Saturday, July 14, 2007

Canning Wisdom

I've been putting up fruits and vegetables for a long time. I started toying with making pickles around 15 years ago and when I moved back South reacquainted myself with my mother's techniques, talked to the ladies in the community, and added the wisdom of my husband's grandmother. The first few years I was a maniac. The standing joke in the house was, "Don't put anything on the kitchen counter because she'll seal it in a jar."

The joke was a valid assessment. I canned anything and everything I could get my hands on. I canned things we didn't even like fresh. I canned enough that it would be impossible to use the jars in eight or nine years. I know, because I just tossed some Red Tomato Pickle (red chow-chow) that I canned nine years ago so I could reuse the jars. Nine year old Chow-Chow - Blech!

During these nine years of serious canning, I have learned a great deal - mostly through mistakes. Remember these things when you start the pressure pot.
  • If your family doesn't like it fresh, don't waste your time putting it into jars. They won't like it any better jarred and stored. Sure, it's alright to experiment, but do so in small quantities.
  • Don't make enough for an army unless you have an army. Let my Red Tomato Pickle be an example to you. If there are two adults in your family and two children under four, you don't need 20 to 30 gallons of chow-chow type product because let's face it, children under four don't usually eat foods that are vinegary and mixed. Remember that relishes are just relishes and not the main course, so plan accordingly.
  • Just because the fruit or vegetable is on the vine, doesn't mean you have to use it. Give it to your neighbors or perfect strangers. Yes, people will start avoiding you in high garden season if you dump too much, but if you ask around you will always find someone whose cucumbers didn't do well or someone who doesn't garden at all but would love fresh produce. If all else fails, give yourself a break and let it hang on the vine. "What difference does it make if you throw it out now or a couple of years from now," my husband's grandmother sagely asked.
  • Decide ahead of time which items you want to give as gifts and jar them accordingly.
  • Plan your garden to take into consideration how much your family needs and how much you already have. Do you need quarts of creamed corn, or would pints suffice? Does your family like green beans, peas or butterbeans better? How many times will you want to eat corn each week? How much do you have left from last year? Some people around here only plant corn every other year. They would rather endure the cramped hands and corn pelted kitchen every other year. The point is to plan your pantry and freezer input, so that you don't waste your energy and time over producing. Trust me, no one really wants to eat those beans that have been in the freezer three years.
  • By all means, don't fool yourself into believing that you will want to learn to make artisanal smoked tofu during the middle of canning season if you are the only one in your family who likes tofu. You won't need that entire row of soybeans that you have nurtured and weeded. Plan realistically, not idealistically.
If I had listened to my husband's grandmother the first time she asked me, "Why are you making so much of that?" I could have had more time to spend doing other things, though canning seems to be cheap therapy. Perhaps over-canning made more time.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like good advice. I've been trying to take this approach myself as I learn this stuff.

And I think that thing about throwing out is what I've been preaching to my partner about zucchini for years. You can't plan that stuff. Either you don't get any or you have way to much. But when you miss one and it gets huge, I really don't understand why you can't put it straight in the compost. Apparently this pains him.

Angela, MotherCrone said...

It is funny that you write about this, as I just dug out my stack of canning books, first dating back to 1935. I save the old ones, as the articles are so much more matter of fact. Your post could have been included in one, such sage advice! I remember hte year I made 20 quarts pickled watermelon because I heard you could. No one but me would even try it, and I ended up throwing away a few hours of work a year later.(not my favorite snack either!) My grandmother reminded me then to never make more than five quarts worth of an untried recipe, and have one right away if the food is still in season to see if you want to make more. That has worked well for us!

Wisteria said...

There are many people who are like your partner. In fact, I sometimes take vegetables from people who look really pained by the overages and give them away for them or compost them. I sometimes feel the ills of waste, but usually I know when enough is enough.