Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Preserving the harvest: some nuts and bolts about what I’ve learned and resources

The center of it all
If you thought this series about preserving food was written from a master perspective you’re wrong. I first learned how to can food last summer when my good friend, whom I refer to as my Homestead Hook-up, was extremely wonderful and brought her knowledge, equipment and books to our house one weekend day to teach me how to can. I was clueless. You can read and see photos about it here. During that first foray, it was early Autumn, so we made and canned apple ginger jam, and then I wanted to try carrots, and my grandmother’s cinnamon apples. All of these were made with the intent to give as gifts at the holidays. The best of these was the apple ginger jam.

What did I learn? It was fun and rewarding. It was complicated and involved important steps to ensure food safety. It involved the world’s largest pot on my stovetop. It involved things like jar sterilization and boiling water. In the end? It was a lot of hard work, planning, and equipment. But once the learning curve happened, I thought, I could do this. And at Christmas, we packaged the jars in baskets and combined with things like embroidered towels and rosemary nuts and gave them out as gifts, completely homemade.

There is a really great website that shows you step by step how to can, complete with photos. It includes recipes and information about u-picks as well. I have referred to it many times this season, and gives you a good eye into the process. I don’t feel strong enough in my knowledge to teach other people how to can, because I’m still figuring it out as I go. But here are some things I know and maybe it will help you if you're thinking about canning your own food:

• It takes planning, research and lists. Jars for canning are available at your local supermarket and you can find used ones on Craigslist, too. A lot of people find their canning supplies at garage sales. I’m not much of a garage sailor, so we got our jars at either Fred Meyer , Bi-Mart or WinCo. Small jelly jars for jam, pints for sauces, and a few quarts for sauce or whole fruit (and I don't know how many times we've had to go over how many cups are in a pint, what equals a quart, and how many quarts are in gallons, etc. etc. Have your charts ready!). There are jars, lids and rings. We stuck with the standard jar so that we wouldn’t have to worry about what size lids or rings we already had. Jars and rings can be re used. Lids, cannot.

• You need to follow the recipes for canning because the combination of items sets the pH/acidity level which helps to safely preserve the food, or not. A standard resource for recipes is the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. I also use Preserving the Harvest, loaned to me by my Homestead Hook-up. Barbara Kingsolver also provides recipes for her preserving projects on her website here.

• Be careful, and if you can, don’t do it alone. It’s much more fun to can with someone else. You chat and catch up, you work together as a team, and it goes twice as fast. Also, canning can be a little dangerous. I had an incident one morning by myself when a jar slipped into the boiling water and splashed hot water on my face and hand. I kept it calm, ran cold water and even found a lemon to hold on the burns, but it would have been better to have had someone with me. It could have been bad.

• Using fresh produce as it’s in season is key. And you don’t control the weather. Just because you have on your calendar a weekend designated for strawberry picking and jam making doesn’t mean the strawberries will be ready. You’re going to need to just let go and go with the season. Inevitably it will be hottest day of the year when you end up canning tomato sauce and boil water on your stove in order to do so all ding dong day. That’s the way it goes.
The Barn
Where we get our produce:
-Strawberries picked at Columbia Farms on Sauvie Island.
-Figs and Apricots from Duyck's Peachy-Pig Farm, sold at Cedar Hills Farmers Market
-Tomatoes from Deep Roots Farms, sold at Portland Farmers Market
-Peaches picked from Sauvie Island Farms on Sauvie Island. Sauvie Island Farms also has a blog, The Farmer’s Wife, which updates throughout the season what is available, what’s coming into season, and occasionally recipes they use themselves for their produce.
-Raspberries, Tayberries, Blackberries picked from West Union Gardens.
-Blueberries picked from xxx Farms on Sauvie Island.
-Local produce from Trapold Farms (The Barn).
Sauvie Island Farms
This website has been helpful in finding and locating farms, along with this site.

Canning isn’t the only way we’ve been preserving the harvest. We also use our freezer, and we’re fortunate to have an extra fridge/freezer in our basement. It is currently stocked with berries of all kinds, and pesto. You can read and see how we freeze pesto in ice cube trays here. Oh, and it’s also packed with strawberry freezer jam. Oh, and slow roasted tomatoes. (I’ll post on Friday about sauces, salsa and tomatoes.)

Tomorrow? I’ll tell you about the jams we learned to make this year: tayberry, raspberry, fig and apricot, and Thursday I’ll write a little about family memories and the heritage of preserving our food, stories from our family, friends and neighbors.


Zoe said...

We can salsa and applesauce every year with some friends. It's my favorite few days of the fall. It's work, but it's so much fun. And we get to enjoy salsa and applesauce all year.

Anonymous said...

That apple ginger jam was the best! We had it with yogurt on yeast waffles one morning (sooo good--you make the batter the night before). Nummy.

Anonymous said...

I have been enjoying your blog for a few months now, ever since we met at the Macy's party. Glad I took your card!

I love canning too - I made jam back in July, blogged about it here. On Sunday, I am going to start working on tomatoes - this year I might get adventurous and make sauce as I go along. Canning is a great way to preserve wonderful in season food.

Hardware stores in our area often have canning jars, and my new personal recommendation is that if you are going to take the time to can something, get the best fruit or veggies possible. Canning underripe or nasty tasting food is not going to make them better!

Thanks for sharing all these great tips for canning :-)

Lylah Ledner said...

i'm going to love reading your series. so crazy but we used to pick black berries wild while living in portland. never appreciated it....but now? what a blessing to be able to do that.

so, when i make the next portland trip...i'll have to connect with you. is that a pic of your kitchen?

i'm in the az desert and so gardening is a bit different, but as i said earlier, i'm looking forward to learning from what you blog. with the help of 2 of my grandkiddos we planted some seeds today - all heirloom....

thanks for sharing what you've been learning....lylah

Anonymous said...

Loving your preserving week - you've been much more adventurous than I! Figs and orange liqueur sounds amazing. Didn't realize the PYO site had a canning page, thanks for the link!

Anonymous said...

Chiming in to say how much I enjoy and appreciate these posts on preserving harvest. Canning posts remind me of my grrl Jared who was raised Mormon like I was, but didn't get the gender-specific training on how to function in the kitchen. He *loves* to can and says he channels his pioneer grandmothers for such homewifery tasks. Though I wasn't raised with such skills (having a mama who hated things like cooking and canning), I have nevertheless acquired a few in my adult life. I have a deep appreciation for the connections that come with planting, cultivation, preservation. The metaphor applies to so very many things.

Thanks again. Yours is one of my favorite spots on these interwebs.