At the beginning of every summer, my parents handed me and my younger brother over to our grandparents. Mom and Dad stayed at home and enjoyed the luxury of private time as a couple while we kids spent three blissful months with our extended family in south Georgia. I think everyone involved thought they had the best of the bargain.
Both of my grandparents were avid gardeners and part of the allure of staying with them was their huge vegetable garden as well as the grape arbors, the strawberry beds and the thickets of wild blackberries that grew in the woods nearby. My brother and I were picky eaters, and most vegetables were a hard sell, but we loved the abundance of it all and would make up wild adventures when my grandmother sent us out with our buckets to pick berries.
Grandaddy and Mother gardened seriously, and by that I mean that they intended what they grew to feed them not only through the growing season but into the year. Every August saw a frenzy of activity as Mother canned vegetables, made pickles and jams, and froze what seemed like bag after bag of corn, beans, and fruit. I remained a mere observer of this food preservation marathon but I found it quite fascinating. As an older child, I took on some, shall we say, less than becoming attitudes which the family put up with fairly graciously. My comment “You know, you can buy all of this at the grocery store” provoked nothing more than gentle smiles from my grandmother and aunts. They, of course, knew that a home preserved jar of strawberry jam beats the grocery variety every time and that the bags of field peas blanched and frozen at the peak of flavor would be very welcome in the middle of February.
Well, since becoming a gardener myself, I have changed my thinking. My small garden is in no way comparable to my grandparents’ so my interest in canning and preserving is more on the small batch scale. Of course, you don’t have to be a gardener to preserve food. On any day of the week, there is a farmers market going on somewhere in our area and a good one will have the freshest and best tasting of local produce. Of course, you’ll want to use most of it as soon as possible, but why not preserve some of your purchase to enjoy later in the year? Preserving on a small scale is doable, and pleasurable, and you don’t need the whole month of August, a large kitchen, or multiple helpers to accomplish it.And now, I have to admit to the shameless theft of this post’s title from one of my favorite books on home food preservation, Eugenia Bone’s unusual and beautifully photographed Well-Preserved: recipes and techniques for putting up small batches of seasonal food. Unfortunatly, DCPL doesn’t own this title, but there are many other wonderful books on canning and food preservation available so that you too can dive in and explore this fascinating skill.
For a contemporary spin on classic techniques, check out Canning For a New Generation: bold, fresh flavor for the modern pantry by Lianna Krissoff.
Do you want a more “artisanal” approach to food preservation? If so, take a look at Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: and other cooking projects by Karen Solomon. This book even has a recipe for homemade marshmallows!
Graphically striking and very useful for novice canners, Homemade Living: canning & preserving with Ashley English will inspire you and calm any lingering doubts about your abilities. Ashley English is the author of the excellent, and distinctive, Homemade Living series of books which also includes volumes on home dairying, beekeeping, and raising chickens.
Maybe you have done a few small-batch canning sessions and you decide to move on to larger projects. Maybe you want to tackle a big project with a group of friends. If so, a good source is The Everything Canning and Preserving Book: all you need to know to enjoy natural, healthy foods year round. Or try All About Canning and Preserving from the Joy of Cooking instructional series.
So dive in, have fun, and let me know how it goes, and to all you experienced canners out there, please be proud that you have mastered this useful, and valuable, skill.