October 11, 2021 by Jean
In late summer and fall, one of the great pleasures in my life is taking advantage of the harvest to preserve fresh, local produce for good eating through the winter. My food preserving began in August, when I bought twenty-five pounds of Maine wild blueberries to be cleaned and frozen in quart bags. I will use most of these, half a cup at a time, in my breakfast cereal.
Once my annual supply of blueberries was in the freezer, I bought four bunches of basil and used them to make pesto. My food processor makes this a quick job. Many years ago, a friend taught me the trick of freezing the pesto in ice cube trays, where each cube makes one serving; the frozen cubes can be popped out of the trays and stored in quart freezer bags. I now have more than two dozen pesto cubes in the freezer, plenty to get me through to next year’s basil harvest.
By early September, the tomato harvest had begun in earnest, and I bought a twenty-pound box of canning tomatoes from one of the farmers whose stall I frequent at the farmers’ market. Canning tomatoes is a multi-day extravaganza – much more work than making pesto – but I love the resulting jars of ripe, red goodness with no ingredients other than tomatoes and a little lemon juice for acidification. This year, I ended up with six quarts and ten pints of tomatoes that I can use in cooking throughout the year.
By the second half of September, ripe red bell peppers had begun to appear at the farmers’ market, and I knew it was time to get peppers into the freezer. Bell peppers are available at the supermarket throughout the year, but they have been shipped from Mexico or from countries even further away. Preserving the local harvest means that I can cook with local peppers all year round. And peppers are easy, because they don’t need to be blanched; I just wash, core, seed and slice them, freeze the slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and then transfer the frozen slices into quart freezer bags. I now have four quarts each of green and red bell peppers put by.
By this point in the harvest season, the 4-cubic-foot freezer at the top of my refrigerator is pretty full. So before I can take full advantage of the bounty of pumpkins, winter squashes, and sweet potatoes, I need to finish up last year’s bounty of local food. It’s time to eat the last packets of frozen turkey meat from the enormous turkey that I roasted for Christmas 2020, to make some pumpkin desserts, and to switch over from eating salads for lunch to making a pot of soup each week. So much good eating to look forward to!
In my early childhood, my family lived in a three-bedroom apartment on the first floor of the building type known in New England as a “triple-decker.” As is typical in these buildings, a section of the basement was also allocated for our use, a corner that provided space for our wringer-style washing machine, a utility sink that the washer drained into, and a big, floor-to-ceiling glass-fronted cabinet that held shelves of food that my mother preserved each year. I don’t remember jars of canned tomatoes on those shelves, but surely there must have been some. I do remember jars of green beans, pickles and relish, and – most of all – jars of jelly. There was grape jelly, strawberry jelly, blueberry jelly, and apple jelly, all of which could be spread on breakfast toast or combined with peanut butter for yummy lunch sandwiches. I was always happy to volunteer for the task of going down to the basement to get a new jar of jelly, because it meant I could choose the flavor. One year, my mother got a big supply of just-picked elderberries from a neighbor and used them to make jelly. She swore she would never make elderberry jelly again because the process of removing skins and seeds from the tiny berries was so laborious; but, while it lasted, the elderberry jelly was my favorite.
Although I still love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I don’t make my own jelly. Instead, I buy it from a local company, Stonewall Kitchen. Preserving many other foods not only gives me good eating throughout the year; it still evokes the same feelings of warmth and security that I got as a child from seeing the shelves of preserves in that glass-fronted cabinet.
What a lovely post! Thank you for sharing.
I hope you are enjoying your own good eating, Anne.
Wears me out just thinking about all the work it takes to put food up for the winter like you’ve done, but I’m sure the trade off in taste and retaining the healthy aspects of the fruits and veggies is well worth the effort.
Jean, I really, really love to eat, so the effort is well worth it to me. I have freed up some space in my freezer and now have five pie pumpkins sitting in the cool mud room and waiting to be roasted and pureed for the freezer.
Wonderful! And some great practical tips for canning and storage. Thanks Jean, hope all is well.
Good to hear from you, Heidi.
Such a treat to read about your preservation of summer’s bounty and about your mother’s, too.
Judy, I didn’t actually learn how to do any of this from my mother, but I learned the positive emotional valence of processing and preserving the harvest.