Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Canning and preserving

In the past, canning and preserving foods used to be the number one method to supply fruit and vegetables during months when they weren't available. My grandparents owned a garden that supplied them with fresh produce in the summer months, and at the end of summer, my grandmother, mother and aunt found themselves surrounded by boiling pots, glass jars and labels. They made pickled cucumbers, canned tomatoes, and a whole array of jams.

The garden was sold after my grandfather's death, when no one was willing or able to continue taking care of it. It happened a long time before I was born, but the excitement of harvest was conveyed to me through my mother's stories, and Mom still has a burning passion for making her own preserves.

Today, we live in an age when practically anything can be found available all the time, at every season - although often, at high prices and with the additional cost of flavor and nutritional value of the fruit and vegetables we consume being damaged in favor of larger size and long shelf-life. Fruit is picked early and ripened artificially, so that it doesn't accumulate all the nutrients it could have if it had been given the opportunity to ripen properly. It's not by chance that almost every older person will tell you fruit and vegetables tasted better 50 years ago - they really did.

With today's soaring prices of food, and the increasing desire all over the world to return to simpler life - for which no replacement was found after all, in all the years that passed since the Industrial Revolution, I think it is inevitable that people start growing more of their own food. For better health, better taste, sustainability, and the satisfaction of eating something you planted with your own hands.

My husband and I hope to start our first garden as soon as the Sabbatical year ends here in Israel. We are supposed to move around Rosh Hashana (the Jewish new year), which is, if I remember correctly, around the end of September this time. So far, the only things I have planted (in pots) in the past were herbs (like dill and peppermint) and green onions - and they were greatly enjoyed as well, not to mention that they added to the pleasant atmosphere in the kitchen. I'm looking forward to having a real garden, however small it might be at first, and I'm already preparing by reading every material I can lay my hands on.

A very useful online resource is Rhonda Jean's wonderful blog, Down to Earth. I think I have mentioned it once or twice already. Rhonda has written many wonderful articles about gardening, canning, raising chickens, simple living, frugality and sustainability, and generously shares with us on her blog. If you are interested in any of the above, you will enjoy visiting Rhonda and browsing through her archives, as well as new articles (sorted into sections).

In the meantime before we start growing our own veggies (and maybe even fruit), I decided it would also be useful to learn a bit about canning. I thought I'd start with something simple, like pickled cucumbers - my mother makes them much better than store-bought - and picked up my grandmother's old Romanian cookbook. Here are the instructions I followed:

"Take fresh cucumbers and as many glass jars as you need. Wash jars with boiling water before use, and place the cucumbers in, tightly packed, with some sliced garlic and grains of black pepper. Pour boiling water with salt over cucumbers, using 3 tsp. of salt for every cup of water. Cover every jar with a clean cloth, and leave for a couple of days, until the desired level of saltiness is reached."

Remembering my mother's cucumbers started looking like pickles after just one day, I wondered why mine didn't. A call to my mother helped me realize I forgot the part of the instructions that mentioned covering a jar with a clean cloth. Instead I closed my jar with a lid, which prevented air coming through - a necessary part of the natural process. I removed the lid and replaced it with a cloth, and now it seems as though my cucumbers are coming along nicely. If they are good, I'll make more in a few days.

I'm feeling better, but now my dear husband is a bit unwell. He will stay home again today, and didn't get up yet. I think I will gently check if he is awake, and offer to make a cup of coffee and something nice for a late breakfast. You have a wonderful day!


Julia said...

I'm no expert, but I just wanted to point out that there's a vinegar way and a salt way to make pickled veggies. From what I understand, the salt way is the one that is best for your digestive system.

Anonymous said...

Although fun, and a great resource, you should be careful using old books for canning instructions. Often, the basic process may be the same but a few things may have changed to minimise the risk of disease or contamination. Thanks for this great post on canning, however. I'm not canning, but I am growing tomatos, zuccini/courgettes, lettuce and rocket, various herbs, beans and lavender this summer. I can't wait to taste the first fruits of my labour!

deb said...

How wonderful that you have your grandmother's recipe. I know that the recipes that my grandmother taught me help me to connect with her emotionally so many years after her death. She used to can also.

elena said...

I was pleasantly surprised to see that you mentioned your romanian grandmother. I am romanian and in our country almost every homemaker knows how to preserve vegetables and fruits. my own mom, who is still quite young is very proficient at this and still uses the same techniques as my gandmother and grand-grand mother used.
I hope you succeed in all your plans.

Melian said...

I planted a garden this year for the first time, and a friend is going to teach me canning when it's time to gather the produce from her large garden. I HIGHLY recommend "Square Foot Gardening," particularly if you have limited space. It is really amazing how much you can grow in a very neatly organized, attractive, and super-efficient way. There are many resources available on the internet, but the book by Mel Bartholomew is well worth the investment. Gardening in any real quantity was somewhat overwhelming to me until I read this book. Just my two cents!

Rachel said...

I found that canning the fuits/veggies isn't nearly as hard as growing them. Some people have a green thumb, I'm pretty sure mine is brown!

Anonymous said...

the salt way is called lactofermentation, and i read that it actually makes the food more nutritionally available or something like that- is that true, anna? i made sauerkraut recently and it was so easy, so good, and so cheap. i shall have to try these cucumbers!

Kristy said...

Great post! I'm gearing up for summer time canning, too- in fact, we have a whole bushel of green beans to "snap" so I can get them canned this week! I canned a lot from garden last year and enjoyed using the "fresh" veggies SO much!

~Kristy @ Homemaker's Cottage

Mrs. R said...

I didn't know you were interested in sustainable living. Have you ever read "The Encyclopedia of Country Living"? It's by Carla Emery and it has a million ways to preserve food and other country life lessons. I highly recommend it.

Ways of Zion said...

My grandmother always had her cold storage room filled with all different colours of relishes, a thing we called fruit sauce, canned pears, peaches, plums, jams and chutneys! I loved going down there and looking at all the gleaming jars on the shelves, like gems! We are about to start making strawberry jam for the season.

Having a garden is wonderful, each year we extend ours a bit as the children grow older and I can keep up with the weeding! We now have 3 fruit trees as well.

You are right, veggies fresh out of the garden tastes completely different then the stor bought ones!

Mrs. Amy Brigham said...

Canning & preserving food is such fun. Storebought canned items simply cannot compare to homemade jelly, jams, chutneys, pickles, and so on. I am in the process of canning strawberry-rhubarb jam & cherry pie filling this week, as well as freezing many spring fruits and veggies as their supplies are slowly waning at the farmers market, and the new summer harvest is coming in. :o)

Bethany Hudson said...

I hope your husband is feeling better. It's never fun to be under-the-weather. I'm sure he appreciates that you're there to care for him.

Canning is a great deal of fun! We do not have our own garden, but there are many pick-your-own farms, many of those organic, around where I live in Washington State. This past weekend, my husband and I did our annual picking of strawberries and canning of strawberry jam--a yearly Christmas present for family which is much-anticipated.


Rose said...

Anna, have you considered freezing as a parallel preserving option? I don't do once a month cooking but I do freeze some items routinely. Homemade sliced bread, baked products such as muffins, oven dried tomatoes, herbs, citrus juices and leftovers. I often cook double so that I have a meal to hand for busy days.

The most important things to do are wrap well, label label label and keep a freezer inventory.

I'll e-mail further details.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Rose - we do use our freezer a lot. It's really handy.

Anonymous said...

I pray Mr. T. is back to normal soon. I'm sure it's miserable for him....perhaps all he needs is a good couple days rest. I know he'll be well looked after!!


Susan B said...

Hi Anna,

Growing up, my father always had a big garden and we always had fresh vegetables in the summer. My mother would can many of them and some fruit for the winter. She also made different jams.

Once I was married, for many years I would can peaches and make strawberry jam (the only two things my husband wanted me to make) with my mom. I enjoyed the time we spent together so much. I really miss it now, since my mother no longer does it. My father still has a small garden every summer. My husband and I have a small garden in our back yard also, though he is one who cares for it. I can not grow anything!! I would like to try and grow some herbs. It would be nice to cook with fresh herbs instead of dried.

I hope that you and your husband are soon feeling well.

TX Poppet said...

What a beautiful post. I look forward to reading more about our canning adventures.
TX Poppet at Canned Laughter

justme27 said...

Hello Mrs. Anna,

I gave these a try and I'm on day two. Should I seal them up at this point? There was a little bit of white foam at the top of the jar... is this normal?