The past couple years I have been asked quite a bit about canning.. seems as though it is gaining in popularity. I learned how to can from my mother-in-law eight years ago. It was a natural extension to my gardening and something that was nice to learn from another person versus a book. Nowadays there are a ton of great resources for canning in blogs, you tube videos, and new books every year with tons of great recipes. My favorite go to resource is The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It is chock full of instructions, recipes, and really helpful tips (like why your pickles did not turn out right). For anyone interested in canning this book is a must have. Another great place for info is on the National Center for Home Food Preservation (USDA) website. In addition to instructions and plenty of warnings they have an excellent recipe for tomato paste that is delicious as a pizza sauce.
So what do we can (canning is a family activity in our household) – almost all of our tomato’s are canned into spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, salsa, whole tomatoes, and pureed tomatoes. This is a versatile mix that works well for us. We also can peaches in apple juice (these are so good that I cannot possibly can enough of them), fruit juices, jams, pickles, roasted green chili’s, pie filling, and applesauce.
I ferment pickles and sauerkraut and follow the recipes found in Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. (For more fermenting recipes my favorite resource is Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.)
Canning can be quite a bit of work especially this past year with 40 tomato plants. So we have branched out and now dry and freeze more stuff. Our chest freezer is currently full of corn, bell peppers, roasted peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, freezer jam, basil pesto, pureed pumpkin, berries, enchilada sauce.
Stuff like potatoes, onions, beans, popcorn and garlic go into the pantry and for the most part (we have to hurry through the potatoes) do okay throughout the winter.
I dry herbs, tomato’s, fruit, chilis (to make an amazing chili powder which I especially love on blackened chicken).
In an ideal world I would have a root cellar.. however since this is not the case, I overwinter root vegetables such as radishes, carrots and beets. Before winter sets in, I layer up the garden bed of mature root vegetables with a heavy mix of leaves, soil and straw. This insulates them enough from hard freezes and then we pick these vegetables as they are needed. I have found them to be extremely tasty until mid-January when they start to get a little bit weird but until then they are super tasty.
So what does all this home preservation translate into? A lot of really tasty, healthy, organic, affordable meals for our family. Just reflecting upon this past week and here is a quick summary of meals from the garden: Chili (corn, green peppers, chili spice, tomato sauce, onions, garlic), Cauliflower Souffle (eggs, garlic, onion, cauliflower), Pizza (sauce, garlic, basil, green peppers), a pumpkin pie (pumpkin), grated carrot salad (my son’s favorite) mashed potatoes, juice, jam and the list goes on. Not a day passes that we have not eaten at least a few things from the garden including fresh eggs and the greens that are doing so well in the cold frame. I love it and cannot imagine reversing this path but rather plan to continue planting and developing this piece of land.
I think it is important to note that the first year I learned to can I did one small batch of salsa. It was so good and barely lasted the winter and so the next year I did more.. it has been a gradual progression and each year I have learned new recipes and grown larger quantity’s of plants with the intention of preserving the harvest. So while poring over seed catalogs this winter consider planting a few extra tomato’s (maybe not 40).. and get started.
One last thing..No canning blog post would be right without a quick safety disclaimer – so not to scare anyone away from canning but it is important that canning recipes are accurately followed for food safety. If you don’t believe me check out what the CDC has to say about botulism. Nuf said.