Screwing It Up - A Manual For the New Home Preserver

Sharon March 19th, 2008

Up until now, we’ve been focusing on doing things right, on what you should do.  It is time to shift our focus on to my personal failings (always one of my favorite topics ;-)) and discuss what you should *not* do when storing and preserving food.  I would feel remiss if I did not offer you this useful advice.  Of course, being a food storage goddess, I’ve never actually done any of these things, but a very dear friend did ;-).

 1. When you store many heavy jars of home-canned food on metal shop shelves, do not glance into the storage area and notice that the shelves are bowing and have an odd tilt to them, and then think “that’s interesting” because you have another urgent project in your head, and close the door and not do anything about it.  Not that I would know, but if you do so, you may experience a giant crashing noise, tiny pieces of pickle-scented glass in everything, a godawful mess and an extended period of cussing.

 2. When you make daikon kimchi, do not put the jar lids on very tightly and then forget that you have it fermenting, unless you enjoy a kimchi scented kitchen and the sight of bright red korean pepper liquid dying your ceiling.

3. Do not every convince yourself that you will get around to labelling the buckets…eventually.  Do it now, or accept that you will never figure out what’s in them without unpacking them.

4. Do not leave the lid off the oatmeal bucket and your two year old unattended while you talk on the phone.  Do get used to picking little things out of the oatmeal bucket before you eat them for a while afterwards.  Do not think too hard about what the things are.

 5. Unless you are sure your family is the sort of family that eats pickled figs, do not pickle figs - there are better uses for them.

 6. Do not lose the little magnet thingie that allows you take the metal jar lids out of the boiling water without a big hassle.  When you do lose it, make sure the tongs you are using to get the lids (with giant hassle) are long enough that you don’t dip your fingers in the boiling water while chasing the lids around.  Keep bandaids in kitchen.

7. Do not pick the tomatoes with no clear plan about when you are going to get to them.  Do not convince yourself that during a spate of 95 degree weather, a bucket of tomatoes will keep on the counter for just one more day.  Do not think the fruit flies will go away easily.

8. Do not expect your spouse or partner to believe you when they ask where all the dried sweet peppers and blueberries went to and you shrug and blame the children.  Do not even try to look innocent.

9. Do not expect to hang up herbs to dry like the pretty pictures without tiny bits of dried herb ending up all over the place.

10. Do not think that the children will buy the “black currant is just as good as strawberry” argument.

 11. When reading the recipe for ginger-pear chutney, do not think “that doesn’t sound like enough ginger - I’ll just triple it and see how it goes.”  Do expect to be the only one eating ginger-pear chutney for a decade or so. 

12. Do not think you are done preserving just because you’ve had a hard frost.  You forgot about the green tomatoes,  greens, cabbages and roots!

13. Do not think that just because you did something right last year, you can’t screw it up this year.  Hubris is always punished.

 14. Do not accept “well, maybe this is how it is supposed to smell/look as an answer.  Throw it out! 

15. Do not think that anyone will ever let you get away with buying commercial pickles or jams again - once you start, you are stuck for life.

 Ok, I’m off to Boston for a wedding - more next week!

 Sharon

24 Responses to “Screwing It Up - A Manual For the New Home Preserver”

  1. Wendyon 19 Mar 2008 at 11:04 am

    Oh, man! This all sounds embarrassingly familiar. I think I’ve done most of them (except the storing on a metal shelf - but now I know … thanks! :) at least once. I still haven’t learned the lesson about tomatoes and fruit flies, apparently. Just FYI, it takes about three months for the gnats to die off, if the thermostat is kept at 60° and you’re not trying to ferment apple cider vinegar (they lay eggs in the cheesecloth - eww! ;). The last two hit home pretty hard this year. Every jar of applesauce ended up getting tossed, jar and all, when I saw weird pink stuff in the jars. And I didn’t can nearly enough strawberry jam this year and had to buy a jar of commercial jam at the grocery store. My ten year old won’t eat it :). Guess I’ll have to be more careful next summer ;).

  2. Leila Abu-Sabaon 19 Mar 2008 at 11:04 am

    Ten years ago as I was preparing for my wedding, my father (deceased 2006) told me about how his parents preserved figs. I blogged it later as figs preserved in geranium syrup.

    Basically you put dried figs in a large crock, make a sugar syrup flavored with rose geranium leaves or fennel & lemon, pour the syrup over the figs, add nuts like sesames and almonds, and seal up the jar. Dad said they would eat this stuff wrapped in their whole-wheat flat bread as a lunch to take to the fields. Sort of like a Near Eastern Cliff bar I guess.

    Dad also said that when you can’t afford white sugar to make syrup, you boil figs. Figs preserved in fig syrup, yum.

    I have never tried this BTW. Just saying…

  3. Leila Abu-Sabaon 19 Mar 2008 at 11:04 am

    Woops, sorry somehow I didn’t close the link properly.

  4. Greenpaon 19 Mar 2008 at 11:04 am

    OMG!! ROTFLMAO!!! :-)

    just brilliantly done- you’ve got a classic there that will be forwarded for decades-

  5. Other Leilaon 19 Mar 2008 at 11:23 am

    In the spirit of sharing, I would like to add the following:

    Do not be surprised when your pickled okra comes out slimy and gross instead of crunchy like the grocery store version.
    Do not wait until you’ve packed your jars to realize you’re out of lids.
    Do not store fresh apples uncovered in a dry basement. Nor outside in subfreezing weather.
    Do not assume things are going to keep for their expected duration. Eat them when you can instead of “saving” them for a special occasion only to find they are no good anymore.
    Resist the urge to cook with your preserved food when there is still fresh available in the garden. It’s counter-productive.
    Do not add yogurt culture to scalding hot milk and expect it to set.
    Do not let your spouse freeze your entire crop of berries. Leave some for fresh eating! They taste better.

  6. Ailsa Ekon 19 Mar 2008 at 11:37 am

    Oh wow, you’ve done that with the tomatoes too? I thought fruit flies were my own private penance for not getting to things quickly enough. Nice to know other people also have tomatoes get away from them.

  7. Sarahon 19 Mar 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Ok, this was a well-needed giggle in the midst of figuring out food preservation!

    And what is it with those magnet thingies? I can’t find mine, either.

    *waves long-distance as Sharon is in the same metropolitan area*

  8. Rogeron 19 Mar 2008 at 12:54 pm

    Excellent! Funny and loaded with great advice.

  9. Jenneon 19 Mar 2008 at 1:01 pm

    More from my family’s experiences:

    When going to the produce auction to get tomatoes to can, have a backup plan when you realize you’ve just bought 13 cases. (Other buyers will often buy them from you by the case, otherwise, it’s Aunt Jane time.)

    One case of tomatoes is not enough.

    Warn your roomate that home-canned tomatoes are not packed in thickened ‘tomato juice’ and may need to be drained.

    No matter what you do to them, fox grapes will not make a useable edible jelly.

    Even if using the lard you have on hand is cheaper than buying oil, you cannot pop popcorn in it. (You can, however, pop popcorn in salt. See the Little House Cookbook.)

    Sugar syrups do develop clouds that are non-toxic. Train family to ask before throwing it out.

    Never store pet rodent or bird food in the house without freezing it first to kill mealworms. Keep all grains in airtight jars. (Cardboard boxes and plastic bags are not airtight jars, no matter what your SO thinks.)

    When you fail to do this, remember that there are several brands of mealmoth traps and that it will take at least 3 iterations.

    You can build a fruitfly trap with a gallon jar balanced over a saucer with fruit in it. Carry the jar outside and turn it over to get rid of the flies.

    Remember to change the fruit daily or you will be raising fruitflies in the jar.

    If you release the fruitflies in the same place every day, expect to find massive spiders nearby.

    Freezing the cherries with their pits in will not stop the children from stealing them out of the freezer to eat all summer long.

  10. Saraon 19 Mar 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Heh — the magnet thingie can be stuck to the underside of the canner lid before the canner goes into the garage for the season. When it goes into the miscellaneous kitchen thingies drawer, it vanishes….

  11. Heather Grayon 19 Mar 2008 at 1:56 pm

    10. Do not think that the children will buy the “black currant is just as good as strawberry” argument.

    How about boysenberry (type of blackberry)? Mmmmmm….. not that I have any growing around here, sigh.

    And thanks to Other Leila for the note on canning lids — I kept forgetting that I need more for this year, so just ordered a bunch!

    ***
    Only one experience to contribute since I haven’t been making preserved foods for very long….. when making sweet jerky, make sure to let it dry out completely before putting in a container. It is not a cute fuzziness that results…

    ***
    On the subject of runs on seeds and other things, I remembered after posting here earlier today (Sharon’s previous essay on Wheat/seeds) that another thing that people seem to be doing a run on is dehydrated foods.

    A friend of mine recommended Mountain House dehydrated foods and meals — a bit pricier than MREs but have a ridiculously long shelf-life and are more edible too. I ordered some from their site, but on some items (like #10 cans of foods) they were recommending looking for them at some of their online dealers or brick store locations, because they were out at the main warehouse.

    I picked up a couple of their 3-day emergency packs for including in our bugout kits — you know, in case of fire, grab the packed backpacks and canteens and go. Gives you a few days of food, water, clothing, sleeping bag, etc., until hopefully you have a place to live again. Thankfully we’ve never had this happen to us, but we’ve seen plenty of fires in the news over the years, so we’d rather have the packs. Besides, we’re getting more into hiking now, so it isn’t like the equipment doesn’t get used.

  12. Richard S.on 19 Mar 2008 at 2:46 pm

    Do not assume that since sweet potatoes have “potatoes” in their name, that you can store them the same way as russets.

    Storing them on the counter until they magically turn to mush is not a substitute for baking them.

  13. homebrewlibrarianon 19 Mar 2008 at 3:03 pm

    I haven’t done quite as much preserving but I have learned some valuable lessons from the little I’ve done.

    Do not dry pear slices that have been dipped in a sugar syrup on fine mesh trays. You’ll need to steam them to get them off which rather defeats the previous dehydration.

    Do not completely harvest the neighbor’s Bartlett pear tree at the end of the season and then not get around to doing anything with the pears but leave them sitting on the counter for over a week. Fruit flies are only the beginning of the problems you’ll face.

    Don’t harvest a milk crate’s worth of pears and then think that you’ll be able to dehydrate them within a day even if you have eight trays. Multiply by three and add two days to the time needed.

    Don’t glean a gallon of tiny little yellow tomatoes from your local CSA farm and then leave them on the counter in a plastic bag for a few days. Even with spoilage, the time it takes to halve, seed and dehydrate the rest will be much longer than you expected. Figure twice to three times for planning.

    Consider how to mount your sauce maker/strainer before you cook up 12 lbs of apples for applesauce. Note that your counters and table have no edge to clamp it on to in advance and make the necessary adjustments. Otherwise you may be forced to clamp it to a low bookshelf thereby exposing your books and the carpet to the hazards of dripping applesauce.

    Don’t refrigerate the double handful of exquisite basil you bought from the farmer’s market because you can’t make pesto for a few days. Better to hang it up to dry than let go brown and slag all over the bottom of the fridge.

    Keep a watchful eye on your fermenting sauerkraut. Once it’s done fermenting, transfer immediately to clean glass jars otherwise when you next check it the entire surface of the brine will have molded and sauerkraut triage (flushing with an enormous amount of brine solution) will be necessary.

    Under no circumstance should you harvest a garbage bag full of the leafy tops of root vegetables you harvested at the local u-pick farm with only a nebulous plan for what to do with them. Plan to take the next day off from work to process them or you’ll end up with a garbage bag swimming in something unidentifiable and quite smelly. Also, don’t leave the bag on carpeting or you’ll discover the wonderful properties of baking soda as a stain/odor remover.

    Kerri

  14. Grandma Mision 19 Mar 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Ah, others have had over- abundance of pears intanglements!! It’s easy to be having such a good time giggling and yakking up in the trees, whilst gleaning from the farmer’s pear trees, to end up with 300 pounds of pears that seem to come ripe just about all at the same time!!!!

    Also, never, I mean NEVER, make batches of salsa, which requires processing/cutting several pounds of hot peppers, WITHOUT GLOVES!! Living with your hands in a bowl full of ice cubes for 2-3 days is not fun!
    Misi

  15. Leilaon 20 Mar 2008 at 12:12 am

    Wow, I needed to hear the warning about storing grains in plastic bags. I just bought a lot of flour, oats, some cornmeal. You mean I need to decant all of it into jars or food grade plastic?

    Ulp. This is a whole nother foraging expedition. I really don’t want to go spending money on containers. But I don’t want the twenty pounds of flour to go to waste. (or the 5# of oatmeal, 2# of cornmeal, etc. etc.)

    Can I keep the flax seed in a plastic bag?

  16. Leilaon 20 Mar 2008 at 12:14 am

    Also - re: pasta - so there was pasta on sale. I now have about twenty pounds of it, maybe more, acquired over the last month of shopping sales. Today it was Long’s drugstore - 2# bags a dollar each. No it’s not organic - this is emergency supply food.

    Anyway. Are you saying that I can’t store the pasta in its packaging? drag….

  17. Burbanmomon 20 Mar 2008 at 5:22 am

    Wow. Sounds like you “dear friend” has really learned a lot at the school of Oopsie-Daisicus. Thanks for the tips!

  18. Other Leilaon 20 Mar 2008 at 7:49 am

    Re: plastic bags

    I once had a moth infestation and they easily burrowed holes into plastic bags or crawled into paper sacks to lay their eggs in the food inside. They didn’t touch the pasta though. It was mostly the rice, barley, beans, lentils, cornmeal, flour they were after.

  19. Greenpaon 20 Mar 2008 at 9:54 am

    re: plastic storage. Think about what you have to keep out. The little bug larvae have mouth parts that are designed to chew through- seed coats. Hard stuff; harder than plastic in many cases.

    Then there’s mice. This year I had mice get into my root cellar for the first time since it was built. That’s typical- years of “ok, I’ve got them excluded…” - then whammo. They’ll chew through any plastic on the planet, if they have a reason to.

    Metals corrode- and might have weird toxic components in that process. There’s a good reason grandma loved her big stoneware crocks. Which are sucked up by the antique dealers these days, to look cute somewhere. Still; you can find them.

  20. Leila Abu-Sabaon 20 Mar 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Re: crocks. Well I am also going to look for large glass pickle/mayo jars at my local reuse depot. Or whatever they have. I own a few glass storage containers with rubber or silicon sealed lids, bought at Ikea a while back but I really don’t want to go buy a bunch more. $$$. Hoping I can find recycled glass containers.

    I also have mason jars but they’re too small for storing twenty pounds of flour. However the popcorn, flax seed and other smallish quantity items go into recycled mason jars. I used to buy that store-made pasta sauce (tomato) and acquired quite a few handsome jars that way. Recycled a lot of them in a decluttering frenzy some years ago but a few still hang around. Guess I could scrounge the neighborhood recycle bins for more, or just ask the neighbors, huh? It’s work.

  21. Leila Abu-Sabaon 21 Mar 2008 at 5:41 pm

    Reuse depot didn’t have large glass jars. THey did have two handsome crockery cannisters - one sized for 5# flour, one small for perhaps a half pound of coffee or something. Across the street I picked up two random containers at another thrift shop - a gorgeous crockery item, large, ginger-jar shaped with a hinge and latch on the lid for a nice seal, and a tall glass container with a snug-fitting lid. Also a two qt. sized screw top jar. Stuff doesn’t match. Better than nothing…

  22. Idaho Locavoreon 21 Mar 2008 at 6:54 pm

    Leila, check your local restaurants, delis and bakeries for cast off buckets and large condiment jars. You may find that’s a more fruitful resource.

  23. Jenneon 25 Mar 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Yes, check any supermarket that makes their own macaroni salad, etc. They often have gallon plastic jars. Restaurants are often another source. I get mine from events where luncheons are served, where we all scavenge for the pickle and olive jars. In a pinch, though, you can use lots and lots of quart jars for most things. (See if your neighbors will give you their spaghetti sauce jars.)

    I admit that for long noodles (angel hair, spaghetti) I use tall plastic jars from the Dollar Store, even though they are made in China.

  24. ranvaigon 29 May 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Larva will crawl right up the screws of a screwtop lid, unless there is a seal at the top as well.

    Years ago, I had a huge infestation from food leftover from a camping trip. Getting rid of them took two years and throwing out every bit of grain, legumes, spices, flour, bird food, even the placemats my son made in preschool with designs of grains and peas.

    Anything you bring home should go into the freezer for at least two weeks… or just throw it out.

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