The Food Preserver's Year

Sharon July 8th, 2008

A while back I wrote a very detailed post on low-energy food preservation, and I thought that as a supplement to it, it might be useful to take a look at the cycle of food preservation – I think of it as a year-round process. 

 Now this post will be most useful for people living in approximately the same climate I do – if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, or much south or north of me, you’ll have to get to know your local food sources, and find out what time of year things come at.  And our family eats somewhat differently than most other families - there are foods we put up a huge amount of that most people wouldn’t need nearly as much of, and foods we don’t bother to preserve, because we are content to eat them fresh.  But I think the process of making up a food-year calendar for yourself can be a great exercise, and I’d encourage all of you to do it.

How do you do it?  Well, you take a good look at what is available in your garden, at local farmer’s markets and elsewhere, and think about whether you want to preserve it for the dormant season (winter where I live, but summer in some hot, dry places, or the rainy season in other places) when you need to rely on other sources of food.  If you do, how do you like it preserved (here you may need to do some experimentation to see what you and your family like to eat)?  What recipes do you use it in?

Note how important that last part is – I want to emphasize that while you can go crazy trying to can or dry every single thing you’ve ever liked to eat so you can have it every day of the year, honestly, I think that in many ways, that’s just as nuts as eating the pasty supermarket strawberries in January.  That’s not to say that I’m not just as addicted to salsa in the winter as you are, just that the more you can get used to eating the foods that are actually in season – either fresh (think season extension) or stored fresh in a root cellar or equivalent, the easier on you all this preserving will be, and the easier it will be to find the time to do it.  Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.  

On the other hand, sometimes a little hard work really does save us time.  Yes, it can be a PITA to chop up all those tomatoes for pasta sauce, but it is sooooo convenient to be able to dump the whole wheat pasta into the pot and pour over not gloppy, super sweet, supermarket sauce, but your own roasted tomato and vegetable sauce.  You are investing time now for freedom later.

So here’s my food preservation year – it sounds more impressive than it is, since often I don’t get it all done.  I’ve left herbs out for the moment, because I’m going to do a post on preserving herbs on Thursday.  And I’m going to start my preservation year when things first start get going, in My.  Some of you will be able to start it much earlier, others later.

May: Can rhubarb sauce (a favorite dessert, and quickie breakfast dumped over raw rolled oats – tastes much better than it sounds ;-) ), freeze eggs for baking and scrambled.  The rhubarb is just coming in, but the eggs are in full boom – I’ll also coat some with shortening and store them at room temperature, but because I won’t want them until fall, that will be later in the season – they keep about six months, so I do this more with late eggs.  Early extra eggs get sold or frozen.  Eggshells are baked and pounded up and stored in a coffee can to be added to home produced chicken feed and to the watering can.  Lactoferment dandelion green kimchi, although this isn’t really a “storage” item since it always gets eaten almost immediately.  Freeze and can up any squash or sweet potatoes we haven’t used up.

June: Pickle garlic scapes,  dehydrate strawberries, can strawberry jam, strawberry sauce and strawberry-rhubarb pie filling.  I should pickle some early baby beets, but somehow I never get to it.  Freeze snap peas, dehydrate sweet shelling peas.  Dehydrate greens (this is especially good for greens on the verge of bolting late in the month – they can be ground up and added as a filler to flours and soups).  Can mint syrup for adding to water in the winter.  Dry onions.

July: Preserving Boom Begins!!!  Can: Blueberry jam, blueberry sauce, currant jam, currant juice, peach sauce, peach jam, apricot sauce, apricot jam, raspberry sauce, raspberry jam, peach chutney, .  Dehydrate blueberries, apricots, peaches, black currants, red currants.  Can beets.  Make kimchi out of various greens and roots.  Freeze grated zucchini to use as a meat extender for ground beef.  Dehydrate zucchini.  Pickle green beans (I don’t bother to preserve green beans any other way – we don’t like them frozen, dried or canned, so they, like asparagus, are one of those things we enjoy when we’ve got them.).  Dry and braid garlic.

For us, tomatoes, corn and peppers do start this month, but they are too new to bother preserving – I wait for the glut later in the season.  I manipulate my cucumber harvest so that most of them come in around September, when it is cooler.

 This is also when I seriously start my root cellaring garden.  Some things, like parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and brussels sprouts have already gone in, but most of the carrots, beets, cabbage, celeriac, and other root crops are planted in july, as is some more kale and collards. 

August: Freeze and dehydrate sweet corn (this is my most single hated job of the year – I buy 200 or 300 ears of sweet corn from a local Amish farm and freeze it (mostly for corn chowder) and dry it (for soups and stews over the winter – dehydrated sweet corn is terrific!).  But shucking all those ears, steaming them and  cutting the corn off the ears is not my favorite job – but boy oh boy is it worth it.  So I put on loud rock and roll and just suck it up.

Can tomatoes – salsa, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes.  Dehydrate tomatoes.  Dehydrate sweet peppers.  Freeze watermelon.  Can watermelon juice (surprisingly good).  Dehydrate watermelon (really good!).  Make watermelon rind pickles.   Freeze sweet peppers, pickle, dehydrate and freeze hot peppers (depends on the variety - cayenne, kimchi, aleppo and poblanos get dried, jalapenos, fish peppers and bananas get pickled, serranos get frozen).  I might make some cucumber or zucchini pickles too, if it isn’t too hot.  Or I might not. 

August is also when the last crops of greens, peas and favas go in, except spinach and arugula, which can keep going until September.  Oh, and when I make raspberry vodka.

September: More of all of the above, plus cucumber pickles and beets.  I also usually pickle some onions.  By late September I may be harvesting dried-on-the-plant foods like dry corn, popcorn, amaranth and dried beans as well, or I might wait until October, depending on how things look. 

We also start canning applesauce and dehydrating apples.  Most of the early apples don’t keep that well, so they are better eaten fresh, sauced and dried.  Since September tends to be the last month I can reliably solar dehydrate, I try to do the dried apples then, but if I don’t get it done, they can be hung up behind the woodstove.

October – Harvest all the stuff we dried on the plant, can more applesauce, pear sauce, green tomato pickles, preserve late fruit (raspberries, apples, quinces, pears) in liquor, make apple butter, make cider syrup for pancakes, make late fruit leathers.  It is also when we start butchering chickens and turkeys, and if I’m really ambitious, I’ll can some of them – the meat and the broth, since I’m trying to minimize my freezer usage. Usually they get frozen, though.  I make more late tomato sauce until the last harvest comes in.  Also my own V8 juice.

We also start filling the root cellar – digging the poatoes, beets, turnips, harvesting the cabbages, etc… But the balance is hard – because our root cellar is actually an unheated porch, we have to wait to put things in until it is consistently cold – but if we wait too long we get the fun of pulling beets out of frozen ground.  So there’s always a race.

November: Most years, the race goes into November these days.  So we’re digging potatoes and seeing if we have to buy more, putting the carrots is buckets of sand, hanging the onions, etc…  Add to that the fall butchering goes on, and there’s the late canning.  Also, November is when we have seriously begin putting up the coldframes and mulching things to overwinter.  We’re still preserving food, although the focus has moved away from canning and dehydrating (not totally apart from it).  Also time to gather the nuts – if we can beat the other nut-eaters.

November is also when it becomes cold enough to let us do large-scale lacto-fermentation – so far, we’ve been making kimchi and sauerkraut in small quantities, to be eaten right away. Now we move towards big bucketfuls, because the process of fermentation slows down and we can keep it for months.  So daikon, cabbage, carrots, napa, bok choy and other greens get fermented. 

December: This is the time to make presents, and make cute little baskets of things.  And to rest on our laurels a little – usually a quiet time in the food preservers year – most of the root cellared stuff is new enough that there’s no need to preserve it another way, and there’s little new coming in, maybe just a few greens from the garden. 

January- April: Now comes the project of management in earnest.  You have to track the stores – when onions show signs of shrivelling, we put them in the dehydrator.  When the apples start to go soft, I start canning applesauce.  A squash develops a spot?  Great, cut it up and freeze it, or can it.  It isn’t dense, the way summer preserving is, but it is constant, a little here, a little there, it all adds up.  And that’s pretty much the way it will be until May, when the cycle starts again.


30 Responses to “The Food Preserver's Year”

  1. tasterspoon says:

    Yum, yum, yum. When you round it all up together like this, it sounds so joyous and bountiful. Note to self: must google lacto-fermentation.

  2. abbie says:

    Thank you for the wonderfully detailed post. I always mean to can enough applesauce to last the year, because homemade applesauce is just the best. But, as I’m sure you know, fall is the busiest time of year for a farm family, at least for my family. We’re busy selling pumpkins and picking apples, and what free time we do have in the fall is spent going to the local fairs. Not to mention, I’m a teacher, so I’m also back at school.
    I think I’m going to try to make up a schedule like this. Here in CT I’m guessing it would be very similar to your year.
    Thanks again!

  3. Bess says:

    Thanks for the inspiring post…. It seems a bit overwhelming though. Hopefully I can do just a few of those things this year.

  4. Jenn says:

    This is a huge motivator, and yet rather intimidating at the same time (intimidating in a good way?) Given that I haven’t planted all that much this year, I think I might have to try my hand at preserving some things from the grocery store or co-op as well as continuing to build up my food stores in the usual way. So many idea and options, though – it’s good to have choices, and I’m looking forward to getting better at this as I go.

  5. Meadowlark says:

    You buy 2-300 ears of corn? I’ve been sitting here thinking you were growing everything. And I’ve been kicking myself because I have not ONE SINGLE tomato on my plants.

    Duh. So I should be buying this stuff. OK, maybe I can figure it a bit better now. Thanks.

  6. Anonymous says:

    wow…and I can’t even find the motivation to bake bread (checked the ingredient list on my “100% whole grain natural” bread this morning and was appalled) and make strawberry-rhubarb jam in this 90+ degree weather…

  7. homebrewlibrarian says:

    The season starts later in Alaska. Here in the Anchorage area, we’ve been seeing salad greens and radishes for about three weeks now but those aren’t exactly foods to put up. Berry season is late July into early September and that’s for raspberries, blueberries and currants. Strawberries are hit and miss up this way and from what people tell me, mostly miss. I could harvest a handful of greens from my garden but these were from good sized starts that I started inside in early April. About the only thing I could put up in May-June would be rhubarb. Maybe peas if I’d gotten them planted in early May instead of mid June.

    Don’t get me started on putting up stuff from the nightshade family – except for potatoes, all the rest do poorly unless kept in greenhouses (in the Anchorage area – up around Fairbanks that might not be the case). I don’t expect to get enough tomatoes off the nine plants I have to do much more than adorn a sandwich or throw into a salad. The four peppers I started in mid April are only 8 inches tall and I didn’t even try eggplant. But I do have high hopes for potatoes. I planted six different types in tires and every single chunk I put in the dirt (4-5 per tire) has sprouted. Some of the plants are almost big enough to add a second tire and that’s heartening.

    On the other hand, I have meat and fish out the wazoo. In my freezer I have a sirloin roast of muskox, four different cuts of yak, a heritage breed turkey, a duck and fillets from 18 red salmon. All grown or harvested locally. I also have some salmon and halibut that friends caught last year and gave to me so they can free up freezer space for this year’s fish. I expect to get more fish and have ordered a half side of a steer calf. I’ve signed up for a meat and fish canning class that the Cooperative Extension folks are offering this Thursday evening. The plan is to put up as much of the meat and fish as possible either through canning, salting or smoking/drying. I hadn’t thought about pickling meat and fish but I might look into that as well.

    I noticed this last year…a lot of storable foods for Alaska are harvested ALL AT THE SAME TIME. That’s because the season is so short and it’s tough to do a lot of succession planting. What I plan to do different this year is to take off days from work to harvest and process foods instead of trying to cram everything into a weekend or two. It didn’t work and a lot of food turned into compost.

    While I appreciate the food preservation calendar, it’s not anything even remotely realistic here. But it does motivate me to put together a local version or at least a list of what foods are seasonal when. As Michael, my compatriot in all things PO and CC says, “that’s okay, I’m still learning.”

    Kerri in AK

  8. Sharon says:

    Hey Meadowlark – sorry if I gave the wrong impression. No, we don’t grow everything we eat or produce by any means. I grow sweet corn, but not enough to put up, so we eat ours and I buy some from a local farmstand to preserve. My strawberry crop got toasted when the sheep were living in my front yard this year, so all the strawberries come from the local pick-your-own. We don’t grow enough apples or peaches to meet our needs yet, etc… I try to buy it cheaply in bulk from local farmers, but no, I don’t grow everything by any means. Growing food is important, but it is only part of the picture for most of us.


  9. Sharon says:

    Kerri – That’s exactly right – I don’t expect my calendar to be relevant to most people. But it is worth noting what’s available when, if only so you can take that preservation vacation. And a lot of it involves differing diets – my diet has a lot less meat and fish in it (I’m jealous of the fish), for example, but more tomatoes, and someone in the Southwestern states will have a different diet still.


  10. Jennifer says:

    Can you tell me about the currants you pick? Are they ‘wild’ ones? We have squaw currant and golden currant growing along the trails here — I have read that the berries are good in jams but I don’t know a single person who has ever actually made it.

  11. Paula Hewitt says:

    Im exhausted just reading this! Thanks – it is good to get an idea of what you do, and easy enough to adapt it to our climate and needs. we are a long way from this – I do a little preserving, but we are still at the point of eating everything we grow as it is picked. We are eating more seasonal and local, and I have explained to the family that chickpeas and pasta, or bokchoy and rice is a meal in other parts of the world, and so it can be for us too – we are moving away from the idea that we can eat whatever we want when ever we want, and that every meal has to contain meat or be ‘gourmet’. So we are heading towards this point of food preservation, but at this stage we are still trying to sort out our planting schedule. sorry Ive just realised that this comment is probably more relevant to your locavore post.

  12. Lewru says:

    “Oh, and then I make raspberry vodka.”

    Hold the phone! How do you do THAT?!

    While I’m sure you find time to rest (do you??) it seems like there must be a lot of the “going to bed exhausted but feeling great” feeling going on in your life. Very cool.

  13. Sharon says:

    Raspberry Vodka is incredibly easy (although I don’t make the vodka). You take 1/2 pint of raspberries to a half gallon jug (I use glass milk bottles) and put the raspberries in the bottle. I add two cinnamon sticks and 1 cup of white sugar, and pour vodka to fill the jar. Then I cap it loosely and wait a couple of months, giving it a shake every once in a while. Since I use super cheap vodka for this, and the results are, shall we say, of far higher quality, it is a kick-ass net benefit.

    Dmitry Orlov has an actual vodka recipe over at his site, btw.


  14. I do believe if you made your own vodka, you would be arrested. Anyway, what do you use for a solar dehydrator?

  15. New Mama says:

    I am a newbie gardener with a very small city-type lot, but I’m finding this post totally inspiring!

    Would you mind sharing your rhubarb sauce recipe? This is one plant I already have in my garden!

  16. Rebecca says:

    Hi! I just came across your blog (don’t remember how), and have been snooping around a little… After reading the post about looking for housemates, and now this one, I so wish I could just to learn all these skills from you! I want to know how to do all the canning, preserving, saving seeds, etc… but it just seems so overwhelming for a girl who grew up in the suburbs (though we did have extensive flower gardens and a strawberry patch). I’ll be sure to keep reading and glean what knowledge I can from afar!

    Any books to recommend? It will be at least 4 years until I have a semi-permanent home, but I figure I might as well start learning now!

  17. Nita says:

    Many readers should know that in some areas (we’re in western Oregon) root crops such as beets, carrots, rutabagas, and parsnips can be left in the soil and harvested as needed. This year, we harvested our last of those root crops just before we were preparing to plant in May.
    If you use the right variety, this type of storage saves time, and storage space. I haven’t had a fresh carrot yet, but we ate our fill of them all fall, winter, and spring. I not missing carrots yet.
    Also we are able to grow a large variety of greens, that are winter hardy and harvestable until April or May, either as leafy greens or napini. But, these vegetables have to be planted now or they will not be large enough to withstand winter temps.

  18. Becca says:

    Wow. That is incredible! And so helpful to see something like this laid out. I think it will be easier now for me to create one of my own.

    Your rhubarb sauce and mint syrup recipes both sound great. Mind sharing?


  19. Basia says:

    rhubarb sauce sounds great! I’ll try it next year…
    my friend does sweet pepper jam, it’s quite good…

  20. Becky says:

    What you’re doing here is a real service, I think. One thing that’s really started to bother me is how much knowledge we’ve lost. My grandmother was born in 1896 and grew up on a farm. She knew all about food storage and preservation and she passed a lot of that (though not all) onto my mother. Mom had a garden and she did some canning, so some of that came to me, but when I was raising my children in the 80′s and 90′s, it just didn’t seem relevant, and I worked full time and barely had the time to manage to cook a hot meal every night, let alone spend hours canning.

    Actually, forget food preservation, even basic food preparation is becoming a lost art. My kids can cook a few basic dishes and follow a recipe, but it’s amazing to me how many of their friends can’t, and have no idea what to do when confronted with actual food (as opposed to processed, prepackaged food products). The default remedy for ignorance is the almighty Google, and it never occurs to most people to wonder what they’d do if the Internet wasn’t around. I work in libraries, and I’ve watched our local library system divest itself of reference books, transitioning to reliance on electronic resources. It worries me that if (when) the electrical system becomes unreliable, even people who have the will and intelligence to survive won’t be able to find the information they need.

  21. Tara says:

    Interesting point, Becky. I’m a heavy Google-user myself, but I’ve been building up an arsenal of books and notes for that very reason.

  22. Rosa says:

    You may actually do better with books than with your grandma’s knowledge – the USDA has done some food testing and updated their recommendations several times in the last few decades, and the supplies available have changed too.

    I was an intern at a farm with four expert canners…each of whom had different ideas about how to pretreat the jars & lids, how big to cut the pieces, how much salt or sugar to use, etc. It was very enlightening.

  23. Heather Gray says:

    On salad greens, since they are short-lived, I thought I’d mention what my sister-in-law does with leftover salads, when they get a bit limp but haven’t gone bad. She throws them into a pot with water and anything else that seems like it might be interesting and makes soup.

    The soup can be had immediately, or if you have freezer space you can put it up in small containers for future meals later in the year.

    Also, if you have a lot of greens come in and you don’t think you’ll be able to eat them all, you can dehydrate some of them, to throw into soups later. I expect they lose some nutritional value dehydrated, but it would provide a little variety over the winter. This needs to be done with fresh greens though, not limp ones. Preservation should be done at the plant’s peak of health.

    My dehydrated kale in particular worked out the best, since that I actually tried snacking on straight and found it tasty (broken bits, not a whole leaf generally).

  24. Sarah says:

    Becky — you end up with a bit of a Catch-22 with online reference. Searchable online databases and reference sources really are much more useful and easier to teach, so they get needed information (including about stuff like food storage and climate change) out to more people faster and can stay more current because they can update more or less instantly. And depending on individual publishers and what sort of computers and servers are involved, they’re often even lower-energy than publishing a new edition every month or year, since the publishing industry is hugely energy-intensive, and nobody has to drive to the library to access them (in some rural areas you really have to drive unless you’re incredibly athletic and have a lot of time on your hands). But then if everything goes online (or even just on computer), we’re screwed when we run out of resources to run the computers.

  25. Kati says:

    Along with the Rhubarb sauce recipe that Becca asked if you’d share already, would you mind sharing your Kimchi recipe/directions??? Both would be greatly appreciated in my house.


  26. Rick says:


    If you don’t grow enough apples on your own, in lieu of going to a u-pick place (always expensive), stop and ask people who have trees but don’t seem to pick them. Here in Vermont, there are trees everywhere; I stop and ask if I can pick to make cider. Some say no because they will press their own for cider, but most allow me to pick so I am able to press a year’s worth of cider (I freeze the sweet cider and am trying to make hard cider for the first time this year) even though my orchard isn’t producing yet.

    Thanks for all the info you provide.


  27. Myrt McGirt says:

    I’ve read most of your book, and I learned so much! Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    I have a question I’m hoping you can answer. I am interested in trying to can watermelon juice, as you suggest above. Do you have a recipe for it/could you explain how you make it? I couldn’t find anything online or in the Ball book.

    Thank you!

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