Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Preserving the Seasons: February, Week 1

There's no doubt about it: we are about as far as you can get from summer's bounty at this point.

I don't care what the groundhog said this week. We still have six weeks of winter left, and I've got a neighborhood full of snow -- I mean, piled, mountainous snow -- to prove it.

I can guarantee you that there's nothing growing in the ground right now, at least not without serious protection. Heck, I can't even get to the last carrots stuck in the garden!

So right now, finding local food could be a real difficulty. The farmers' market is months away, the orchards are closing for the season, and unless the grocery store has connections to a local greenhouse, there's nothing to be had.

That is, except for the pantries and freezers of those of us who spent lots of time preserving food last summer.

That's not meant to be a brag. I know all too well that food preservation is a hard, exhausting, time-consuming task. I also know all too well that eating almost exclusively from stored food for a few months can be a drag. I guarantee that in a month or so, I'm going to look at all those jars of canned tomatoes and never want to open another.

Preserving food and cooking food that isn't at the height of freshness may not be anyone's first choice for meal preparation. But given our economic situation -- between food prices and the growing difficulty of stretching our budgets -- food preservation is swiftly becoming something we all need to consider more fully.

On the flip side, this is also as good a time as any to learn how to reduce food waste even further. Maybe you're a meticulous cook, using every possible bit of edible food products, composting the rest (or maybe feeding it to your farm animals -- I wish!). I'm certainly not going to claim to be perfect on that front.

But I'm learning. Flour used on a board as I knead bread can be worked into another batch of bread, leftover sugar from cinnamon rolls can top the next morning's oatmeal, excess oil used in sautéeing can be drained off and reused (if not scorched), and so on. Pamphlets and posters from the WWII era gave housewives plenty of ideas for stretching their food rations, and they're not bad ideas even now (like using less expensive grains such as oats, corn, and buckwheat to replace wheat flour at meals -- think oatmeal, grits or cornmeal mush, or buckwheat crepes and pancakes).

In a way, some of this waste reduction can be another form of food preservation: berries left unused in the freezer could be turned into a batch of jam or syrup in the heart of winter, and excess amounts of milk could be made into yogurt or cheese.

We're not at the point of mandatory food rationing, but it certainly doesn't hurt to take a look at what we do now and see if there are ways to stretch our food and our budgets a little further.

In the meantime, we can continue to use what we've preserved for winter as well as find ways to bring spring a little closer with occasional flecks of green in our meals and in our homes. (I'm talking seeds, not mold. Really.)

It's a short month. Let's make the most of it -- and of our food.

WWII-era poster reproductions from Northwestern University Libraries and University of North Texas Libraries.

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At 2/04/2009 10:10 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

Love the posters! You might also be interested in a blog,, which focuses on NOT wasting food. :)

At 2/05/2009 7:02 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Can't beat those vintage posters -- colorful, upbeat, and to the point. And that's a great web site -- I encourage all my readers to go check it out!


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