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.