Friday, February 2, 2007

Breathe Magazine - Planning for Preserving

I have a vision. An image in my mind’s eye of how next winter’s pantry will look. It will glimmer a little with glass and metal. It will hold much promise. It will provide for my family. I will feel accomplished and domestic. It will be filled with rows of canning jars twinkling and inviting with the harvested treasures tucked away for future consumption. 

But this dreaming involves a bit of planning, which I heartily welcome during the late winter months. 

First, supplies. I just discovered that our local agricultural co-op has the most extensive, comprehensive canning section I have ever seen. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before – but it has jars, lids, grabbers, pectin, citric acid, etc. Hardware stores can also be a very good resource for these supplies. (Now is a good time to stock up, before spring hits and everyone is buying supplies for jams and jellies.)

If you have a nice sized-freezer, freezing is another super-fast way to keep things. I always have a few boxes of freezer bags in our house when the growing season is in full, coming-at-you-from-all-sides swing.

{Oh! A side thought on canning to take that overwhelmed edge off. Start with small batches. There is no need to go for three dozen quarts during your first go-round. I am *not* an all-day canner. I do maybe eight jars at a time – carving out less than an hour per canning job.} 

And, finally, what to plant. Here is my list of some existing plants I plan to use for preserving and some things I will add to our gardens.

A good pickling cucumber. I make sweet pickles from regular sized cucumbers that need to stand up to four days of hot brine being poured over them. I am going to try the ‘Ashley’ variety from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

A good canning tomato. I read somewhere that it is best to can tomatoes that you would normally enjoy fresh, as well. I am going to try some of our preferred heirlooms like ‘Brandywine’ and ‘German Johnson’ and ‘Mortgage Lifter’. You can also core your tomatoes and pop them in the freezer.

Garlic – This was planted this past fall (I buy the variety ‘Music’). I am going to roast some of it like Leni and store the jars in the fridge. 

Okra – I am hoping this is the year for okra in our garden. (Last year it was the year of deer eating okra in our garden.)  I am also hoping to home in on a good pickled okra recipe, too.

Figs – We planted a ‘Chicago Hardy’ last year. It produced fruit! So, maybe this year, some fig preserves to go with goat cheese and a nice crusty ciabatta.

Rhubarb – One of the hits around our house is rhubarb syrup (easily canned or stored in the fridge) for cocktails (try a Rhubarb Cosmopolitan) and seltzer spritzers. We have eight-year old rhubarb plants that manage to thrive on our land - so there’s lots to spare.

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