We’ve been working our little (if we’re lucky!) fannies off. Things are growing and we are reaching the harvest time of the year. I wasn’t kidding when I told you all a few weeks ago that my garden was a fail this year. Oops! I mean it was a learning experience. So, my harvest this year will be whatever my brother-in-law shares from his garden.
Fortunately, since I live with a lovely woman that survived through the dust bowl in a family of 12, I knew that last year, while I had it, I should put up as much as I could. I canned and froze veggies until I thought I would have enough to survive any possible zombie apocalypse. Or a crop failure. Which ever came first.
That is how most people learn to preserve the harvest. Sweating in a kitchen with their Mom or Grandma. I’m no exception.
At our house we raised pigs for meat, dairy goats for milk, and we had a big garden each summer that saw us through to the next. The meat we froze exclusively. The milk we only used fresh or made a “farmers” cheese. The vegetables we would use which ever was easiest.
These days, along with many of the other homemaking skills, canning and freezing have become a part of the past. The past decade or so, growing your own vegetables has become fashionable, and with the resurgence of gardening has come a renewed interest in canning and preserving the harvest.
There are actually a lot of ways to do that and some of them start with seed selection. Winter squash is the first thing that comes to mind. There are tons of varieties these days so you can choose one that fits your need. There are the heirlooms like ‘Banana Pink Jumbo” that you can get that can weigh in around 50 pounds (I recommend a small hatchet when you try to open that one) on down to “Bush Delicata,” that will be just right for two servings at 1½ – 2 lbs. We didn’t even start on their cousin the pumpkins! Let’s just say there are dozens of varieties for cooking or decorative use.
Then there are all the root crops that pretty well take care of themselves. Onions, garlic, potatoes, beets, turnips, carrots etc. In our climate, they will keep in the ground quite a while, and if it turns really cold, you can put a heavy layer of mulch and a blanket over them and they should be just fine, as long as the gophers don’t find them!
A lot of people like drying for fruit and some vegetables. It saves space and you can do it with almost no equipment. Basics include hanging as with chile ristras, spreading a sheet in an airy dry room, and dehydrators that can speed up the process significantly. Once things are dry, they can go in jars, plastic bags, whatever you have. Store in a cool, dark place for the best results. Some even freeze the dried produce to keep it save from any vermin, air, moisture or light.
Hot water bath canning is another way to keep your produce for use for later use. It is done just like it sounds. You prepare your vegetables or fruit as recommended, pack it into jars, then put the jars into a big pot full of hot, not boiling, water that covers the jars plus 1-2 inches of water. Then heat to boiling; how long depends on what you are processing. Fruit and pickles are a couple of the things that most often use this process.
The last I’ll mention is pressure canning. Many people are reluctant to try this method because of the horror stories they’ve heard about it. Everyone seems to have a grandma or aunt that had their pressure cooker blow up. My mother-in-law had one blow up when she was pressuring beans, so I can’t say it never happens, it does. BuuUUuuutt, if you have read all the manufacturer’s instructions, and have learned how to use it properly and safely, it is a really good way to preserve your harvest. Even meat will keep if preserved this way.
For the water bath and the pressure canning, there is a book that is sort of the “bible” for home preservation methods. It’s called the “Ball Blue Book” It is very concise and specific on how to do things and will tell you how to adjust for altitude etc.
The county extension office is also a great font of information about drying, freezing, canning and probably a couple of others I don’t know about. They also have the most current guidelines for food safety as well as the how to’s of whichever method you want to learn.
Happy Harvesting! : }