(as seen in the Green Living Journal, September 2016)
I get so excited this time of year when I see the amazing bounty our farmers produce for us. I see the lavish mounds of tomatoes, berries, plums, corn, green beans and more, and try to think of ways that I can preserve at least some of these beauties to have in the winter.
I think part of this urge is due to seeing my mother can peaches, pears, tomatoes, berries, cherries, and jams and pickles. Most mothers did that when I was young in the 50s and 60s. Most of the parents had experienced at least part of The Depression, and there wasn’t as much disposable income so folks went to farms to buy fruits to “put up” to see them through the winter. They knew from experience that food is precious.
This was before the days of air conditioning; my mother would be dripping, working in a steamy kitchen on what seemed like the hottest days of the year when she canned the tomatoes and peaches. Luckily she could also freeze some things – I remember savoring partially-defrosted jewel-colored berries with shimmering ice crystals still attached.
All of these are activities that can be done with a group of friends working together. My friend, Chris, talks about how the women in her extended family would get together to process bushels of corn for the freezer. They would all wear their “corn dresses” (old house dresses that could be spattered on) and set up tables outside in the shade to cut the corn off the cobs with sharp knives. And of course, they chatted while they worked which made the time pass more quickly.
Most of the foods I preserve are put in glass jars in the freezer: blanched green beans, spinach, asparagus and pea pods, whole Roma tomatoes, chunky applesauce, corn, and whatever else strikes my fancy. It is a real treat to be able to reach in the freezer for my dinner ingredients, knowing where they came from. I also have a food dryer for fruits, and I have made pickles and jams and marmalades. Like most of us, I have the good fortune to not need to conserve all my winter food, although having to do so would certainly fill my time. But I do love conserving and preserving even the quantity that I do because it gives me a sense of appreciation, self-reliance and accomplishment.
When it comes to conserving and preserving, it is essential to broaden our thinking beyond those glass jars. Because of the way we live now, most of us aren’t in touch with the folks we depend on to feed us. We need to take time to consider the larger picture: where would we be without the farmers and the farms? Where would we be without enough water to irrigate the farms?
Along the same idea is conserving food in the sense of not wasting it. There are lots of statistics about how much food is wasted both in homes and throughout the entire food system. Keep in mind that the final produce you see in the store or the farmers market embodies energy consumption to grow, harvest and transport it, as well as lots of water for irrigation. If we have wasted produce at home, we compost it so we can enrich our garden – the same way Nature enriches her growing things.
So in the winter when you reward yourself by opening up a jar of some treasure that you preserved, take a moment to realize that in doing so, you also preserved a bit of the planet.