Preserving the season’s harvest
Growing your own food is a great pastime because it gets people outside, provides exercise, puts you in tune with the changing seasons, and rewards you with delicious produce in the end. While just a hobby for most nowadays, it wasn’t that long ago that local families relied on their gardens to provide the bulk of their winter food supply. Although not usually a necessity anymore, given the year-round selection in grocery stores, many people still preserve their garden’s bounty so they can enjoy the fruits of their labour in the winter months.
Not a gardener? No problem. Trot yourself down to your local farmer's market and meet the folks that grow good food. You may feel that homegrown food is pricier than that at the grocery store, and maybe it is. But consider the labour that goes into growing, cleaning and setting up for a local sale. Consider that what you purchase has been locally grown and picked fresh within the last day or so. Compare this with grocery store produce that has been picked too early and trucked in from out of the country. There’s no comparison in flavour or quality, and if you would splurge on an ice cream cone don’t deny yourself the healthy pleasure of fresh vegetables. Like the saying goes “you can pay your farmer now or your doctor later”.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself with an excess of fresh food and aren’t interested in preserving, don’t let it spoil on the counter if you can’t eat it all. Share with your neighbours, trade for other vegetables, or donate the surplus to a food bank so that it can be enjoyed at a free community meal.
Even if you’ve never preserved food, there’s likely a method that will suit your tastes and abilities. Check out recipe books at the library or ask veteran cooks for their favourites. Be wary of what you find online: use only trusted sources that follow USDA guidelines. Pickling and preserving is not difficult but don’t take chances with botulism or spoiling your food.
|slow roasting tomatoes|
The Company’s Coming: Preserves cookbook by local author Jean Paré is a great starting point for novice cooks and don’t forget to watch for cookbooks at used bookstores and thrift shops. While you’re thrifting, keep an eye out for boxes of good quality jars intended to withstand the heat and pressure of canning. Frugal home canners will note that the cost of jars is ever on the rise. At around $10 for a dozen quart sealers, it’s not cheap to start canning unless you can source your supplies more affordably. You can buy lids and sealer rings separately for a substantial savings over the jars and lids you find at the grocery store at this time of year.
If you’re cutting back on how much you preserve as you get older, perhaps you can think of someone that would appreciate some of your extra canning supplies. Likewise, if you’ve been given food in jars kindly wash and return them to the source in hopes that you might get lucky twice.
The price of sugar usually skyrockets when it’s time to make pickles and jams. Buy extra when you see it on sale, or even at regular price because it’s bound to get higher all season. Stock up on turmeric, mustard seed and other spices in the ethnic food aisle rather than the basic spices section—the bags are bigger and usually much cheaper.
A healthier option
Many would argue that the process of first growing, then preserving, their own food is of no savings at all once you consider your time and effort. On one hand, this is true. Buying canned vegetables and store bought pickles is quick and easy, and sometimes cheap. But if a person truly enjoys the time spent outdoors working in the fresh air and looks at it as a pastime that prevents costlier diversions, the benefits soon outweigh the costs.
Knowing what goes into the food your family eats has never been more important with chemicals and BPA so prevalent in commercially made products. Home preservation is another way people can take control of their diets and budget. There’s growing interest in the health benefits of fermented foods and the simple pleasure of handling your food from garden to table. Watch for deals on your canning supplies and enjoy the flavours of summer year-round for less.