I decided that it was time to get a little personal with a faraway friend of mine. She’s not only a fellow self-sufficiency enthusiast, she’s also my go-to resource for kitchen preparedness. When I’ve got a question about kitchen tools or self-sufficiency, I bug Chaya! And today, I’ve decided to share her answers to a few of the questions I have harassed her with!
Pantry Paratus’ focus is on a self sufficient kitchen, which appeals to me because our family is aiming to live a simpler, self-sufficient life in general. When you speak of being prepared in the kitchen, what does that mean to you?
My immediate answer without blinking was “peace of mind” but I promise I’m not generally as cliche as that! For our family, it started as a way to survive financially and resulted in healthier and more fulfilling lives. We went through what we not-so-affectionately call our “year of poverty” and the garden, along with foraged and bartered foods were the way we made it through. I remember digging potatoes in 100 degree heat out of the Northwestern Rocky Mountain soil, knowing that if I did not keep going, I did not have anything to serve for dinner. That was a real “aha” moment for me, because ironically–they were the best potatoes I have ever eaten in my life.
On our farm, we aim to be able to raise and process all of our own food. This means a lot of canning. I have an AA942 that I’m in love with. What are some other supplies that you’d suggest I add to my arsenal to make preserving large quantities of food easier or fun?
I’m so glad to hear that you have the All American! They are the only pressure canner on the market that is made in America, has both the dial and the weighted gauge (so it’s fail-proof), and does not have one of those pesky gaskets that need to be replaced! Canning scares a lot of people off because of those old horror stories. The safety features and lack-of-gasket with the All American means that we can breathe easy while we put away the harvest for the coming year.
If you are a veteran canner, you know the value of the basic tools; you can get them separately if you need a replacement for whatever reason, but if you are new canner, it is very economical to buy the 6 piece canning essentials set. My other favorites are the Tattler Reusable Canning Lids–the honest answer is that I’m cheap beyond words and it’s a “buy-once” product. Tattlers are also made in America and are BPA free. The metal lids (Ball & Kerr) are both owned by the same company (Jarden) and were shipped over to China. They don’t seal like they used to, and they using something called “finishing spray” which has many of us concerned about toxic chemicals. Tattler Reusable Canning Lids come with a rubber gasket; if you hand-wash that gasket you will get something like 20 uses per gasket. A box of 12 is only $3.00; if you can your produce on a yearly cycle, it would take nearly 20 years before you needed to buy $3.00 worth of replacements.
Oh, and let’s throw in something fun! One of my canning frustrations was properly labeling the food–the gooey glues left gross residue on my jars, or they were ugly labels, or both. The Modern Harvest Shrink Wrap Labels are so beautiful and easy–people keep coming back for more of these. I personally use them on the jars in my kitchen that hold spices, brown sugar, that sort of thing. I love them for gift-giving too.
There are a number of food preservation books and DVDs on the market geared towards canning. What are the top three must have canning resources that you couldn’t live without?
Kendra from New Life on a Homestead just created the best video I have ever seen! I really believe it is a must-have. In fact, you can read my review of it here. I once did a video review of all of the major canning books on the market, so if you want a canner’s perspective on what each has to over, I give the drive-by in this video.
What can Pantry Paratus provide its customers that you won’t find at another retailer like Amazon or Walmart, where prices might be lower or there are cheaper products to chose from?
We are homesteaders who believe in nourishing food and self-sufficiency. I only sell one brand of canner because it’s the only brand I will stake my reputation upon. It’s like that with everything we sell. We are committed to American-made, we really use what we sell, and we believe in quality. With all of that said, it is a complete myth that Amazon is cheaper than the many mom-n-pop stores out there. I think it used to be true which is how that idea got started, but it certainly isn’t any more. I routinely search products we sell to price-compare, to make sure people are still getting the best deal from us. I’d say we’re either cheaper or the same price 49 times out of 50. Price, though, is simply not everything. You need to be able to get someone real on the phone, someone who can answer the question about whether the unit is too tall to fit under your range hood. You need to be able to send an email or make a call and get immediate customer service. We provide that every time. We are very small, too small to really make money if I am going to be brutally honest here. But we are really passionate about preparedness and real food, and we will help each customer make the best decision to fit their family’s goals and lifestyle. When someone asks, “What size Berkey do I need?” I can start by asking questions–how many people are in the home, will you use it for your cooking water too, and so on. We are not interested in over-selling, sometimes the item is just not right for you. This is why our customers trust us.
Working in the kitchen doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people, and canning has a reputation for being difficult and scares a lot of people away from trying it. If you were to offer advice to someone on the fence about canning, what would you say to encourage them?
I grew up in a house with shelves of junk food, and many meals were from the frozen section. I totally get it when it comes to that uphill climb of learning each and every skill on your own. Some of us didn’t learn from our moms.
In this modern age, it seems that very few things we set out to do in the course of a day has a real sense of accomplishment. Dishes, laundry, bills…have you ever noticed that as soon as you do them, there it is again? My sense of satisfaction, of the job well done, my independence from the system, the ability to nourish my family with foods that promote their well-being instead of compromising it…I cannot put a price on that. The most beautiful thing in my house is the fresh bread cooling on the counter, the jars lined up on the towel after canning, the steady hum of my Excalibur full of homemade fruit leather. I would love to help everyone overcome the hurdle of fear or intimidation. The skills, when taken step-by-step, are simple to learn. The safety issues of the past were a result of faulty equipment or poor science. We know so much more now about the dangers and the proper precautions that circumvent those. Using a canner designed for safety, a thorough read of the manual and approved recipes are all that you need for creating delicious foods safely.
Home-canned food is far safer than you realize, and store-bought foods are much more dangerous than we may know. BPA-lined cans, foods imported from countries that have poor safety standards, irradiation, GMO, pesticide, added hormones, preservatives, and other chemicals present in the food or packaging–the list is mind-numbing. At Pantry Paratus, we are total food science geeks and study some of this stuff. If knowing where your food comes from peaks your interest, check out our blog.
I’ve read a handful of articles that cited home-canned foods as the reason for sickness and rarely, death, in some hospital patients. What do you say to a person who is too scared to preserve their own food after hearing of such incidents?
Sensationalism. The centuries of Aunt Bessies out there who have been consistently nourishing families without incident are rarely mentioned in those articles. Yes, there is a real danger of botulism if you do not follow proper canning procedures. But at least in those cases, the person can point to the failed step (such as water-bath canning something that should have been pressure canned, or eating something on the shelf that had a broken seal, etc). When people get sick from Tyson or Hormel, or from their favorite brand of peanut butter, there is no warning and the headlines are slow in coming. Sickness from grocery store food is, statistically, far more common. Follow the guidelines. They are clearly explained in the manual that comes with the canner. You will be just fine.
In your opinion, what’s the easiest, most fool-proof food item to try your hand at canning if you’ve never had any experience?
Start with water bath canning; you can outfit your over sized pot with a rack and get the tools and you’ll have absolutely everything you need to get started for less than $50. This way you can play with the idea of canning and overcome your fear of the safety concerns; foods that can be water-bath canned are acidic foods that do not run the risk of botulism. Start with an approved recipe for salsa, chutney, or jelly. It will take you about an hour start-to-finish (less for the experienced, but you’ll be giving yourself time to learn as you go). One bite of your homemade jelly and I’ve hooked you for life. You’ll turn into one of those crazy old ladies who embroider canning jars on throw pillows.
I’ve talked to a number of people that are turned off by the color or appearance of foods that are processed at home. What’s your response to people that may avoid processing their own foods due to appearance?
Color is not an indicator of the food’s flavor or safety. At all. Unsafe foods can appear normal (remember, it’s about following the guidelines), and wonderful foods can seems “off” in color. Also remember that we’ve been duped our entire lives to believe foods should look a certain way when only food coloring and chemicals have achieved that result. Here’s an example: I have children who are allergic to both corn and food coloring. We cannot buy relish or pickles from the grocery store because every single main-line brand contains these ingredients. Pickles should not glow in the dark.
Recently, I put in an order at Pantry Paratus and you sent me a Tattler reusable canning lid. Are they really reusable and is there a difference to canning with those and more traditional, disposable canning lids?
The canning procedures are basically the same; the only difference lies within how tightly to twist the metal ring, but the difference is so subtle that you’ll be fine. No real learning curve. Those are dishwasher safe, by the way, but choosing to hand wash the rubber ring (or gasket) will extend its life indefinitely. You will need to examine the gasket for cracks over time and replace it when it feels too stiff or has a crack. Otherwise, even the rubber rings are reusable. Tattler lids are thicker and heavier than the metal lids, so they move around much less. You won’t get the fun little “pop” sound to tell you the jar sealed; instead, you will literally tug on the lid and it will hold fast.
Now that I’ve poked and prodded you, what’s something you’d like to ask me?
Oh yeah! What is your go-to, can’t-live-without comfort food? Honestly? It’s peanut butter and honey, or tahini and honey mixed together; it’s a delish combination and satisfies as a spread, dip, or heck – even a spoonful! If you want to give it a go, you can try my Faux Peanut Butter Recipe (which is great if you want to satisfy a peanut butter craving but have a nut allergy).
Want to get a warm and fuzzy about taking the steps to be more self-sufficient in the kitchen? Or just want to get to know Chaya a little better? I encourage you to take a few minutes to view this video. You can feel just how passionate Chaya is by watching her speak and listening to her voice.
Is there something I didn’t ask Chaya that you want to ask her now? Leave your questions in the comments below!