Friday, July 29, 2016

An Improved Fire Starter

There’s nothing like actual time in the woods to improve your camping skills.  A recent trip into the woods for a little camping trip with my son and one of his friends resulted in yet another lesson on how to prepare for wilderness living. 

You see, the weather on this campout was not a beautiful spring day.  It was a very early spring day, and it was still cool, and it was raining.  Hey, there’s no weather guarantee for the apocalypse, so you’ve got to practice in all kinds of conditions.  So anyway, we’re in the woods and we decided that we needed to get a fire going.  Everything was wet, but I had some paraffin and cardboard fire starters; so I wasn’t worried about getting a fire lit.  But then we discovered a problem.  All we had to start the fire with was a fero-rod striker.  A fero-rod is not the right tool for igniting a wax and cardboard fire starter.  So, we had to traipse out into the field and locate a juniper tree, peal some bark off the dry side, shave off the inner bark, and buff it up into tinder.  Then we could use the fero-rod to light the juniper bark, use the juniper bark to light the fire starter, and use the fire starter to get our damp squaw-wood twigs burning.  Not a major problem; I’m sure we could have got the fire started with enough juniper bark and some rich pine slivers, but it was kind of a pain. 

So after our camping was done, and I was back at the house; I decided to make some fire starters that I could ignite with a fero-rod.  This is what I came up with:

To make these fire starters you will need some corrugated cardboard, a pair of scissors, some heavy jute macramé string, some light cotton string, and some wax.  I use recycled candle wax that I keep in an old coffee can.

Start by cutting your corrugated cardboard into strips that are about an inch and a half wide by twelve inches long.  Cut your jute into pieces about four inches long.

Place a jute wick onto one of the strips of cardboard.

Roll the cardboard up into a cylinder and tie a piece of light cotton string around the cylinder to hold it in place.

Place your can of wax into a pot of water and set it over heat.  Never set the can of wax directly on a flame.  There is danger that it might ignite and start a serious fire.

Holding your fire starter by the wick, dip it down into the wax.  Cover the cardboard completely with wax and also make sure that the first ¾ inch of the wick is also coated with wax.  If the lower part of the wick does not have wax on it, the jute will all burn up too fast, and won’t ignite the starter.

Set the fire starter on a piece of aluminum foil to cool.

The series of photos below show how to use the improved fire starter.  Note that you must fray out the wick before striking a spark to it.  This will insure that the wick ignites.

A final lesson learned from this camping experience…..  Make sure that you throw a cigarette lighter in your bug out bag.  Always better to have multiple options.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Canning Garden Fresh Hot Sauce

A SPECIAL NOTE ON CANNING TOMATOES:  There are many different varieties of tomatoes.  Many modern hybrid tomatoes have been bred to be low in acid.  For this reason many sources now recommend that tomatoes should be canned using a pressure canner rather than the water bath method.  I only raise the older non-hybrid, heirloom type tomatoes which have a high acid content.  I process them using the water bath method, and I have never had a problem.  You will have to use your own judgment as to what type of canning method to use; and if you are in any doubt, you should ere on the side of caution.

To make and can 4 to 5 pints of hot sauce you will need the following:

1 gallon of stemmed and sliced fresh tomatoes
1 medium onion coarsely chopped
8 fresh jalapeno peppers stemmed and coarsely chopped
4 teaspoons of pickling or non-iodized sea salt
1 teaspoon of granulated garlic
1 teaspoon of powered cumin
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1/8th cup of distilled white vinegar

Equipment needed includes:

4 to 5 pint canning jars
4 to 5 canning lids and rings
A pot large enough to hold your upright canning jars with one inch of water above the tops of the jars
A smaller pot to sterilize lids and rings in
A large cook pot to prepare the hot sauce in
A long handle wooden spoon
A jar lifter
A canning funnel
A cup to pour hot sauce into the jars
Tongs to handle the hot lids and rings
A damp cloth to wipe the jar rims

Begin by placing your lidless jars in the large pot and covering with water until one inch above the jar tops.  I always do five jars even though this recipe usually just makes about 4 ½ pints.  The 5th jar is to hold the left-over which I put in the refrigerator for immediate use.  Some times, for reasons only the canning gods can understand, I will end up with 5 full jars. Place the covered pot on your stove over high heat and bring the water to a rolling boil.  Boil jars for ten minutes to sterilize.  Reduce the heat to low to keep the jars hot.

Place lids and rings in your small pot and cover with water.  Set this jar on the stove but do not begin heating yet. 

To prepare your hot sauce begin with firm, unblemished, ripe tomatoes.  Slice the tomatoes in half.

Cut out the stem ends of the tomato removing most of the green where it intrudes down into the tomato.

Nip off the bloom end of the tomato.

Slice each half of the tomato into 3 to 6 pieces depending on size.  I do not remove the skin from the tomatoes.
For a single batch of 4 to 5 pints of hot sauce you will need one gallon of sliced tomatoes.

Peel and coarsely chop one medium onion.

Cut the stems off and coarsely chop eight fresh jalapeno peppers.

Place one quart of sliced tomatoes, one fourth of your chopped onion, and one fourth of your jalapenos in a blender.

Turn on blender.  You will probably have to use your wooden spoon to press the mixture down into the blender until the mixture turns over and starts to blend.  Be careful not to get the spoon down into the blades.  Blend for about 30 seconds.

Pour the blended mixture off into your large cook pot.

Process additional batches of tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos until you have used all of your vegetables.

Place the uncovered pot of blended mixture over high heat and bring to a boil.  Sir the mixture every 4 or 5 minutes. Drag your spoon across the bottom of the pot to keep the mixture from sticking and scorching.

As the mixture begin to boil the pink foam on top on the mixture will largely disappear.

Reduce the heat but make sure that the mixture continues to boil.  Set your timer for 25 minutes for a single batch or 40 minutes if you are preparing a double batch.  The purpose of the long cook time is to cook and sterilize the sauce and to reduce the moisture content and make the sauce thicker.

As the sauce boils add your salt, garlic, cumin, chili powder and white vinegar.

Continue stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot every 4 to 5 minutes.

During the last 15 minutes of cooking, turn the heat on under your lids and rings.  As soon as the lids and rings come to a boil, turn the heat off.

About five minutes before your hot sauce is done you can dip out a spoon full, blow it to cool, and sample it for flavor and (spice) hotness.  If it is not hot enough for your taste, you can add some cayenne pepper to bring up the heat.  You can also observe the thickness of the sauce at this time.  If it is too thin for you, you can extend the cooking time to drive a little more moisture out of the sauce.

When the sauce is cooked to your taste it is time to can it.

Remove the sterilized jars from the canner dumping about an inch of water from each jar back into the pot. 

Fill and apply lids to the jars one at a time.  Pour hot sauce in jar leaving ½ inch of head space at the top.

Wipe the jar rim with a damp cloth to clean it and insure a good seal.

Place a hot lid on the jar and immediately screw a ring firmly onto the jar.

If you don’t have enough hot sauce to fill the last jar, you can partially fill it, wait for it to cool, then put it in the refrigerator for immediate use.

When all of the jars are filled and sealed return them to the water bath canner, cover, and turn the heat to high.  Make sure that you have a least an inch of water covering the tops of the jars.

Bring the water to a full boil and process for 20 minutes.

When the jars have finished processing lift them, immediately, from the water bath and place them on the counter to cool.  The lids should ping down as the jars cool.  If a jar doesn’t ping, and the lid stays bowed up, then you don’t have a good seal on the jar, and it will spoil.  At this point you can either replace the lid and ring and reprocess, or you can put the jar in the refrigerator for immediate use.

Be sure to label and date jars before you put them in storage.  Be sure to check each jar before you open it to make sure that the lid is still bowed down and the seal is good.  Any jar whose lid is bowed up should be discarded immediately.