Monday, May 17, 2010

Thoughts on preserving

I'm mostly just "thinking" out loud here. Expect some rambling. Feel free to skip this one.

I put up five more little baggies of spinach tonight. Chopping spinach into 1/4" squares is tedious work that doesn't thrill me. Seeing five little bags of blanched spinach go into the freezer does, though.

1/2 cup portions seems sort of odd. I use spinach mainly in soups, pastas and sauces, and occasionally in dips or meatballs. 1/2 cup just seems to be the right amount to add. None of us love spinach, but it's good for us, and adds a bit of something extra, so I use it. I can pull a baggie straight from the freezer and dump it into a hot soup or sauce and it works great.

Last year was very experimental as far as how much stuff I put by from our harvest. Well, this year is experimental too, but I have some idea now of how much I actually need. I'm taking serious notes - I'm weighing and counting everything we harvest and marking it on a sheet in a notebook I keep in the kitchen. I'm keeping a chart of everything going into the freezer, with space to mark the dates we run out so I know how long it lasted, how much will be needed next year. I have tentative goals for some items, especially the ones I can.

Grocery stores are under the impression that food preservation doesn't begin until fall. No one has lids or pickling salt in stock yet. I'm glad I stocked up last fall! I'm still in the early stages of preserving, as little bits come out of the garden and come into season in the stores, but so far I've pickled 6 pints of asparagus, frozen 8 meals' worth of asparagus soup starter, a triple batch of strawberry jam (with plans to do another triple batch tomorrow) and eight little pouches of spinach. Not much, by any means, but we'll be eating primarily fresh all summer, and hey, at least it's a little bit. I'd like to buy another fifteen or twenty quarts of strawberries before the price goes back up, and just freeze them whole. We like strawberries in our smoothies, and I have a great recipe for strawberry bread that I haven't made in awhile.

Standing at the sink tonight, chopping pile after pile of spinach leaves reminded me of just how much work it is to do this, and we aren't anywhere close to self sufficient. Between everything that I make from scratch, everything I'm trying to put by for later, and meals for us to eat each day plus clean up for everything, I spend an easy three to four hours in the kitchen most days - sometimes a lot more. My back hurts, my hands are painfully dry, and I'm glad I'm sitting down now... but I love the satisfaction of it, too.

My "to do list" right now includes canning jam, making pasta, making crackers, freezing (more) spinach, making a big batch of black beans, freezing strawberries... there's more. I know there's more because the list is stuck on my fridge, intimidating me every time I walk into the kitchen. I just can't remember what else is on there at this moment.

Is anyone else out there preserving already? Is there anything I'm forgetting that I should be doing?


Anonymous said...

I remember canning tomatoes with my mom. The kitchen would get SO HOT! (no AC then). All those pots of steaming water... ick.
My gram was a world-class jelly maker and we all miss her jellies and jams. When she died there was a bunch in the basment glowing like jewels.
I think that whatever level you choose to garden and preserve food not only feeds your family, but creates memories that will last a lifetime.
I can still smell all those berries bubbling away... after we spent hours getting all scratched up picking them. ;-)
(PS- granddaughter is officially in remission)

Just Me said...

No. But I want to. I'll also have to wait until the produce stand start going strong anyway, since I can't keep a plant alive.

Kim said...

gosh you inspire me! i just made my garden bigger today so i'm excited to buy more seeds!

Wendy said...

It's definitely time consuming!! I have to really think about whether I'm doing this for the novelty, or if I can keep this up. I do think it's just ultimately a very fulfilling thing - to be able to do things to food so that you can use it later. Like stopping time. Almost like time travel. (maybe that's a stretch).

So that jam I made? My family LOVES LOVES LOVES it. It's pretty ridiculous really. I wonder if they really do, or if they're just humoring me.

I also love the jars. Even before I started this, I loved canning jars. My goal is to slowly replace all our glasses with small jars for drinking. All my flowers go in ball jars.

Anyway, these are some of my current thoughts on canning.

Thanks for the continued inspiration!

Jessica said...

It's amazing how much the greens shrink down after cooking! I tear the leaves up by hand; it seems faster to me than all the chopping. I also skip the cheesecloth step and just saute in a little water--get the pan hot, add a couple Tbs. of water, drop in the greens, cover with lid, turn to low or even off. Stir a couple times. That's it! That way none of the nutrients are getting lost in the blanch water (which of course could be recycled w/ other scraps for stock). We've been cooking lots of dry beans lately, too. No canning yet! But this summer I will learn!

Julie said...

Jan - I remember my mom canning apricots when I was a kid. Mostly, I was just told to "Stay out of the kitchen! You'll get burned!" Poor mom. She was so stressed. She's much better about it now. Glad your memories are a bit more pleasant than mine!

Apryl - I really think you should try growing something again. How 'bout just one little tomato plant in a pot? You'll never learn if you don't keep trying! If you go to farmer's market this summer, give me a call. Would love to meet up with you down there, we're there every week.

Wendy - I can't imagine trying to keep up with preserving the garden for winter AND having a full time job. The way we live - especially this time of year - really is a full time job in itself. I'm so impressed you're trying again after such a frustrating last experience! And I understand the jar thing - I have a passion for jars too. I have to be watched closely in antique stores, or I may walk out with a sack full of antique mason jars (that are absolutely not safe for canning anymore, but still please me.)

Jessica - Hi! Thanks for stopping by! I may try your method next time and see how it works for us. I know from experience that I'd rather have them chopped, but maybe simmering will be easier, we'll see. You're more than welcome to come by on a canning day if you'd like to see it in action!

Anonymous said...

You go, girl! I'm still watching my starts reaching out for the tiniest bits of sunlight that peek through the clouds!
I'm so glad we have our greens still alive from last year!
Take your remedy for the aches ;-)
Many hugs to you & your helpers!

Jessica said...

Just wondering how many pints of jam you "budget" for the year? I'm getting closer ;)