- Survey what you already eat. Sounds obvious, but it is essential. If you can, save grocery receipts for six months to a year so that you have a real strong feel what you do—and do not—eat. This eliminates the 60 jars of jam on the shelf phenomena. Yeah, jam is easy and tasty and yeah, those blackberries are free for the picking—and may be you are even saving the Pacific Northwest from being totally overrun by their vines by harvesting, but still, if you eat four jars of jam a year now, you are not going to suddenly eat thirty just because you made them yourself. I know—I had to stop making jam for four years to eat down the surplus. And no, you shouldn’t bring them to the potluck on Saturday night, either, as three other people are already bringing blackberry crisps. You know it’s true.
- Don’t Horde. This is the opposite problem of making too many jars of jam. You make just three pints of pickled plums because it is the first year, and, because you are waiting for a special occasion, you never eat them all winter. A more extreme case—I went camping with a friend. We both brought along our half pint jars of tomato chutney that had been a Christmas present from a co-worker. We laughed. At the end of the two week trip, we both still had the chutney. Seriously, after all that work, EAT!
- Preserve the surplus. If there is a lot of something, save it for winter, even if it was not on your list. Many fruit trees, especially the wild ones in alley, produce heavily every other year. Take advantage of the surplus on a good year, just in case the source is gone the next. I’ve made three types of cucumber pickles this year because Sunbow had a surplus of big cucumbers. (It is the year of gigantism, after all.) If I do not horde—see above—we should discover some new favorite snacks this winter. The corollary of this rule is: Distribute the surplus. If you have too much, pass it on. It is good garden karma.
- Invest in two good preserving books. You need one book for basic, don’t try and can in the compost pile, information. I really like Putting Food By. It feels like it was written by women from the mid-west, simple, practical, and solid. It is not fancy, but it is clear. The Ball Canning jar people have also put out a basic canning book. My other favorites are The Joy of Pickling and The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. Maybe it is because the author lives about thirty miles from here, but she has recipes for all of the produce that appears on my table. Too many plums…let’s see what the Joy has to say about that….jam? leather? pickled? all three?
- Buy basic equipment—keep it simple. I use my tongs and funnel all the time, even when not preserving. I have a couple of solid potholders and cutting boards, which also double as trivets under hot pans. The most important piece of equipment I own is my steam canner. I spotted it in the Territorial seed catalog one day over lunch. I called Cottage Grove. The women who answer the phones at Territorial are great; one assured me that she had been using one all season and it cut way down on processing time. Imagine no longer waiting for the big pot of water to boil! Or dumping out said hot pot when you are done or when a jar breaks during processing! Electricity savings! Small batch canning! Rather than making pickles, grape juice, and 12 quarts of peaches in one day, I can run one batch of salsa and call it good. The steam canner works for anything you would put through a water bath, but not for low-acid foods that need a pressure canning (ie. green beans). Best investment ever.
Remember—now it the time to plan to eat locally all year.
Roasted Tomatoes. We eat sixty half pints of these every year!
Slice sauce tomatoes in half or in thirds, aiming for about a half inch thick slices. Lay face down on a sheet pan—no oil needed. Place in 350 degree oven for about forty minutes, until seriously relaxed. A little charring is ok. Scoop into half pint jars and process in steam canner for 30 minutes. Use on pizzas, as pasta sauce, in soups, etc. all winter long.