Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Making your food last by preserving it

Last time I posted I talked about our garden and how it really was worth the time involved. You can read about it here. Now i'd like to talk about preserving food.

So you plant a garden and it does well. It does REALLY well. What do you do with the abundance of vegetables out of your garden that you get? The quick answer is to preserve them so that you can enjoy your garden all year long!

Preserving food is a lost art. It sounds so old-fashioned. I remember my watching my grandmother canning food as a young girl. It brings back fond memories of staying the summer with her. Eventhough I loved to help her, I still never learned to do it myself until recently. It was one of those things that I tucked away in my mind that I loved about Grandma's house, but never ever would do myself. Why should I, when I could go and pick it up already canned for me?

While it may be rather old-fashioned, it really is a great skill to learn for the here and now. We, as homemakers in the 21st century, in the age of rising grocery prices, faced with looming recession, and tainted food are having to look long and hard at the way we are doing things. Maybe our grandmothers and great grandmothers had it right. They faced many ups and downs, but they still fed their families affordable nutritious meals. We like to think that we've been freed from the chains of homemaking, but we've just traded it for a new set of chains.

There are a few different ways you can preserve your food. You can freeze, dry, pickle, or can your extras. Freezing is the cheapest way to preserve food and many times the healthiest, since it doesn't destroy any of the nutrients. With freezing you just blanch your vegetables first and then put them in a freezer bag and pop them in the freezer. To learn how to blanch your vegetables, read here. This is super easy and doesn't take much time at all. It is well worth it though.

I will not get into drying or pickling here since I don't do them. I do plan on making my own pickles one day, so i'll let you know how it goes.

The last way is canning. Initially, canning can get a bit costly if you let it. You need jars, a water bather, and pressure canner for many vegetables. You can find inexpensive jars at goodwill, garage sales, or off of your local freecycle. Since I do not have a pressure canner I stick to more acidic foods that are sufficent in a water bath. I will tell you though, I have canned many jars of preserves without any of these things, except the jars of course. You just have to make sure that you submerge your jars entirely as you give them a water bath.
This is a picture of a canning water bath.
If you would like to learn how to can there are many resoures out there. You can start with the Ball website. I also recommend the Ball Book of Preserving . I thought about giving a step by step tutorial on the canning process but there are so many online resources that you can look up that will get you started.

Of course, if any of you live near me, we could have a get together after we harvest a bit. We do this every year with my friend, Carlie. We pick our figs and then get together to start the process of canning strawberry fig preserves. I do enough to last us a whole year. Both of our familes look forward to this every year. I'm sure our children will remember this for a long time to come.

Since I do not have my own fruit orchard, I am limited to either buying or fruit or picking it locally. Many times you can find fruit to pick locally cheaper or even free. See my post here for more information on how to find free produce. To find local places to pick I always start with looking at this website. It lists places to pick according to state and it has information on canning, including recipes. I just love this site, but I have found other u pick farms around me that are not listed here, so always be on the lookout.

While preserving food seems like alot of work, it is beneficial to learn. I found it makes it nicer to include my children and my friends. Good company makes the work seem lighter. If you've read anything i've written, you will know that I love to do things that will make great and lasting memories. I love my simple life.


Melissa said...

My grandmother has several fig trees. We end up throwing away many or many rot because we can't eat them all.
If you don't mind, let me know when y'all start preserving and I can bring some figs.

Teresa @ A Life At Home said...

Melissa, of course we'll let you know! The more, the merrier.

Rachel said...

Teresa, I love your blog!
This post just really got me thinking about summers I spent with my mamit and papit, and all of the fig preserves, and canning, and corn shucking and smothering to make corn to freeze (maque choux), and okra! Tons of okra to smother for a whole years worth of gumbos. My favorite were always the mulberries, though, straight off the tree and in preserves. My mamit always knew hot to make them just perfect.

We are trying to get our lives arranged in order to buy some land and posts like this make me really want it even more.

Rachel said...

Oh, and THANKS for the pick your own website!

Teresa @ A Life At Home said...

Rachel, glad you are enjoying it! We used to do lots of corn, okra, and a ton of green beans. I remember having a friend over, having tea and then getting to work on the veggies. Our grandmothers were great at getting everything perfect, weren't they? :-)

Oh, and one day I hope to have that land too!

Michele said...

I love being able to can/freeze fruits & vegetables that we pick! My canner usually sits on my stove from May-October.
Great post- thanks! :)
Michele :)