We are spoiled rotten when it comes to our food and it is 100% my fault. Our standards have been raised so high that we are akin to food snobs now. Not in the sense that the food needs to be expensive and fancy but in terms of being organically grown and from heirloom seeds. Those kind of snobs. And now it has morphed over into our ‘fast food.’ Those wonderful heat-and-eat, grab and go meals that you buy at the store just don’t measure up since I started making my own.
I, like most homesteader/prepper type people, have seen the dehydrated meals in a jar that are vacuum sealed up but what about those wonderful heat-and-eat ones like you can buy in the store? Sometime early last year, I decided that I would try my hand at jarring up actual meals into pint jars for a quick lunch or quart sizes that Mister Dreamer and I could open up after a particularly long day at work. I started out simply enough: making large pots of some of our favorite soups and then simply pressure canning them up but I wanted something more. I wanted to be able to pop open a jar of fully cooked and safe food that I could heat up and eat or, if need be, just open and eat right away. Thus began my journey and I do believe I have it down to a science.
I almost feel guilty because of how incredibly easy it is. I never posted about it because I figured people would be let down that there isn’t some magical or particularly complex secret to making your own! Another reason is I don’t measure things out. The only time I use measuring cups or spoons is when I am using a cookbook so it can make it a little hard to describe how I make something that tastes amazing but can’t give defined amounts of spices. I will endeavor to do my best here and encourage you to explore and play with the spices that suits your family’s tastebuds.
BASIC MEALS IN A JAR
**The following is based on the use of pint jars and a mid-sized pressure canner. My Presto 23qt canner holds 16 pints. This also assumes that you know how to pressure can and have some confidence in your abilities.**
- 1-2 Pounds of Meat – Chicken, Pork, or Beef, Venison, etc – cubed
- Veggies – This is a very personal choice and some veggies will not hold up to the longer canning times required. I use carrots, potatoes, celery, onion, garlic, green beans, etc. They are cut thicker because thin slices of potatoes and carrots can cook away during processing.
- Dry Beans – Pinto, Kidney, Black Eye, etc. I prefer using pinto. Do not pre-soak beans but be sure to check them for any bad beans.
- Stock or Water – I make my own vegetable stock but you can use water or store bought stock flavors. Mind the salt content. You can always add it later but taking it away is much harder.
- Spices – To your taste. I usually put some fresh onions and garlic in the jars with a little pepper. I have also used spice blends like a dash of Montreal Steak Seasoning (which is AMAZING) to give some variety. No matter how much you like garlic beef, 16 pints of it is enough to make anyone sick of it and yes, that is experience talking. 😉
When pressure canning any combination of foods, the overall time for processing should be based on whichever takes the longest. Because there is meat involved in these jars, we use the processing time of 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts. Be sure to consult your pressure canner’s instructions for specifics on pressure/processing times for your elevation. We live right at sea level so our goal is 11 pounds of pressure.
Make sure your jars are clean before starting but you don’t need to heat everything up to start out. Have warmer water inside the pressure canner but you do not need to have it boiling hot. I have done both hot and cold pack methods when making my meals in a jar and have found that it is faster and easier to do the cold, raw pack.
Assuming you have everything chopped/cubed and ready to go, line up the jars and start the assembly line. While you are filling the jars, gets your lids in hot water to soften the seals. You can fill the jars however you want to! Play, experiment, and let your diabolical side play a little. For me, I prefer to do things in layers to more easily gauge how much of each ingredient I have. Here is the general way I fill my jars.
- 1/3rd cup dry pinto beans (for a pint jar)
- 4-6 2 inch meat chunks
- A layer of onions and garlic
- A healthy layer of potatoes
- A layer of carrots and green beans
- A little celery
- Spices on top
Many people put spices on the bottom but I prefer for them to be on top so there is less chance of them being ‘stuck’ at the bottom during processing. Add your preferred stock or simply add in hot water. Be sure to mix it up a little! You can increase the beans to 1/2 cup, add meat and some garlic/onions and call it good. Variety is really important and it makes it fun to play around with. This is also a really fantastic way to use up some of the vegetables that are starting to get a little old or meat that has been in the freezer and needs to be used up before it goes bad.
TIPS, TRICKS, AND MISTAKES TO AVOID
I learned the amount of beans to put in pint jars through trial and error. I always try to make sure my canner is full when I run a batch so when it comes to canning up jars of meat, I would fill any spots with jars of pinto beans to be used in soups, stews, chili, and making refried beans. Simply put, always put less than you think you can get away with. Putting too many dry beans into the jar will result in either a jar that doesn’t seal or semi-burnt beans that are above the water/stock line.
Trimming the fat from your meat is very important. If there is too much fat, it can cause the seal to fail because the oils won’t allow the rubber to grip the jar. A little fat is good and even important for flavor but large chunks should be cut away.
Rice or lentils are not recommended for making meals in a jar. Yes, they will be fully cooked but they will also turn to mush in the bottom of the jar. They are still 100% edible (and tasty at that) but as far as texture and aesthetics go, you may want to skip them.
Don’t make an entire batch exactly the same unless you are doing multiple batches so you can change up the flavors!
Sage is not recommended for canning spice. It can turn bitter and ruin all the flavors (by overpowering) so all you taste is the sage. There are varying opinions on this but when I tested it, I learned that the advice was dead on. Bleck!
We only buy meat twice a year, when on sale. After the meat reaches the one year mark in the freezer (we repackage and vacuum seal it), it is taken out and canned up into either jarred meat or these meals. It saves a lot of money and makes your food stretch out a long time.
This is just one of the ways you can take back control over how your food is processed and what goes into the final meal. It is very easy to make large pots of soups and chili for dinner and then pressure jar them up the next day for even more heat-and-eat meals in a jar. Do you have any favorites? Give us a comment below with questions and ideas!