Saving the Taste of Summer for Winter

Food Preservation

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 - by Catherine Meeks, volunteer writer for Crabtree Farms

I am a glutton for punishment this time of year. Let me explain: I have a small vegetable garden; I'm a member of a CSA that gives me piles of fruits and vegetables every Monday; and I have a habit of going to the both the Chattanooga Market on Sundays and the Main Street Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays. Between all this and the occasional trip to the grocery store, I wind up with too much to eat. Which, of course, is a luxury beyond what many in the world can imagine. However, it goes from being a luxury to a problem when I forget about the bowl of tomatoes I set on top of the toaster oven that inevitably attracts fruit flies!

This is the path that led me to discovering the pleasure of “putting food by,” something practiced by cultures around the world for thousands of years. Since the middle of the 20th century, city-dwelling American have generally become less and less accustomed to this tradition. There are several reasons for our relatively new-found ignorance – and sometimes discomfort – with the art of food preservation, including the fact that our industrialized food system has made the processes by which food is grown, harvested, processed, and preserved somewhat foreign to us. Fortunately, there is a growing movement to “re-localize” food systems and food culture, as well as a renewed interest from un-self-sufficient, non-farmers like myself in food preservation.

I've discovered over the past few years is that while food preservation can be a time-consuming, involved process, it can also be relatively quick and simple, as easy as chopping up bell peppers and throwing them in a Ziploc in the freezer. Of course, what usually happens is you start here, and then naturally want to experiment; next you might make pesto or tomato sauce or soup and throw that into a Ziploc in the freezer. And then you might hear that the freezer is all well and good, but that canning actually retains more flavor, so you pool your resources with some friends and make a batch of apple sauce, or chutney, or blackberry jam. The thing is, it's fun to do, and the result is satisfying in both the short and long term, which is more than most can say about any number of other ways to spend a Friday night.

Whether you have a personal desire to be an impetus for changes to our food system or you just like tomatoes a whole lot, when you save food for winter there are two other things you save, too: money and flavor. But to can, you have to start with buying special supplies before the savings start. Right now, many stores carry basic canning supplies – I've seen Mason jars for sale at Bi-Lo, Ace Hardware, and Family Dollar, to name a few – and there are all sorts of resources to explore. I often turn to my worn copy of The Joy of Cooking both for recipes and basic information about food preservation. Also check out Putting Food By by Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg, and Beatrice Vaughan. Online you can search the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

As you experiment, you'll find your own favorites, too; I love making pickles, and have found my stand-by refrigerator pickle recipe in Carla Emery's Encyclopedia for Country Living.

Learn to Preserve Food from the Pros!
Thursday, July 22: UT Extension in Hamilton County is offering a food preservation class for $20
Call 855-6113 for more information and to reserve your spot.

Crabtree Farms is a research and educational project promoting sustainable agriculture. Programs include a demonstration Urban Farm, ‘Farmer for a Day’ Training series, From the Ground Up Community Garden projects, Youth field trips, and an on-site Farm Stand. Crabtree Farms is located near downtown Chattanooga. For additional information and directions to Crabtree Farms, please visit: www.crabtreefarms.org.


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