Long Term Storage: Canning Rolled Oats.

It may not seem noteworthy to think about stocking dry goods in bulk, but I'd like to make a note of it anyway. For the me who is now an urban dweller, the phrase "making hay while the sun shines" doesn't hold the same feeling as it did when I lived rurally. I think back to when I first moved to the city, and only went to the grocery store every 3 weeks or so. This was the way we always shopped as I grew up, and for many years, it didn't occur to me that I could shop a few times a week if I wanted. Rurally, there wasn't really an option of running to get one forgotten ingredient, or just swinging by the store on the way home. Well, as I grew older, there was the option, but the store likely didn't have what you needed anyway. The small community closest to our home during my teenage years was really a place to get the occasional banana or box of cereal, and even then was very expensive. We tended to live off the pantry, and one shopping trip "to the city" every month.

In my adult life, my personal focus on preservation tends to be on things that were staples to me growing up: most specifically dill pickles, applesauce and tomatoes. Every year, I seem to add things that I now can't live without, Marisa's dilly beans and candied jalapenos for starters. This year lacto-fermentation was on the docket, and depending on the shelf lilfe, which has yet to be determined, I can see doing a lot more of it in the future. But no matter how much I feel like I have already preserved, I feel like I can always do more, like I am a "hoarder" of good whole food. Bulk (dry) storage hasn't really even been in the back of my mind, but it is always nice to know that I have bulk grains and now even raw sugar stashed in the basement.

When most of the year, organic oats at the co-op run near $1.50 a pound, I now seldom bat an eye knowing full well that I have quart jars full and sealed, just waiting for my breakfast and baking needs. Between my Mom and I, we usually secure a much lower price by buying in bulk - usually 50 lb. bags from her co-op in LaCrosse. In years past, my Mom would can the dry rolled oats, and then I would barter them from her, usually with pounds of Alterra coffee and quarts of toasty granola.

But recently, I was able to secure the best price on rolled oats from my co-op, so I purchased 60 pounds at 89 cents a pound, and am dry pack canning 30 pounds myself for the first time. My Mom has dry canned oats for several years, and really it is the easiest thing. Simply heat the oven to a low 225 degrees, fill quart jars with oats to within 1/4 inch of the top, and top with lids and rings. The jars can "bake" on their sides for 45-60 minutes. Remove from the oven, stand them carefully upright, and be patient for the "pop" of the lids. It takes just a bit longer (or, requires a bit more patience) to hear than the pop of the water bathed or pressure canned goods, but once sealed, it's a great feeling to know that the oats are safely sealed from moisture and pests. If you have some that don't seal, you can use them first. (My first batch of 12 quarts, or 10 lbs. of rolled oats had 4 non-sealing quarts. On my next batch, I plan to gently wipe the rims with a clean, lint free cloth to see if I can improve my sealant ratio.)

Outpost conveniently packaged the sale oats in 10 pound bags, easier on my back...

Upon a bit of research, I have found that dry pack canning can also be done in tin, and with any dry good that is less than 10% moisture. I like the idea of storing in glass, and have ample glass jars to use. Tin cans also require the use of specialized sealing equipment that may be available to rent in some areas. If you are interested in keeping the food "raw", this site recommends packing the jars with moisture absorbers, and avoiding any heating process. It seems to me that this method would be preferred for those trying to preserve the growing power in grains or beans, since you would not compromise their vitality.

Dry pack canning in the oven is also a good way to preserve nuts, though I have not tried it yet. I think I may try it with raw nuts and see how much "roasting" I get by the low oven temperature. Last year at Christmas, I made a few batches of these delicious nuts from Food in Jars - and I am curious if I could seal them using the dry pack method. I'll be sure to update this post after my experiments...

Update: 11/9/2010

Last night, I sealed another 12 jars (11 quarts, and 1 half gallon jar) using the same dry pack method described above, and achieved 100% sealing. Before fixing on the lids and rings, I brought the lids to a boil, and let them sit for 10 minutes to soften the seals. I also wiped the tops of the jars with a lint free cloth before topping them with the lids and rings.

When canning in a water bath or under pressure, you should never disturb the jars as they cool. But since we are talking about sealing a dry good, there are no such issues to be concerned with. When the jars were nearly room temp, and some still had not sealed, I borrowed a technique no longer recommended for jam making: I turned them upside down. I think I had 5 jars that I inverted, and by this morning, all of them had sealed. (My sealant test is to lift each jar by the lid only.)