It’s tuna season and we were determined to take full advantage of it. We had been told for months from various people that if you can your own tuna it can’t be beat for flavor and it’s extremely easy. Well, it’s also intimidating–where to buy it, how much to buy, how much is a fair price…and the list goes on.
We were over at the coast in July and saw the signs for fresh tuna–straight off the boats. We went over to the docks and found some fishermen selling the tuna, but really, we had no idea of how any of it worked.
Not to worry though! Our friendly neighbor and veteran Master Food Preserver (MFP), Rusdee, came to our rescue. She volunteers each year to help the new MFP’s (that’s us) learn how to can tuna. She told us who to call and we put in an order for how much fish we wanted. This was amazingly confusing. In the end we found out that you have to tell him how much fileted fish you want. You actually pay for twice this amount because you are paying for whole fish, and the filets are half the amount of the whole fish. Since there was a lot of fish ordered we got a break on the price, but the actual price came out to about $2.5o a pound for the whole fish, or $5 a pound for the filets.
Next, Rusdee went over to the coast and picked up the fish and paid for it. She picked up 400 pounds of fish at a price tag of about $2000. That’s a lot of fish!
We went to her house for the canning. Our fish was very nicely fileted and put into bags. The fish had no odor which was a pleasant surprise.
The tables were set up outside with trays, cutting boards and knives for putting the tuna in the jars and the stoves were there for pressure canning the tuna.
There were six of us learning to can tuna–Bruce and me, our friends from California, Jeff and Nancy, plus Barbara (another new MFP) and Leslie ( a former MFP). There were two veteran MFPs, Rusdee and Maureen.
The first step was to measure the tuna against the size of the jar and cut the tuna into those sizes, then stuff as much of it as you can into each jar. Jeff, Nancy and I did that part.
Oh, wait, the first step was to put on some gloves! No one wants to actually touch raw fish (not me, at least) or smell like tuna the rest of the day.
Jeff and Nancy–Nancy makes it look like fun, and it was.
Bruce kept us supplied in jars, wiped the rims and put on the lids and rings.
It all went very smoothly and efficiently; we were done in less than 2 hours.
Since we had dragged our friends along for this canning session and we didn’t know if they would enjoy it, we had decided earlier to do the pressure canning at home. This entailed a new batch of problems. We didn’t want to can indoors because of the potential smell, but we didn’t have a way to do it outside. The week before canning we went over to our local, friendly Bi-Mart and bought a single burner stove that hooks up to a propane tank. We took the empty tank over to the U-Haul place and got that filled. Now we were set, or were we? Bruce and Jeff checked it out the day before the canning and found that the wind played havoc with the flame and it was very difficult to control the pressure on the canner. They ended up piling large cement blocks around the burner as a wind break and that worked great!
So we were finished with putting the tuna in the jars, but we weren’t done yet. Rusdee took us all on a tour of her walnut farm. They have quite a few walnut trees and it gets to be a huge operation picking, hulling, drying and shelling the nuts. She showed us all the necessary equipment and the drying rooms. The equipment is all hand-made from many years ago. We thought it was so interesting that we volunteered to come out and help with the harvest in October.
1) The walnuts with husks are put in here where the husks are broken open; 2) the walnuts with shells drop down into the center box and the fan to the right blows away the stems and broken husks, they go up the conveyor belt, then 3) the walnuts go into the white round chamber for sizing-the small pieces are sifted out; 4) the nuts go up the conveyor belt and fall into a box; 5) nut cracker-takes the shell off the nut; 6) drying room 7) walnuts in the husk
Back at home we set up the pressure canner outside and loaded it with half the jars of tuna. We used half pints and the total was 64 jars. You have to bring the water to a boil in the canner, wait for the steam to come out of the vent in a steady stream, vent for 10 minutes, then start the time for canning which is 100 minutes, or one hour and forty minutes. If you let the pressure fall below 11 psi at any time in the process, you then have to start all over. Bruce was in charge of this part of the operation and it involved constant monitoring of the pressure and constant moving of the gas dial to increase or decrease the amount of heat. After the 100 minutes are up, the canner needs to cool until the pressure is zero. That took about an hour. Then you take off the petcock and wait another 10 minutes.
Finally, the jars of cooked tuna came out and the rest of the jars of raw tuna went in for another round.
Now, for the smell. Yes, it was well worth it to do it outside. The tuna inside the jars does not smell at all, but there was residue on the outside which had a very strong fishy smell and they all got a good cleaning.
All in all, this was a very interesting canning project, we all enjoyed taking part in it, and best of all,
the tuna looks and tastes wonderful!