Preserving the Harvest

Recently, I’ve had to devote time to preserving my harvest.  I’m not much of a gardener — not any more, anyway.  When we lived in Virginia, I grew tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, spinach, and all sorts of other odds and ends.  I had a six-foot privacy fence that kept out marauding critters, and despite the various pestilence that can visit humid climates, I had an abundant harvest that I’d dutifully can up in late summer.

When we moved out West, I parked my canning equipment in a convenient place, as I was sure that the sunny days would yield bountiful crops.  Well, I was wrong.  High winds where I live would blow down privacy fences, and the mule deer step over the shorter ones we do have as if they are nothing.  Rabbits, too, find fencing to not be a barrier.  Between the animal-induced crop damage and the short growing season, about the only thing I can grow well here on my windswept mountainside are herbs.  So, this year, I turned the vegetable garden into an herb garden, and joined a local Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm to obtain the other produce that I’d no longer be growing.

The herb garden has been a screaming success, and it’s been fun to see what produce the CSA will send forth each week.  The summer shares of the CSA present a challenge for me, however.  I buy the smallest shares, which are intended for one or two people, but they can be hard to use up before they spoil.  For instance, we love the lettuce and spinach, but there’s only so many salads one can eat, particularly when other things like snow peas are also coming in.  And although we love apricots and cherries, we just can’t eat them all before they over-ripen.  So, we have to eat some and preserve some.  Preserving has to happen in small batches, too, as the shares aren’t too terribly large.

The other issue I face is that we are not really big pie fans, so simply freezing all of the fruit for pies won’t work for us.  Instead, I’ve turned to making condiments.  Condiments are neat because they can elevate ordinary food into something remarkable, with little effort once the initial time investment has been made.  This fact is important to us, as we often have little time for food prep at dinner.  It’s so nice to realize that an hour spent on a summer Saturday can yield, for example, multiple meals’ worth of cherry barbecue sauce, or the same amount of bourbon peach butter to slather on grilled chicken.

And my herbs? These I process into compound butters, dried herbs and blends of herbs, pesto, and whatever else I can dream up.  Growing and preserving herbs has an advantage in that I can do it pretty much at my own pace:  If I have herbs drying, they can stay parked on the drying tray until I can get them bagged up.  Other things, like tomatoes, aren’t that forgiving, as they must be preserved when ripe.

Over the coming weeks, I expect to make some freezer jam, barbecue sauce, cherry balsamic vinegar, pie filling, pesto, and dried herbs.  I will blanch and freeze my extra spinach and vegetables, too.

Of course, working on food preservation is always a trade-off, as it takes away time from knitting.  My alternative, though, is to let a lot of this food go to waste, which I don’t want to do.  Plus, it’s an investment of time that pays off with wonderful meals long after the too-short growing season has ended.

In addition to food preservation, I’ve made some progress on my knitting, and will post photos just as soon as I can.  I finally finished the last seemingly interminable border on the Rosebud Shawl.  When I have some time this weekend, I’ll sew up the mitered corners and begin the edging.  I’m putting on the contrast edging on the Baby Kimono Sweater.  I swatched up a candidate for the center panel for Eric’s Aran, but it’s going to be too big, so I’m going to swatch up a smaller diamond motif.

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