Monday, March 12, 2012

Preserving the harvest

With all the excitement of planning my garden is also coming the preparations and planning for how I want to preserve the summer glut of food. After all, summer is short and winter is very long. I need to make the most of my little harvest so that, at the least, I can still have the tastes of summer during the year. Also, summer isn't just the time of gardening but also of hunting and fishing so that needs to be taken into account since we'll be storing that food right alongside the fruits and veggies.
One of the trickiest things, I think, is not knowing exactly what we'll need or how much of it. All I can do is base my planning on what we tend to eat. I'll probably come up short on a number of things, and I'll adjust my planning accordingly for the following year. However, everyone's food planning is an ongoing project. If you have kids, they're always growing and you'll suddenly find yourself needing more food than you thought you did. Or their tastes change and suddenly what they loved last week is vegetable non grata now. (Trust me, I know. I was one of those picky kids.) I'll never get things in the perfect quantities for what we want, but I can do my best. This will help me to be far less dependent on the industrial food system, and far less wasteful in terms of packaging. I'll mark everything which I can't get locally, but which we're not willing to give up yet. It's still important for me to buy them during their peak season (generally, summer) because, at the very least, they taste awful here in the winter. A peach picked green and sent here from South America is going to be as hard as a rock and tasteless. So when they come up in the summer, and they're at least from within the U.S., we buy them.
We don't have a dehydrator, so take my desire for dried fruits and fruit leather with a pinch of salt. I'll need to figure out if we can get or borrow a dehydrator, or if I can make a solar dehydrator this summer.
These are also just estimates based on what I'd like to get. Who knows how much that will actually be? 2011 was a bumper year for blueberries. This year could be a bust, so who knows? But this is what I'm aiming for.

Strawberries (as many locally as possible) - 4-5 gallons frozen, 7-10 pints jam
Blueberries - 4-5 gallons frozen, 10 pints jam, fruit leather and dried berries with any excess
Raspberries - 4-5 gallons frozen, jam with any excess (we still have some stored, and raspberry isn't my favorite jam)
Rhubarb - Canning as much as possible (any excess can go to friends), wine? (my MIL made rhubarb wine last summer and gave it away as gifts; it was pretty good)
Cranberries - 4-5 gallons frozen
Peaches (not local) - 10 quarts canned, 5 pints jam, 2-3 gallon freezer bags
Cherries (not local) - 15 quarts canned, 5 pints preserves, 2-3 gallon freezer bags, fruit leather or dried cherries if possible
Oranges (not local) - 5 pints marmalade (I know, I should be doing this now while they're in season!)
Apples (can be found locally, I guess) - At least 20 quarts applesauce, drying as much as possible, root cellaring some

Tomatoes - Canning as much as possible, drying about 3 gallon bags worth
Beans - 4 gallon bags frozen, try dilly beans (canned)
Peas - 5 gallon bags frozen, possibly some dried
Pumpkins/winter squash - Root cellar, freezing only after processing
Zucchini - Freezing as much as possible
Carrots - Freezing and root cellaring in about equal proportions
Celery - 4 gallon freezer bags
Parsnips - Root cellar, as many as possible
Cabbage - Root cellar, 4-5 large heads, or if they start to go bad then cooking and freezing
Broccoli - 2 gallon freezer bags
Potatoes - Root cellar, as many as possible (this year, keep a few apples with them)
Sweet potatoes - Root cellar, as many as possible
Turnips - Root cellaring 20-30
Cucumbers - Canned, as pickles, probably 5-7 pints

My plan with herbs is really just to dry whatever I have at the end of the summer. For basil, however, I love pesto and haven't had really good stuff in a while. I'm hoping that I can grow enough basil that making pesto would actually be worth it.

Salmon - Never a worry, since my in-laws fish. I might try to get a larger portion of canned salmon from my MIL, though, since I'm now armed with a few recipes for it. That would save room in the freezer, and we can always get more frozen from them on our bi-annual trips to visit them.
Moose - Hopefully the family gets another one!
Clams - I'm not sure what size my MIL freezes them in, but it's a good size for clam chowder. I have a few new things to try them in, too, so we could do with maybe 5-7 of the packs.

Whew! I just counted up some of this, and it's a lot of produce! Just the freezer stuff is about 40 gallon bags of things I want to put away. For the canned stuff, I've got at least 50 quarts and 32 pints. That's not counting the things for which I said "as much as possible", like the rhubarb. Will we have space enough for all of this? Maybe, and maybe not. I know that freezer space will be at a premium for us, but then again it always is. The only time that's bad is at the very end of summer, when things need to be frozen but it's not cold enough outside to just stick them in a cooler on the porch. We end up frantically trying to figure out how to cram just one more thing in the freezers, or having to eat something right away. However, some things which we typically freeze won't be frozen until later in the year--like the pumpkins and winter squash. They need to be baked or roasted first, and I make a meal out of whatever from that I need, then freeze the rest of the cooked "flesh" for other uses.
Seeing this is a wonderful incentive for us to eat as much of our stored produce (pretty much just zucchini, pumpkin, and rhubarb now) as we have left so that our freezer will definitely be empty enough for this. I also need to remind myself that if some of the amounts seem high, I want these things to take me through about 7 months of winter.
I depend very heavily on our freezers, which a lot of environmentalists and "preppers" and locavores would decry. an emergency, frozen food would actually be sort of a boon here. If anything happens here during the winter (like a power outage), our frozen food will stay frozen. Other stored foods would freeze too, in an extended power outage since our oil heater needs electricity to run. And if we must (or can, rather), then we can also shut off our freezer and take it outside to stay frozen. (And yes, it does seem silly to pay for freezing stuff when cold is free outside. But that's apartment life.) The only reason I don't rely on freezing even more is because our food-crazy dog would find a way to get into it somehow. For now, it makes one more reason to dream of having our own house. :)
Any and all gallon freezer bags I'm using in these totals are ones that we already have which I've been cleaning out and reusing. For some of the frozen stuff, such as zucchini, I was wondering if small canning jars might not be the better choice? We'll see how it all fits. Definitely for things in bags, the best storing option is to make them as flat as possible, which I'll remember to do this year. They stack better, it's easy to see what you have, and they fit nicely. No more playing freezer Jenga!

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