Preparing to Preserve

Read one editor's reminiscences on growing up in a farm family and preserving food for the rest of the year.

| July/August 2020

cherries
Photo by Unsplash/Neha Deshmukh

This week, I’m dusting off the canning gear and making sure every sealing ring and gauge is in good working order. I want to be ready when the tomatoes, peaches, and green beans start to come in. More pertinently, I want to be prepared, because I’ve heard that putting up food is going to be especially popular this year, and some items — canning jars and lids, especially — might be in short supply.

The global coronavirus pandemic has created insecurity in many aspects of our lives, food being perhaps the most critical one. These times are driving home the importance for households to be as self-sufficient as possible. Those of us who already know how to garden and put up summer’s bounty are in better standing than those who must build that knowledge base from scratch.

Growing up on a small farm meant that my family worked all summer at putting up enough food to last all winter. We butchered chickens in spring and froze the meat. We picked cherry and apricot trees clean, and made jams, jellies, and pies. Mulberry trees grew everywhere in abundance, but their ripe fruit fell to the ground at the slightest touch, so we learned to back the pickup beneath the heaviest branches, and then knock the berries onto an old sheet to gather them for mulberry-mint jelly.



Harvesting is the briefest, and some might say most satisfying, part of securing your food supply. A lot more work follows the harvest. Cherries have to be pitted, beans to be trimmed and snapped, sweet corn to be husked, and then everything has to be processed for preservation. Day after day throughout summer, we’d pick, peel, and can — often all three tasks on the same day. Without air conditioning, we literally sweated for our food. To get a break from the heat, we had to find some breezy patch of shade outside.

I’m always surprised to hear from beginners that they’re terrified of pressure canners because of potential explosions. All my life, I’ve canned with a pressure canner and never had an incident. I’ve stood right next to an old-school canner on the stovetop, chopping the next batch of food to be processed, and not given my safety a second thought. Everyone in my community put up their garden produce with canners, and no one had a sorry tale to tell. And, today, pressure canners have many built-in features that make them safer than ever to use. If you haven’t yet given pressure canning a try, I urge you to do so soon, while you can still find the equipment on store shelves! Putting up food in this manner is definitely a satisfying skill to add to your arsenal.



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