Filling The Pantry

We’re in the height of food production season here in central Ohio and already the pantry in my old farmhouse is beginning to fill and fill quickly.  We’ve finished with pickles and jams for the year, and green beans and tomatoes are just beginning to pick up.  Within the next 2-3 weeks, my kitchen will be filled with the constant humming, splashing, clattering, hissing and pinging of full-scale food preservation and I must tell you—I rarely feel more productive than I do during that time span!  There is nothing more satisfying to me than to see my grandmother’s old Mason jars filled with fruits and veggies that will nourish my children through the long, gray winter.  You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy Mason jars—and that’s almost the same thing!

In a normal year, I put up an average of 500-600 quarts of food and in an exceptional year, 800-1000.  It will vary greatly based on what’s left in the pantry from the previous year, which crops my garden grows in abundance and whether I’m able to trade, barter or buy with other local gardeners and farmers.  But that hasn’t always been the case.  I remember very clearly my first pantry; I was 20, living in my little second story apartment and I canned strawberry preserves.  I was never so proud of a dozen Mason jars in my life!  Now with a husband and 2 tweens in the house, those dozen Mason jars of jam wouldn’t last us more than a few weeks, but it set me on a path of planning ahead and using what was available during one season to supply the rest of the year.

And that’s all it comes down to, friends; planning.

There’s exactly one generation between me and family members who survived World War II, the Great Depression, coal miner’s strikes, joblessness, devastating weather…and they survived by planning ahead and practicing common-sense preparedness.  Blessedly, we don’t have to worry about those things so much now.  Now we wonder about rioting, hacking that can wipe out bank accounts, contaminated food and nation-wide recalls.  Having a full pantry of local or homegrown food provides a necessary layer of security in what was, is, and will always be, a topsy-turvy world.  And practicality aside, our grandmothers understood the value of taking a raw ingredient and turning it into a quality, wholesome product that nourished both body and spirit.  We’ve lost that understanding, but we can learn it again!

If you’re new to the ideas of gardening and food preservation and you’re considering taking the plunge in 2018, let me give you a word of advice:  Start thinking about it NOW.

Look at your eating and spending habits and determine where you could make the biggest impact.  Are tomatoes a staple in your home?  Jams?  Pickles?  Does your family eat green beans 3X/week?  Those are excellent places to start your food preservation adventure.  But don’t stop there.  Do you LOVE specialty salsas?  Make your own.  Are food allergies a concern in your home?  Make your own products and eat with confidence!  Do you love giving handmade gifts during the holidays?  No one is going to refuse a jar of your homemade apple butter!  (I once traded homemade apple butter for a treadle sewing machine, but that’s a different story!)

This is also prime time to consider the necessary equipment and education.  There’s a yard sale on every corner this time of the year and Mason jars can be found for little to nothing.  (I pay no more than $3/dozen and frequently far less.)  Farm stores such as Rural King and Tractor Supply will be clearancing their canning supplies to make room for holiday items, so take advantage of those discounts!  Local extension offices and farm stands frequently offer food preservation classes at low cost -or free- and this is also a perfect opportunity to visit your local farmer’s markets to get to know the people growing food around you.  Check the discard bins at your local library for inexpensive canning books.  Order online catalogs to familiarize yourself with the various types of tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers and herbs.  And if you’re going to try your hand at gardening, begin preparing your garden spot by killing off the grass and enriching the soil with compost.  This is no time to be idle, my sweet friends!

I know this may seem like daunting first steps to those who have no experience in gardening and food preservation, but we’re going to take this one little bite at a time.  In the coming weeks, we’ll break each of those bullet points down so you can confidently look ahead to the 2018 growing/canning season.  Til next time!