Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Preserving the Seasons: May, Week 3

Having checked your equipment and supplies last week in preparation for this summer's food preservation marathon, it's time to sit down and map out what you'd actually like to do this year.

Over the course of this past year, I've shared with you information on multiple methods of food preservation, highlighted some of my favorite books and recipes, and given you ideas on how to use some of these preserved foods. With any luck, you've been keeping some mental notes as to what you might like to try or expand in your own kitchen.

First, take a look at what you have left from last year's preservation (assuming you did some). What have you used up in good time? What are you still working through? What has been sitting in a back corner because you really haven't found yourself compelled to eat it? Make notes, and if you put together a chart of the kinds of foods and the quantities you put up for winter, use that chart to help you figure out how much of any item you think you might want or need to preserve this coming season.

For example, I still have 7 pints of canned tomatoes left out of 16. That actually surprises me because I usually make more stews and curries over the winter, but I suspect that I was able to stretch them out more because of having a better variety stashed away. Since tomatoes don't come into season for another two months, I still have time to use most of this, though, and so I think 16 to 20 pints might still be useful for me.

Where pickles of various kinds are concerned, though, I've barely touched them, so I might want to dry or freeze more vegetables on their own rather than pickle them this year.

This sort of assessment brings us back around to the spreadsheets I started last year with, in which I listed the various kinds of produce available to me and indicated what preservation methods I might find most useful. I can now modify that chart for this year's harvest and give myself a good idea of what to plan for in my schedule.

Sharon made the wise observation on her own blog recently that when you have such grandiose plans for food preservation, they can become overwhelming very quickly. Her suggestion of making notes about various in-season items on the calendar is an excellent one. I've made a note about strawberries in mid-June, and though I have yet to decide what exactly to do with them, I'm pretty sure I will at least dry some and make jam from others. If you have any similarly large harvests or preservation plans ahead, pencil them in on your calendar around the times you think they'll be ready, and clear your schedule!

Take it from someone who knows all too well: it is so easy to get tempted by all the beautiful fresh produce at the farmers' market or to plant a little of everything and then suddenly find your daily schedule overrun by the need to preserve everything before it rots. Making charts like these, as obsessively organized as they sound, can really help you set some realistic plans for yourself.

Of course, you might also consider teaming up with a friend or two to find common food preservation interests and to share the work. There's a reason our ancestors held work bees of various sorts: good company and conversation makes the time pass more quickly, and many hands do make light work.

Don't forget to save room in your schedule and on your pantry shelves for the unexpected finds. It's easy to plan how to preserve the things you know you like, but if you have a CSA share or are willing to try new things at the farmers' market, you're likely to be introduced to new flavors that may become new favorites you'll want to enjoy through the year.

Yes, this seems like a lot of work right now. But it will definitely make things easier later on and will help you keep your cool when your kitchen is too hot for comfort.

Start somewhere -- and leave room to grow.

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