Monday, October 22, 2012

Roma Tomatoes Dehydration/Drying Foods

I picked up a food dehydrator a couple years ago at a 2nd Hand store for under $10. I've used it for Jerky, apples, tomatoes, green peppers, hot peppers of different sorts, and leaves for herbal teas and such. I did have to do a bit of repair work on it, but it has more than paid for itself.

 Here's an example with Roma Tomatoes:
These are some of the washed Roma's that Pr. and Mrs. Mark Faugstad gave to us. The other box was already washed.

I quartered the tomatoes lengthwise. What follows is a series of photos of the change over 4 days.


Day 3:

Day 4: The tomatoes no longer bend, they break. Now they're ready for the bins.

For larger round tomatoes I slice them between 3/8" and 1/2 inch, lay them on the rack and let them go 4-5 days--until crisp.

I cut apples between 3/8" and 1/2" thick for drying, dip them in a mix of apple cider vinegar and sugar, then dry for 4-5 days--until they are crisp.

Here's a shelf of green peppers. These were quartered from top to bottom and then dried for 3 days.

Canning Bear Meat

Why can bear meat? 

1) To free up space in the freezer for other things.
2) Canned food doesn't spoil when the power goes out.
3) Canned meats don't need to be cooked before they can be eaten.
4) To learn how to do it in practice.

What did I can?
The shoulders, the neck, the rump, and the lower legs. All in all about 40 lbs of frozen packaged meat. That weight is raw, frozen, bone-in.

I did cut off the nice slices from the rump for frying up over the last couple days. So, that's about 4 to 6 lbs we ate before canning.

I chose these parts because, for example, the neck is kind of awkward to trim for anything other than a roast, and that's hard to trim after it is cooked. The shoulders have a lot of tendons in them, as do the legs and the high rump.


I did two batches in our 18x12x8 inch enameled roaster.

350F until the meat falls off the bone.

Then sterilize the jars and lids.

The meat gets pulled in chunks with a fork and knife and packed into the jars while still hot.

I put a bit of broth into each jar then topped with water until they were filled with 1 inch of head space. Wipe off the grease. I wanted as little grease as possible so that the seals would hold.

In my first batch there were 3 quarts of meat, in the second batch there were 6 quarts. I placed unpacked jars full of water in the spaces in the canner to keep jars from tipping over.

The canner needs to be above 10 lbs for 90 minutes to process quart jars. After the canner gets up to pressure, it really doesn't take much heat to do this. I kept the burner down to 2 or 3 for the whole time.

I left the fat and the trimmings in the roaster and let it warm up to 290F then strained the fat and put it into a couple pint jars. Below are what remains of the trimmings.

These I put into the crock pot with the bones to make broth.

So the results here are about 1.5 qt bear fat, about 1 qt concentrated broth, 9 qt canned bear meat, and a pile of soft bones good for cats, dogs, or garden.

Each quart of meat is 3 lbs + a few ounces, so that's 27 to 30-something pounds of meat in 9 jars.

Remove the rings, wash the greasy jars, wash the greasy canner, and get the jars stored.

Wow, it sure smelled great while roasting and in the crock pot.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rendering the Bear Fat

We saved about 15 pounds or so of back/belly fat from the bear.

Rendering the fat is very easy.

I just took the large chunks, washed them, and put them in our large oven roaster.

Oven on 350F for 2 hours, then down to 270F for the rest of the afternoon.

Sterilize the jars and keep them warm so that the water evaporates out of them. Get the lids simmering, pour in the 270F fat through a strainer--leaving a little head space. Then get a seal, dry it, and put it on the jar with the ring. Tighten it down.

The jars seal as they cool down.

First run was 5 quarts. The fat is back in the oven to get the remnants, probably another pint at the most. With lard costing about $11 per gallon, this does well for saving us some money.

Smells great in the house--the combination of the fat and the cracklings. Donna came in from outside, sniffed, smiled, and asked if we were having pancakes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Barney and the Bear

Some of my friends and readers have asked how I got my bear. They wanted details, and I promised them I would tell the story.

Mary wouldn't let me hunt bear until after we had tasted bear and knew that our family would enjoy the meat. Pastor Joshua Scheer gave me a roast just before he took his call to Wyoming.  

It was delicious. Red meat like beef, but with a really high quality pork texture and flavor.

So, last year I tried to hunt bear. I got skunked. No Oso! But Seth and Shane Vettleson gave us an arm and shoulder of one Seth got last year. It was great. Thank you guys, very much.

In our area we are allowed to take two bear during hunting season just to keep the population down. The license for two bear is under $40.

That's really a good price for meat, especially if the bear is big. And that sounds like a really good way to feed the family to me.

This year, thank God, I got one. Not a really big one, but large enough.

But, my getting the bear happened in an unusual way. And because of just one tiny detail, now the bear hunters in our area have that silly Pastor Abrahamson to talk about.

I am now called Barney. As in, Barney Fife, the deputy of Andy Griffith who was allowed to carry only one bullet. And Barney had to ask Sheriff Andy if he could load his bullet.

The season started great with Bear Fest at the Bjerklies. I even got to play bass guitar with the band for a while. That was fun.

Normally the bear hunters that come from all over have these great stories. Like one lady this year who was in a bear stand and the bear came up after her and she shot it.

Wow, what a blood pumping way to get a bear. And she got a medium/large boar to boot! It just volunteered--though in a scary way.

In the United States, bear hunting has been romanticized by television and movies. Me, well, I just wanted to put good food on the table with low cost.

I'm not Fess Parker. Nor am I Davy Crockett. And because I have a desire about how to do things on my own, I've been called Jed Clampett. From canning, to raising domestic animals and birds, to making my own bows, to my hunting and eating rabbit and hare, to my mis-adventures with skunks; they seem to think the reputation was well deserved.

But this year's bear hunt gave me a new name: Barney Fife.

The romantic version of bear hunting in the U.S.  is in the theme song for Fess Parker's character for the television series "Davy Crockett". "He kilt him a b'ar when he was only three!"

Yippee! Davy Crocket! King of the Wild frontier!

Only, I'm not.

It happened two ways. One was the way I was feeling, the other was the way the neighbors enjoyed it.

It was a Saturday morning, I got up and went to conduct Divine Service at Mt. Olive in Trail. I had a wedding rehearsal Friday evening because this same Saturday I had a wedding at Nazareth in the late afternoon. After church service I had Saturday School for the youth. At the end of class Gus Vettleson came in and asked: "Pastor, do have a little time?"

I said, "Well, I have a wedding this afternoon, why?"

I asked because Gus and I have done a few very time consuming hair-brained projects together. Some have turned out very nice (like canning Elk and other foods), others not so much (like trying to pour molten metal into moulds to make Christmas ornaments--we really should have checked through the bullet casings for the accidental live rounds).

Gus said, "There's a bear treed in my brother's yard! Do you have a gun?"

I had a lot of guns. I had just taught Firearm Safety class for the Department of Natural Resources. My trunk was loaded with guns.

6 handguns, 4 rifles, 3 shotguns.

And I had 4 bows!

But I had no arrows, and no bullets, except for the pistol I was wearing and my .357 Mag that I wear as a safety against bear while bear hunting or bow hunting deer.

We zipped over to the farm. Gus called his dad and his brother to try to find ammo. I could use .223, .30-30, .30-06, and 20 ga. But there was none of that at the farm.

On the other end of Gus' phone was laughter. His dad said, "What, did you bring Barney Fife to hunt bear?"

Mind you, I was still wearing my church clothes. Khaki pants, dress shirt, sport coat, etc. I took off the sport coat and dress shirt and put them in the trunk with the guns to keep them from getting stained.

Finally we found a .308 and matching ammo. A Winchester 70 bolt action belonging to Gus' brother. That was waaaayyy better than my .357M SAA Colt revolver.

I was ready.

Now for an ethical/public morality explanation.

The bear was treed.

That means the bear was afraid of the dog in the yard and climbed up a tree.

And it was high.

Very high.
It was 60 feet up (20 meters up for those of you outside the U.S.) a tree which had several forks.

Obviously I wasn't going to grin it to death, nor was I going to get it with my bare hands.

I'm not Davy Crockett.

And there is this ethical idea among some hunters about something called "Fair Chase."

What they mean by this is that they think hunting is a sport and that the hunter should not shoot, for example, a sitting duck. Why? because it doesn't allow the duck to escape. But for some reason the same people do not encourage hunters to scare deer into running before allowing themselves to shoot deer.

Whatever, I guess I can respect the romantic ideal of "Fair Chase" for those hunters who only hunt for sport. But I hunt for a more basic reason: food.

Add to this a very serious ethical consideration: This bear was treed in a yard where two little boys play every day.  It was also a threat to those children.

Well, Gus and I were checking the bear out and I was looking for the best line of sight. We debated what to do if it fell into one of the tree forks. Gus knew where the chainsaw was to cut the tree down if we needed to.

Then Rick Bjerklie and Greg Melin drove up.

"Hey, how's Barney doing? Did you find your bullet? Ha Ha Ha Ha!"

Rick had let me hunt a few days earlier on one of his spots. It was great, except for the fact that I didn't dress warmly enough. I sat in the bear stand  from just before sunrise until after 10am. The temperature was in the twenties F (below 0 C), and by the time I left the temperature was not above 40F (4 C).

Some of that time that day was wonderful. I had squirrels literally running over me while they played with each other. I had an 8 or 9 point white tail buck within bow range--but no bow or arrows. There were ruff grouse running all over the place. Sparrows landed within 3 feet of me.  But no bear wandered in that morning. By the end I was shaking from the cold due to my own stupidity in clothing. I was in the first stages of hypothermia. So I got warm and went home.

So having a bear in a tree on this Saturday after Church was a gift from God. Food on the table.

Rick brought a gun and ammo in case I needed it. But we already had the .308 ready.

So the question was, how do I take the bear without getting it stuck way up in the tree.

Rick is a bear guide and has guided for many years. Bear Fest is for the hunters that he guides.

He suggested I shoot the neck to let it drop.

I did.

It climbed down another 20 feet.

Rick shouted "Shoot again Pastor!"

I did, it fell. Stuck in the fork of the tree about 5 feet off the ground.

We got it out. Greg took the nice photo. We have the whole thing on video from first shot until the bear fell into the fork.  I don't think I'll post that on Youtube. Too many people don't appreciate the realities of where food comes from and would raise a stupid whiny animal rights cry.

The bear is food for my family.

It was not big. 160 lbs. About the size of a large white tailed buck. That's good for me.

Rick, Gus, Greg and I brought it over to Ricks to clean and dress.

I locked my keys in the trunk of my car accidentally over at Gus' brother's place.

After dressing it out, Greg said something that I thought was a great compliment. He said, "I don't think we've ever thrown away so little of the bear after cleaning it."

Thanks, Greg. I want to use everything I can.

I called Mary to help me with the keys. She asked if I had borrowed pants from Gus before I started hunting and cleaning the bear. "Huh? No. .... oh."

When she got there she had the little ones. They all wanted to see the bear parts. She commented on the blood spatters on my church pants. I did take off my dress shirt and sportcoat. My keys were in the coat pocket, and that was in the trunk. In my excitement I had closed the trunk.

Then she reminded me that the trunk could be opened by a button on the dash of the car.

Drrrrrr. Hey, I'm Barney!

We were home by 2pm. I was ready for the wedding (which started at 5pm).

But Mary said, "Joe, you wash the blood out of your church pants! I'm not going to do it."

Hey, I'm Barney. I did clean the pants, the bear. And the bear is now cut up and packed in the freezer.

Now, I have the skin and head to clean and tan. Who wants to help with that? (Jed Clampett talking.)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Piano Fix-Up [and tying on fishing rod guides]

When we moved here in 2001 there was an old upright/verticle grand piano in the parsonage. These are the pianos you see in old westerns in the scenes in the saloons. I love these old hand-made instruments. And over the years I've had this one apart several times to maintain it.  I think the last time I wrote about piano up-keep was on January 2009.

The piano is kind of a focal area for our family because Mary uses it to help teach the kids their Sunday School hymns as well as just for fun. We use it at devotion time in the evening. And some of the kids have had lessons over the years, so they like to play it.

It's actually fun and relaxing work for me to maintain it. However, about a year ago when I fixed it up, it seemed to break very quickly under the undiscriminating hands of our children. So I left off fixing it until most of them could understand and help keep it in nice shape. (read "grumble, grumble, ungrateful, self-pitying dad) Today was the first day for this time of refurbishing the piano.

Cosmetic stuff doesn't affect the playing, so a piano can have magic marker all over the keys and scratches all over the housing, but it will still play nice. Dusting it off and doing some spot finishing can take care of those problems. But real maintenance requires opening the piano. Today we opened the top.

If you enlarge this photo you will see the debris collected in the keyboard as well as several damaged keys. I've only worked on three different upright grands, so I don't know if what I learned with these applies to all of them. But, here are some basic things.

The Top of the piano is either hinged or fixed. For the fixed type, the sound board on the front lifts, slides back a bit, lifts up and pulls out. For the hinged (either whole-top hinged or half-top hinged) the top lifts up, then the sound board tips up, lifts up, and slides out. On our current piano the soundboard has pivoting guards to turn before the soundboard can come off its pegs.

Then the music shelf comes off. Usually with two screws, one at each end.

Then the soundboard supports must be taken out, then the keyboard cover. Usually these are all standard screwdriver blade screws.

On the three that I've worked on, the keys are not attached to the hammer mechanism. The keys have had an upright wooden peg that strikes the bottom of the hammer mechanism. And they lift out very neatly without any complex problems.

But there is a lot of debris under the keys.

On the models I've worked on, all the keys are numbered 1-88 so that you don't have to remember where they go. But I recommend that you take them off in order and lay them aside in order so that it is easier to put them back.

At this point, remove all the pennies, dimes, guitar picks, sewing needles, and other such-and-stuff you wish to keep that you can see.

After removing the keys the vacuum will take up all the rest of the debris. But be careful not to suck up the gasket/cushions for the key base and pivots. On this model and the others I've done there is one metal peg at the pivot, with a cushion/gasket, and a peg at the base of the key as a cushion. These were made of felt and cloth. So keep the vacuum nozzle below the top of the pegs when cleaning this area.

Now, unless there are other repairs, you should be ready to put the keys back on with Inge and Elsie.

The kids did enjoy helping out with the repair. They watched carefully as I pulled the piano apart, asking all kinds of questions. And they did mess with the keys where I had placed them in order. I tried to teach them to leave the keys alone so that we remember where they go so that we could get it put back together the right way. And they appreciated that. It would have just taken more time to read each key's number if they had messed them up. But they didn't mess them up (well, just a little).

 They each wanted to take turns putting the keys back.

I want my kids not to be afraid to tackle what might seem a big project. And I want them to learn that they can figure out how things work just by observing and trying things out. It makes piano and car fixing a bit cheaper that way-along with other things.

So we each took turns. Cleaning each key, putting each key in.

And noting which keys had other problems with the hammer mechanism.

One key has a broken hammer shaft. That one I'll have to either glue back, or re-drill and re-shaft later.

None of the hammer shafts were twisted so that the hammers stuck against one-another. That happens with the severe change in humidity. And the fix is to use a cigarette lighter on the shaft while bending it into the right position. Heating the side with flame toward which you are bending the hammer. Be sure that the dust is gone before you do this. Fames are helpful, but dangerous.

But a few keys had problems with a little block of wood shaped like an H.

Below, you will see at the bottom of the photo the clylindrical peg that is attached to the key by an upright wire shaft. This shaft hits (for the lack of a better term) a block that functions as an anvil, lifting an H shaped block with a spring in front of it to a wedge of wood that accelerates the hammer. Yes, there are a lot of wires and felt straps here, but disregard these for now.

In this photo just at the middle and to the right of the middle the H blocks and the springs in front of them are not set correctly. That means they look different than all the rest and don't work like the rest.

The one in the middle just needed the spring to be re-set in its socket properly. For this I used a hemostat that I use for removing fish hooks.

The one to the right of center had a bigger problem. And it took a little looking to figure out why it refused to stay seated on the lever that lifted it.

I noticed a bit of a stain on many other keys right at the joint between this little H block and the lift. With a little pulling by means of the hemostat I figured out that the H blocks were glued to the lift in this model.

So I put a drop of Titebond III in the joint and we'll leave it to harden until tomorrow.

Hopefully this was the right solution.

We had a few other repairs, like a key that had a crack around the pivot hole. That we glued with Titebond and wrapped with a thread (the same way one would tie on a fishing rod guide) as a clamp.

[For those who need to learn the fishing rod guide knot, take a look at this youtube video on tying on fishing rod guides , the overlay at the start,  and the use of the puling thread at minute 3:55 in the video show you how to make this knot as a clamp. You don't need to have as many wraps for a simple clamp as in this video, but I recommend good strong thread, like button thread.]

Hopefully I can find the hammer that is missing for that one key and get that put back. But the rest of the piano will work tomorrow.

Mary, I hope you can enjoy playing your Beethoven and Queen again. Sorry for taking so long to fix up the instrument.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Canning Tomatos

Well, this is the first year that I've done a lot of canning. And I've been experimenting with different methods for preparation to find out which is the most time efficient while still giving a good quality end product.

The basic steps after getting the tomatoes are:
  • Cleaning: including washing and paring out the stems and bad spots.
  • Prep: Chopping vs. Blanching and peeling
  • Cooking/Reducing
  • Seeding/removing peels
  • Pre-Heating/and Canning

Whether you decide to steam can or pressure can, you should follow the instructions for your particular canner, and even read through the sections on canning Tomatoes in Putting Food By. There are websites with instructions from places like the North Dakota State University Extension Service. The main issue for tomatoes is that if you use a non-pressure method that the tomatoes have a pH of 4.6 or lower to prevent spoilage and botulism.


Cleaning is very important because botulism is a soil borne disease. I tried one batch after washing with a mild bleach rinse, and then a clear fresh water rinse. I didn't detect any taste difference at this time between the ones rinsed in bleach and those not. After a couple months, we'll see if there's a difference in flavor. But if you try the bleach rinse, I'd recommend do it only on whole, perfect skinned tomatoes. I feared that if the tomatoes had scarred skins or cuts that the bleach would get in the wounds and spoil the flavor. Also, I didn't soak the fresh tomatoes in this, I dunked them for a few seconds and then rinsed immediately with lots of water. Then I sniffed them until I couldn't smell any bleach. (Like I said, I was being all experimental.)

All of the sites say to use only good, un-bruised, un-damaged tomatoes. Well, we cut out the bad spots. And I risked it because of the next step.


Blanching and peeling looked like it would be a pain to do with so many tomatoes. So I didn't do it. I wasn't canning whole tomatoes or chopped tomatoes. I was making sauce. That means I was boiling the snot out of these tomatoes once, and bringing them to a boil a second time just before canning.


I tried three ways: Stock Pot; Crock Pot; and large Roasting Pan.
Stock Pot: my stock pot is 2 gal, which reduces to just about 1 gal when all done. There is a need to watch the stockpot more closely to prevent scorching the thicker the reduction gets.
Crock Pot: Fine for cooking, but it didn't reduce the tomatoes as much or as quickly as I wanted.
Oven Roasting pan: Absolutely great for volume and ease. The oven was set to 320F and this did give us a tiny bit of caramelization. We got some overflow and filled the house with tomato/molasses aroma-which was nice to smell, but requires oven cleaning. Lesson: don't overfill the roaster.


Two methods used were an Italian tomato press and a Chinois (conical sieve). The tomatoes need to cool off to handling temperature before you press them.

The Italian Tomato Press worked fairly well on smaller volumes. It's intended for fresh tomatoes so the cooked tomatoes wouldn't be too hard for it. However, I had to cycle the remnants through at least three times to extract all the thick pulp. It did a great job keeping the seeds and skins out of the sauce. But it was a lot of cranking.

It is great for a small batch, but we were dealing with 30lbs or more per batch. Unfortunately the press has the expeller and the juice flow so close together it's hard to find pans that would handle the output without the crank getting in the way. Since the base is secured by suction, the table in this photo wouldn't work. And after washing the press a little olive oil on the suction cup keeps the rubber ready to adhere to a clean flat surface.

The Chinois worked great for the large batches. Grandma had one of these. We borrowed ours from our neighbor, Muriel. Now I need to scour the 2nd hand stores for a good quality old model. Very fast work of 30 lbs of tomatoes.

 Pre-Heating/and Canning:

After testing the acidity, adding just enough apple vinegar to bring it to 4.6 or below. A nice thick sauce:

 Heated on the stove slowly, and I mean really slowly, scorched tomato sauce/paste just doesn't taste all that good. I put the hot sauce into hot jars just sterilized for 20 minutes in the steam canner (these had been sterilized before with 20 min of boiling water) and set the seals to warm up in boiling water.

So here's the 30'lbs of tomatoes in 6 quart jars, no peels/skins, no seeds. Ready for steam canning.

The jars and sauce are already in the 170F or higher. The canner is ready. I brought it to full steam and let them sit in the steam canner for 40 min. You need to leave an inch of head-space in the jars, or they will overflow as the contents boil. The pulp can cause the seal to fail. That's why head-space is important.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Part 2 on the stove

Well, it took me a long time to get back to writing about it, but the day after I posted on the stove, Mary went to Grand Forks for school shopping. She picked up an oven element at Bud and Ralph's Appliance Service for $44. Plug it in, screw in the mounts. Put on the oven door. And everything works all OK Fine.

So, there are still some things one can do for one's self and save money over hiring the service. Just getting someone out to our remote area to evaluate the stove would have been over $80.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Oven Repair GE JBP67 Part 1.

Ours is the GE Oven Range 5 cu ft. JBP67 series.
We have a GE electric range with a glass top. I think stoves/appliances are built to last only a few years. My mom's GE electric range which she bought in 1971 (Avacado Green) lasted into the late 1980s, with a few heating element repairs. But these modern things, when the computer goes out, you might just as well buy a new range for what it will cost to fix. The baking element in our oven melted down yesterday.

Couldn't find the manual in our file so: Google to the rescue.

Following instructions in the manual I removed the oven door and took out the shelves.

Note the ash at the left. We had a n overflow of a bit of apple butter but when the heating element blew it turned the spill into white ash as the element melted down.

Make sure the oven is off and unplugged, you need a 6.5mm nut driver to remove the nuts at the back of the oven. It's good to use a couch cushion to keep your knees good as well.

Lift the element end near you up, and pull out until the wires come out with the element . Using a flat bladed screw driver gently push the blade contacts off the heating element.

Here's the heating element and most of the metal droppings it left in the oven.

Keep the ends of the wires from pulling back into the insulation, and keep the screws with in the oven. Cover the ends of the wires with electrical tape to keep them insulated.

Don't turn on the broiler. I leave the stove unplugged and oven door off so that everyone can see that it is being worked on.

Write down the model number and bring the element to the hardware store. (That's Mary's job this afternoon.)