Often people have summed up their summer’s garden experience to me, saying that even if one did not add in the hours of labor, they hardly would have paid the water bill with what they didn’t have to buy at the store. If they had preserved some of that produce in some of the many possible ways, they could have made a much bigger dent in their grocery spending. You can only happily eat so many zucchinis or bell peppers or tomatoes, but think of savory ratatouille in January or minestrone defrosted on a cold winter’s night.
I don’t have a broom closet, a linen closet, or much of a clothes closet, but I do have a magnificent pantry. Yesterday my friend and I turned the end of the season’s last harvest from the raggedy tomato and pepper plants into 22 pints of hot salsa and 17 quarts of whole tomatoes. These make a bright patch in my edible wall of jars representing the whole garden season. My pantry is like a journal – in fact, I keep a canning ledger that reads like a diary full of glowing descriptions of harvests and adventures resulting in everything from strawberry jam and whole canned cherries to dill pickles and apple butter. If you have bulk staples like grains, flours and beans on hand, a varied selection of treats in jars makes grocery shopping supplemental rather than essential.
A simple bowl of plain yogurt is festive and satisfying when you can open a quart of sweet peaches and honey. You can remember putting them in there with your kids on that warm August morning. Consider the price of hot sauce, if you live in a family like mine that craves the picante; realize that a small pepper patch, a few plump onions, some tomatoes ripe or green and a goodly pile of garlic cloves, can save almost a hundred dollars. Even whole tomatoes, which hardly used to feel worth canning since they were so cheap to buy, are costing a noticeable price and are a fine staple.
We know more now too about the quality of many purchased processed foods. How many stories have I heard from people working at the cannery about frantically searching for snakes and rats and lizards as the river of tomatoes shoots by on the conveyer belt in order to keep any animal parts to the legal limit! Now I’m not a vegetarian, but I appreciate my own home standards of quality control!
Simple canning equipment and someone to work with will turn almost any gardener into a jar fanatic like me. The more we enjoy well-grown seasonal produce, the more precious our own preserving of such good quality foods will be. Pickles, pizza sauce, blackberry jam, whole spiced nectarines, apple cider – just the names are music to my ears, and the loaded shelves of my pantry give me a feeling of security and abundance as delicious as the tastes.
You are all invited to the Fifth Annual Harvest Wreath Show and Sale at the garden from 11 to 5 on November 22. Dried fruits, apple cider and herbs and teas will be sold as well, but featured are the beautiful fragrant wreaths made from flowers and herbs, weeds and seeds, garden-grown and field-gathered, hand-crafted by the staff and apprentices at Camp Joy. They make wonderful presents for Christmas, holiday wall ornaments or table centerpieces, or elegant botanical art works for year-round display. Please come!