Here it is, nearly the last day of December, and I’m thinking and writing about preserving produce! Well, due to an unnaturally long (but highly appreciated) fall, I was picking the last of my tomatillos and jalapenos around Thanksgiving and canning salsa the end of November. I was drying apples well into December. I wish I’d taken a photo of all the bags of fruit I had dried, but now most of them are gone; given as Christmas gifts to family and friends.
All summer I had been pondering this provident living thing—producing and providing for your family. Leaders of our church encourage us to get out of debt and live as self-sufficiently as possible. Growing, then canning, freezing, drying garden produce is a big part of this.
All summer I wondered how a single mom can work AND keep up with the home production thing. Garden? Check! Orchard? Check! Chickens? Check! Bees? Check! Goats? Ummm… not yet. In spite of all these resources, I was feeling like I couldn’t keep up with the food preservation, that I was somehow lacking. I think a lot of single moms feel this way. Some married moms do, too.
However as I, just now, the morning of December 30, sliced a half-dozen pineapples to dehydrate, I realized that bit by bit I had actually accomplished a LOT of food preservation this season.
Canning was actually easier when I had a house full of kids. Every couple of weeks we’d have a canning day where we’d make bottle after bottle of salsa. Get a dozen hands helping each other out and you can make a lot of salsa! Get some friends to help and it gets even better! Fall canning included the incentive of a day off school to help with canning. (Homeschooling was a great boon for us!)
With the kids pretty much grown and gone (but still wanting home-made food) it has taken some creative means to accomplish the canning. First off, I take it a product at a time. I don’t think of everything I need to do, just what I need to do today. Or tomorrow, or next Tuesday. Blue-ice packs and towels can buy you a day or two. Second, lower your standards. I’m not saying compromise safety—NEVER do that. But don’t worry if your food won’t take a blue ribbon at the county fair. Just get it into the jars and onto those cool dark shelves.
Get help. A neighbor came to help me can applesauce. We spent about 5 hours cooking, grinding, canning, and netted 35 qts. She brought her own jars, I provided everything else. She took ten, I kept 25. Another day, one of my daughters came down to help. My son is superb at grinding tomatillos and jalapenos. We work together. His part takes about an hour and a half and I can do the rest myself. With an early start, I can process over 2 dozen pints before I have to leave to work at 1pm. An early start and only doing 1 or 2 canner loads in a day make it possible to preserve a good amount of produce before (or after) work.
That leads to my biggest success. Doing lots of small batches. Here’s where drying works so well. In the heat of the summer, I can dry apricot leather outside. By late August, the sun isn’t quite high enough to dry peaches, so I use a dehydrator. It takes about a half hour to prepare a dehydrator load of fruit. I put it on in the morning for 12 hours, then at night I take it off and put on another load. Each dehydrator load fills a quart size freezer bag. If I’m really diligent, I get a dozen bags a week!
In this simplistic manner, bit by bit, I’ve managed to preserve quite a few things. Generally I freeze: peas, green beans, corn, peaches, apricots, nectarines, strawberries, bananas (most, but not everything comes from my garden), peppers, blackberries,
I bottle apricots, peaches, grape juice, green and red salsas,
I dry apricot leather (I grind up different fruits and make a variety of fruit leathers), peaches, plums, pineapple (we don’t like it sugar-coated), tomatoes.
This post hasn’t been particularly entertaining, but I hope it’s been practical and helpful. Most of all, I really hope this gives you hope and the desire to try. It’s not hard. Just slice up things, put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet and put them out in the sun—on top of a picnic table or car works well. I’m a minimalist when it comes to cooking and canning—keep it simple, quick, and healthy! And if you have any food preservation questions, just ask!
I’m really looking forward to the next two months, the months where we can rest, relax, and restore a bit. Cold weather, rain or snow, is God’s way of telling me that it’s time to stay inside, light a fire in the woodstove, grab a bowl of dried apples (or dove chocolate), and curl up with a good book.