My boys and I have been busy this evening canning chicken and bean soup. Because my husband is a salmon fisherman and electrician who works away for weeks and sometimes months at a time, I rely a lot on “fast food” – healthy options I can prep in advance in big batches and have around for the not-so-occasional evening that I don’t feel like spending a bunch of time cooking dinner. I like to prep a few different salads for the week and then pair these with canned and frozen soups, vegetables, and meats that my kids and I put up while they are in season.
My main go-tos are canned salmon and soups, pickled or blanched and frozen garden vegetables, and frozen moose meatballs and bread/pizza dough. Making foods likes these in large batches is a super kid-friendly activity. Although you invest the initial couple-of-hours in making them, you can enjoy them for several months afterwards before having to make a new batch. Even if you prefer to cook a full dinner each evening, you might benefit from preparing some homemade canned soups to store in your pantry for easy grab-and-go lunches or for when your family gets the crud.
You can can virtually any type of soup. I am going to start here with the directions to can, and then I will share the simple recipe for the chicken and bean soup we canned tonight.
Beginning Your Canning Adventure
The first thing you need to begin your canning adventure is a pressure cooker. I have two Presto 23-quart Pressure Canners and Cookers, and I couldn’t be happier with them. Presto guarantees their canners for 12-years, and they often work well beyond that, so I feel that they are worth the investment of $80-$100. You also will need to purchase reusable Mason jars and screw bands. These you can use over and over again, but you need to replace the lids each time. I use pint-sized jars for canning soup, fish, meat, and most veggies. Half-pints are great for relishes and sauces, jams, and smoked fish and clams. 16 pints of soup fit in a 23-quart pressure canner.
Once you have the essential supplies, follow the directions to make sure your canner is properly put together. Check the seals and plugs quickly each time you use the canner to make sure they are in working order, and replace any parts that you notice getting hard, deformed, cracked, worn, pitted, or unusually soft.
Next, quickly check over the jars for any nicks, cracks, or sharp edges; check the screw bands for dents or rust. You only want to use the jars, lids, and screw bands that are in perfect condition so that an airtight seal can be obtained.
Wash and rinse the jars, lids, and screw bands or run them through the dishwasher to kill anything yucky that might have gotten on there while they were in storage.
Canning Meat or Poultry Soups
Fill the hot Mason jars with soup, leaving 1-inch headspace so the soup can expand during processing. Work out any air bubbles and wipe the sealing edge with a clean, damp cloth. Put the lids on the jars and screw the bands on to fingertip tightness.
Make sure the canning rack is at the bottom of the canner so the jars do not break when they reach high pressure. Place the filled jars on top of it. Next, add 3 quarts of hot water and 2 tablespoons of vinegar to prevent water stains on the jars. Even if you don’t fill your canner all the way up with jars, 3 quarts of water are always required for pressure canning.
Now, put the cover on the canner, turn the burner on, and heat until a steady flow of steam is coming from the vent pipe. Allow the steam to flow for 10 minutes, and then put the pressure regulator on the vent pipe. As the pressure develops in the canner, the air vent and cover lock will lift and lock the cover on the canner. Continue heating until the pressure gauge reads 12-lbs pressure for meat or poultry soup.
Once the gauge registers 12-lbs, set your timer for 90-minutes processing time for pints of meat or poultry soup. Half pints are 60 minutes. Keep a watch on the pressure gauge and adjust the heat if necessary to maintain the correct pressure. If the pressure drops below 12-pounds, you will have to begin the time from the top, which is a real bummer!! You also do not want the pressure to get too terribly high, as the jars will break.
After the 90-minute timer dings, turn off the burner and allow the pressure gauge to drop to zero before removing the lid. The jars will be very hot, so I usually just leave the whole thing to cool for the remainder of the day or night.
Chicken Bean Soup
My brother-in-law Eris is on a bean soup kick. Every time I’ve seen the guy in the last couple weeks – which is often since he lives right down the road from us – he’s been spouting the benefits of beans: high soluble fiber, vitamin and nutrient dense, good protein content, low glycemic index, strong leptin content, the list goes on and on.
Eris is a man of few words, so it’s kind of funny that he’s been using so many to talk about something like beans. I guess they must really be good, right?! Since he’s volunteered to watch the boys for a couple hours this Sunday so I can go for a run (even though he works 72 hours a week and it’s his only day off), I decided to can him up a case of chicken and bean soup.
The base of this soup is a chicken stock chock full of all those nutritious bone marrow benefits. Chicken stock takes some planning to make, but not much actual active, working time. Because it involves so many cooking hours, it’s a great soup to can and have on hand when you get a craving.
4 lb. chicken
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 lb. dried navy beans, kidney beans, or even bean soup mix
4 quarts water
2 T chopped garlic
4 bay leaves
2 t thyme
2 medium onions
10 celery stalks
8 medium carrots
6 fresh tomatoes or 20 oz. canned
1cup peas or corn
Salt, pepper, and chili powder to taste
Start by cooking your whole chicken in the croc pot so all the marrow and other important nutrients go into the soup. Add the apple cider vinegar, as it will help extract the good stuff. If your chicken is partially frozen like mine usually are, cook it on high for 6-7 hours. If it's fully thawed, 4-6 hours. You can pop it in before you go to bed at night, or before you leave for work in the morning.
Next, open the lid on the crock-pot and allow the bird to cool until it is comfortable to touch. Peel off the skin and feed it to your dog. Then, pull off a solid amount of white meat from the top of your chicken. You can use that for tonight’s dinner (Chicken stir-fry? Chicken tacos? Chicken Pad Thai?). You hardly have to take the chicken out of the crock-pot to do this, and the whole process takes less than 3 minutes.
Now, cover what’s left of the chicken with water and leave to cook for another 4-5 hours. (If you want to skip this step and just pick the chicken clean right now, go for it. There will be less opportunity for the nutrients to cook out of the bones, but you will save valuable time).
Then, open the lid and allow this to cool. When it is comfortable to touch, pick out the bones and bits you don’t want. I usually grab the chunks of meat I want to keep and put them in a bowl, throwing away bones and other bits as I go. What’s left in the pot at the end is the chicken stock.
Add the meat back into the stock as well as the beans, chopped onion, bay leaves, and thyme. Turn the crock-pot back on for about 2 hours until the beans are mostly cooked. If they are not all the way done yet, that is okay because the pressure canning process will finish them off (as well as cook the vegetables).
Next, line up the clean Mason jars. You will need between 12-16 pint jars depending on how much of the chicken you reserved for your other recipe. Spoon the chicken and beans in. Chop your veggies and divide them evenly in the jars. Fill the remainder of the space with the stock. Follow the above directions for canning soup, and enjoy your nutrient-dense creation for weeks to come!