Oven Canning for Long-Term Dry Goods Storage

jars oven can

The irony of writing about killer DIY projects is that when I’m busiest with my DIY-ing, I’m not writing about it. Example: we recently finished the 400-square-foot addition on our house. I’ve tiled two showers and two floors, laid 300 feet of laminate, painted, installed lighting and plumbing fixtures, and now I’m building cabinets for the laundry and bath.

Now THAT’S a lot of DIY.

And not one blog post. Yet. It’s all documented and photographed and waiting to make its etherwebs debut.

There’s still detail and finish work to do, but the most urgent parts of that project are done. We’re sleeping in our new bedroom and the toilet flushes and the shower works and the laundry gets cleaned. So this week I’m working on a much more urgent project that’s been weighing on my mind. It’s emergency preparedness.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re chronically wince-puckered under the looming threat of a subduction zone earthquake. The Big One. The End Of The World As We Know It. Tectonic plates playing bumper cars, earth bucking, bridges cracking, buildings crumbling. When it happens (and apparently it’s a matter of when rather than if) the region could be without power or water or emergency services for weeks. Depending on the damage, it could take months to restore public safety and sanitation.

I’m no survivalist type. I didn’t build a Y2K bunker or stock up on ammo in the waning hours of 1999. Being a hardened contrarian, I generally meet public hysteria and fear-mongering with an eye-roll.

I refuse to freak out.

Preparing is not freaking out. In fact, it’s a remedy for anxiety.

I started stocking the garage pantry about a year ago. My husband would open a cupboard and say, um, we have a LOT of canned beans.

Yes, dear. Yes, we do. That’s the idea. Someday we might have to survive off of what’s in there.

He didn’t grow up in a Mormon household. I did, at least for the first nine years. I remember the six-month supply of canned goods and water jugs in our garage. Mormons are experts at this. Today, my step-mom is the preparedness leader for her church. She’s taken up home canning and keeps a 50-gallon drum of wheat berries in the garage alongside fuel, toiletries, camping gear, and first aid supplies. She’s given us our 72-hour “go” backpacks stocked with water purifying straws and toilet paper and mylar blankets. She’s a trusty source of tips and advice.

Maybe you know a preparedness buff. Make use of that knowledge. But if you don’t know someone, there’s an endless supply of info for free.

If you go looking, prepare to squirm through a meandering rabbit hole of patriot propaganda, anarchy and revolution fantasies, and fundamentalist weaponry worshipers. It’s a dark and camo world out there.

There’s also heated debate:

  • You should definitely store huge drums of white rice
  • No. Store brown rice. It has higher nutritional value.
  • No. Brown rice has omega fats that break down and make it harder to store long-term.
  • Don’t store ANY rice! It has to cook for a long time, and fuel will be scarce.

You get the idea.

And here’s another source of comments-section bickers:

Oven canning.

There are staunch critics and practiced proponents. I’ve read it all, and here’s what I decided:

Yes.

Yes to the oven canning, but with caveats.

  • Use it only for shelf-stable dry goods like grains and dried beans and maybe dry pasta.
  • Absolutely don’t try this for vegetables or fruit or anything that you’d can with the normal water-bath method. Stick to the tried and true techniques for those foods.
  • Don’t use it for foods with oils (nuts, dog kibble) because they might go rancid.
  • Don’t use it for sugar (this is a common question in the comments sections.) Sugar will melt in the oven.
  • And definitely don’t put up ALL of your emergency stores this way. Even stored carefully and securely, these jars could sprout poltergeist wings and smash to bits during The Mother Of All Earthquakes. It’s like the investment advice: diversify. If you lose some of your goods when hell breaks loose, you’ll have others to rely on.

With these limitations, I think oven canning is a good idea. You’re storing things that might do well just closed up in a glass jar anyway, but the oven processing time can help sterilize and then heat-seal the jars for better and safer long-term storage.

Are you game?

If so, here are the easy instructions:

  1. Lower your oven racks to accommodate large jars (I got the half-gallon size).
  2. Place a roasting pan or baking sheet on the rack.
  3. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.
  4.  While the oven heats, fill your jars with dry goods. Leave the lids off.
  5. Place the filled jars on the baking pan and heat them for one full hour. Remember: the lids are OFF.
  6. Place the jar lids and rings in a large metal bowl.
  7. When the hour is nearly up, pour boiling water over the lids and rings. This sterilizes them and helps soften the seals.
  8. Place your rings and lids on a clean towel and dry them well. You don’t want to introduce moisture into your dry goods.
  9. Turn off the oven and leave the jars inside. Take out one jar at a time, using oven mitts, and use a clean cloth or paper towel to wipe the rim of the glass and then screw on the lid. Just hand-tighten.
  10. Wait. As the jars cool, the lids will “pop” and seal. After they’ve full cooled, if any of your jars haven’t fully sealed, you can repeat the process or simply plan to use them within the next six months or so.

For about $20, including the jars, I put away three gallons of grains and legumes. I opted for oats, quinoa, corn meal, and lentils. Compared to their counterparts (black beans, rice, and such) these foods have shorter cooking times and will need less water or cooking time.

I’ll be showing off some other preparedness projects that are easy to do yourself. Do it!

It brings a distinct peace of mind. And if you want to take a gamble at unleashing some karmic woo-woo, cross your fingers and light a candle and repeat your favorite mantra while you fill your garage shelves with food rations and rain ponchos. Maybe. Just maybe, a disaster-prepped household is like the newly-washed car that brings on a rainstorm or the closely-watched pot that won’t boil. Ommmmm. Rest easily, tectonic plates. Peace. Ommmm.

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