I have been doing a lot of preserving in the past month. It has been my intention for weeks to hang up the jar tongs and get back to seriously writing the second draft of my book. I have this goal that I will have the second draft finished by January 1, 2011. Instead of writing I’ve been making batches of pesto (I’m up to a little over 20 batches in the freezer), canning stewed tomatoes (17 quarts this weekend), making quadruple batches of enchilada sauce to freeze, and yesterday I made an enormous batch of soup using the last of the summer vegetables (corn, green beans, summer squash, tomatoes, new potatoes, and fresh basil).
The elderberries are winding down now. I’ve got 11.25 cups of elderberries getting sauced in 2,250 ml of 100 proof vodka in the pantry. I have at least another 6 pounds of foraged elderberries in the freezer.
I could be done now. I could throw the towel down and leave the ring. But if I did that I wouldn’t have any dill pickles. There weren’t enough pickling cucumbers for me to make cucumber pickles but right now there are these giant locally grown cauliflowers and cabbages that I can pickle the same way I do the cucumbers. I made the cauliflower last year and it was an enormous success- not only between myself and my husband but all of our friends who tried them loved them also.
I want to try it!
There’s more. I saw a recipe for dill pickled green tomatoes that I think I’ll regret not trying all year if I don’t make them.
And what about the eggplants? They’re 4 for a dollar at Bernard’s and I wanted to grill a huge bucket of them for the freezer…
I keep telling myself to stop, but the truth is that doing these preserving activities makes me feel good. It makes me feel more hopeful and excited about the coming months during which time anything good or bad might happen but one thing’s for sure: I’ll be eating home pickles and making soups from tomatoes that have no pesticides on them. When I’m feeling low I can make a pasta with grilled eggplant and pesto.
So the book takes a little longer to write. I’ve been thinking a lot about my characters as I preserve, thinking about how important these same activities are to them. More so since they can’t just buy things from a grocery store the way we can today. The inspiration for the story originally came from doing urban homesteading activities and asking “What if oil didn’t completely run out but became so limited and so costly that the average person couldn’t drive a car because they couldn’t get oil and what if they couldn’t buy anything plastic? What if no one could afford to buy imported foods except on rare and special occasions? What would you have to know how to do in order to survive being more isolated in the community you’re in?
These are the things I think about while processing 50 pounds of tomatoes.
What I’ve realized is that preserving as much food every year as I can, at least in the fall, isn’t just a silly little project I enjoy doing, it’s a big project that I feel a deep need to participate in. I need to know how to preserve food I have now so I can eat it later. Because I already mostly eat seasonally my choices in produce are about to become much more limited. I buy a few things out of season, but not much. No green beans, no corn, no out of season fruit (except for Max), no summer squash, no tomatoes, no eggplant, no asparagus, no peas, and no fresh herbs I can’t still get out of my garden.
It isn’t a fancy rich person’s hobby.
I’m not rich and I’m not fancy.
It isn’t an indulgence as I’ve been telling myself it is just because I know I have other things to do. It’s one of the most important things I do for myself and my family every year.
So I’m reminding myself, and anyone else who needs a similar nudge, that preserving your own food (no matter how much or how little you do) is using the kind of knowledge that allowed humans to cross the ocean. Practicing this knowledge is what allowed humans to settle down in one place. Unfortunately it’s also what allowed armies to march far enough to conquer and oppress other countries. Food preserving is responsible for so many huge changes in human history.
It’s something I look forward to every year.