It’s just about peak season for many of the fruits and vegetables grown locally. To really take advantage of all of this wonderful, nutritious local produce, you can start planning to put some up. Sourcing locally for your preserving needs has many benefits, including social, economic, and environmental. But, when it comes right down to it, it’s all about the quality of the product.
A Labor of Love
When working on the aisle, I often overhear, “We always can tomatoes to save money.” True enough, you may not be spending $2.49 for that quart of tomatoes you pulled out of the pantry, but when you figure costs, including your labor, you’re probably not coming out that far ahead. Every year I put up some salsa with a friend of mine, and we always joke about how if we paid ourselves to make the salsa and sold it, we couldn’t afford to buy it! It’s a lot of work, but we have a lot of fun in the process, and it’s incredible salsa! For me, it’s not about about saving money, it’s about flavor.
While there are some less labor-intensive products and processes, in general, putting up food can be a lot of work, which is why it’s good to have a plan. Believe me, I speak from experience. Poor planning has kept me up late in the kitchen many a night over the years. A little planning goes a long way. Here are some planning tips that will help ensure a smoother process (no pun intended).
If you’re freezing fruits or vegetables, make sure there’s room in your freezer before you start.
Inventory your equipment and make sure it’s in working order at least a day ahead. Jars can have chipped rims; you may have lent your pressure cooker to a friend and it hasn’t made its way back, etc. Whatever it is you’re doing, make sure you’ve got the tools and equipment to do it.
Get your workspace in order. You want room to work, maybe create an efficient flow. Most important, you want it clean to prevent contamination! Clean your sinks, cutting boards, counters, tables, whatever and wherever you’re planning to use. For some of us, this alone is a day’s worth of work.
Guesstimate your product/equipment needs the best you can. If you’re working from a recipe, it should tell you “x” lbs cucumbers will yield “x” quarts pickles. And, it’s always a good idea to have a couple extra jars ready to go just in case you’ll be needing them.
Do you have all of the ingredients you need? Jams and preserves call for sugar and pectin. Were dill heads in season last September when you wanted to make your dilly beans? Again, get this stuff figured out and taken care of in advance.
Work with a partner and have a plan. For example, one of you can be washing cucumbers while the other is packing the jars. In just about every processing scenario, having help makes for easier work!
Don’t overdo it! Figure out what your needs are, and then figure if you can do it all at once, or if you should do it over a few days. Look at processing times; how long do those jars need to be in the water bath, and how many jars can you fit in at once? Say you’re planning on 100 quarts of tomatoes for the year, you can fit seven quart jars at a time in the water bath kit, and each batch needs to process for 30 minutes. That’s a minimum of seven and a half hours you just committed yourself to for the processing alone!
We’re fortunate that sourcing locally grown fruits and vegetables is becoming accessible for everyone. You can find a range of local, organically grown fruits and vegetables at the Co-op, and, if you’re an Owner, we’ll give you a 10% discount on full case pre-orders. Or you can go directly to the source. Farmers’ markets abound in Madison and the surrounding communities. If you’re interested in putting something up, talk to one of these farmers; it’s likely they’ll be able to offer you a price break if you’re purchasing a case or two of product, or that they’ll offer their “seconds” for processing. And, if you’re planning ahead, you can get the conversation started now; they’ll be able to let you know when the crop will be at its peak, which will help you get your plan together.
So, now that I’ve made this all sound like a lot of work, here’s where you are coming out ahead: the quality of the product. Fruits and vegetables harvested at their peak ripeness contain higher nutritional values than their counterparts picked green and/or stored in refrigeration, and they taste better. Here’s some of what you’ll see locally in the Co-op and around town this month and next. Take advantage of the opportunity, and put some locally grown, home-made goods in your pantry or freezer. You won’t be disappointed: Door County Cherries, Peaches and Nectarines; Green Beans; Cucumbers; Tomatoes; Peppers; Garlic; Summer Squash (grate and freeze for baking); Sweet Corn; Herbs; Beets; Cabbage.