This time of year, it's easy to eat local. In fact, it's sometimes hard to keep up with all the local stuff that greets me, with little vegetable arms upstretched, yelling, "me! me! pick me!" when I open my fridge. All those vegetables, dying to be eaten, just break my heart!
Eating locally gets harder, of course, during the colder months, so I supplement the food that I get from various farmers' markets, coops and buying clubs with the food that I've canned, frozen or dried.
And guess what, the bulk of the preservation happens: NOW.
I mentioned in the spring that I'd grown a bit fat and lazy on my winter larder. Mama bear is not supposed to emerge from the den feeling as if she's just finished Thanksgiving dinner. No, no. She is supposed to claw her way back into the world feeling ravenous, edgy, and predatory. What had happened to me? Instead of anticipating spring with an eagle's eye for the first signs of fresh crispy stuff, I emerged feeling lethargic and a little drunk on a winter spent eating rich homemade soups and roasted foods that, thanks to my summer industriousness, had required little prep. I wrote about how I needed to wake up and snap out of it in lazy locavore back in May. I did rally to make several batches of strawberry jam that week, but while I've managed to do the hard work of eating fresh food all summer, I've sort of been dreading canning season.
Of course, we all know I could have a lazy summer and still have a lazy winter. There's a grocery store just down the street packed to brimming with already chopped and jarred food.
But it wouldn't be the same. Darnit! You know that too. You see, I don't just want to be lazy. I want to be inspired. Can a person be both lazy and inspired? The politics and economics of supporting local farmers, the environmental aspect of eating local and organic, the spiritual enrichment of eating seasonally: these things all simmer in that winter food. Unfortunately, none of that gets in there without the work. Winter food has labor and love bottled up with it in those jars. Leaving that out would be like forgetting the salt in the tomatoes. I think the value of that work is what I get a little drunk on as curtains of cold and gray shroud the picture window in my kitchen (maybe the "work" is more like the tequila in the margarita?).
The problem with that: you have to actually do all that work: the washing, chopping, hulling, paring, freezing, drying and canning. And instead of doing it, I have been walking around with my lazy locavore hangover, telling myself that canning season is not yet upon us.
Until I casually asked Gareth's friend if his mother had begun her usual canning routine. His eyes bugged out: "Are you kidding? She's a maniac! She's been canning round the clock for weeks!"
Like a squirrel caught lolling fat and lethargic in the tomato patch (yes, the squirrels ate my tomatoes again this year), I snapped to attention. The other bushy tailed rodents have been out gathering? And I've got nothing to show but some tomato skin between my teeth and a meager stash of strawberry jam?!
While I've always suspected that my interest in food preservation must hearken back to some sort of survivalist hoarding instinct, I never realized there was a competitive element to it. I always wondered why I got so antsy feeling when my sister would call and tell me proudly: "I'm canning salsa today!"
If I wasn't canning too, I'd get all defensive: "Well, why didn't you tell me?" As if she should always let me know her plans so I could be sure to keep us even. Now I'd learned that someone else had already put up jars in numbers? I needed to get my bushy-tailed-ass in gear.
I put up blueberry jam, peach jam, pickled banana peppers and the dreaded labor intensive salsa all in one weekend.
Then I called my sister to tell her so.
So I guess I'm writing to say I have the fire back. I found myself yesterday scrounging around the kitchen to see what I could boil, blanch, pickle or dry. Not enough cukes, not enough jalapenos, not enough beets. And the market had closed for the day. I growled in frustration.
Quite honestly, I'm surprised one of my kids didn't end up in a jar. But I shouldn't be, really. I mean, if you're going to pickle your kids for later enjoyment, do it when they're fat and perfect at eighteen-month olds; don't do it when they're honing in on eighteen years. By then they've grown old and tough, their skins thick and bitter with self-righteous indignation. Who needs that with a shot of vinegar and dill?
Anyway, I finally found some wax peppers to dry. And that led to the herbs. Rosemary, basil, thyme and tarragon all waited majestically for me in the garden. With bundles of aroma tied and hung, and piles of pesto in the freezer, this squirrel (or am I a bear?) called it a day.
Until tomorrow--when the tomatoes arrive.
Interested in doing some canning but don't know where to start? Check out Pick Your Own. That link will take you to the "All About Home Canning" page, but the website is pretty comprehensive on food preservation in general. Just scroll down past the paragraph about blueberries to links for your specific questions. If you're overwhelmed, I'd recommend you pick one thing and focus on that. I'd start with jam, tomatoes or applesauce. These are easy to get in jars and are acidic, which makes them easier to can safely. My first canning project was applesauce. I used a recipe from the Ball Blue Book. Applesauce is so easy (once you've pared and cored!). You just cook it down, ladle it into jars and process! :) And if you do apples, you still have plenty of time to get canning supplies (see Pick Your Own for suggested kits). Good luck!