Based in Portland, Oregon, Harriet Fasenfest gardens, cooks, writes, teaches, and speaks on the issues of food security and justice. Her book, A Householder's Guide to the Universe, was published in fall 2010. She is currently working on a new book and curriculum guide for teaching householding and householding economics.
To say that early April’s cool, wet weather has been getting me down is an understatement. The other day I looked at national temperature averages, and Portland, Oregon, was darn near the coolest place in the country. What is up with that?
Those in the forecasting business have suggested that changes in climate conditions will not be so much dramatically altered as regionally enhanced. Think weather squared. For us, that might mean “cool and wet” will be the new “hot and sunny.” Look to Pacific Northwest runways everywhere for neoprene bathing suits, the all-terrain wear.
I offer this lament as a disclaimer. I mean, who speaks of bounties before the coming of the bees? But being hopeful, I say it is time to consider the contents of your pantries in preparation for the preserving season. It is time to look at your stores from last year and make notes on what you need to add or subtract for the year ahead.
These are the days when a thoughtful householder makes a preserving game plan, if only because this is a job that can be done indoors.
It is with a certain pride that I acknowledge the huge resurgence in food preservation today. Yes, I can be a yammerhead on such things, but trust me when I say, the time is nigh to not only get on the preservation train, but to give it some order. Certainly we can all run willy-nilly, and forever, into strawberry fields, but what would be the point if nobody in your family really likes strawberries? And here I am alluding to the occasional folly of householders (light- or heavy-metal jacketed) who put up foods that nobody in the family will eat.
Though strawberries may not be the best example (who does not like them?) I, for one, am not a strawberry-jam gal. True enough, I like them to the point of abstraction, eaten sliced and sauced on shortcake, or dipped in crème fraîche and brown sugar, or out of hand in the field, dewy fresh and bursting with summer’s promise. But I just don’t care for them in jam, so I don’t make it.
Which seems plain enough, but it took me years to accept this fact. Today when considering jam, I think blackberries or raspberries. But strawberries? Well, they go to the frozen department of my stores for smoothies, along with the pint or two of sauce that did not make it onto shortcake. Frankly, I’ve got plenty of other things to keep me busy. I know that once the season gets a humming, it will be long days and nights of kettles and cans, so why waste my energy?
In my book, A Householder’s Guide to the Universe, I offer a bit of guidance for creating a preserving game plan. In short, it is mostly about getting real with yourself and the seasons. It is all fine and good to know you want to preserve this year, but when and how much are the relevant questions. The harvest is a nonstop affair, with fruits and vegetables coming on with varietal and seasonal specificity.
For example, if applesauce from Gravenstein apples is your thing, look to July for the harvest. If you want King apples, you can wait till fall. Sometimes it will be time itself, and not variety, that you will be looking for. I am the first to say that living as a householder is a job unto itself, and difficult to balance with a full-time job. But even then (or most specifically then) a food preservation game plan can be your friend. It will help you streamline your efforts for ultimate efficiency and satisfaction.
Besides variety and prudence, when considering a preserving game plan I suggest you should calculate the quantity you need to put up. Did you go through all those canned tomatoes? Did the family eat that applesauce? Did you love the pickles, but could forget about the chutney? How much more or less do you need to make?
Sometimes I do my plan in shorthand. With regard to canned tomatoes, my entry is simply “lots.” I can never have too many of them. Other things are given greater consideration, and my book, along with a calculator, will help you assess how much you should put up. If, for example, you want to serve a half cup of applesauce to each member of a family of four twice a week, you will need 26 quarts of applesauce (and 78 pounds of apples).
Such thoughtfulness might appear a tad anal, if not daunting, but it will separate the wheat from the chaff. Why make what you won’t eat? If applesauce was a clear winner, concentrate on that. Who has time to waste? Of course, tastes and interests change, and what you eat or your family will eat is sometimes a moving target.
After years of living this life, I have come up with a pretty good sense of what lies ahead, but I am always, always, revising it. This year, for example, I will increase the variety of pickles I will make, because I realize how much I love them. Not just cucumber pickles, but all sorts. And not just traditional pickles made with traditional pickling spices (dill, garlic, mustard, etc.) but pickled cauliflower with cumin, or beets with toasted coriander and orange rind, or green beans with shallots and mint.
I mean, I’m going nuts this year, despite the fact that the husband says only a cucumber deserves to be a pickle. What does he know? Like my father used to say, ”Better for me you don’t get none of my good stuff.” Of course he was talking to us kids about eating herring for breakfast, but the point remains: your tastes and interests will change over time, and that, along with quantity you will be putting up, is what you should note on your plan.
Finally, if you are new to the preserving party and are yet taking baby steps, might I suggest a DVD some friends and I produced in my back-yard canning kitchen? Yes, I know, I’m damn near intolerable, but, well, the time is nigh, and I just think it is in everyone’s best interests to give preserving a go.
For those of you who agree, I encourage you to check out the Preserving with Friends trailer below, and for more information, head over to the Preserve website. You can order it there or, if you live in the Portland area, purchase it at Mirador Community Store.
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