September 2010 Archives

Preserving Notes: 9/5/10

pesto freeze 2.jpgI have 13 batches of pesto in the freezer.  That's 13 up from last year.  There were many bone-damp cold winter evenings when I would have given a lot to defrost some pesto to put on hot pasta.  Something so green and fresh tasting never fails to bring warmth to the cold.  I never buy pre-made pesto any more.  It is always such a disappointment compared to my own.  I would like to get 9 more batches in the freezer before basil disappears from the market.

plum tomatoes 2.jpg
This is a terrible year for tomatoes in the Willamette Valley.  All the farmers are saying so.  I managed to pick (maybe) close to 80 lbs this weekend.  It was difficult finding that many ripe ones in the upick fields where I go.  The guy working at the farm stand yesterday said their tomatoes are 7.5 weeks behind from last year.  We don't generally get hot enough weather to ripen tomatoes reaching into September.  So this is it.

I didn't put up any tomatoes last year.  All winter I was bummed to have to buy canned tomatoes from the store.  I'll have to do it again this year.  I have 5 precious quarts of tomato sauce I made yesterday which I will save for the darkest gloomiest days of winter.  I have 40 pounds still waiting for processing in the garage that I picked yesterday and haven't yet processed and I'm having to ask myself what the best use for them is. 

I don't buy fresh tomatoes once they disappear from the farmer's markets.  Two things I've learned to make this year that call for fresh tomatoes but which I've had to use canned for are Mexican style rice and red enchilada sauce.  So my plan today is to make enchilada sauce and make the tomato/onion/pepper puree that goes into Mexican style rice, portion it out, and freeze them. 

To have one quart of tomatoes a week I would need to put up close to 300 pounds of tomatoes.  The most I've ever done were 36 quarts (200 pounds).  I didn't buy a single fresh tomato or a single can of tomatoes from the store for an entire year.  But I was very careful how I used my tomatoes and realized that I use tomatoes so much in my cooking that I would have done better with a quart a week.

I put up 9 pints of marinated vegetables yesterday and have just as much ready to process today. 

I've got one box of peaches for which I must use half to make a peach chutney.  I'm not even sure I like chutney and since I don't eat meat of any kind I'm unclear on the best use for it in my cooking- BUT - this is a labor of love for my mother who loves chutney.  The rest of the peaches will be jarred with a light sugar syrup.  If I'm lucky and there are some more peaches in at the farm stand next week I'll put up another box in syrup. 

I also have about ten pounds of summer squash for making into relish and chutney.

There I should stop.  I don't have time to do all the preserving I wish to do.  I'm squeezing all of this between work and parenting.  I haven't worked on my book now for a month and I'm getting anxious about it.

I'm squeezing it in because last year I barely did any preserving and I regretted it all year.  Preserving food is generally fairly simple but terribly time consuming.  Why do it?  I love doing it.  I LOVE it.  The truly frantic preserving season is September for most people and this is the turning of the season as well. 

When I'm canning I feel as though my internal clock is being calibrated.  I become very present to the changes of weather which are influencing what's available to preserve, I become connected to my own nourishment in such a primal way that I often find myself thinking about the history of humans as I peel blanched tomatoes, get sticky up to my elbows in sugar syrup, and think about the evolution of pickling as I fill jars with dill and spices for pickles. 

Whether you preserve your own food or buy commercially canned food this is still the only reason human beings can live in one place all year and get fat in winter instead of thin and feed more babies than you could feed if you still had to hunt and forage all year.  Agriculture and food preserving are the reason we can settle, fight wars, play golf, and mess ourselves up with junk food like Twinkies. 

I like to preserve as much of my own food as I can because it feels good.  It feels essential and keeps me from taking my food for granted.  The raisins I dried myself that I'm about to use in the peach chutney took time (though little effort) to make and came from a friend's vines.  That's a lot of interconnectedness with the local earth, friends, labor, and I've used very few of them because I didn't have a lot to begin with and now it's going to be used to nourish my own mother.

Preserving is a great labor of love. 

Preserving food is life-affirming. 

It makes my hands feel worthy of the life they've been given.

I've got a lot of work to do today and I couldn't be happier.

I'll be thinking of all the rest of you out there today putting up jams and sauces, fruits and vegetables.

Happy canning!

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