How to Can Game
Lost Skills — Canning Game
By Tammy Trayer, Idaho
Every year, our family gets excited for the annual harvest of meat. Typically, we are hunting elk or whitetail deer, but three years ago, we were blessed to have a specially drawn moose tag to add to those deer and elk tags here in Idaho. It was quite something to fill our propane freezer with 100 percent moose meat. It was bursting at the seams and each vacuum-sealed packaged was carefully placed in the freezer like a large jigsaw puzzle.
Not only did we have a moose, but we also had five whitetail deer as well. Normally we would have only three tags to fill, but this particular year, my father-in-law and my husband’s cousin added to our bounty. So the only freezer we have is full. Now what? It was hard to imagine that there was actually a dilemma in this situation, but there was. We needed a different storage option. We chose to use our meat grinder and grind all of our deer into burger.
I can our fresh vegetables all summer and fill our shelves with diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili sauce, hot pepper mustard, hot sauce, dill pickles, lime pickles, jellies, jams, syrups, all sorts of vegetables and anything I can get my hands on. I love being able to put as much food on the shelves as I possibly can because I know it is fresh and without preservatives. We enjoy dehydrating and fermenting our food and also jerking and smoking our meats.
Canning meat is such an amazing process and one I thoroughly love. It could not be simpler. I have been eating venison all my life and I have to say that our canned venison burger is the juiciest, tastiest and melt-in-your-mouth venison I have ever had.
HOW TO PREPARE GAME MEAT
We chose to grind our meat for canning. We have a hand crank meat grinder that we use, as well as a Christmas gift, the Lem Big Bite Grinder. We do all our butchering every year and it got a little rough on the shoulder using the hand crank grinder, especially with the elk and moose. If we end up in tougher times where a traditional approach would be necessary, I can only imagine my exercise bike will be hooked up to that meat grinder. For now, we use the Lem. You wouldn’t have to grind your meat, you could also slice, cube or strip your meat, but we chose grinding this year.
HOW TO PROCESS GAME MEAT USING A PRESSURE COOKER
Once you have your meat prepared and ready for canning, it is really an easy process.
1. Fill your jars to within an inch from the mouth of your jar. Be sure to use the end of a wooden spoon to push your meat into the jar, removing as much open space as possible to alleviate extra air in your jars. Add a teaspoon of salt and any additional seasonings or spices, remembering my warning from above. Wipe the top of your jar clean, keeping it dry as well.
2. Heat your lids or Tattler rubber rings with boiling water for a few minutes. Wipe down your lids or rubber rings. Be sure they are completely dry and add them to your jar. Add your flat if you are using the Tattler setup and then add your ring; tighten snugly by hand. (You heard right, there is no liquid added to your jars. During the cooking process the natural juices will fill your jars. If the juices do not cover your meat entirely this is okay also. Chicken is another meat that we can regularly in the same fashion, only we chunk the meat.)
3. Now you are ready to add your jars to the pressure cooker. My pressure cooker holds seven quart jars at a time. Here is where you will need to read the instructions for your particular unit.
For the quart jars, it took one hour and 30 minutes cooking time with my dial gauge set at 12. Pint jars would take one hour and 15 minutes. Your pressure setting will depend on your elevation, your type of gauge and your pressure cooker.
The hardest part of this whole process I found to be watching the pressure cooker gauge for the day as I processed a whole deer on a sunny day. I am an outdoorsy girl, so it was a little hard being trapped inside, but it was worth every minute of my time once I tasted the meat. My suggestion would be to plan a project indoors that would allow you to be close to the kitchen to check the gauge periodically and then it is really a win-win.
This particular year, we put 113 quart jars of venison burger on our shelves. They can be taken down and added to stew, any dish or eaten right out of the jar. Every year we are blessed to eat tasty and hearty food through winter with our bounty from our garden and foraging and our meat harvest from the wilds of Idaho.
Here is the list of things you will need:
• A pressure cooker (I have a Presto 23-quart pressure cooker)
• A magnetic lid tool, if using the metal lids
• A canning jar lifter
• A canning funnel
• Wide mouth canning jars in your choice of size. I prefer the wide mouth because it is easier to get the meat in and out and I use quart jars because I have big eaters.
• Canning flats or lids for your jars. I have used the metal lids all this time, but I have started using the Tattler reusable lids which can be found at www.reusablecanninglids.com. I prefer these now because they are reusable and therefore I will be able to continue to can ongoing no matter what our future holds.
• Metal canning rings or rims for your jars.
• Salt (canning)
• Any additional seasonings, spices or garlic cloves you would like to include.
Note: My recommendation is to just use salt during the canning process and add the seasonings when you prepare the meat to allow for a better variety or if you do choose to add seasonings to do a variety of different seasonings. One year we added garlic cloves to each jar and over time the garlic got much stronger and although we eat garlic in every meal, it became too much.
• A teaspoon
• A wooden spoon
Note: If you purchased your canning jars by the case, I would just like to provide a word of caution. If you stored your jars in a hot location prior to using them, the lids are probably no good. Also, if you go to open a new case of jars and the seals are hard to get off, then they too, are probably no good. Just so you are aware that once the lids have been sealed on something they cannot be reused with the exception of the Tattler lids.
Tammy Trayer is an author, freelance writer, and a radio show host at Mountain Woman Radio. Tammy and her family live traditionally off-grid and have a passion to help educate others by sharing their experiences of living off the land, dealing with autism, gluten-free and dairy-free cooking, self-reliance, wilderness survival, traditional and primitive skills, and much more. Follow Tammy’s radio show on iTunes and her website. Learn more at http://TrayerWilderness.com and http://youtube.com/trayerwilderness.