Keeping a Lot from Becoming Rot, Food Preserving Amidst Scarcity
It's August. Did it sneak up on you? Or have you been counting down the days to summer's final full month? Whether you're ready for the heat to break or praying for it not to end, one thing is for certain; It's the time of plenty. Cucumbers need pickling, beans need snapping, and we won't even speak of the zucchini you snuck into your neighbor's open window. There are only so many things you can make fresh before the tomatoes start leaving stinky juice rings on the counter, and the okra starts going woody on the plant, so lets go over how to make the most of your harvests (as well as the locally available produce), before it's all tossed to the compost.
2021 poses some unique issues when it comes to preservation. Along with a huge movement towards self sufficiency, the shortages leftover from the previous year can leave you scrambling to find jars, lids, and even canners in some areas. For a sustainable canning option, I recommend making the investment into reusable canning lids. I use Tattler lids, shown below.
If canning isn't an option for you, freezing should be considered next. Most vegetables freeze well, with or without blanching, as long as you put them in airtight vessels. Freezing even works for vegetables you plan to can at a later date. For tomatoes, you can simply core the tomato, place in a ziplock bag, and freeze until you're ready to make a batch of sauce. This can also be extended to peaches, berries, and meat.
Low on freezer space? Fire up the dehydrator. When dehydrating anything, you must either fully dehydrate to a crispy morsel, or store the partial product in the fridge to prevent mold. For dehydrating meats, you need to make sure they get processed above 180F for safety. If you don't have a dehydrator, sometimes an oven on the lowest setting, slightly cracked, will do the trick.
One of my favorite summertime projects is making leather breeches! Instead of heating up the house with the dehydrator or oven, simply take a very large needle that will fit kitchen or hemp twine, cut into about 4 feet increments, and thread fresh picked beans through their middle. Leave a small gap between each threaded bean, and hang to dry in the pantry, by the woodstove, or in a mouse free closet. In the winter, take the beans off the thread, rinse very well, soak, and simmer all day like you would any dried bean meal. Leather breeches are a traditional Appalachian staple and are great served up with homemade cornbread by the fire.
Another low tech dehydrating option involves an old window screen and good ol outside breeze. This works great for chamomile flowers and herbs, since they're less likely to be bothered by bugs or birds. With these dried herbs, you can make a multitude of seasonings and teas, apothecary supplies, or smoothie enhancers.
Fermentation is yet another option, but that deserves its own post, as the topic is huge and important! No matter which method you choose, in these times of surprise (and not so much) shortages, put the food up, winter you will give thanks.