This is the time of year when many people are culling their chickens. It makes no sense to feed chickens all winter when are not laying eggs. The upside is that the chickens will provide with high-quality, free-range meat for nothing more than the cost of the butcher. Around here that’s $3.00 a bird. The downside is that you have to dispatch of birds that, believe or not, you have become fond of. It’s your duty to any creature you’re responsible for to ensure that they are well-cared for while alive and that their passing is as painless and stress-free as possible.
We had 30 birds to can up. They are old layers and way to tough to roast. I tried to cook one overnight in the crock pot but it was still mighty chewy the next day. The ones I pressure canned were a lot more tender and the many jars of stock were fabulous. I do have some advice for canning up an old bird that may prevent some issues down the road.
I first simmered the birds for about an hour. This made getting the meat off the bone a lot easier. I removed much of the skin from each bird before simmering to reduce the fat in the stock. I added a lot of parsley, onion, leeks, carrots and celery to the broth. This made for a more flavorful product. It’s important to have a system set up to deal with the skin and bones you’re left with. If they sit around they will smell terrible and attract predators. I froze my scraps until DH had time to deal with them. I didn’t bother canning all the meat. I stuck with the breast meat for the most part as the legs and wings were so small. I took the wings, legs, back and breast bones and make a good, meaty stock with them. I ran two canners at a time which was all I could handle alone. I have a vision that, in the apocalypse, I’ll single handily can all the meat in my freeze. Well. Maybe not. This much canning is better done in a group. I am able to can at 10 pounds of pressure at my altitude but I went with 15 pounds for these tough old birds.
I used wide-mouth jars for any meaty stock and narrow-mouth for plain stock. I used some Tattlers and some disposable lids. I find that the Tattlers are pretty fussy about exhausting times. You need a full ten minutes of full steam to get all the air out and end up with a good, tight seal. I wipe each rim with vinegar to make sure no fatty deposit will affect the seal. It’s important to let the canner come to zero pressure before removing the weight. Let the canner sit another 2 minutes, then remove the lid with it pointing away from your face. Remove the jars and place them on a towel to finish cooling a seal. With the Tattlers, you have to tighten the lids right away and you’ll need gloves for this. Don’t let the jars cool in a draft. I find the biggest problem with siphoning (losing liquid) and with failed seals comes from to rapid a change in pressure and temperature. Thanks to my many canning friends (Lisa and Sally- Yes, I mean you) for such good information and support around all this. I rarely have a failed seal.
When all has cooled and you check the seals, label your jars and put them in storage. The don’t forget to eat the dang food. I know so many people who do all the work and then they’re afraid to eat it. Let me repeat. If the food was good and the equipment appropriate, if you follow the directions and get a good seal, if the food looks fine and smells fine and the lid is hard to remove then the food is good. Eat and enjoy. Such food is an act of prayer and revolution.