It is a blessing to have fresh produce by the basket-full. We eat crisp cucumbers and sweet tomatoes every day and fresh green beans crown Sunday dinners. But a productive garden means processing what we can’t eat. There are several options and it depends on your time and resources.
I am not comfortable using a pressure canner, so I use a hot water canner but it cans only acidic fruits and vegetables. My pantry now holds three kinds of pickles, peaches, and elderberry syrup.
The syrup was our latest adventure. My husband and I foraged elderberries by wading through chin-high poison oak, grasses, sumac trees and golden rod. The wild shrubs were in a thick stand at the very back corner of my brother’s land. After picking a large white bucket full of heads and raking the bee bee-sized berries from the stems, the six cups of berries yielded only two cups of juice. But after adding sugar and lemon juice, I ended up with four half-pints of dark, rich syrup. Those four jars are perched on the white display stand in the picture. They were worth the effort because the syrup is delicious and is awesome for fighting colds and flu…or to drizzle on pancakes. I estimate that if I purchased the same quantity of elderberry syrup at a pharmacy, it would sell for over forty dollars.
Besides canning, I freeze as much as my freezers can hold–green beans, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, onions and rhubarb from the garden. Right now the green beans, above, are waiting to be blanched, cooled, and loaded into freezer bags. The freezer in the basement needs to be sorted through so the 2013 harvest will squeeze in… Hopefully the hot weather will give way to fall and I can begin making soups and stews and use up last year’s harvest.
My third option is the food dehydrator. I tried drying tomatoes, but it was a frustrating process. I have an old-style dehydrator, which makes the results less than appealing. Seriously, dried foods store well but I would rather have a canned or frozen product. I know…I will be up a creek if the power goes out. There is a down-side to every plan.
What I do like to dehydrate is fruit leather. So far I have peach, apricot, and apple butter fruit leather. The new apples are coming on so I will soon be canning applesauce and making apple leather. Both have long shelf lives. I may try drying apple slices to see if they turn out well.
The last storage method is cold storage or air drying. I hang all types of herbs from the beams of our country kitchen and let them dry to crisp, then crumble them in jars for storage.
This fall I am planting garlic and will also bunch and air dry the garlic next summer. My barrel of potatoes will go into cold storage in the basement in a crate with adequate air flow. This is my first year planting potatoes, so I am a novice. Bloggers say not to wash them–just knock off the dirt and place in crates in a cool environment. Since we do not have a root cellar, the poured-concrete basement of our barn home will have to do. We will see if the potatoes winter-over well.
Gardening takes work, patience, and trial and error. But looking at my full pantry makes me feel very self-sufficient.