Last summer I took several days off to spend at home with my mom. We had an agenda; we were going to spend our vacation canning fresh produce. Our goal was to preserve local and organic produce while it was in season.
The first full day I was at home, we got up ridiculously early and, cash in hand, went to the Olympia Farmers Market. Our first move was to buy a twenty pound box of tomatoes. We couldn’t believe the service at the
stand, the worker found an empty box, put it on a scale, and then individually inspected and approved every tomato he placed into the box until it reached twenty pounds. Then he topped off the box with a few extra tomatoes, just for good measure.
We brought the tomatoes to the car and then headed back to the market. We searched every stand looking for more loot. I could barely concentrate on each stand as my eyes kept looking forward to the produce at the next stand. Shopping for produce at a farmers’ market is way more exciting than a supermarket.
We eventually left the farmers’ market with a car full of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, sweet peppers and hot peppers of every color, basil, concord grapes and mushrooms. In addition to our farmer’s market finds, we had plenty of green beans and peaches; my mom’s friend, Debbie, had given us several bags of homegrown green beans, and my parents’ peach tree had a stellar year.
We had picked several recipes from our canning book. As soon as we got home, we got to work. Slicing, chopping, and measuring. We worked on multiple recipes at once, so we had bowls of chopped vegetables everywhere. My mom became adept at dropping tomatoes in boiling water so she could remove the skins. She then focused on finding the spices we needed, getting jars prepared, and cleaning after me while I chopped, and chopped, and chopped.
We experimented with different recipes of salsa and different amounts and types of hot peppers in the salsa. I had fun making one salsa out of entirely green ingredients – green tomatoes and different shades of green hot peppers. In addition to salsa, we canned jars of stewed tomatoes, sweet pickles, barbecue sauce, green beans, peach salsa, peach sauce (like apple sauce), and concord grape juice.
Now whenever I am about to pop open a new can I get a rush of excitement and feel a little giddy inside. I think of vacation, summer days, fresh vegetables, and homecooking. And then I think about how the vegetables I’m eating now, in the winter, were not shipped across the country (a good subject for another blog … the fossil fuel calories burned to transport fresh fruits and vegetables can easily exceed the calories in the vegetables) and were not processed in a plant full of energy-guzzling machinery. And instead supported a local farmer.
No doubt canning is a lot of work and is time consuming. However, with a few friends, some simple supplies (jars, lids, screw caps, and a pressure canner), and a trip to the farmer’s market, it becomes more of a weekend warrior adventure than a task. And the rewards continue into the winter. I recommend buying a book on canning; look for a book that will provide recipes and explain the process and guidelines that must be followed when canning foods. For example, some foods can be canned using a simple waterbath, while others must be pressure canned which requires a pressure canner (or pressure cooker). This depends on the acidity of the food being canned.
The amount of produce we canned certainly is not enough to end our reliance on the food industry for the year, but I’m a firm believer that small changes add up in big ways. While food manufacturers also can fresh produce, buying canned food means that cans and water had to be shipped in addition to the vegetables. That doesn’t make a lot of sense for fuel efficiency. If I can preserve some locally produced vegetables . . . it’s that many fewer cans and water being transported across the country.