Canning Butter at Home

I’ve recently come across a lot of information and misinformation about canning butter at home. Because of the level of controversy, and the amount of unsafe advice out there, I wanted to set a few things straight.

If you’ve read any of the articles or blog posts out there, then you probably already know that the USDA does not recommend canning butter at home. The reasons stated are many, and there is an abundance of misinterpretation of the statements made by the USDA, even by those who directly quote it. Let’s clear this up first: the USDA does not have a recommended procedure for canning butter at home. This is not because they have ulterior motives. It is simply because they have not created and tested a procedure which they can reliably claim to be safe. And if they can’t reliably claim a procedure to be safe, then they won’t recommend it.

This may lead you to ask why the USDA has not done the legwork to create and test such a procedure. On this, I can only speculate. Perhaps it is because of a lack of funding to the department(s) responsible. Perhaps they have in fact spent countless hours in development and have discovered that with the equipment available to the home canner, such a procedure is not possible. Again, I can only speculate on their reasoning, and such speculation distracts us from actual facts.

Now that we have the USDA part out of the way, let’s talk about what butter actually is. Even though I know better, I still find myself constantly surprised at how little people know about butter. It’s constantly referred to as a fat, which is understandable, since fat does make up the bulk of butter’s composition. However, “whole butter” is not 100% fat. It is in fact an emulsion of fat, water, milk solids, and sometimes salt. Depending on who made the butter, usually butterfat makes up somewhere between 80-85% of “whole butter”. American butter tends to have less fat, European butter tends to have more. Milk solids and any salt usually comprises around 1-2%, while the rest is water.

When all of the water and milk solids have been removed, the resulting product is called “clarified butter”. Notice that I didn’t mention salt in this equation. This is just conjecture, but I’m not entirely convinced that clarfying butter will remove 100% of the salt content from salted whole butter. This is irrelevent to me, since I only buy unsalted whole butter (not counting butter spreads), but it may be relevant to you.

Now that we know more about the composition of butter, it’s time to talk about the methods presented for the preservation of butter at home, and why they should concern you.

When you can food at home, you should sanitize the jars that you use, as close as possible to the time that you use them. You should wash them in warm, soapy water and rinse them, at the absolute least. If I were you, I would take it one step further and run your jars through the dishwasher, and let them sit there, with the door closed, until you need them. There are other methods which are suitable, all of which involve steam, but the dishwasher is my preferred method.

What you should never do is heat your jars in the oven. Mason jars are not designed to be heated in the oven, and doing so increases their chance of breakage. The dry heat of the oven also does not adequately sanitize jars. I read one blog post that recommended oven heating jars, on the basis that water inside the jars is undesirable. Remember that butter already has water in it; the residual from sanitizing jars using a wet method will not suddenly contaminate the fat by being water.

With jar sanitation out of the way, we are free to contemplate the actual canning method. According to the USDA, there are plenty of sites that will recommend melted butter into jars and closing them, with no further processing. Somehow I managed to miss any of these sites. Nevertheless, as the USDA tells you, this method is completely unacceptable. Just storing something in a jar is not the same as canning it, and this method does not meet any definition of canning.

One might consider steam-canning as their method of preservation. According to the USDA, the only thing you should ever steam can is juice. Personally, I won’t even do that. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing that steam canners are useful for is sanitizing jars. And as I’ve already said, I don’t even use them for that. If you have one, just throw it away.

Next up is boiling water canning. I did see a number of blogs recommend water bath canning, which is disconcerting to me. Let’s be clear: boiling water canning is only acceptable for high-acid foods. This means that any food with a pH above 4.6 should never be processed in a boiling water canner. Since butter is in the 6.1 to 6.4 range, it should never be processed in a boiling water canner.

Now, wait. What’s the deal with acidity? There are a number of factors which affect the safety of food. It’s easy to remember them with the abbreviation FAT TOM: fat, acidity, time, temperature, oxygen, moisture. These all play a role in canning, though fat is actually the one that I’m the least concerned with.

There are a number of food-borne illnesses that plague our society, but by far the worse one in relation to canning is a bacteria called clostridium botulinum, which is responsible for an illness known as botulism. These bacteria love moist, low-oxygen, low-acidity environments. They are also very heat stable: when they encounter environments that are too hot, they protect themselves with an outer layer called a spore, which can withstand temperatures up to 240F. Because water boils at 212F at sea level (and less above sea level), a boiling water canner cannot destroy these spores.

This is also disconcerting since one of the important functions of canning is to remove oxygen (though not all of it) from the jars. Because clostridium botulinum loves low-oxygen environments, and it loves moisture (which is always present in canned foods), canned food would normally be a haven for this bacteria! But it cannot thrive in acidic environments. The higher the acidity (meaning the lower the pH), the less comfortable this bacteria is. A pH as low as 4.6 is enough to disable it. This is why pickles, jams, jellies, and fruits can be canned using boiling water: they all involve an environment where the acidity is high enough to disable the growth of clostridium botulinum.

Our last option for canning is a pressure canner, which as you’ve probably guessed by now, is the only acceptable method of canning low-acid foods. Meats and vegetables are all considered low-acid foods, as is butter. This tells you that if you ever come across a procedure for canning butter that does not involve a pressure canner, it cannot be considered safe, and you should move along.

However, just because a procedure involves a pressure canner, doesn’t mean it is safe. Let’s talk about how pressure canners work, and how this relates to butter.

As I said before, water boils at 212F. It also freezes at 32F. Going back to junior high chemistry, we know that matter has three states of being: solid, liquid, gas. Well, okay, technically there are four, the last being plasma. Water below 32F is in a solid state, water between 32F and 212F (at sea level) is in a liquid state, and water above 212F (at sea level) is in a gaseous state. And for those interested, water enters a plasma state at around 12,000 degrees K.

Low-acid, low-oxygen foods are a perfect breeding ground for clostridium botulinum. Our only defense against this bacteria is heating it above 240F, which means we need to use water that is in a gaseous state (steam). A pressure canner filled to the brim with water doesn’t allow enough room for steam to grow, which is why we only add around 3 inches of water. Water inside the canning jars is also important, because as the water on the outside turns to steam, the pressure will also cause the water on the inside of the jars to turn to steam.

Once the steam inside the canner, and subsequently inside the jars, reaches 240F, the mass genocide of clostridium botulinum spores has begun. Temperature isn’t enough to kill those bacteria though; it also takes time. And just because the steam inside the canner has reached 240F, doesn’t mean all of the food inside the jar has reached that temperature. The thicker food is, the longer it takes to heat it thoroughly.

How does this relate to butter? Whole butter has moisture in it (close to 20%), which creates an environment inside the jar that can be used to heat the food with it to 240F. This should tell you that clarified butter is probably not a safe candidate for canning. I say probably, because I don’t know for sure.

In fact, this is where fact begins to fail us, because we don’t yet have all of the facts. Whole butter is likely a better candidate for canning than clarified, because of the moisture content, but there’s still a matter of time to be considered. Does it require 25 minutes like beef broth? 90 minutes as with chicken? 100 minutes like for certain fish? Perhaps the number is lower than 25 minutes, or higher than 100 minutes? This is the thing that we don’t know. Perhaps it needs to be canned at a pressure that is unsafe or impossible using a home pressure canner.

Now of course you could run a number of tests yourself. You will need a lot of butter, a lot of time (months, as you continue to test the long-term safety of the canned butter), and of course some very expensive equipment to perform the testing.

In the end, it’s entirely up to you whether you decide to can your own butter. It’s also up to you whether you want to do any number of things which involve questionable safety. Are you willing to trust your life, and your family’s life to your procedure? Plenty of preppers are happy to do exactly that. Until I hear further word, I think I’ll just go without canned butter.

Cooking with Sunlight – Solar Cooking Demo

Cooking with Sunlight Solar Cooking Demo – June 26th, 2014

via Mapleton Ready

Cooking with the Sun is easier than you think.

Did you know you can bake, broil, grill, roast, sauté, fry, stir fry and even pressure cook with the Power of the Sun – NO FUEL REQUIRED! It’s so easy and fun that solar cooking isn’t just for emergencies anymore.
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Wild Edibles in Utah Training

Utah is abundant with wild edible plants, often referred to as weeds in our yard or garden and also more nutritional than what we have in the grocery store. Many of the wild edibles available to us are not native but were brought here by pioneers from Europe and the mediterranean. Of course many of the wild edibles are native to the area as well. The Sego Lily was used by natives for centuries as a staple food and helped save the lives of the pioneers when they came to this state starving in 1848 and 1849. The bulbs they harvested were plentiful and generally larger than we see today. This is likely because the native peoples harvested the plants often and that action helped the plants continue to produce just are caring for our gardens helps our vegetables grow. Now that we leave the native plants alone and don’t know how to use them they often show very little fruit.

Proper foraging is something that we must understand in order to continue to use these plants wisely and for us and the plants to benefit. Learning about these wild edibles and how and when to harvest them will make us better stewards of the land around us and will also prepare us for tough times or simply allow us to live more healthy now. You would be surprised how many things are readily available to us in the wilderness of Utah, even in the desert. Some of the great spring edibles include, Mariposa lily, Yellow bells, Wild onion, Storksbill, Dune Evening primrose, Indian potato, Curly dock, Blue mustard and Wild spinach often known as Lamb’s quarter.

Come learn with Mike Wood from WildUtahEdibles.com and supplement your diet. Learn how to use the plants that grow easily around you and learn what weeds you can throw in your salad. You will be amazed and thrilled by the many edible and indeed delicious plants there are around you.

Our next wild edibles tour is April 26th at 12:00 noon. Exact location and details will be made available through our facebook page closer to the actual date but this tour will be in the Utah desert either in Saratoga Springs or in Eagle Mountain. Bring your friends and bring the family. This is an event you don’t want to miss.

Mike Wood
www.WildUtahEdibles.com
https://www.facebook.com/wildutahedibles

Making Elk Hamburger With Added Beef Fat

Making Elk Burger with Added Beef FatElk is very lean meat.  If you grind it straight into burger it tends to be very chewy and needs water added when you cook it since there is so little fat in it.  In order to make it cook and taste better, we like to add some beef fat to our elk burger.  There are a couple of different ways you can get fat added to your elk.  The first is to add straight beef fat, and the second is to add fatty ground beef.  We’ll cover both methods and the math involved with them in this post.

What’s that you say?  Math?  Yep.  You know in algebra class when your teacher said you’d use this someday in your real life?  Well, here’s your chance!  (I know some of you are secretly rejoicing.)

Method #1: Elk burger with added beef fat.

You will need: Elk meat, meat grinder, and chunks of beef fat.  We get ours from the local grocery meat department.  We just asked the guy if he could save us some beef fat and we got it for no cost.  You might have to pay a little something, but it shouldn’t be too much. Continue reading “Making Elk Hamburger With Added Beef Fat”

Six Reasons I’m Not a Fan of Pre-Mixed Food Storage Meals and Why I Still Have Some

Pre-packaged food storage meals are super convenient and easy to store and cook. Ranging from MRE’s to dehydrated mixes to freeze dried entrees, these meals have all the meal ingredients in them and are either heat-and-eat or add water and cook. It’s tough to find a food storage company that doesn’t offer at least a handful of pre-mixed meal choices. They sound like a good deal–I mean, who wouldn’t want to be served lasagna or chicken a la king without having to actually make it? Well, here are 6 reasons I don’t like pre-made food storage meals and a couple reasons why I still have some in my preps.

1. Amazingly picky eaters. Especially the kids. No, especially the husband. Well, maybe the kids have him beat sometimes. They haven’t met a pre-made meal they really love and few that they even like enough to eat. A couple of Mountain House varieties have been deemed okay for camping if we don’t have anything else (but only Turkey Tetrazzini and Chicken a la King) as well as a couple of varieties of the Thrive pouch meals (Baked Potato Cheese Soup and Pasta Carbonara). I can’t say that I have tried every variety from every manufacturer–there may be a couple more that my family would accept but I don’t hold out high hopes. Maybe this all stems from reason number two.

Continue reading “Six Reasons I’m Not a Fan of Pre-Mixed Food Storage Meals and Why I Still Have Some”

Preparedness items at local Sam’s Clubs

I work near a Sam’s Club and sometime head over for a lunchtime visit. It is hard to beat a Polish Dog and soda at $1.50 for lunchtime frugality. While I am there I often browse through the store to see what seasonal items are on display. Over the last couple months I’ve noticed a few preparedness items at local Sam’s Clubs.

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June Mountain House Sale

We love it when local stores have good deals for preppers, even better when it’s the stuff we want the most.  Emergency Essentials let us know that this month they are featuring a 20-25% discount on Mountain House cans and we wanted to make sure to pass the word along.  Most people involved in preparedness or camping will have some familiarity with the Mountain House products. They are the original commercial freeze-dry products, and have an incredible choice of entrees available.

The big #10 cans of freeze dried food are something we don’t say you should solely base your food storage on, by any means. But they are an amazing part of your overall plan. The large cans allow you to get more food, in a longer-life container. Just remember two key factors when using freeze-dried food from a can. First, contents have settled, so some of the flavor is on the bottom, you’ll want to mix it up. Second, once that can is open, there is no more long-term storage. So entrees you like you need to use within a few days. In a real emergency, that’s not a problem as long as you are aware.

If you do any scouting, or larger group events. Can’s make it so it is a more economical choice vs other options.  So if you need to augment your storage, looking to expand the menu, or are even just starting it’s worth checking out their sale.

Emergency Essentials/BePrepared

Searching for the Cure (Bacon)

My brother passed along a video today that fits right in here on the blog. As many people know, I have a long love of cured foods.  Bacon, of course, ranks at the top of my list.  Bacon, and country hams were an important staple for survival to people in the Appalachians for hundreds of years before refrigeration was introduced.  While I don’t have a setup for curing my own bacon (yet), this video sure encourages me to get that setup sooner than later.  This 10 minute documentary is about a man who run’s a business curing bacon and ham the old fashioned way.

As I told a friend, the subjects Appalachian accent is like a Barry White with the sequences of frying bacon and country ham.

Once you’ve watched, you’ll probably want to go buy bacon or ham from their site and then once you’ve tasted the difference, try to cure bacon on your own.

New Products Announced at Shelf Reliance Convention

As a consultant for Shelf Reliance, I had the opportunity to attend their annual convention in Salt Lake this past weekend. It was exciting, educational, and exhausting (especially with my 10 month old in tow). There were quite a few new product announcements that I’d like to let you know about, so before they even get the new products launched on the site, I’m letting you in on them right here.

NEW THRIVE PRODUCTS:



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Store what you eat / Eat what you store

This is yet another “Eat what you store / Store what you eat” post.  I had a few experiences in the last week or so that has worked me up to this article.

Eat what you store

First.  A few weeks ago I went to get some cooking oil from our storage area.  I discovered to my dismay that well over half of my oil had gone rancid.  I’m not sure if I had a tempurature fluxuation or what happened.  Bottom line:  I was almost out of oil.  Fortunately it didn’t ruin my dinner plans, but imaging discovering that your oil was bad in the middle of a crisis?  The oil was out of date, but my previous experience has lead me to believe that generally oil has more longevity than is stamped on the bottle. Continue reading “Store what you eat / Eat what you store”

Honey in the News

Local Raw Honey, image from freshstepsonline.com
Local Raw Honey, image from freshstepsonline.com

There have been a few articles lately in the news regarding honey, mainly in response to a Food Safety News study that was published this week. To sum it up, the report found that most honey purchased in stores had been highly processed to the point that all the pollen had been removed. Aside from no longer supplying healthy benefits by containing pollen, removing all traces of pollen also makes it impossible to track the location of origin for honey if it turns out to be contaminated or otherwise harmful. Continue reading “Honey in the News”