Something I wasn’t quite prepared for — though it probably should have been obvious and all — is that when you plant a garden, you grow food.
Duh, right? I mean, I was hoping that food would be the eventual outcome and all. But I wasn’t quite mentally prepared for the fact that the garden isn’t really a drive-through. More of a truck drop-off, with Mother Nature driving the diesel. You don’t get a nice little CSA assortment of produce in a small trickle…you get five billion tomatoes, four tons of bok choy, and more spinach than will fit in your freezer….all at once.
(I know the experienced garden people are laughing at me right now. It’s okay. I’m laughing at me, too.)
So now what, O Prolifically-Produced One?
Now, my friends, the task of growing your own shifts. It’s no longer about making the plants and the dirt pony up with the goods. It’s about using and saving those goods so you can enjoy them long after the garden’s gone back to just dirt and the ground’s covered with frost. We’ll talk about using the summer goods sometime soon, but since we’re just starting to see small, beginning harvests, I thought it might be a good idea to collect together some of the best resources for preserving — so you have some time to learn and prepare before the vegetable onslaught begins.
Or, rather, so that I have time to prepare. This’ll be my first year canning anything. It should be a grand adventure, for sure.
With that, these are the resources that folks much more experienced than I am have been recommending, and there are some really awesome ones here. My fingers are already itching to start putting up tomatoes, in fact.
Food In Jars by Marissa McClellan
Host of the blog of the same name, when I got started with this food thing, this is the second most recommended book I heard about. I downloaded it for Kindle, but haven’t had a chance to give it enough of a look-through to review it well yet, but what I’ve seen has been beautiful and all sounds incredibly yummy. More on that when I can look it over.
Ball Book of Home Canning and Preserving
So what was the *most* often recommended book? This one. It’s a classic, updated regularly with the best information, and probably the most complete guide I’ve ever seen. A complete novice could pick this up with a water-bath canner and put by quite a bit of his/her harvest needs. It’s a classic for a reason.
Put Em Up! by Sheri Brooks Vinton
The reason I love this one, even more than the Ball book, is that it’s separated by the thing you want to preserve. Moreover, it’s not JUST about canning — freezing, dehydrating, pickling…it’s all covered. If you have, say, an abundance of strawberries, all you have to do is look in the strawberry section, and a whole array of options are there for you. Better still, it’s not all the same old stuff you see everywhere, either — the recipes and combinations are new and kind of exciting, and would be great for gifting.
National Center for Home Food Preservation
Mama of all sites. Not only does it give instruction on things like how to blanch veggies for freezing and basic canning/preserving, it has a comprehensive database of just about everything you can grow that gives you ALL the information on preserving/dehydrating/pickling that item. If you’re stumped as to what to do with a veggie/fruit, pick from the list on the left or do a search — they’ll probably have the info you need.
Pick Your Own
At the time of this writing, the site’s acting funny, but the info is still there, under the graphic menus. If you’re confused about which canner to buy — it’s got a TON of information on what the differences are between models and what you really need in a piece of equipment. The list of stuff you need is a great one for beginners, and I believe they sell this stuff on the site, as well.
Better still — if you click on the Find a Grower link, you can find a state-by-state listing of places you can go to pick your own fruit. How cool is that?
If you like pretty pictures, you’ll like this site. If you like pretty pictures with a ton of power-packed information behind them, you’ll LOVE this site. I know I do. The Canning 101 section is written in real english (a bonus), the recipe section is extensive and awesome, and there are even downloadable labels available for those who want to make things pretty. This one’s bookmarked in my house, and I can’t wait for things to grow so I can get started already.
Food in Jars
I talked about her book already, but the site has this amazing recipe section with enough stuff to keep you busy for MONTHS. (And fed for years.) Everything from spice blends to jams to butters to salsas (and some boozy stuff, too)…it’s all here. It’s a bookmarker, for sure.
Your Local Extension Service
Every community has one, and it’s chock full of hyperlocal information for things you can grow and preserve in your own environment. Find your local one and put it on speed dial — if you have questions, ten to one, they have the answers. (Some offer classes and publications, too. Mine doesn’t have classes, but I know the one in Oregon has canning and cheesemaking classes, for instance. So. Jealous.)
Fresh Preserving (Commercial Site)
Put together by the makers of Ball jars (which many of us use for our jar needs, I know), this site has good information, and a huge recipe section. I’m itching to try the Peach-Rum sauce, myself.
Canning Across America
From the site itself, “CCA is a nationwide, ad hoc collective of cooks, gardeners and food lovers committed to the revival of the lost art of “putting by” food. Our goal is to promote safe food preservation and the joys of community building through food. We believe in celebrating the bounty of local and seasonal produce and taking greater control of our food supply. Together, we can.” OH, BUT YES PLEASE. The list of resources is one of the best I’ve ever seen, too. Do check it out.
There’s so much more.
I’m not even scratching the surface of all the great info and personal blogs that are out there, devoted to helping you keep more of your summer long past the time when the tomatoes are done producing.
When my garden starts actually dropping more fruit, I’ll be looking at what to do with it while it’s still fresh, too. Got any fabulous tricks, or farmer’s market-type cookbooks that you adore? I’d love to hear about them — drop me a note or a comment and point me in the right direction.