A Seasonal Guide to Food Preservation
Plan your Food Preservation Year
I do want to emphasize that while you can go crazy trying to can or dry every single thing you’ve ever liked to eat so you can have it every day of the year, honestly, I think that in many ways, that’s just as nuts as eating the pasty supermarket strawberries in January. That’s not to say that I’m not just as addicted to salsa in the winter as you are, just that the more you can get used to eating the foods that are actually in season, either fresh (think season extension) or stored fresh in a root cellar or equivalent, the easier on you all this preserving will be, and the easier it will be to find the time to do it. Prioritize, prioritize, and prioritize. On the other hand, sometimes a little hard work really does save us time. Yes, it can be a pain to chop up all those tomatoes for pasta sauce, but it is so convenient to be able to dump the whole wheat pasta into the pot and pour it over not gloppy, super sweet, supermarket sauce, but your own roasted tomato and vegetable sauce. You are investing time now for freedom later.
So here’s my food preservation year. It sounds more impressive than it is, since often I don’t get it all done. I’m going to start my preservation year when things first start get going, in May. Some of you will be able to start it much earlier, others later.
- Can rhubarb sauce — a favorite dessert, and quickie breakfast dumped over raw rolled oats. It tastes much better than it sounds.
- Freeze eggs for baking and scrambling.
- Sell any extra eggs.
- Bake eggshells, pound them up and store in a coffee can to be added to home-produced chicken feed and to the watering can.
- Lactoferment dandelion green kimchi, although this isn’t really a “storage” item since it always gets eaten almost immediately.
- Freeze and can up any squash or sweet potatoes we haven’t used up. I’ll also coat some eggs with shortening and store them at room temperature, but because I won’t want them until fall, that will be later in the season. They keep about six months, so I do this more with late eggs.
- Pickle garlic scapes.
- Dehydrate strawberries.
- Can strawberry jam, strawberry sauce and strawberry-rhubarb pie filling.
- Freeze snap peas.
- Dehydrate sweet shelling peas.
- Dehydrate greens (this is especially good for greens on the verge of bolting late in the month — they can be ground up and added as a filler to flours and soups).
- Can mint syrup for adding to water in the winter.
- Dry onions.
I should also pickle some early baby beets, but somehow I never get to it.
Preserving Boom Begins!
- Can blueberry jam, blueberry sauce, currant jam, currant juice, peach sauce, peach jam, apricot sauce, apricot jam, raspberry sauce, raspberry jam, peach chutney.
- Dehydrate blueberries, apricots, peaches, black currants, red currants.
- Can beets.
- Make kimchi out of various greens and roots.
- Freeze grated zucchini to use as a meat extender for ground beef.
- Dehydrate zucchini.
- Pickle green beans. (I don’t bother to preserve green beans any other way. We don’t like them frozen, dried or canned, so they, like asparagus, are one of those things we enjoy when we’ve got them.)
- Dry and braid garlic.
For us, tomatoes, corn and peppers do start this month, but they are too new to bother preserving — I wait for the glut later in the season. I manipulate my cucumber harvest so that most of them come in around September, when it is cooler.
This is also when I seriously start my root cellaring garden. Some things, like parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and Brussels sprouts have already gone in, but most of the carrots, beets, cabbage, celeriac, and other root crops are planted in July, as is some more kale and collards.
- Can tomatoes for salsa, tomato sauce, and diced tomatoes.
- Dehydrate tomatoes.
- Dehydrate sweet peppers.
- Freeze watermelon.
- Can watermelon juice (surprisingly good).
- Dehydrate watermelon (really good!).
- Make watermelon rind pickles.
- Freeze sweet peppers.
- Pickle, dehydrate and freeze hot peppers (this depends on the variety: cayenne, kimchi, aleppo and poblanos get dried; jalapenos, fish peppers and bananas get pickled; serranos get frozen).
- Freeze and dehydrate sweet corn.
I might make some cucumber or zucchini pickles too, if it isn’t too hot. Or I might not.
August is also when the last crops of greens, peas and favas go in, except spinach and arugula, which can keep going until September. Oh, and when I make raspberry vodka.
More of all of the above, plus cucumber pickles and beets. I also usually pickle some onions. By late September I may be harvesting dried-on- the-plant foods like dry corn, popcorn, amaranth and dried beans as well, or I might wait until October, depending on how things look. We also start canning applesauce and dehydrating apples. Most of the early apples don’t keep that well, so they are better eaten fresh, sauced and dried. Since September tends to be the last month I can reliably solar dehydrate, I try to do the dried apples then, but if I don’t get it done, they can be hung up behind the wood stove.
- Harvest all the stuff we dried on the plant.
- Can more applesauce, pear sauce, green tomato pickles.
- Preserve late fruit (raspberries, apples, quinces, pears) in liquor.
- Make apple butter.
- Make cider syrup for pancakes.
- Make late fruit leathers.
It is also when we start butchering chickens and turkeys, and if I’m really ambitious, I’ll can some of them — the meat and the broth — since I’m trying to minimize my freezer usage. Usually they get frozen, though. I make more late tomato sauce until the last harvest comes in. Also my own V8 juice.
We also start filling the root cellar — digging the potatoes, beets, turnips, harvesting the cabbages, etc. But the balance is hard. Because our root cellar is actually an unheated porch, we have to wait to put things in until it is consistently cold, but if we wait too long we get the fun of pulling beets out of frozen ground. So there’s always a race.
Most years, the race goes into November. We’re still preserving food, although the focus has moved away from canning and dehydrating. In November it’s cold enough to do large-scale lactofermentation. Until now, we’ve been making kimchi and sauerkraut in small quantities, to be eaten right away. Now we move towards big bucketfuls, because the process of fermentation slows down and we can keep it for months.
- Ferment daikon, cabbage, carrots, napa, bok choy and other greens.
- Dig potatoes and see if we have to buy more.
- Put the carrots in buckets of sand.
- Hang the onions.
- Add in fall butchering and late canning.
- Put up the coldframes and mulch things to overwinter.
- Gather the nuts — if we can beat the other nut-eaters.
This is the time to make presents and make cute little baskets of things. And to rest on our laurels a little. It’s usually a quiet time in the food preserver’s year. Most of the root-cellared stuff is new enough that there’s no need to preserve it another way, and there’s little new coming in, maybe just a few greens from the garden.
January – April
Now comes the project of management in earnest. You have to track the stores. When onions show signs of shriveling, we put them in the dehydrator. When the apples start to go soft, I start canning applesauce. A squash develops a spot? Great, cut it up and freeze it, or can it. It isn’t intense, the way summer preserving is, but it is constant, a little here, a little there, it all adds up. And that’s pretty much the way it will be until May, when the cycle starts again.