On gardening for the pantry

Spooky dark basement storage

A big part of garden planning involves, for me, checking the State of the Stored.  Here it is, the first week of February:  how are my supplies doing downstairs?  Do I have enough tomato sauce to last me until this year’s harvest?  Salsa, chutneys?  How are the dried and canned beans doing?  How about popcorn, frozen green beans, jams, canned peaches?  How about pickles?  Applesauce, veggie broth, canned chicken broth?  Frozen fruits?  Ketchup, barbecue sauce, garlic jelly?  And the all-important apples, onions, garlic, shallots, potatoes, winter squash?  A quick check of my stash tells me what I need to plant this year, and what holes need to be patched.

All seems swell downstairs:  my general approach of “put away more than you can eat in two years” has worked well.  Not that I am a pessimist, but better gardeners than me tend to make a big harvest as insurance against a bad year.   Had the late blight hit my tomatoes last year (it did not, but took out half the school garden’s crop), I would still be in pretty good shape, except for ketchup and barbecue sauce.  As it is, canning twice the normal year’s amount frees me, somewhat, from the drudgery of canning every crop every year.  (This doesn’t work for frozen things, but canned goods:  check!)  And pressure-canned stuff is “good” for a long time.

Calico popcorn

Always, though, there are certain experimental things that I wish I had made more of (apple/pear moutarde, green apple/tomato chutney) but this can backfire too if I make a lot of something and it’s not quite so tasty (gooseberry jam).  But even failures can have second lives.  My calico popcorn, which I adore, is not the best at popping (hardly any homegrown one is: it has to do with moisture in the kernels and timing harvests perfectly…which requires a hydrometer, not something I am willing to spring for) but ground-up as a meal for cornbread or polenta?  Hooeey!  Hand me the honey!

24 responses to “On gardening for the pantry

  1. OK OK, I am biting
    “garlic jelly”? not “garlic, jelly”?
    If the former indeed, come on, tell us more about it…

    What I clearly did not do enough of is frozen berries. What with a new job last year and two big of volunteer projects (A high-end Summer Solstice dinner for 150 on a farm, and a farm tour), my usual visits to the hedges for wild raspberries, blackberries & wineberries, were limited. And the extra raspberries & strawberries from the garden mostly got sold. Cash was good, but berries in February aren’t bad either. I really miss them in smoothies. I’ve got to rethink this whole thing for this years: can’t have enogh frozen berries.

    Do you have a grain mill to grind your corn?

    I have been thinking of growing popcorn corn as chicken feed this year. They loved the few ears I was tossing them last year…

    • No ma’am, you heard me right: roasted garlic jelly. It is delightful stuff, and though my last batch was kind of runny, it is excellent in my vinaigrette dressing!!! Here’s a link, Sylvie, to the recipe. And yeah, sometimes you just can’t pick enough!

  2. I love garlic jelly. I made some a few years ago and have used it for lots of things. We like it as a marinade or glaze. Great stuff. It’s always said this time of year to see all those empty jars in the basement. They look so lonely with nothing to do.

  3. I finally divided my basement into empty and full jar storage. I’m trying to plan both for me and the food pantry locally this summer. Unfortunately, few food bank recipients seem as excited about kale as I am. . . or I could be donating right now.

    I’m doing okay with tomatoes so far. Your two-year plan seems sound.

    • Just chiming in to say how great it is that you are planning locally for the food pantry as well as your own needs. How do the ones in your area feel about home-canned goods? Ours don’t accept such, but they are always happy for fresh local produce, both from the farmers as well as the residents in our communities.

  4. Your popcorn is gorgeous. And taking stock? So important. I canned almost twice as much as we needed two summers ago because I had a feeling a baby would come along last summer (and she did). This freed me up to can less last year, but now I’m facing a huge canning season this summer since we getting down to the nitty-gritty in the pantry.

    Yes, and rhubarb Victorian barbecue sauce? Won’t be doing that one again:-).

  5. With our year-round growing season, I’m actually finding it difficult to eat through my canned goods. If I had roasted garlic jelly, though, it’d be in use all the time! What a great idea.

    I love freshly ground popcorn for cornbread. It tastes so much better than the degerminated junk sold in the stores.

    Perhaps you can answer a question for me regarding canned tomato sauce. I canned it for the first time this past summer, using the Ball recipe with lemon juice and a regular water bath canner. All the seals are fine but I get a whiff of tomato sauce smell in my canned goods storage area. This doesn’t seem like it would be a good thing and I’m scared to use any of the sauce. Thoughts?

    stefaneener – kale dries really nicely and stores in a tiny space.

    • You know, Chile, for the first round of tomato canning that I did around 12 years ago, I followed the recipe and added lemon juice or citric acid as they recommended. Then I forgot to add it for the next batch. I actually liked it better without the acidification, and yes, I understand the reason for adding it (sweeter tomatoes = less resistance to going bad if using a water-bath canner). But I am here to tell the tale, 12 years on. And after all this time, the only time I smell something in the basement is if a seal has broken! Unlike with pressure canning, usually boiling water baths clean the jars really well as they seal, so the smell shouldn’t be coming from the (outsides of) the jars themselves. I try hard to wipe off everything really well before storing: there’s always some leakage during the processing that goes down the side of the jars. So I would say, Chile, that it’s either an unsealed jar or two or they’ve still got some tomato residue on them. AND: if a jar is bad, believe me, you’ll know! Open it up and give it the deep sniff test; it should smell like summer. (Perpetual summer in your part of the world of course 🙂 )

  6. Your pictures and words made me hungry in addition to being jealous. I’m pretty new at canning and I know I won’t have enough tomato sauce to last.
    But “garlic jelly” sounds intriguing! Would you care to share your recipe?

  7. El- where/how do you store your empty canning jars?

  8. I’m intrigued by your pressure canning. I’ve been afraid to try it, although as I read your blog, it makes me a little less hesitant. Have you had good success with it, or do you have some horror stories to tell? (I’m afraid I won’t operate the pressure cooker right and things won’t seal right or something…)

    I’d love to know how this has gone for you.

    • Hi Kathy: don’t fear the pressure canner!!!! I have had great success with it. (In point of fact, I sometimes wish I had purchased the next size up; mine holds 7 quarts.) I have canned meats, beans, jams, fruits, and regular old liquid broth. It is far and away easier for me to make a big batch of something, eat a bit, can the rest during the season. Then, I give myself a 6 month break from canning! I cannot really tell you of any horror stories. I will simply say what I have is a pressure canner, specifically used for canning things only (not cooking beans or meats although supposedly you are able to do this with it; I simply won’t because it’s aluminum and I won’t cook in aluminum if possible). AND: I can things for our daughter’s school, like salsa, beans, jams and applesauce. Like anything, there is a learning curve, and sometimes things don’t seal. Tightening the lids down more than you had before seems to help. I put the unsealed things into the refrigerator and use them up quickly then. It is quite easy to see what seals and what does not: after the things cool to about room temperature, the lid will be dimpled or it won’t; if in doubt, I throw them in the fridge. But honestly, it’s easier and lots safer than having huge pots of boiling water that is the boiling-water method, especially if you have a small child underfoot!

  9. I’m of the same mindset in terms of storing for 2 years… now sure why, but I feel better doing that. I know that I wish I’d made a bit more variety in my jams – the raspberry ones are vastly overrepresented. Same with the spicy pepper jelly – delicious, but again, likely not *that* much next time. If I could, I’d do more tomatoes just because, well, they make me smile to pull out in the winter. But last year’s mess of a tomato season pretty much nixed that opportunity.

    Other than that though, I’m happy. And very happy for the various fruit sauces I made (apple, pear, peach, strawberry, etc). They open up space in the freezer. I do hate seeing the empty jars in the holding area after I use it up… my hope is that at the end of the season, the ‘eaten’ jars will pretty much be equal in number to the ‘full’ ones, so I can move those to the start of the line for next year, and not have to go crazy with canning this coming summer (summer 2009 was, ooof, an effort).

  10. El, thanks for your encouragement with the tomato sauce. However, my concern is with botulism which has no odor or visual cues. One taste can be deadly…

    I really need to learn how to use my pressure canner. The first time I tried, every single seal failed (with spaghetti sauce) and I’ve been afraid to try again.

    • I hear you Chile. My point is that if the botulinum toxin was as common/far-reaching as the books write it to be, you would be hearing about a LOT more deaths. The CDC reports 145 cases per year, of which 15% are food-borne…and we’re not talking deaths we’re talking 22 cases per year. OF COURSE it is best to be as scrupulous in your cleaning and sanitizing, especially with boiling-water baths (which bring the food to 212 tops). I use the pressure canner because it is a lot easier and I have enormous leeway into what I can. Pressure-canning brings the temperature to about 240 and holds it there. (Bad seals sometimes simply mean the jar lids weren’t screwed down enough: you need to tighten them more than the boiling-water bath.) Personally, I trust my abilities in the garden and the kitchen much more than anything I can get in a store. And considering most store-bought canned tomatoes have Bisphenol A as an item in the epoxy which lines the cans, what new horrors will we discover? I think it’s far safer to trust your instinct. If you’re scared to eat it, then don’t. It’s a big leap of trust frankly. I’d rather not trust any food company if I can grow it myself.

  11. Timely and excellent suggestions. It took me a while to get over the “use within a year” recommendations, though I’m still not up to the “my aunt ellen found this jam of her grandmother’s in the basement, do you want it?”

    And have to try that garlic jelly recipe. Hey wait <> I could do that now!

  12. As usual, I am drooling over your photos and your writings…

    Also, you gave me some extra oomph to step up my canning this year. My family used to can like you guys do, tons of stuff from their own garden, but I have never done it myself…so I bought two great books and I am redying myself to pressure can fruits and tomatoes by this summer’s end.

    Oh, and I am about to go to that link for the garlic jam…sounds scrumptious! My family used to make another not so standard jam: tomato jam. I need to write to them to ask for the recipe, it was unbelievable!

  13. Sylvie, I need to post about my new grain mill. I got it for Christmas. I am really happy with it, especially considering I plan to do a *lot* more baking once the masonry oven is finished this spring. Anyway, it’s been a bit of a revelation, grinding things other than grains: the corn as I mentioned, and things like garbanzo beans…super tasty! And chickens are fools for corn so sure, grow them a few rows.

    Mom, I kind of agree, those poor jars, just standing down there at the ready… I do use them for leftover storage, when I have leftovers that is. We try to be plastic-free here so the fact that I have a ton of jars sure seems to help. And thanks for seconding the garlic jelly! It’s so YUM.

    Stef, good for you in terms of dividing up the storage. I tend to keep the boxes the jars came in (and with doing all that canning for the school last fall I have a lot of boxes) but still they’re coming out my ears. And kudos to you for planting for the food pantry too! I wonder if Chile’s trick about drying the kale would work. I make kale chips all the time but they get stinky if I store them so it would be interesting to see.

    MC, yeah, isn’t that great? I think you’re right they like fresh veggies but prefer processed canned crap. Sigh.

    Thyhand, fabulous! And I had to crack up at your rhubarb barbecue sauce. I made rhubarb ketchup last year and it was meh even considering how I sexed it up with garlic. Sigh. BUT what fabulous planning on your part, both on the baby and the garden! I will cross my fingers that it’s a bumper-crop year so your larder fills up.

    Chile, I hope I helped. Fearmongering home-canning or homegrown anything really chaps my hide, you see. Take away all the other benefits of the homegrown (carbon footprint, freshness, nutritional value, exercise to you, convenience, cheap) and what are you left with? Putting a LOT of trust in companies that don’t have either our or the planet’s nutritional interests at heart. So we just know we can’t eat raw eggs, we accept poop in our bagged salads, we concede a few deaths a year to ground beef…and that’s just the human side of the equation. OH Boy have I not had my coffee yet today, can you tell?

    My dear WS, look at first response to Sylvie at the top of the comments: I did the recipe a few years back. And I know what you mean! I was there back in Minneapolis, looking at my dwindling stores of canned goods thinking: how am I going to survive without tomato sauce on my pasta??

    Esperanza, well, technically, I *should* be able to select a jar from the shelf, use it, wash it, and set it back where I got it. Alas, I am nowhere near so organized an individual. So they’re everywhere right about now.

    Kathy, I do admit I was a tetch afraid of the monster shiny thing with all the hardware too but once I figured it out, there was no turning back.

    Sara, exactamundo: you don’t need to eat it all in one calendar year. Sure it helps if you do but come on. AND: when we bought this house its basement was filled with canned goods! SO sad, as they were from circa 1985…but I got a lot of jars out of the deal.

    PD, let’s just say homemade ketchup and mayonnaise are pretty darned fabulous too, not to mention dressing. So yes indeed it’s pretty fun: but sorry to push you down the rabbit hole! you might never get out again! AND DO use your family’s resources. How great to have them!

  14. El, here is the post I did on dehydrating greens. Hope it’s helpful.

    And, yeah, I agree that I’d much rather eat my own homemade, home-canned, locally grown food than buy from corporations. However, I want my own food to be safe and the tomato canning was a first try for me. I think it’s time I dust off the pressure canner and work through my fear. Another blogger swears by hers for canning veg. soups so that would be a good thing to try during the winter season with all its great root veggies!

    • Do try! I can all kinds of bean soup starters, and veg stock…even though I work from home 3 days a week (thus having the luxury of starting dinner while I am still working) I do adore being able to step downstairs and grab something off the shelf, like the lentil/kale soup we had last night (vegan too). And: important for you: pressure canning doesn’t make your kitchen as hot!

  15. So– do you pressure can even the stuff that you COULD can in a hot water bath? I hadn’t thought of that. I’ve done plenty of tomatoes and fruits in hot water and didn’t think about the pressure canner for them. Interesting!

  16. what interesting conversation this post has generated!!!

  17. Kathy, yes. I figure one piece of equipment is all you really need, plus, my kitchen is tiny! So some things take a little longer than they would in the boiling-water bath canner if you take into account the time it takes to get to pressure and come down again, so…if you plan on putting away a few flats of strawberries for jam, well, use the canner AND the pressure canner as it’ll still take you a while! So I just tend to can in one-batch increments. You can leave the stuff in the canner overnight too, and I often do.

    Sylvie, indeed. I still think the grocery store is scarier than anything my garden can throw at me.

  18. Salad dressings we have never bought…mayo I make about once a month, so much better than even the best store-bought mayo out there…and ketchup I will try this year to my my own hopefully. I can only imagine how great it will be being that just the organic Whole Foods ketchup is such a step up from others I’ve tried in the last few years. It was so good that I actually made whole grain pasta with a sauce that comprised only of ketchup and heavy cream, plus salt and pepper. It was *so* delicious! My brother in law was over for dinner and he just could not believe that the main ingredient was ketchup 🙂

    For now I am just reading up on canning different things, come the end of summer I should be set up to can my first items, I am guessing it will be jams and some tomato sauces…mmmmmmmmmmmmmmh!

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