The first time I heard the term "Meal-In-A-Jar" was at one of those parties where you mix the dry ingredients of a meal in a jar, write the rest of the ingredients on a pretty card and then give the whole thing as a gift. I'm sure it was a multi-level marketing thing. I wasn't paying much attention because like a lot of things in popular culture I was trying to figure out how giving half of a meal to someone was a good gift. My husband tells me I ponder popular culture far too much and I'm sure he's right! Still the idea of an entire meal in a jar was intriguing so I took up canning.
Then recently I saw this concept of meals in a jar using dry ingredients pop-up again in the preparedness community, but after investigating I found that in general you had to buy a lot of dried ingredients. Well, that's great if you have the money to invest, I guess. I mean there is a certain convenience, but you lose control of the food. There are additives and other limitations to using pre-packaged dried food. So I set out to create an entire meal in a jar using ingredients that I had dried myself. You probably don't know it but if you've been following this blog you've been watching me do it. Let me explain.
An Introduction To Meals In Jars –Chili In A Jar
First a quick note about food drying. Yeah, there is more than one type but hang with me - it's not complicated.
Dried Food--Dried food is simply food that has had some of it's moisture removed. I really can't be any more specific because different varieties of food have different points at which they are considered dry. For example, raisins might have a certain amount of moisture removed while dried sweetened cranberries only have a percentage of that amount removed. I'm not sure if dried sweetened cranberries are actually drier than raisins; I'm just trying to make the point that all food that is dried is dried to the point that it has the correct texture and taste. So the term dried is really not an industry standard. This method is not preferred for food storage because much of the moisture still remains in the food and bacteria can still live and thrive in this kind of environment, and it is the reason many commercial varieties of dried fruit contain preservatives.
Dehydrated Food--Dehydrated food is food that has had 90% or more of the moisture removed using warm circulating air. This is a very old technique of food preservation used by the ancient Egyptians (it may go back even earlier). This is the method I promote for food storage. This process is safer than drying because so much of the moisture has been removed from the food that bacteria do not have the environment necessary to live.
Freeze Dried Food--Is food that has been frozen (usually at very low temperatures) and then the moisture is removed through pressure change. It's not a process that can easily be duplicated without heavy machinery. However, freeze drying is actually an ancient concept utilized by South American people who lived in a climate perfect for the process. The people of modern day Bolivia who live high in the Andes have freezing temperatures, dry weather and just the right amount of sun to make a staple in their diet called Chuno, which are essentially freeze-dried potatoes. For those of us that don't live in the Andes freeze-drying is a commercial process that not a very practical DIY project.
Rather than just go ahead and make my own version of a meal-in-a-jar, I wanted to show you a comparison of buying the ingredients already dried and then using your own home dried ingredients. Honeyville is my go-to store for many grains, and if I ever did decide to buy ingredients for convenience Honeyville would be where I'd buy them from.
Let's start with a relativity easy chili recipe that I adapted from Stephanie Peterson's (Chef Tess) The Meals In A Jar Handbook.
Here are the ingredients from Honeyville. I know what you are thinking: That's a small fortune in Honeyville products! You would be right. These ingredients are not cheap. However, they do come in a sealed #10 can that can be placed into your long term food storage. So if you don't have the time to make each of these things yourself don't completely write off purchasing them. There are other vendors but I prefer Honeyville because they have a five dollar flat shipping rate, they carry many grains that are hard to get locally (I want to support that part of their business), and they often have specials
Here are my homemade ingredients. Not as impressive a photo, but hang on a minute and I'll give you a closer look.
The first thing I wanted to show you is a close-up of the difference between my homemade ingredients and the Honeyville ingredients. The Honeyville onions are on the right and my homemade ingredients are on the left. Dehydrate your own onions and find out why mine are a bit pink.
This is celery. Mine is on the left. The Honeyville dried celery on the right.
These are bell peppers. My dehydrated peppers on the left and freeze dried peppers from Honeyville on the right.
My dehydrated corn on the left and freeze dried corn from Honeyville on the right.
Tomato power. Mine on the left. The tomato powder from Honeyville on the right. Theirs does contain a non-caking additive. Mine has a clump or two; I'm fine with that.
This is a shot of T.V.P. My homemade version is on the left and the commercially made one is on the right. Note: this is the plain T.V.P., not the flavored variety.
These are my quick-cook black beans on the left and Honeyville quick-cook black beans on the left.
Here's an advantage to doing things yourself. Honeyville does not carry quick-cook pinto beans (at the time I'm writing this post).
Here is a shot of the book I mentioned above. No doubt you've seen this book posted here and there if you follow preparedness articles.
So let's get started.
Traditional Chili In A Jar
1t Chili powder
1T Instant VegeBase (or favorite bullion)
1/4 c Clery
1/2 c Bell Peppers (I used 1/4 cup green and 1/4 cup red)
1/4 c Corn
1 c Tomato Powder
1 1/2 c Quick Cook Beans (add more as needed after ingredients settle)
Add 1/4 cup celery. The jar on the left is the Honeyville jar and the jar on the right is the jar with my homemade ingredients.
Then 1/2 cup bell peppers. I think the freeze dried peppers from Honeyville are too big. It's a matter of preferences however, when you make your own you control things like that. I used 1/4 cup red bell pepper.
Then added 1/4 green bell pepper.
Add 2T onions.
Here I added Honeyville's Chili Flavored T.V.P.
I used my plain T.V.P. for my homemade meal-in-a-jar. You may want to add one more tablespoon of chili flavoring as the plain T.V.P does not add any flavor like the Chili flavored T.V.P.
Add 1/4 cup dehydrated corn to my homemade jar. The corn from Honeyville, on the left, is freeze-dried; that's why it's kept it's shape better.
Add 1 cup tomato powder to both jars.
Here is a comparison of each jar before I add the beans.
Then I added 1 and 1/2 cup beans.
I added 3/4 cup of my quick-cook black beans and 3/4 cup of my quick-cook pinto beans to my homemade jar.
Gently tap each jar on the counter to force the ingredients to settle.
Add more beans as needed.
You don't absolutely need a FoodSaver. If you don't have a FoodSaver you can use an oxygen absorber.
However, a FoodSaver does help. You can place an oxygen absorber in the jar and then vacuum pack the jar for double protection, since Mason jars sometimes lose their seal, but to me it's overkill. So I just use the FoodSavor and save money by not buying extra oxygen absorbers. The wide mouth jar attachment comes in handy for vacuum packing dehydrated ingredients.
Of course if you have both, the FoodSaver helps seal your oxygen absorbers back up so that you don't have to use the entire package at once. Otherwise the oxygen absorbers will start to lose their ability to absorb oxygen because they will be absorbing it from the air. They can only absorb so much air before they stop working.
Here are both jars of chili. The Honeyville on the left and my homemade chili in the jar on the right. Add 6 cups of water to the Honeyville mixture and heat for about 15 minutes. Add 9 cups of water to your homemade version and cook for about 30 minutes (adjusting the time according to how long you cooked your beans, remember it's not an exact science, you may have to play around with the times to get a cooking time that you like). The extra water is for the beans. Remember they are only half cooked. Alternatively, you could place the beans in a plastic bag before placing them in the jar to easily pull them out and soak them for about 30 minutes before cooking. My version was a little more work but a lot less expensive. Now, this would make a great gift!