I have been busy.
Most nights you will find me up to my elbows in food. Literally. Big pots of apples, simmering and tenderizing, getting ready for applesauce. Huge bowls of cucumbers, sitting in icy salt water, crisping up in advance of their pickled fate. Warm peaches, ready to have their skins effortlessly slipped off, after they have been blanched quickly in boiling water. Have you ever held a warm, skinless peach in your hand? I have. It seems to glow, with all its warm colours melding together, representing the very best of the harvest.
Then there were the cherries. Or should I say the pits. Or should I say pitting cherries is the pits. Or should I say, having purple stained fingers and fingernails for days is the pits? Mmmm but the cherry sauce and canned cherries they turned into look so divine. Y’know how with canned fruit cocktail each kid always wants the bowl with the most cherries? Now imagine a whole bowl of cherries. Nothing but cherries. Yes, life is good.
These ones were rescued by me, last night, through Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton, an awesome organization that matches volunteer pickers with neighbourhood trees.
Now how about peas? Crack, split, shell. Crack, split, shell. Forever. Half an hour of work will convert two pails into half a pail of little green peas, all different sizes. But damn they are sweet; my kids eat them like candy before we even get them on the table for dinner. Kids eating mouthfuls of fresh green vegetables? Eat away, my children, eat away. I did manage to save 2 lbs to blanch and freeze for winter.
But don’t get me wrong, there have been set backs. Those peas I picked at a local U-pick also came with about 25 mosquito bites. So. Many. Mosquitos. And the first batch of sweet cherries I spent hours pitting, ended up in the garbage because I was trying to dry them into cherry raisins and didn’t read the instructions correctly and did it all wrong…. I also broke a jar of cherry preserves when it was still in the canner – there were cherries everywhere in the water, such a mess.
And the canner. My big ol’ canner. It is a fixture on my stove these days. It is heavy, it is cumbersome, and takes up way more than its fair share on the stove. It takes forever to boil. So just when your recipe is ready to go – you’ve got to wait for that big ol’ canner to boil. So after a while, I decide to be smart about it and turn it on extra early, so of course it boils all the while I am making my next batch, and then what do y’know, it has boiled down too far and I need to add more water which of course makes it stop boiling and I have to… WAIT.
Or how about those apples I picked from my neighbour’s tree? I picked and picked and picked and actually loved it. I LOVED it. It made me feel like a kid, 6 feet up in a tree. The branches were so thick that I could not even see the ground. I was so high up on my ladder, higher than I normally comfortable going – but I was not afraid because the tree was all around me, the branches at my knees and waist and shoulders, leaves and apples everywhere. I felt the tree’s embrace. I was being tree hugged.
I hauled down 200lbs of apples from that tree. I got to work quickly and processed about 60lbs of them into apple sauce (which turned out a pretty pink!), apple chutney and apple juice. I also gave a bunch away.
But 6 days later, the apples were no good. Rotten. Over half of them left, now a big problem to deal with. I put some in my composter and overwhelmed it. They started to ferment. The rest are still in my backyard, what do I do with them? I am so sad they did not last. Next time I will pick earlier in the hopes that a less ripe apple will be a longer lasting apple.
As for the cucumbers – I bought too many. Want some?
I processed 20 pounds into 20 jars and then could do no more. I still have 5 lbs left. What to do? I cannot look at another cucumber again, I just can’t.
But overall, it has been great fun. I am finding that canning food is becoming – dare I say it – addictive. It is a bunch of work yes, but when you pull those hot jars of food out of the canner and set them on the counter, you just feel so proud of yourself. Like – I accomplished something here today and I have the jars to prove it! I didn’t know what I was doing when I started this whole process, and now – I’ve got jars. Pickles. Applesauce. Peaches. Jam. Cherries. I fill up my counters with them, batch by batch. When my counters fill up, I take them downstairs, flat by flat. I keep going back to the store for jars – I need more jars! I need more jars!
So what is the tally so far?
24 jars of applesauce
6 jars of apple juice
5 jars of apple chutney
18 jars of peaches
6 jars of cherries
3 jars of strawberries (frozen)
2 jars of raspberries (frozen)
13 jars strawberry jam & sauce
10 jars saskatoon jam
4 jars cherry jam
20 jars pickles
Okay, so that is about 111 jars of produce that I mostly picked myself (except for the peaches and pickles), washed, cut, processed and canned. Am I a crazy lady? But just think how it will look on my empty shelving unit downstairs! I can’t wait to line them up, one by one and look upon the whole thing, all at once. I will be one of those people who have a stockpile of locally preserved food for winter. I will also have something in common with grandmas everywhere.
But wait, I am not done.
Tomatoes are next. We cannot forget tomatoes, in all their home gardening glory. They are the ruby-red prized jewel of the garden, the vegetable we most look forward to eating, and perhaps the vegetable that tastes so much better from the garden than from the store. Now imagine that as pasta sauce, salsa and canned tomatoes. I know, I know, I can’t wait to see how it turns out, either.
After that - corn, to be cut from the cob and blanched and frozen for winter.
Then raspberry jam and saskatoon syrup will soon follow, these little berries are waiting their turn patiently in my freezer. I also have bags and bags of frozen local strawberries and raspberries and cherries that will make their way into smoothies and baking all winter long.
Then our good reliable root vegetables – potatoes, carrots, beets and onions – will be hung up, packed up and put away down low, somewhere cool. I just need to get some sort of cold room/root cellar thing going on in my basement.
THEN I will have a pantry and freezer full of local food.
I just put up the harvest. Imagine that. J