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.

A preserving game plan

Preserve this — not that

April 15, 2011

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?

Some of Harriet’s preserves.

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.

The new DVD.

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.

There are 7 comments on this item
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1. by Jane Campbell on May 6, 2011 at 12:37 PM PDT

Harriet, Thank you for your book and video. I have them both and they are fabulous. As a 50 something that does work 40-48 hours a week, you give me something to work towards and I will. I do some now. I bake bread twice a week, can about 200 jars a year (I know not enough), make yogurt, and so on. I don’t know how I just came across this but I read all the way through in 2 days. I wish I lived closer to OR. but I’m in MO. Your classes sound like the ticket.

2. by Fasenfest on May 7, 2011 at 7:37 AM PDT

Holy Kobanga Batman.

You work 40-48 hours a week and think you still need something to work towards? Please Jane do not shame me. I work exactly no hours outside the home and I still want to nap. Okay, I’m being dramatic but the point is, go slow, go slow, go slow.

I am eternally grateful that you think my work and writing was and is valuable. Some folks think I can be a yammer mouth on all of this stuff. But if householding sounds like the way you want to go I would wait until you have a little more time on yours hands before taking a full emersion. It sounds to me that you are doing plenty as it is.

The problem with our yearning and leanings towards this life is that it is in serious conflict with the rest of our interests and obligations. Being thoroughly modern millies (I know you know that phrase - us being in our 50’s and all) we have designed lives that are based on the systems of modernity -- industry and technology. Those systems are endemic to the day to day workings of our world. So even changing one thing, one simple thing, like canning all your tomatoes one year, will require a shift, a considered shift and time -- with TIME being the thing in greatest demand.

It would behoove us all to understand what has happened to our notion of time. It has become a factor in a formula, an economic formula. We have traded the time to put up our stores, tend our fields, manage our homes, for the time we give to industry. We have turned it over to them and they have turned it into unit of measurement. What was once a fluid and meaningful element in a seamless system of self reliance has become part of a economic formula for industry.

I know this might sound a bit basic but the fact is, the trade off is complete. Industry has capture our time and labor and has given us a system that, in its earliest incarnation, appeared to be working to our advantage. We used to have more time (or different time) and more money to enjoy a life that was entirely less labor intensive than the world of self reliance. So really, what was not to like? I mean farming is not like a vacation either. No way.

Again,what I’m saying is basic stuff but we underestimate the impact. In essence, we have been rendered nearly incapable of suppling for our own needs. We just don’t have any of the skill sets.

Like I said, for a while it made sense. They could do for us what we used to do for ourselves and do it more effectively and cheaper. All we had to do was get on board and work for them. First in hard industrial jobs making stuff and then in technology thinking about stuff. Fair enough. We were the great resources of American prosperity. We got wages and leisure in return.

Unfortunately, the equation (your time in our industry for money to buy stuff that you don’t have the time, inclination or interest to make) isn’t working the way it used to. Not only is the planet in deep doo-doo but we are putting lots of extra time working outside our homes to just stay above water. The promised exchange is crumbling. Hence the notion of the eroding middle class. We are now entering into a period of modern serfdom but have yet to realize it completely.

And as the years go by this formula will just get harder unless (and this is the real point of this reply) we make a conscious decision to reverse the trade off and take back our time. We understand why we want to but it will still be a challenge. We will read books and feel inspired but then feel frustrated. We will abandon good and honest efforts when we realize how hard it is to add a whole extra level of skill sets and time to our already busy lives.

And that is what I worry about sometimes. I worry about everyone selling this life on its emotional value without being honest about the costs and the tradeoffs. I get concerned when we keep thinking we should buy our way into this life. I get concerned by the pretty pictures or easy, precious, stories.

In truth, we will have to download a lot of our stuff and re-evaluate the way we spend our time. We might have to move in together to lower our overhead. We might have to live low to the ground and with a whole lot less and go very slow as we try to unwind the narrative of the modern consumer mind. With so much of our time and self worth being connected to that model, I can assure you that the transition will be a whole lot harder than folks are admitting. It can be done even though some of us, as I mentioned, are stuck, in debt and in servitude with our lives and our time. But even for those of us who have the time, there is isolation and confusion. What I say is that our hearts and spirits may be drawn to this life but the reality of our lives are still, basically, captured and defined by industry.

So when you say you work 40-48 hours outside the home (which is actually a lot less than lots of folks) and feel inspired to do more I feel both gratified and concerned that we, as advocates for change, do not speak honestly enough about the challenge adding more time (growing and putting up our food) to our already scarce and distracted time (indebtedness or leisure) can be.

But, having said all that (and then some) I say too bad you don’t live closer cause we could talk about all this face to face which is also the best way to learn and (though I will not go into a rant about it) is also part of the problem when we embark on this life. Not enough neighborly support or community. But that’s a long, long, long way of saying THANKS and may the force be with you.


3. by Jane Campbell on May 9, 2011 at 6:59 AM PDT

When a person is single it’s hard not to work. Or at least I haven’t figured a way not too. I have no credit card debt (lucky again.....well smart not too) my car is paid off I did it in a year. I rent a small house. I’m planning on buying a place in a few years when I will have a nice down. I do what I can. Have planted onions, hot peppers, squash, 2 types of peas and a few other things. There isn’t enough area to plant. A friend was telling me how she made wine so that is on the list. Fruit and sugar and let it sit. I’m going for it. Also I’m doing the fermenanted pickles that you have in the book. I have a small fridge and now that they can be canned. I can’t wait to try them. I’ve made cheese in the past and I need to get back into it. Oh how did the leg (pig) you have hanging going? That is on the list also. I have made sausage (I need to do it again!). I’m buying a 1/2 a pig in the fall. When it’s cooler here and try the leg hanging in the basement. There is so much that I want to for the engery and a little more time!

4. by Fasenfest on May 9, 2011 at 7:23 AM PDT

The pig leg is doing fine. Which reminds me, I should do a follow up post on the baby. Thanks for that. It’s not a process for the weak of heart. Every time I go down there and have to brush off the mold I tell myself -- blue and fuzzy okay. Pink or yellow, not. Bad stink - not. Good “I’m smelling like prosciutto” stink - Perfect. But there will be pictures to follow.

Much respect for your heart and effort. I know that from there all things will come. I started out some ten years ago with a head and a hand to scratch it. “What the hell, what the hell?” Was the sentiment. What the hell to do about this global economy and the continued destruction it is reaping on the planet and its people? The rest is part of the rest and it continues. And you, and your post, and your efforts and the fact that I have offered any inspiration at all is so very sweet.

Again, thanks and go slow.

5. by Fasenfest on May 9, 2011 at 7:24 AM PDT

PS - I’m not saying you shouldn’t work. I am saying it is hard to add all this work on top of all that work. I’m showing respect for the challenge. I’m saying going slow will keep the effort sane. I am offering mad respect.

6. by Jane Campbell on May 10, 2011 at 3:55 PM PDT

Harriet,You should do a update on the pig. I’m going to try and do it in the fall. I didn’t take it wrong about the working. I think I’m the one who didn’t word it right. We all got to do what we got to do. I try to do as much as I can plus a little more each year (when I have the engery). Because of you I’m going to try the fermented pickles and then can them. My sauerkraut is turning out real good (hasn’t before). The garden is a changing one with the deer and others! Then I’m thinking in the fall to dig up another piece of the yard....we will see what they say. Oh for those working and want cookies on a whim. I make my doughs, scoop out, freeze and bag with temp and time (add a few more minutes) and cook when I want a cookies. I usually have 4-6 bags in the freezer. They are good as easy. I also like that you have 2 freezer and a big fridge besides the one up stairs. I don’t know why I never thought about that. I wonder about myself. Love the book and the video. I was telling a friend about it and she has the book now also.

7. by Fasenfest on May 10, 2011 at 5:18 PM PDT

Oh Jane, I was just laughing at myself thinking about that long honking message I gave you. Must have had three cups of coffee that morning. And besides, you just read my book so what was I saying? You already endured a ton of my diatribe. Again, I don’t know what happened.

Yep, I will do the pork update. Maybe this month. Thanks again and hope your friend enjoys it all as well.


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