Here's the situation: Our freezer was stuffed to overflowing, not only with such staples as strawberries, corn, cider, and beans, but also with some family specialties, including freezer jam, pumpkin pie, carrot cake, and zucchini bread. And, since our eyes had been focused on filling every nook and cranny with produce from our bountiful garden, our vision became shortsighted. Therefore, we were ill-prepared when we received a windfall of two quarters of beef and 17 two-year-old chickens.
In fact, we nearly passed up this bonanza, but that savory protein was just too valuable to let go. So, as we gave thanks for the meat, we also pondered the pleasant predicament of finding ourselves with too much food for the freezer. Then the obvious solution occurred to us, and we got out the mason jars and canned the beef and chicken.
Of course, a shortage of freezer space isn't the only reason to can meat. As a child, it always intrigued me that our family could arrive home late after a Sunday outing, and Mom could still have homemade vegetable soup on the table in a flash. She'd simply open a can of beef, one of beef broth, and another of vegetables, empty their contents into one big pot, and within half an hour, we'd be eating the kind of fresh-smelling brew that usually has to be simmered all day long!
Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to have grown up in a house where canned meat was an important part of the family diet. Therefore, I’d like to present two of my mother's other recipes—both of which take only minutes to prepare—to help any novice meat canners get off to a good start.
To make this one-dish meal, cook your choice of meat in a frying pan until it begins to brown. Then put in the jellied broth and let it all simmer for at least 15 minutes. Add home-canned vegetables, half a bay leaf, salt and pepper, and continue to simmer the mixture until the ingredients are heated thoroughly. The bay leaf—which should be removed after cooking—gives a special tang to the dish, but you may want to use some of your other favorite seasonings as well. Naturally, the stew can be made with fresh vegetables, rather than canned. (We like it with cubes of potatoes, carrots, and a little onion.) This variation, however, requires that the mix be simmered until the vegetables are cooked, which increases the preparation time and may require adding a small amount of water.
I always sprinkle fresh parsley over the top of the stew to "dress up" the meal, and set the large iron skillet right in the middle of the table. With, say, a fruit salad and hot rolls, this is the kind of mouth-watering repast that you can't buy at a restaurant!
American-Style Chinese Fried Rice
Using a wok or a large skillet, fry (after giving it the 15-minute boiling test) canned pork, chicken or beef. If you're using beef, add 1/2 teaspoon of ginger, or try hot, red, dried pepper with the chicken. We prefer no extra seasoning with pork. While the meat is browning, scramble 1 egg for every three people to be served. Prepare boiled rice according to the quantity needed. Then, when the meat is ready, combine the rice and scrambled eggs with it, seasoning the mixture with soy sauce, salt, and pepper. Finally, put in bean sprouts, peas, water chestnuts, and scallions, and stir-fry until they're all hot.
Now, are you brave enough to try using chopsticks?
To learn how to can meat yourself, see Canning Meat the Right Way.