed to the canner once the initial batch of jars is finished processing.

I have read that if your stove's water reservoir is capable of reaching the boiling point, you can just do your water bath canning in the reservoir.  So far, the water in the Margin Gem's reservoir has not gotten hot enough to boil.

The final products ready to be washed and carried down to the
fruit room.  It isn't a large number of total jars, and they don't
include the ketchup yet because we were not finished with it at
the time of the photo.
I am quite fascinated by the whole prospect of making our own pectin.  I found the method here on Pinterest while looking at one of the boards that someone else had pinned our blog to.  My great-great-aunt Meme, who is mentioned in the "About Me" section to the left, used to reminisce about making pectin when she was a young girl, and I had read some vague accounts of how it was done, but this was the first time that I had seen very much in the way of directions.  Because of two exceedingly long cooking times, making pectin is a process which is well suited to the wood cookstove.

Everything worked according to what I read at the site, but one thing puzzles me.  The pectin gelled like it was supposed to when I tested it in the rubbing alcohol, and when I put it in the jars, it poured like honey.  However, now that it has been canned and allowed to cool, it is almost as runny as water, so I'm a little concerned about it.  I also have no idea how to use it.  I was able to find directions for that at this link: http://www.pickyourown.org/makeyourownpectin.htm.  I think I'll start by using the proportions for Certo and see what happens.  I'd better make a batch of jelly with it as soon as possible in order to find out whether it is going to work.  If the jelly is successful, I'd like to make more because commercial pectin has become so expensive.  If any of my readers have experience with this and can offer advice, please do!

Another thing that I wondered about frequently during our weekend was energy efficiency.  While we had the cookstove fired, we had the kitchen shut off from the rest of the house, but we had the air conditioning going.  Of course, it ran nearly constantly after the stove had been going for a while.  So, would it have been more energy efficient to use the gas stove?  In some ways, I think the gas stove throws an equal amount of heat into the house, and there is no way that we could have had any more than four pots in use at once when using it.  Also, when the cookstove is being fired, it is heating lots of hot water for us.  I don't know how one would figure this out, but it is a question that intrigues me.

At any rate, the forecast for the next several days shows much, much cooler weather on the way.  It doesn't look like we'll be needing the air conditioning anymore in the foreseeable future, so there won't be any wondering which method of canning will be the most energy efficient.


  1. And your firewood is free? It is pretty hard to argue for LP or electric anything being more efficient if your firewood is free, thus your hot water being free, as well. Wood cookstove users understand what was the point of a separate summer kitchen. I'm dreaming of a simple one room shelter with plenty of windows and worktable spaces and shelving and, of course, a cookstove for canning and baking in summer.

  2. My grandma had a summer kitchen-and that is where she did all her canning and cooking in the summer's hot months.
    Loved all the photos too. I agree with the firewood being free and being able to get more pots on your wood stove-I would say much more effecient than using the gas and the a/c

  3. Jim:
    I want you to know how much I have enjoyed reading and following your blog. I think it's absolutely wonderful. Really! My wife, Brenda, and I have just finished building our new home. We moved in about four weeks ago. One thing I really wanted was to have a spot for a functioning antique wood cookstove. We had to modify the kitchen to make room for it. We ended up getting an antique Glenwood number 8 cabinet style stove with no hot water resevoir, as there just wasn't room for it. I finally got the chance to fire it up a couple weeks ago, and I had another opportunity to use it again last Saturday. I love it! You can see me at the stove on my blog at pearsonfarmlife.blogger.com. My mother grew up on a wood cookstove but she can no longer converse about these things, due to the ravages of Alzheimer's disease. I have never cooked on one before, so this is a learning experience. I highly value the information you have shared on your blog. I have read over all your posts at least twice. Thanks again for sharing.

  4. Thanks much for this blog! I have been interested in a wood fired stove for awhile now and hope to have a early 1900s Kalamazoo installed before it gets too cold out. I'll look foward to using your advice and recipes over the winter.

    1. Welcome to my blog, Hans! If I can be of any additional help to you once you get your stove installed, please let me know. I'll look forward to having you chime in with a "Direct to you from Kalamazoo" point of view when you get her up and running.

    2. Thank you for the welcome Jim.
      I am going to look at the stove tonight. The photos of it look very nice. It is a Prince or Princess model from what I can find on the web, not sure what the correct name is. Enamaled and almost the same color as the one on the top of your page. Going to be a pain to get itm in the house I think as our place is really an old hunting camp turned into a 2 story house so the layout is pretty bad downstairs.