PRESERVING: An old-fashioned word for saving things; in this case, FOOD for your table.
I keep hearing talk in the media about folks being ‘food insecure’, which means they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Perhaps they could take a lesson from some of the ‘old folks’.
Home canning is one of the most effective ways to save those precious grocery dollars. The fine art of canning food was one of the first things I began to master as a new bride. I raised my first garden with the help of my father-in-law and some of my neighbors. They shared plants from their established gardens, and gave me a lot of helpful advice. I still have the gooseberry and raspberry bushes, asparagus bed, rhubarb patch and the ever-bearing strawberries to this day–old heirloom varieties that are probably long gone from the ‘official’ list of garden plants.
We had lots of company as the new couple in the neighborhood, and some of the relatives stayed for several days at a time. My sisters and brothers and various assorted cousins and neighbor kids taught me that kids will try anything at least once! We didn’t have a garden when I was growing up so the raw green beans, peas, radishes, and other things eaten right in the garden was an experience. My cousins would sit in the green bean rows and gobble down several handfuls of freshly picked green beans, pull up the radishes and carrots, wipe the dirt off on their jeans and chomp away! The pea patch was always the biggest ‘draw’. Raw peas straight from the pod were like candy to those kids. We would walk down to the garden after the kids had been visiting and my husband would say, ”Looks like the Jolly Green Giant has visited again” as he viewed rows of peas stripped of their bounty and between the rows, empty pea pods. Needless to say, we didn’t have many frozen peas that year. (Those same kids would look at cooked vegetables on the dinner table and remark, ”I don’t like that stuff!” having never tried it at all–until they ate it fresh from the garden and decided it was pretty good after all!)
Canners, jars and rings, lids, picking wild fruit, plums, chokecherries, buffalo berries, currants for jelly-making (complete with chigger/tick bites) was all part of the learning experience of this town girl when I married my cowboy and moved to the country. I did get a lot of free information from the Extension Office. The agents have all sorts of recipe books and instructions on safe canning/freezing procedures that were more than useful to me. This is one service of our federal government that I am much in favor of: Teaching people how to preserve food for future use. Good food, with no chemicals or additives.
There are groups in several towns now that have a program called ‘Bountiful Baskets’, where a person joins and pays a fee for the produce. It is very fresh, and varies from one delivery to the next. (What a great way to introduce your children to new foods.)
Farmers Markets abound in most urban areas as well as in the smaller towns. The food is perfectly fresh, and you can visit with the one who grew the food!
Most people assume you have to have a huge garden in order to be able to do much canning. That’s not necessarily true–just put the word out’ that you will take any excess garden produce from others.
Your friends will give you baskets of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, etc. Much of the time gardeners would rather give the produce away than to let it go to the compost heap. Some years here, we’ve had hoards of grasshoppers or sudden hailstorms that have completely wiped out my garden, but friends always come to my rescue with bushels of tomatoes, baskets of cucumbers, boxes of fall apples, grapes, etc.
One year, a friend who lives 15 miles from me gave me about 20 five gallon buckets of cucumbers. I made over 100 quarts of pickles and relishes from those ‘gift cucumbers’ and they lasted for several years. In fact, we gave some of the jars away in our Christmas boxes to friends. The hail that got the garden also wiped out our grain crop and most of the hay so $$$ were mighty short that year!
Another friend called and told me to come get some apples, so, away I went and was blessed with between eight or nine bushels of beautiful freshly picked fall apples, and she even told me how to preserve them and gave me several of her really good recipes!
I sorted through the apples like she told me, and any that had bruised spots or any damaged were ‘worked up’ at once into apple butter (about 30 pints of it), and several more bushels were made into apple pie filling–over 100 quarts of that! I still make that same pie filling any time I have extra apples, then I use it for crisps, tarts and cobblers as well as pies.
We also tested a way to keep apples over the winter. My idea for trying this came from the commercial apple growers who keep their crops in big coolers and sell them during the winter, so there are plenty of fresh apples in the grocery stores.
Anyway, we put about 50 pounds of good apples into a sturdy cardboard box with air holes in it, covered the whole box with some plastic shopping bags loosely taped to the outside of the box. We then put the box on a shelf in the extra refrigerator we have in the basement. This worked really well and we had fresh apples all winter and well into spring.
I’ve always stored pumpkins, squash, onions, potatoes and carrots in the basement in a cool corner and they pretty well last until late spring. If anything starts to get soft, like a pumpkin, I feed it to my chickens as a special treat.
When I have time, I cook the carrots, potatoes, etc. and freeze them for future meals of soups, stews, and meat pies using the ‘planed over’ bits of roast beef or other cooked meats and mixing in all kinds of vegetables. I can put an assortment in the slow cooker, be gone for the day and know there is a hot meal waiting at home. All I have to do is dish it up!
My whole point is, can, freeze or dry any extra produce that comes your way as the growing season winds down. This will save you many precious dollars during the wintertime, when heating bills always take a bigger bite of the family budget. Then you won’t have to raid Fort Knox just to eat!
–Until next time, Paula
Paula Vogelgesang, the author of the monthly column "Pennywise", is a monthly contributor to the Farm And Livestock Directory. Email her at [email protected]. Please be sure to mention the "Farm And Livestock Directory" when you respond.