We have Thanksgiving dinner with my Dad’s side of the family every year. I know Christmas is supposed to be the time for miracles but I think in this family the miracles come early.
Most of the miracles revolve around the fact that 45 people gathered at my aunt and uncles to eat dinner together. This means that not only is it miraculous that my aunt can seat (that’s right, you heard me – seat) 45 people in her house at once but that we have that many family members willing to show up with a side dish for the evening! The house, I feel I must mention, is a very normal house. IE: it’s not actually made to seat 45. Instead I’m pretty sure they are somehow able bend the natural occurring laws of space in order to fit enough tables and people inside it once a year – miracle. The turkeys (you need a lot of turkeys to feed this crowd… and a ham) are delicious and left overs usually go to feed a slightly smaller contingency of the family lunch the next day after they finish butchering the years deer harvest. A mere two days later and a giant feast has been mostly reduced to crumbs and turkey carcasses.
No one else was interested in the remnants of the turkey (or perhaps it was that we excitedly jumped up and down and called dibs on it) so we came home yesterday with a giant bucket of bones, giblets and necks… mmm mmm mmm! John pulled out our turkey fryer in order to find a pot large enough and spent the night making turkey stock. Today after picking bones for an hour (did I mention it was a really big pot???) he had it all ready to go. Normally we would just divide and freeze all the stock but our freezer space is limited this year. I’m not sure what happened but apparently one pig, two deer, 7 chickens, a turkey and assorted fruits just fill the thing right up. The Thanksgiving space making miracle unfortunately does not seem to apply to my freezer so after dividing up and freezing about a gallon of it we pulled out … the pressure canner.
I’ve only had the pressure canner for a few years, and up until today it had been used solely to can venison – a lot of venison– but just venison. While regular hot water bath canning doesn’t phase me much anymore the pressure canner always seems a bit intimidating. Our brief history together has been a rocky love/hate relationship. First there is the fact that I always have to double check the instructions, how long to vent the steam, how much water to add, stuff like that, which then turns me into a neurotic instruction checker even though I know the basic steps. Suddenly I can’t help but consult my instructions every five seconds, which of course makes everything take twice as long, except when I lose my instruction booklet every ten seconds… then it takes three times as long. When I actually get everything going and the steam is spitting out the top and the little pressure doohickey is spinning round and making crazy noises and I’m crossing my fingers I haven’t screwed anything up and if I did that the 50 thousand safety release valves this canner seems to have will save me, ( I have a vivid memory of Granny making chicken soup in a pressure cooker that involves a stained ceiling that I should endeavor not to think about when using the canner.) and I’m worried that even if we survive the pressure it might all be a broken catastrophe inside when I open it up again, that’s when I’m afraid I really sort of hate the canner. Then just when I get in the groove, remember how things work, force myself to leave the instruction booklet alone and push my fear of the giant spitting pot to the back of my mind I start worrying that I’m going to screw up and poison my whole family with botulism or some other fantastic disease like that.
But so far – so far – it’s always gone well. Things have not exploded and burned body parts have been kept to a minimum. I’ve only ever had one jar break and my family is still alive and kicking. Today when I finally got to pull out the still bubbling jars and only sort of burned my thumb I looked at all 16 pints of turkey stock lined up on the counter ready NOT to go in the freezer and had a change of heart. I stared at the still slightly boiling jars, I listened to the seals pop closed, I marveled at the fact that I could put it all on the floor of the pantry and nothing would get damaged by rodents and that’s when I had my own mini Thanksgiving miracle and re-fell in love with the pressure canner.