Thursday, August 13, 2015

Deciding What to "Put Up"

For many of us in the U.S., it's high gardening season. And, I'm gratified to see from my Facebook feed, an interest in gardening often leads to an interest in food preservation or "putting up."

There are many methods of putting up your harvest, including drying and freezing, but one of the most popular is canning (formerly called "bottling," which is probably more descriptive). But once you learn how to can in a water bath canner and maybe in a pressure canner, there is the inevitable problem of deciding what to put up.

Of course, part of the decision will be made by your garden basket or farmers' market haul.  That pile of tomatoes or cucumbers or that basket of fresh fruit has to go somewhere, and you and your family probably won't eat it all fresh. Therefore, you want to put some of it in jars.  So how do you decide what to make?

I think there are three main approaches; I've used all of them, so they are detailed below so you can make your own choice:

Fast: Putting up bulk ingredients:  You've got a countertop full of tomatoes, and, even though you know you will regret saying this come December, you simply can't contemplate one more capresse salad or tomato sandwich. That means it's time to get as much of your garden haul into jars as you can as quickly as possible, and you'll deal with it later. Tomato chunks, plain tomato sauce, and pickles all fill this category for me, as I try to simply keep up with the harvest.

This is probably the fastest method of putting up in jars, because you are unlikely to choose too many recipes that need multiple exotic ingredients or a ton of cooking time.  However, you have to be aware that you will probably have to spend some time cooking this winter, not necessarily a bad thing if it fills the house with the smells of cooking tomatoes in January, but a bit cumbersome  if you head home from work and still need to make a lasagna to really showcase your homemade tomato sauce.

Cheap:  Putting up meal components:  For various reasons this year, I need to devote my putting up time to creating future meals that we can make without very much in the way of additional expenditures.  In the photo above, you'll see my weekend canning.  I've been making WWII Chili Sauce with every batch of tomatoes because we can make a yummy batch of beef and pork meatballs swimming in this stuff very quickly, and we will have no additional investment; the meat comes from our CSA membership, and the chili sauce gives it flavor.  Bingo, a meal that's already been "bought and paid for," as they say.  You'll also see a batch of chicken stock I put up from giblets I've saved in the freezer, and that will form the basis of many winter soups.

This is the way to go if you want to maximize the potential benefits of your canning to your bottom line. If you plan well, you'll also have a few (or more than a few) winter meals about half made for those nights when you are running behind or too tired to get inventive with the cooking.

Good: Putting up gourmet items:  Jams and jellies made with fine alcohols and exotic spices; hot sauces tailored to your own preference for heat and spice.  If you are feeling in a gourmet mood, you may choose to put up recipes that require you to source and use specific ingredients and that are likely unavailable in stores (at least in any quality that will rival your own.)

This is a great way to put up food, and it's particularly nice to pull out your own homemade gourmet condiments when you have guests or you need a gift.  You will probably spend some money with this approach, but you aren't undertaking some of these recipes because you think you'll be saving money. Instead, this is a good way to maximize the "good" in our FC&G analysis.

What are you putting up right now?

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