Over the last couple of years I have worked towards a concept of less waste of food. I made the commitment to use what I have, well. This sounds easy, however as an avid gardener I have a lot of food that matures in fits and starts. I also like to make rather complex food that requires many ingredients. I am the kind of shopper that gets a variety of stuff and then figures out how to use it later, this style tends to leave food to waste.
To accomplish my goal there have been three main ways things get processed in my house, in a jar, dehydrated, or frozen. Now, remember folks I am a city chick from Toronto. Canning did not come from a youth spent processing foods. Dehydrated was how you bought raisins. Frozen food was purchased that way and often warmed up to be consumed. Yet somehow I've managed this commitment to waste not, want not and have done it with style.
The premise is, don't let stuff go bad because it is not fair to nature to waste it's fantastic bounty. It is not fair to the life energy in the food not to use it. It is like the Native Indian view that you honor the animal that is giving you it's life force, so you should honor the plant and nature that made that plant grow. To waste it is to thump your nose at creation's strength and beauty.
Over the years, I started to get better at this gardening thing and ended up with larger crops of beautiful vegetables. The crops often came in so strong that I just couldn't use it all at once. I would use as much as I could and give away as much as people needed. However, when much of the bounty went bad, it was tossed into the compost to break down and go back into the soil. This left me feeling bad at the waste.
When I was in high school I dated a guy that was half Italian. His family would get together to can tomatoes and make wine. I was not invited to these work days. At the time, I did not mind as I always felt like an outsider, and I chafed against the inequity of the women's role in the group. Anyway I digress. I always wondered about the amazing canning days. What were they like? How many jars did they do? Where did they get the tomatoes?
I started processing food, to make this commitment to sustainability and to use what nature had provided. I dehydrated first. It worked well and I made all sorts of cool things like Jerky and dried fruit. I tried dehydrating vegetables, tomatoes and beans but they were just not as good. They dried up and didn't really ever get their full softness back when you cooked them. I kept dehydrating in the line up but used it for what it suited best. I also looked for more options.
I moved on to canning. Once I learned to water bath it was all over. I could make almost anything, can it up, water bath and be reasonably sure I was not going poison anyone. I researched a lot of stuff on-line and in recipe books. I kept everything sterilized and either went sweet with jams or savory with pickled. I made up a canning label and the Mad Pickeler was born. Not only could I make wonderful things but using vinegar made it really easy to make sure it all worked out well.
Now this enthusiasm required a lot of jars. It took me a few years to build up a huge supply of jars. A good friend, Tony, gave me a lot of my pint jars. Probably about 8 dozen actually. Thanks Tony. I still had to purchased jars and these ranged from the small one oz jars all the way up to the half gallon jars. The jars are constantly in use and are being filled and re-filled as needed.
At times I would can large batches. For example last summer, a friend and I did 98 jars of pickles in one day. Now, this is all well and good when you luck into 100 lbs of cucumbers at the farmers market. I have done big batches of things when the fruit trees mature, the farmers markers have big bounty or when I find a great deal at a store. However the big batches are not the norm.
What has really made my canning, has been the periodic small batches. These are often things like 6 pints of eggplant salad, or 3 pints of raspberry sauce, or lots of small batches of tomatoes sauces as the Ivan tomatoes ripened. These small batches taught me so much. It just made sense to make these small batch of something really cool to add to recipes later. This system made my life easier as I cooked for my ever hungry family, and in the long run also served the goal of using up natures product.
I made a list of all the different things I canned this year. Many of them may have happened in multiple batches, and I did not keep a list of quantities. So here is what I have for this growing season:
2. Mild Salsa
3. Hot Salsa
4. Pasta Sauce
5. Brandied Pears
6. Apple Sauce
7. Apple Butter
8. Plum - Apple Sauce
9. Plum Sauce
10. Plum BBQ sauce
11. Plum Asian sauce
12. Grape Jam - Purple
13. Grape Jam - Green
14. Strawberry Port Jam
15. Strawberry / Blackberry Jam
16. Lecso Hungarian Pepper Sauce
17. Plum Chutney
18. Raspberry sauce
19. Dill Relish
20. Sweet Relish
21. Pickled Green Beans
22. Fridge Pickles
24. Garlic Scapes
25. Eggplant Salad
27. Potato Soup
All of the items on this list have been made, eaten, gifted and saved. If I did not garden and did not make these food none of this food would exist. It would not enhance our meals or fill our stomachs. Guests would not go home with a box of bottled of cool things after each visit. I would not have great pot luck dish at my finger tips.
So I would say I have succeeded at my challenge. The challenge was to not waste food, to grow as much as I could and not waste the food that came from my ground, from my efforts, from nature. I have created things that we will use and even more importantly I have used the things I have created. So, join me in this challenge. Look at your food in a different light. Waste not and enjoy nature’s bounty. Happy Canning