It's really quite a day.
In June, when we conducted our long-awaited summer slaughter, and i started collecting chicken feet, i thought about this day.
Also, in June, when we ordered our All American Pressure Canner, from the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, i thought about this day.
Even way back then, the very first time i ever turned a chicken into dinner, i was thinking about this day.
Today, i canned chicken stock. I know some of you are wondering why that's all bold and underlined, but it's important....really.
(For those of you who just checked out because i'm giving directions about chicken stock, please stick with me; there's a story in here too. Thanks!)
I started with 15 chicken feet, 8 chicken necks, and 8 chicken gizzards. These were frozen in June, and i started thawing them on Tuesday.
I'm taking some cues from a fellow who calls himself "Frugal Squirrel," who wrote this tutorial on making chicken stock. As usual, i'm taking cues, not necessarily directions. I'm just doing kind of the same thing with what i have.
I spread out all my feet, gizzards, and necks in a small roasting pan, and then i piled on some chopped celery i had in the freezer, along with about half(ish) an onion, and quite a few cloves of garlic, which you will see in the next photo.
I roasted all of this in the oven, for about 2 hours (ish) at 300 degrees. Until it looked all yummy, like this. Oh, and it smelled SO good. I should do this every day, just for the smell.
Then i poured the contents into my favorite stock pot and added some water.
I put my stock pot on a small burner on my stove, on the absolute lowest setting, and let it cook for a solid 24 hours, and a little more, until the chicken feet were a little less obvious, and the concoction looked a little less like a witch's cauldron.
I don't want to leave all these bones and meat in the liquid. I just cooked all the goodness out of them. Some folks use cheesecloth to make sure to get all the tiny little bone pieces out of this, but i don't have cheesecloth. So, i used my three nested screen colanders, to make sure i got every little bit of solids out of my stock.
Here's the mess on top.
And the goodness left beneath. This was sometime yesterday, when i decided not to tackle the canner in the afternoon, so i covered this bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator.
Here's what it looked like this morning, after i spooned it out of the bowl, and back into my clean stock pot. See all that gelatinousness? That's the good stuff. It's gelatinous because of the nutrients that were leached out of the bones while it was simmering. Nice, eh? It is also recommended that you skim the fat off at this point, but there was so little fat in mine, that i was having trouble getting just fat and not stock, so i decided to leave it. Next, i just cooked it down, until it was liquidy and boiling again, and then i was ready to start canning.
Since i've never used a pressure canner before, i practiced with just water before i put my precious product inside. I thought i had it all figured out, but after i put that lid on, it became clear that something was wrong.
This beast huffed and puffed and steamed and screamed for an hour and a half but never got up to the pressure it was supposed to. So, near tears (somehow i had really worked myself up about this), i turned it off and started making desperate pleas to people on the internet to tell me what to do. After a lot of reading, asking questions, crying, and a phone call to the customer service of Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, i gained courage and began again. As it turns out, i had the lid crooked. It happens.
The second try went much much better. It reached the appropriate pressure in a short 20 minutes, and it wasn't long before i removed my three little jars from the canner. Unhappily, one of the jars did not seal, and i had to re-do it after dinner.
But i was not to be conquered this day, and i am now the happy owner of three properly cured and sealed pint jars of chicken stock.
Altogether in my canning "pantry", i have now collected these three pints of chicken stock, one quart of canned peaches, and 3 jars of Christmas Butter, one of which i am in the process of eating.
Small beginnings, i suppose. But i've gained something bigger this year: experience and knowledge.
The next time i have an inkling and a reason to use my pressure canner, i will just rock and roll, and not hesitate or fear. I will also put the lid on straight.
And the next time i have odd chicken pieces that can be used to make valuable chicken stock, i will not hesitate - but eagerly save the pieces, knowing their value.
And i suspect that some time this winter, i will retrieve one of these precious little jars and prepare some of the best soup we've ever had. And then, i'll really want to make more.
Today was a really good day. Though it doesn't look like i have much to show for it, i can feel it. I have tamed a beast.
How's that for canning melodrama?
Do not despise these small beginnings,
for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin . . . Zechariah 4:10