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On learning the joys of food preservation

June 30th, 2008 · 3 Comments · Food preparation, local food

I’ve been reading Jennifer McMullen’s blog, “Rolling in the Dough,” for a while, and although Jennifer calls herself Baklava Queen (maybe you’ve seen her comments here), she’s also a food preservation and local food queen. Reading her blog has inspired me to try a little food preservation myself.

Food preservation doesn’t come naturally to me. Leftovers, yes. Preserving, no. Food preservation requires planning both in the preserving and eventual use of foods. Truth is, I’m a pretty lazy cook. That’s one reason I love summer produce. Besides being delicious, you can pretty much eat it without any preparation at all if you choose.

Food preservation, on the other hand, requires supplies. I don’t have supplies, as a rule. More important, you have to set aside time to prepare food that you aren’t going to eat for a very long time. That concept is not part of my food experience. Forget delayed gratification. I like to cook because I like to eat.

Jennifer, though, has nudged the inner Depression grandchild in me. My parents, both deeply affected by the Great Depression, were thrifty. Just the same, my mother, the chief cook, didn’t preserve food when I was growing up. I’m guessing that it was because she’d done far more canning than she’d ever wanted to when she was growing up on a farm in the Depression. Furthermore, I can think of few things more uncomfortable than spending hours tending to boiling water canners at the height of the hot, humid summers we have in eastern Kansas. After I’d left home, Mom took up freezing, but I never paid much attention.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and there little Ms. McMullen, whom I’ve never met but I suspect is 20 years younger than I am, is canning and freezing and heaven knows what else. I, meanwhile, have allowed really good local food to turn to goo in my refrigerator when I didn’t have time or didn’t know what to make with it. Yes, I compost such items, but it’s not the same.

The worst time for me, as a subscriber to Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance, typically is in the spring when we get what seems like tons of green things: spinach, lettuce, mesclun, kale, chard, turnip greens, beet greens, herbs and then more spinach, lettuce, mesclun, and so on. Then I read Jennifer’s post about freezing greens. I sighed. I knew I had to do this. My mother would be appalled at my throwing food into the composter just because I hadn’t gotten around to doing something with it.

So I reread Jennifer’s post, read what they had to say at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, about freezing in general and about freezing greens in particular. Then I launched, blanching, squeezing, chopping and freezing what became two small packets of frozen greens, one kale and one beet greens.

blanched, chopped beet greens

blanched, chopped kale

Two tiny packets for freezing

Turns out it wasn’t too painful. So I decided to preserve more. I hacked off a bunch of my mint and dried it. I returned to my neighbor’s cherry tree and took nearly 2 pounds away from the birds. Then I pitted and froze those babies. I’ll give you details in the coming days. For the moment, though, congratulate me on my newfound preservation ethic. I don’t know how long I’ll keep it up, but it feels good so far. Still can’t envision the boiling-water canner, though.

Any preservationists out there? What’s your favorite kind of thing to preserve?

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Meryl

    You should definitely try making freezer jam. It tastes incredible, lasts for about a year (so I’m told), and is sooo much easier than trying to can it. This year I’ve also made it a goal to freeze some of my tomatoes. And I’ve already got some frozen peas, but that’s mostly because I never seem to get enough at once to make anything out of them. I’m slowly saving up enough to make a meal!

    Your comment about your mom made me smile. My grandmother is my food preservation go-to person. She’s always very helpful, but I think she sometimes has trouble understanding why I would want to do something so tedious when I don’t have to. When I start asking her to remember it all, her smile tends to get just a little strained!

  • Jennifer (Baklava Queen)

    Go you, Janet! That’s a GREAT start! Meryl’s right, freezer jam is worth a go… and the one time I tried it, I was able to use a lot less sugar because I didn’t have to worry about preservation (well, until the jars were opened…)

    If you do ever decide to try the boiling-water bath canning, team up with a friend who has the equipment. It goes more quickly if you have company, and you might not mind the heat as much. (Call me crazy… and I know you do… but I don’t mind canning in the 90+ degree heat as it makes the following cold shower so much more palatable…)

    And look at it this way… preserving now can help you be a lazy cook later. ;-)

    Oh, by the way, Janet, I don’t think you can possibly have 20 years on me… we’ll talk… ;-)

  • Janet Majure

    Hmm. Frozen tomatoes. I could do that, maybe, Meryl, if I can restrain myself from eating all in sight when they start producing. Not so good on the peeling-tomatoes thing, but I could work on it.

    And Jennifer, I will bear in mind that I’m banking future cooking laziness. What a good motivator!