Canning season is here, and your local Co-op will have all the supplies you need to store your garden harvest when it has been picked and prepared. But what about all that deer meat in the freezer? Shouldn’t you make room for your summer garden or harvests of fish? Take that deer meat out of the freezer and can it. It’s as simple as canning vegetables, and you can have tender, healthy deer meat any time. Also, since it’s already been cooked, your prep time for meals is cut in half.
Deer meat can safely be stored 2 years on your food shelf, and the good part is no electricity is required to keep the meat fresh. Simply store the canned meat on your shelves, and you will have high-protein meat all year.
This past deer season, I harvested a doe toward the end of the season, and to save a little money, I butchered the animal myself by cutting large chunks of meat out of the hams, shoulders, neck and tenderloin. The meat was frozen in one-gallon freezer bags until I was able to get all the canning supplies together. The supplies you need are: A pressure canner, glass jars, lids, rings, canning salt and a few handy tools such as tongs for removing the hot jars from the canner, a funnel for adding the meat and salt to the jars, and about three hours of uninterrupted time (probably the hardest thing to come by).
Prepare the Meat
First, I soaked the meat overnight in distilled white vinegar in a cooler. The vinegar is a natural tenderizer, soaks excess blood out of the meat and removes any extra gamey flavor. The next morning, I cut the lean meat into one-inch chunks, removing all fat and non-meat tissue.
While I was cutting the meat, I had a pot of boiling water to sterilize the lids and the pressure canner filled with three quarts of water making sure all the jars were sterilized (run them through the dishwasher on sani-cycle) and rings and lids were accounted for. Finally, I placed a funnel in the top of the first jar and added the meat, packing it down tight to avoid any open spaces leaving one inch of head space followed by a teaspoon full of canning salt. After all seven quart jars were filled, lids put in place and rings tightened down, I placed all seven jars into the canner on the canning rack with the three quarts of water added to the inside of the pressure canner.
Once the jars and three quarts of water were in the canner, I made sure all pressure release valves were not clogged and then locked the lid down. My canner is a 17-quart with a pressure gauge. Once the water inside the canner begins boiling, you will begin to see steam released from the spout. Let this steam escape for about 10 minutes, and then add the pressure regulator to the spout. (This is the part that jiggles on top.) My particular model came with a 15-pound regulator, so it did not jiggle because the canning of meat requires you can the meat with quart jars for 90 minutes at 11 pounds of pressure. Since my regulator was a 15-pound, the steam pressure would not create the movement of the regulator. Instead, I simply regulated the heat on the stovetop so the pressure gauge was giving a constant reading of 11 pounds for the 90 minutes of canning time.
Once the 90 minutes of canning time was complete, I simply turned the stove eye off and allowed the unit to cool down on its own. When all steam has stopped releasing, you can remove the pressure regulator with a hot pad. When you unlock the lid to remove it, point the opening of the lid away from your face to avoid a steam burn. Use the canning grips or tongs to remove the jars of cooked meat from the canner.
You will see the contents of the jars continue to boil for some time as you let them cool. As the jars cool, you will hear the lids "pop" as they are sealing themselves. In other words, once the jars are cooled down, you should not be able to press the lids because they should be sealed. Any jars that don’t seal properly should be refrigerated and eaten quickly.
The great thing about canning deer meat is you can store it on a dark shelf out of the way without electricity until you are ready to prepare a meal. This meat should be good for a couple of years. You can find many useful canning tips for raw packing meat through the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service (www.aces.edu). In addition, your canner should come with canning instructions. Your local Co-op is the best source of products for canning just about any food you want to keep long-term without the use of storage electricity.
Eat the Meat
You can prepare deer meat just as you would serve beef. Many say deer meat tastes just like roast beef when they take it out of the jar and heat it. Served over noodles, the meat can be prepared just like beef stroganoff. Here’s a sample recipe to try with the following ingredients: one pound of canned deer meat, salt and pepper, garlic powder, one chopped onion, two cans of condensed cream of mushroom soup, one 16-ounce package of egg noodles, eight ounces of sour cream.
Sautee the onions in a skillet until soft, add the remaining ingredients including the canned meat and heat on low allowing the ingredients to simmer while you boil the noodles. Pour the Deer Stroganoff over the noodles and enjoy.
Since the meat is already cooked, you’ve saved yourself about 20 minutes cooking time, and canning deer meat for 90 minutes at 11 pounds of pressure guarantees the meat will fall apart with tenderness.
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.