Saturday, September 9, 2017

Canning Home Raised Rabbit and Vegetables for Winter Food


September is when we are busy putting up lots of food for winter.  This is a satisfying feeling, rather like graduation. The efforts expended in earlier months to feed ourselves prove fruitful.  

Some end-of-season herbs, I dry, crumble, and store in jars. I particularly love lemon balm, mints, and red clover in teas. Anise hyssop is good, too. I also save and dry orange peel throughout the year (great in pea soup and teas).  This year, I decided to dry nasturtium and mustard leaves,  to enjoy their pungent flavors in winter onion dips and baked potatoes.  (Nasturtium tastes like horseradish).

Other foods I can in mason jars, starting with vegetables.  Last week, I canned about 15 quarts of kohlrabi, beets, cabbage, broccoli leaves, and mixed vegetable broth (from tough stalks). (Question: Does anyone really LIKE kohlrabi?  It looks like an alien softball and the flavor is turnip-like, but it grows easily here.)

This week has been devoted to processing the rabbits, a time consuming, week-long endeavor for my husband and me.  We raised 15 healthy Flemish giants this year. (An adult is bigger than a house cat). Six will go to a young mom in Willow who will return them (or six others, since 6 become 36 pretty quickly) to us in the spring. The other 9 will yield plenty of food this winter.

After what I hope has been a happy and healthy life for the rabbits,  Bryan shoots them quickly with a .22.  To skin them with a super sharp Cutco knife, he built a plastic, waist-high abattoir and pulls up a little bench.  Saving the hides requires meticulous work, requiring about an hour per rabbit, so he harvests three in a morning.  That is about all I can cook in a day, anyway, if I expect to accomplish anything else.  

After Bryan cuts the meat into pieces, he drops them in a vat of vinegar/water solution overnight which we think might help kill any potential parasites. 

Then he/we kayak across the lake to dump the carcasses in the bog. The second day, it rained cats and dogs, so I opted out and he paddled alone.  He said that an eagle seemed to be awaiting his second delivery, because it swooped down from a spruce tree as soon as he left the shore. 

Inside,  I cook three or four successive batches of rabbit in my one gallon pressure cooker (12 minutes per batch once the pressure is reached), wait for that to cool down, separate the meat from the bones and make a gallon or two of broth in another pot.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the stove, the big pressure canner is heating up and sanitizing 6 - 1 quart jars.

The pot looks like a 1950s version of a bomb in a Roger
Corman movie, with six screw on lid locks and various pressure gauges.  It is very heavy.  Each jar is 9/10 filled with meat/broth or just plain broth, and then "processed" for an hour or so.  The advantage of a pressure canner like this is that it can attain temperatures above the boiling point, thus reducing the chance of botulism in shelf stable food. Proof of seal is the concave (downward) cap evident the next morning.  Then, I label the jars and store them in my pleasingly crowded food pantry/shed.  

This process goes on for several days.  Depending on the age/size of the rabbit, we derive up to two quarts of meat and one quart of broth per animal.  Each quart provides about 2.5 meals for two of us.  

To produce this much shelf stable, organic food, accessible for months without a visit to a supermarket is validating. (I have a friend who cans and dries EVERYTHING: even cheese, butter, bacon, leftover peas.  She leaves nothing to waste).   Rabbit meat is easy to enjoy in all sorts of preparations, and given their procreation rates and low food/water demands, it is considered a "sustainable meat."

After I make broth, I toss the chickens a few bones with bits of meat. They LOVE IT.  The rest of the bones go into the woodstove, after which the ash is dumped in the yard to sweeten our acidic soil and add calcium.    

This year,  I want to try to sew the skins into something simple,
maybe a lap blanket or earmuffs.  So Bryan salted the hides, which retards putrefaction. We could see that the little least weasels that live in the wood shed walked across the skins, but perhaps because of all the salt, they did not chew them.  In any case, I thought of a better storage spot:  the hanging net racks I use to dry herbs, which provided better air flow than tables.  After several days, I folded the hides, salt side in, and stored them in garbage bags in the chest freezer to deal with later.

When the rabbits are gone, we clean and winterize their hutches (double thick greenhouse plastic as a windbreak on the fronts).  I will pressure wash the wall under the hutches that got stained by urine and then paint it to match the green of the rest of the buildings (which we didn't want to do when the rabbits were there - I think the pressure wash would have scared them and the paint smell bother them).

All of the rabbit manure and straw we have accumulated gets dumped in gardens after I have harvested each one's bounty.  Free fertilizer and mulch.  

Thus the rabbits have, I hope, a happy life with tasty yard snacks (aka weeds) and toys every day... until that last quick exit. Then, they provide high value and much appreciated meat, bones, skin, and manure products for us and our yard... and the chickens, too.  


2 comments:

  1. thank you for your time. You're very brave people and inspiring people.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You’re doing it all the right way. Kudos.

    ReplyDelete