Putting Up Your Own

Sharon March 18th, 2008

A while back, I wrote a fairly thorough post about how to put up your own food, with an emphasis on minimizing energy inputs, and I won’t bother to repeat myself - y’all can just take a look: http://sharonastyk.com/2007/07/12/low-energy-food-preservation/

I thought instead, I’d focus on the organizational aspects of putting up your own food – something that I have never managed to get perfect, by the way.  Because I think it can be overwhelming, if you haven’t done it, to think about food preservation.  Or if you have done it in the past, and did it in a couple of very intensive bursts, it can seem impossible to find the time to devote whole days to food preservation multiple times during a year.

 My own strategy is that I take Carla Emery’s idea of planting something every day that one can plant and putting up something every day that there’s something to harvest as an ideal, and a model.  That is, instead of trying to do all the strawberries in one swell foop (so to speak ;-) , I try and stick some in the dehydrator one evening, and make six pints of jam the next.   A little here, a little there – sooner or later it all adds up to real food.

Now some things still are big projects - there are times when you want to take advantage of doing it all at once.  But once you have a little practice, you know that is coming, and can reserve some time for it.  I know that once a year, I’m going to buy sweet corn from an Amish farmer that sells it at peak at 100 ears for $10, and put up 2 or 300 ears of corn cut off the cob.  Corn chowder wouldn’t taste the same without it, and we won’t do without that essence-of-summer-in-winter.  But because I know that I’m going to do that in late August every year, I simply put on some loud rock and roll, accept my fate and get to work – and build the time into my life.

To do this, it helps to have a sense of how much food you are going to need for the year.  And this is one of those things that takes some practice – actually, I’m still practicing.  I somehow forget that my four sons get bigger each year and eat more ;-) .  I also would note that when eating homemade, quantities tend to multiply.  Home produced is *so* much better than most commercial foods that you may find that jam or pickles or dried peppers go way faster than you thought they would.  My own rule of thumb these days is when starting out, take what I’d expect us to use and multiply by 2 – that’s probably not a useful metric for a family with fewer growing kids, though. 

One of the best reasons to eat home preserved food is the nutritional content – particularly if (like me) you are trying to eat less – the reality is that conventional industrial agriculture has cut heavily into nutritional and trace mineral levels in food, and, as the gentleman in this article over at my friend Keith Johnson’s blog points out, people are literally starving despite eating way too much food.  Food you produce on your own good soil, or buy from farmers who care about soil, not just yield, and food you put up right after picking will provide not just filler, but nutrients. 

Technically our food preservation seasons starts with dandilions, but while a dry a few for herb teas later on, I don’t usually preserve anything until the rhubarb comes along.  But I do do that – it is a favorite here.  We usually put up a compote of rhubarb cooked in a bit of water (enough to just barely cover), with sugar to taste and about 1 tsp of almond extract and lemon juice  per quart of rhubarb.  Water bath can for 15 minutes for quarts, 10 minutes for pints, and you are in good shape.

We also sometimes mix rhubarb with the last of the stored apples, cook both down to sauce, add sweetener to taste, puree them and spread it out in the dehydrator to make fruit leathers. 

 Once the greens start in earnest, they get lactofermented for various kimchis.  Any green is good this way – cover them with water, add tsp of salt, and soak overnight.  Then fill clean quart mason jars with with the greens, 1/2 tsp of salt, and a bit (or a lot if you like it hot) of korean pepper or cayenne.  We use wild greens a lot this way.

As the summer goes on, we get busier with preserving.  We try also to preserve or find a way to use things that often go to waste in the garden – or at least know how to use them if we need them.  Eggshells can be crushed and fed back to the chickens for calcium – but they also can be baked, finely ground in a grain grinder and added to flour to increase the calcium content.  Outer leaves of cabbage and broccoli and wild greens like plantain and dandilion can be dehydrated (you can just hang them upside down loosely in a breezy, dark place) and ground up to add nutrition to flours as well. Wild grape leaves can be preserved when young to wrap grains with, and the more creative you get, the better.

We preserve right into the winter season – sometimes if things can wait, it is nice to wait until it cools off.  For example, I’ve started planting a late crop of cucumbers that produce heavily in September here, and am pushing back some of my pickling to the cooler weather.  The reality is that there is no rule that says you have to do things one way or another – you can experiment.  If you never have time in June because that’s the rush time at your job, plant everbearing strawberries and put up your jam gradually, over the course of the summer.  If you don’t like pickles, don’t pickle – the world is full of other good things to eat.

I do recommend that you learn how to put up food safely - canning low acidity foods incorrectly can quite literally kill you, and just because your grandma did it and didn’t die doesn’t mean you won’t.  This site  has current information on canning.  The most recent version of The Ball Blue Book is also an essential resource for canners.  DO NOT use old methods of food preservation, or old canning books – that’s not to say you can’t use older recipes – but TAKE THE TIME TO LOOK UP THE SAFE METHOD of canning a particular recipe.  It may have changed even from the early 1990s, so keep current on this.

For dehydrators, the book _Dry It, You’ll Like It_ is wonderful and comprehensive.  _Keeping Food Fresh_ by Terra Vivante is a terrific guide to preserving food without canning or freezing, and includes lots of fascinating methods. 

As general books go Janet Chadwick’s _The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food_ is good even if you aren’t busy (and great if you are) and Carol Hupptman’s classic _Stocking Up_, while a bit dated, is a lovely and useful book. 

Sandor Katz’s _Wild Fermentation_ is the best of all lactofermentation books, while Linda Ziedrich’s superb _The Joy of Pickling_ covers the whole range of pickling options.

Finally, if you are interested in how deeply transformative food preservation is, I loved _Pickled, Potted and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World_ – a fascinating read if you love food.

 Ok, more coming – tool time!  Grain Grinders, Solar and Masonry Ovens and much More!


16 Responses to “Putting Up Your Own”

  1. Idaho Locavoreon 18 Mar 2008 at 9:56 am

    Looking forward to reading your next posts, Sharon! We also try to do things a little at a time as time permits. It’s a bit of a change sometimes to think of canning not so much as a huge days-long operation where you put by tons of food to last the whole year all at once, but a daily or several times a week thing where you put up a few jars of jam here, a couple of jars of pickles there… It makes a lot more sense, I think, for most busy families to can their surpluses that way, though. I only do massive quantities now when our fruit trees are picked. The rest of the time we do it in small batches.

    Btw, the first ripples of at least some potential wheat shortages later this year are showing up here already. I picked up our latest order of dry bulk goods this morning and was told that many of the storage food places are running behind on orders and that our favorite whole grain “white wheat” is not likely to last till the fall crop is harvested this year because of the drought last year plus the increased demand this spring because of the financial meltdowns going on. The delivery guy said that people are calling “in a panic” and ordering stuff like mad, that they are three weeks behind on orders at the moment, and the whole thing “reminded him of Y2K” in intensity. So, if white wheat is on anyone’s “bulk buy list” it might be a good idea to get that part squared away sooner rather than later.

  2. Greenpaon 18 Mar 2008 at 10:26 am

    Yep. The organizational aspects to “putting up” food are critical, complex- and I think where beginners most often go wrong.

    It used to be that we learned all this stuff at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s knees. Few of us are so lucky anymore.

    Out last big family meltdown came when Spice arranged- without telling me- to share our Roxbury Russet apple crop with Amish neighbors. They’ve got a cider press.

    In her excitement- we wound up with some 80 gallons of spectacular cider- fresh, here, in stainless steel milk cans- unrefrigerated-

    And nowhere for it to go. Mason jars all dirty; big pressure-canner dirty, with a bad gasket. Not enough fresh lids. Proper firewood for canning- not close by.

    Start washing jars- try running a woodfired canning operation with a 2 year old, while washing jars, ladling boiling cider.. cooling finished jars.. getting wood… etc.

    The upshot was: about 5 gallons of drinkable cider; about 15 gallons of “what is this I’m drinking?” (apple juice with no sugar left, and a trace of vinegar)… and a lot of vinegar.

    I wouldn’t have let anybody start picking up apples, until all the jars were found, mostly washed; supplies and wood ready-


  3. Sharonon 18 Mar 2008 at 10:47 am

    Hi Greenpa – I didn’t even mention the “jar washing” elements – storing mason jars is a big project, and organizing all the food preservation. I’m sorry about your cider loss – and I know just what you mean!


  4. Richard Nevaon 18 Mar 2008 at 11:09 am

    I know the prices are going to end my food supply but no way in hell am I going to grow it and put it away! I am 67, live alone and I will chose to steal or die. I know nothing about growing it, and even less about preserving it and I do not care to learn. I hate being outside under a sun that gives me cancer and I am afraid of poisoning myself with ill preserved food. This the end, watch the show and enjoy it.

  5. Corton 18 Mar 2008 at 11:34 am

    I can relate to the fellow about age, I am 70 and wonder,mmmm I am working on a section of the house that will be solar powered, i am restoring an old cistern under the back porch for water storage for now, I get fresh produce from the neighbors because they all over grow, I live in a small town in Iowa and have almost a half acre of yard which i am slowly going to convert over to fruit trees and other stables, since i have become a vegetarian it makes it easier to enjoy what actualy grows in my yard, plantain, dandelions, clover, etc. i can bargain with people for many items, i appreciate your info, and i have some great recipes and sprouting info, and etc from some people down in Arkansas, Jenari Health Ministries. May we all have the wind at our back and the Lord at our side. because there is a change coming.

  6. Karinon 18 Mar 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Sometimes I find it great for my psyche to have a big day of food preservation. At least at the beginning of the harvest. There is nothing more satisfying than having a shelf in the pantry full up with the fruits of my labor.

    I have to thankyou for the tip on drying veggie leaves. Anything to improve the nutrition of the food I prepare. Especially for a finicky toddler.

    One of the first things we put up in the spring is maple syrup. Sap is running today. We only have 18 trees but manage to put up a couple of gallons. By the time that runs out we break into fruit syrups. The next thing to put up will be dandelion wine. And my husband spends the winter brewing beer for the rest of the year.

    We are in for hard times. Thankyou for this very practical advice.

  7. Malvaon 18 Mar 2008 at 1:45 pm

    I mark on the calendar when I run out of something I preserved. Gives me an idea how much more I need to put up next year.

  8. Other Leilaon 18 Mar 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Wow, what a wealth of information in that post. I found it all fascinating, but I’ve already been canning for several years now. If I was a newbie I think I would have been completely overwhelmed by all the different things to do. My advice would be to start slowly, and only do 2 or 3 types of food the first year.

    Sharon, about fermenting, what do you do with your pickles and saurkraut after the 4 week fermenting period? Do you water bath process, refrigerate, or ?

  9. Richard S.on 18 Mar 2008 at 2:08 pm

    “Pickled, Potted and Canned” I thought I was the only person to have read that book. ;-) Fascinating, though a bit of work to get through.

    As for jam, we routinely have many gallons of plum jam to can every year from our one very productive tree. The kids (ages 7, 7 and 10) are now old enough to do the pitting – a big help. We use Pomona Pectin purchased in bulk by the pound which is far cheaper than the traditional store-bought variety and has the great added bonus of letting use do triple batches (about a gallon at a time) with any amount of sugar we desire (usual 1/2 the sugar of commercial jam).

    I can relate to the overwhelming nature of preservation. We got blindsided by a bumper 200-pound plum harvest last year, enough for about 12 gallons. We quit after 8 gallons and put the remaining fruit puree in a friend’s freezer. It is still there, ugh! I wish it was possible to get those used jars cheap from garage sales around here, but almost nobody cans here in SoCal suburbia. :-(


  10. Leila Abu-Sabaon 18 Mar 2008 at 2:12 pm

    “Original” Leila here. I doubt I’ll be canning much this year for health reasons. This thread reminds me however of the bit of canning lore I learned from my American grandmother back in the 70s. We always made relish and other preserves in the fall, and she told me that relish is a good way to use up the last fall produce hanging around before the freeze. Green tomatoes that won’t have a chance to ripen go into relish, plus whatever else you’ve got in the ground that needs harvesting, even if it’s “not ready”.

    Just a word to the thrifty gardeners.

  11. Sharonon 18 Mar 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Other Leila, I usually eat them before they get too sour ;-) – otherwise, they go into the fridge or a cool spot (in fall and winter). But those sorts of things really don’t last that long here.


  12. Idaho Locavoreon 18 Mar 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Richard S,

    We also get tons of plums here. So many (and our trees aren’t even fully grown yet!) that we’ve been scrambling to find things to do with them all. We’ve discovered that they are actually pretty versatile. Here’s the list of what we make with ours.

    1. Dried plums. They are good later stewed and baked and also make darned good raisin substitutes when diced up.

    2. Jam, chutney and conserve, etc.

    3. Sweet and sour plum sauce and plum catsup.

    4. Plum syrup for pancakes and for mixing with carbonated water to make our own fruit sodas.

    5. Plum wine

    6. Plum vinegar – oh, man, this stuff is so good you can drink it by itself. Never thought I’d say that about a vinegar!

    7. Canned plum juice – if we have another bumper crop this year and run out of ideas.

    I’m sure there are a lot more things we could do with our plums, but this is what we’ve had success with so far.

  13. Leslieon 18 Mar 2008 at 6:18 pm

    I love this blog, and all the responses. Just thought I would put this in–one of my most important canned items is canned tomatoes. I put up dozens and dozens of jars each year. I use them in soups, spaghetti sauce, anywhere that a tomato is needed for flavor or juice. I used to make spaghetti sauce and can it, now I just do the tomatoes, dry or freeze green peppers, and always have the rest of the ingredients on hand.

    Sharon, thanks for the great information.

  14. Anion 19 Mar 2008 at 6:12 am

    Sharon(or others)

    Would any of you have any experience with “steam canners”? These are shallow pot-like devices with a large lid- that are supposed to be used to steam instead of submerging as in a water-bath canner? Several places sell them- maybe Lehmans and Emergency Essentials?- I have never used one and was wondering how they do-my water bath canner has developed leaks and needs replacing and it does seem that if these steam canners work they would be way more fuel efficient as less water needs to be heated to a boil in order to can. So any experience with one of these??

    And Richard- re source of cheap canning jars- ask people to save the jars from many of the pasta sauce brands- they use canning jars and all you have to do is wash the jars and remove the labels and you’ve got free canning jars. Just buy some new lids and you’re all set. Tell your friends, etc to save them for you- or hang out at the recycle section at the dump- or if you’ve got curbside pickup of recyclables- “go shopping” there!

  15. Richard S.on 19 Mar 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Ani – I do try to save those pasta sauce jars, but more get given away than I buy. Probably 1/2 of my larger jars are were Classico-brand sauces. I need to get better at asking people to save the jars for me when we give away our jam. My 10 yo DD thinks we should sell the jam to earn money, but I think I earn a lot more by giving them away. :-)


  16. Anion 19 Mar 2008 at 1:49 pm

    well yes- that would be a problem- same as when I sell pickles, etc at market- I hate to buy new cases of jars as they cost so much- maybe you could ask friends to return the jars to get another “gift”- I may try to entice customers to get the jars back to me- or increase my price to cover it- but am always on a hunt for more jars…..

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