I am back in print, which means that my pockets are full of gift cards to the local Co-Op! Here is a link to the October 2010 issue of the Bellingham Community Co-Op Newsletter.
I might be a little biased, but it’s a good article on how to “Preserve the Bounty”. Whether you a complete beginner or someone just needing a refresher course, I think that you will find some of, if not all, the tips helfpul.
MAKING THE MOST OF OUR BOUNTY
We are blessed to live in an area with an incredible plethora of goodness. The co-op’s shelves are stacked full of local produce, delicious one-of-a-kind treats from nearby bakeries and innovative products from freethinkers in our area. The Pacific Northwest is truly “where it’s at”. And, as we begin to usher in fall, I am reminiscent of our good fortune and the resources available for the picking.
In years past, my adventures in gardening and preserving had been just that – adventures. My efforts were haphazard at best and the overflowing enthusiasm I had at the beginning had a tendency to wane and almost disappear come fall. Seasonality was a relatively unknown concept to me and I consequently lacked the know-how and appreciation for taking advantage of in-season, bountiful sustenance.
When this spring rolled in, I committed myself to utilizing to the fullest extent possible (and, enjoying!) the season’s gifts as they came and went. I wanted to grow, harvest and preserve my own food. I wanted to fill my pantry with homemade, all-natural ingredients for home-cooked meals. I wanted to hold onto that sweet taste of summer on a dreary winter day. So, with a mix of a whole lot of enthusiasm, even more planning and a “can do” attitude – this year proved to be our best yet.
You can think of this as a “How to Get The Most Out Of The Northwest”.
Take advantage of the seasons: Wait and be patient for in-season ripeness and cheaper prices
The strawberries that peak out from the shelves in March and April may be tempting, but you will be paying sky-high prices for lack-luster berries. Be patient. Wait. Wait for the supreme, indescribable goodness of juicy, abundant, incredibly scrumptious raspberries in July. And, pick, pick, pick to your heart’s content. This year, I committed to putting bucket upon bucket of our apples into jars as applesauce instead of the compost bin. Instead of being a sideline visitor to the “Carpet o’ Apples” that overtook our lawn, I am making the most of this abundance.
- Utilize your local co-op for out of town produce contacts and purchases. Peaches and apricots are abundant over the mountains in eastern Washington, but aren’t as easy to find over here (and, truthfully, don’t taste as good!). The co-op knows the “Who’s Who” for growers and can work with you to buy in bulk directly from the grower.
So, summer has come to a close and the crisp mornings of fall are what we have… Now what do you do? Below is my personal breakdown for how I preserve the harvest and get the most out of the three seasons of bounty and prepare for winter.
Get to know your freezer. Berries and tree fruits freeze beautifully. Spread the cleaned berries out on a cookie sheet, freeze for one day and then put the roly-poly delights into plastic bags. Strawberry shortcake can now be on the menu any night of the week. Big, bulbous peaches, plums and apricots can be sliced and diced and placed right into freezer bags.
Fall in love with apples. Washington is known for it’s apples and they truly are a versatile product. Fresh is great. Applesauce is scrumptious. But, don’t forget about slow-baked apple butters that fill the house with a divine smell. And, a quick dessert is ready in minutes with premade apple pie fillings.
Get to canning those tomatoes. Tomatoes are ridiculously affordable in season and super easy to can in a simple boiling water bath. A healthy, homemade spaghetti sauce is at your fingertips any day of the week.
Everybody loves a good pickle. If you can get your hands on a bunch of cucumbers, give pickling a whirl. It’s E-A-S-Y and you’ll be left wondering why you ever paid $5 for a jar of pickles.
Jam today, gone tomorrow. Making jam is another great way to preserve your harvest. And, don’t be afraid to shy away from recipes that ask for 5 cups of fruit and 7 cups of sugar. You can make excellent and naturally tasty jam with no added sugar. The stockpile in your freezer works perfect when dumped into your stovetop pot for cooking up a batch of jam.
Love that dehydrator. If you can get your hands on a food dehydrator, you will marvel at the ease with which you can make fruit leathers, dried cherries, jerky and even yogurt.
The long, dreary, gray days in the Pacific Northwest between November and February are the perfect time to think about next year. The time spent in the garden in October is relatively limited, so use that down time to think about spring and how to begin enjoying and fully appreciating all four seasons.
Get the garden off on the right foot: Be realistic and work with you’ve got. Grow what you can and what you want to grow (and eat!).
- Plan the garden ahead of time. Do it during that time when you are still snuggled up with a cup of hot cocoa (that means right about … now!). Sketch a rough plan of your area and what you are planting where. And, then add corresponding planting dates so you know when things are actually going in the ground and when you will be harvesting. I have learned from experience that the “one-stop-drop-‘em-all-in” method of seed planting doesn’t work. I only ended up with 45 heads of lettuce and 15 pounds of carrots that needed harvesting all in one week, stunted corn that had been planted too early and bolted broccoli that flowered the instant our summer heat hit.
- Be realistic and do not try to do it all alone. Rely on your Co-Op’s selection of locally grown organic plant starts or your local grower’s plants. Unless you REALLY like tomatoes, you probably don’t need the seed packet that starts ten dozen plants.
- Have fun! Toss something new in that garden and give it a whirl. Who knows – you might love kale?!
Take notes – lots of notes. What was left of my memory after pregnancy has faded to a wispy thread now that I have a crazy toddler to wrangle. Jotting things down when its fresh in my mind is a lifeline and I use a beaten-down, well-worn journal to record the year’s experiences in the garden and kitchen. At this time of year, the book becomes a reflection of my last minute preserving details and scattered thoughts that I want to hold on to for next year.
My family’s project is not just for the year 2010. January was the kickoff to a lifelong change. The changes are worthwhile, the decisions are important and the choices are conscious. The Pacific Northwest is a gem and my pledge and intention is to take advantage of all its bounty when it’s ripe for the picking. Winter is long, but spring, summer and fall are intensely glorious. Make the most of these seasons and take joy in preserving your harvest.