Putting food by.

GetAttachmentThe photo is a glimpse of harvest mania at Chez DIY. Those underachievers in the small glass dish are strawberries picked from our tiny patch, which we hope to expand in years to come.

In the bowl and large measuring cup are four quarts of raspberries that DF and I picked in an evening, quitting before we’d gotten them all. We’ve already frozen 14 quarts of the things for his oatmeal and my homemade yogurt, and also to eat the Alaska way: only partially thawed and with a big dump of sugar.

On the left are jars of jam I’d made from a previous session; it’s the second batch I’ve made this year. Seeing those jars gives me the urge to make another one.

Not that we need a third batch, or maybe even that second one; we’re still using up jam from last year. But I don’t want the backyard bounty to go to waste — and part of me doesn’t even want to give them away.

That’s the part of me that feels, every year, that primal urge: Winter is coming. Put food by.


Silly, really, since we live about three miles from two supermarkets. But as I noted in “The low-maintenance preppers,” the majority of Alaska’s groceries get barged or flown in. Even a temporary disruption in shipping due to natural disaster or man-made chaos could empty the shelves pretty quickly.

We like having our own store in cupboards, freezer and basement. Although some of it comes in great big bags and bottles from Costco, we’re slowly increasing the amount of local foodstuffs put into bags and jars by our own hands.


Avoiding waste

Thus the jam and the frozen berries, and the seven pints of turnips we recently canned (with a second crop to follow), and the flourishing potato beds and buckets from which we hope to harvest several kinds of spuds (purple, Yukon Gold, German Butterball). The greens from those turnip were chopped and frozen for soups and our traditional New Year’s good-luck dinner.

For weeks we’ve been eating lettuce (including a new variety, red Romaine), spinach and Asian greens but haven’t touched the kale – that’s going into the dehydrator to add nutrition to soups and curries throughout the year to come. Last year DF also dehydrated the tough outer leaves of our red cabbages on the theory that when crumbled up in soups their chewiness wouldn’t matter.

He was right, and we were absurdly pleased not to have wasted a food resource. The cabbage heads got shredded and pickled in quart jars, a sweet/sour side dish that wakes up our palates on cold winter evenings. As noted earlier we’ll can more turnips and hope that our sloooowly growing carrots make enough roots to can as well.

They’ll join quart jars of chicken that we bought at rock-bottom price earlier this year and preserved for future stews and stroganoffs. The Copper River red salmon we were recently given got smoked and frozen. If turkeys get really cheap come November, we’ll probably cut and can them, too.


Food to be savored

Is this paranoid? I don’t think so. Those Costco runs give us staples like flour, beans, rice, sugar and oil at prices much lower than those in the supermarket. The large quantities mean fewer trips to the store – any store – which in turn means less wear and tear on the car and less gasoline expended.

The foods we grow are wonderfully healthy and provide a fine hobby: watching things green, bloom and finally produce things we can eat. Some people paste stamps in albums. We put seeds in soil.

Yesterday we savored the first tomato from the greenhouse DF built (mostly from old wood and scavenged windows). The flavor and texture of that fruit made up for all the nail-banging and water-carrying.

We’d already enjoyed cucumbers from the greenhouse, and were amused to watch his granddaughter eat almost half of a 10-inch-long “Sweet Slice” cuke all by herself. Was it the fact that she’d watched it grow and then got to harvest it herself? Or was it just the startling flavor of a freshly picked fruit, one that wasn’t sprayed with pesticides or herbicides and then picked, waxed and shipped thousands of miles?

A little of both, I think. One of the few good memories I have of my maternal grandfather is the times he walked my siblings and me through his extensive garden. He’d cut a cucumber into slices with his pocketknife and we’d eat it amid the vines, listening to cicadas shrill their sohotsohotsohot scream, the oppressive heat and humidity of a South Jersey summer temporarily allayed by the cool, sweet crispness in our mouths.


The garden-to-table connection

Rose will have memories like that too. Every time she comes over she wants to pick berries or pull a cucumber from the vines, and to irrigate the greenhouse plants with what she calls the “tiny water can.”

That’s not a store-bought watering device but rather a six-ounce tomato paste can, part of whose rim is crimped into a spout. (See “Chez DIY,” above.) DF and I use similar cans except that ours once held 101 ounces of Del Monte Fancy Cut Green Beans. All the cans came from the recycling center.

Filling her tiny water can from one of the several greenhouse buckets gives Rose tremendous enjoyment. I have yet to meet an almost-three-year-old who didn’t like playing in water.

Watching her learn about the miracle of growing food makes us just as happy. We’ve let her pull up a turnip for canning and in a few weeks DF will let her tip over a potato bucket and prospect for some of those Yukon Golds. He’ll immediately cook and serve them, to strengthen that garden-to-table connection.

I know that it’s time for me to stop freezing berries. An hour ago my niece called to ask a question about my pectin-less jam recipe. Since her raspberry patch isn’t as productive as ours I invited her to come over here once she’s cleaned out her own crop. Pretty sure I’ll be seeing her. That primal urge seems to run in our family.

Readers: Do you freeze, can, dry, smoke or pickle anything for the winter?

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  1. I live in Michigan and am an apartment dweller so I don’t have a garden. I do have 30 lbs of blueberries and 25 lbs of cherries in the freezer. I have another 10 lbs of blueberries in the fridge to put up this weekend. I eat blueberries in my oatmeal almost every day. I don’t have the time or energy to pick myself so I did buy directly from the farm. So much cheaper and better than from the grocery store. I also did a CSA box this year. Even with a half-share it’s a little overwhelming. I have lots of greens in the freezer. I’m going to try a recipe for freezer pickles this weekend. I also have 5 lbs of very ripe tomatoes to do something with this weekend. I’ll also be freezing some peaches and apples when they come into season later this year. I love this time of year and I take full advantage of our relatively short season for fresh local produce. Sweet corn season is starting so I may freeze some corn this year.

  2. Lisa Aberle

    You got a tomato!!! Yay!!

    • Donna Freedman

      The first of many, I hope…Four or five are turning red and the other plants are covered with green ones. Since we don’t have a heat source other than the sun, they may not all ripen — but we’ll just bring them indoors in September and hope for the best.

  3. jestjack

    What a great story….so now you guys are “farmers”…LOL…I share your need to stock up on some things this time of year. I picked a bunch of berries and froze them and our garden is starting to produce. Just picked the first three tomatoes. Should have peppers and squash next week. Thanks for the tip on dehydrating kale, I’ve had luck dehydrating tomatoes when we have an “over abundance” but never would have thought to try kale. I wonder if you can dehydrate spinach. Sometimes those “pricey” bags of fresh spinach get “iffy” and that may be a way to not have any waste. BUT my biggest tendency this time of year is stocking firewood…That’s right despite temps in the 90’s I begin in earnest stocking up on wood for the Winter. A lot of work but it pays off in December…..

    • Donna Freedman

      We’ve got a ton of wood split and stacked, probably enough for three seasons. Like you, though, I think ahead: “Once this is about half gone, how can we find more?”
      Good to know I’m not the only ant out there.

      • jestjack

        THREE SEASONS….I have wood envy!! Don’t know if your Dad shared but we had a BRUTAL winter last year and my wood pile got seriously depleted. I know of a lot of folks who ran out of wood entirely and had to heat with heating oil only….never good…

  4. CandiO

    We’ve gotten a couple heads of lettuce, a cucumber and it looks like our first tomatos are ripening now! If we get enough tomatos we will make tomato sauce for the winter.

    • Donna Freedman

      We probably won’t have a rush of ripening that would allow us to make sauce. When I was a kid in South Jersey, you’d have baskets of them ready all at once — as in, ready to go into quart jars and then a water-bath canner.
      But we will savor each one as it ripens. Our goal this year is to have enough to share. We’ll see.

  5. Unfortunately, I live in an apartment without any outdoor space. I’m making do with a few herbs in my windowsill. But, in years past my grandparents always had a garden. I remember helping weed and seeing bags of frozen tomatoes constantly. I even tried my hand at growing tomatoes last year when I had space. I grew about three. But, I bough a lot of corn from my local farmers and froze several bags (as well as excess produce from my grandparents garden). This year I bought a share in a CSA and am learning all kinds of fun new ways to cook a huge variety of produce. I completely feel the need to “put food by.”

  6. Kandace

    I have a garden in my backyard and love to forage for dinner! Like you, I can, freeze, and do some dehydration but haven’t done as much in the last year or two because I still have leftovers from previous years that haven’t been eaten. It’s not that we don’t like it (well, DH doesn’t like beets, beans, squash, cabbage…. much of the garden harvest) but I’m learning to put away what we need plus a little extra. I’ve learned that you can waste food after the freezing, canning and drying as well. I’ve only made one batch of jam this year, because that’s all we need with what we have from previous years.

    However, the itch to preserve doesn’t go away.

    That being said, we helped an elderly neighbor harvest her pears last night and I came home with two five-gallon buckets of them. We’re going to eat as many as we can fresh, then I’ll dehydrate several batches (DH also doesn’t like dried fruit), but I still have pears and pear nectar from last year!

    Having too much food put by, what a “terrible” problem to have.

  7. We freeze citrus juice in ice cube tray and put the cubes in plastic bags for drinks and cooking. Beats getting bottles of lemon juice or buying OJ at the store, and by March, people are giving away buckets of lemons, grapefruits and oranges. Same goes with pesto or basil and olive oil mixture. We save for the summer rather than the winter down here in PHX though. We’re just gearing up for the coming planting season right now, planning and buying seeds. Now that we have a big yard, hopefully I will fill the freezer!

    • Donna Freedman

      How I would love to have someone give me a bucket of oranges…My daughter and son-in-law live in Phoenix and I see citrus trees everywhere.
      Good luck with your garden. If I lived in Arizona I’d be very interested in battling the elements to produce my own food at least part of the year.

      • Next time you’re in Phoenix during citrus season take a walk in Abigails neighborhood in the morning. Chat up the neighbors with trees. Most people in the older neighborhoods have more than they can use. Same goes with zucchini in the rest of the lower 48 during the summer. My mom used to leave out a box of squash with “take some” on the box.

        • Donna Freedman

          Good idea! Maybe I’ll have enough fresh-squeezed juice for the entire visit that way.

          Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  8. Glorioski!

    My mother used to talk about doing this kind of thing. Of course, they didn’t have a freezer on the upstate New York farm where she grew up — they didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing. They had a root cellar where canned goods, potatoes, and eggs were stored. The eggs were stored in something called “isinglass” (sp????). I’ve never been able to figure out what that was.

    My father-in-law’s second wife used to can fruit from their trees. SO much better than commercially canned fruits and veggies!


    • From Wikipedia: “Isinglass was used as a preservative in Britain in the 1940s during the second world war. Isinglass from tins was dissolved into water, typically in a bucket. The resulting solution acted as an effective preservative for fresh eggs which were submerged in it.” In the beginning of their article, Wikipedia explains that isinglass is from the swim bladders of fish, like cod.

      • Donna Freedman

        I believe that DF consumed glassed eggs as a kid in Alaska. Definitely powdered ones (WWII surplus, sent to the teachers in the Bush) and some “fresh” ones that he swore came over with Baranoff.
        Ick. On the bright side, it made him the least picky eater I have ever encountered in addition to a man who’s intensely interested in food preparation and preservation.

  9. We haven’t had much luck with our garden this year. Lots of grape tomatoes, a pair of larger tomatoes, and a gracious plenty of basil. There are a few cukes and canteloupe starting, and that’s about it. Well, maybe next year.

    I did freeze a few containers of sliced strawberries from the local farm stand when they were in season. Maybe I’ll see if we can get to the farm stand or the farmer’s market this weekend…

  10. mdoe37

    Would you share how you are pickling the red cabbage? Never had it before but it sounds wonderful!

    • Donna Freedman

      The recipe is from Cooks.com:
      16 cups coarsely chopped cabbage, about 3 pounds (we shredded it with a borrowed mandoline)
      2 cups coarsely chopped onions (which we omitted)
      1/2 cup pickling salt (we used sea salt, bought in bulk)
      4 cups sugar
      3 cups vinegar
      1 and 1/2 cups water
      1 tsp. mixed pickling spices
      Mix salt into cabbage and let stand overnight. Rinse and drain. In a large pan mix sugar, vinegar and water; tie spices in a cheesecloth bag and add to pan with the cabbage. Boil gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
      Remove spices. Pack in hot pint or quart jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes (beginning when water returns to boil).

      • Excellent! Thankyousoverymuch! I’ll be on the lookout for red cabbage deals.

        • Donna Freedman

          Forgot to mention: The red cabbage is very good on burgers instead of relish, and I use the leftover brine to marinate cooked lentils. It might be interesting an interesting marinade for hard-boiled eggs, too.

  11. We aren’t having such a great season here at the Mott house but reading about your patch makes me smile. Keep up the green thumb. I’ll keep up the middle one to my plants.

  12. I loved this! I remember walking in the garden with my uncle. He pulled a tomato off the plant, pulled one of those salt shakers in cardboard out of his pocket, and we ate it out of hand. He told me “Never go to the garden without a salt shaker.” What a happy memory!

    • Donna Freedman

      Next year I plan to have at least one Sweet 100 tomato plant in the greenhouse, and to keep a salt shaker out there.
      Glad you enjoyed the memory. Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  13. Here in South Jersey, we have a deck full of amazing fresh produce. A dear friend of ours turned us on to Earth boxes, which have sort of a greenhouse effect. My DH buys them on EBay, as they are pricier in stores. We have had an abundance of zukes, mutli-colored string beans, summer squash, cauliflower, beets spinach, red roumaine and swiss chard (my new personal favorite). Coming soon (hopefully)-an abundance of fresh South Jersey tomatoes. My husband, adult son and I love to go out to the back deck and “visit” our vegetables.

  14. The house my husband and I moved into at the very end of last year turned out to have some nice little surprises. We have some wild onions and strawberries. The strawberries never get overly sweet but my two year old nephew got to most of them. I figured if he was nice enough to run around the back yard and pull his little wagon full of weeds and branches to the garbage bin where his other auntie was waiting for him, he could have his fill of strawberries. But we’ll see if I can get a few days worth of jam from the ones that come up before Cleveland gets into early winter. By the way, sweet corn season started late between here and Jersey so you should be just on the tail end of it!

  15. I love this topic! My DH and I live at the Jersey Shore area, and we have the best climate for growing green beans, peppers, garlic, eggplants, and of course, the best tomatoes in the world. Jersey Tomatoes! Yum! They don’t call us the Garden State for nothin’! Or so we think….hmmmm.
    Anyway….for winter prep DH and I pick, blanch, skin, and then freeze at least 40-50 lbs of plum tomatoes in September. We also slightly blanch off and freeze at least 25 pounds of green beans, a few bags of chipotles and jalapenos, and of course, jersey corn (we don’t grow it ourselves, though). I have two Ichiban eggplant plants that have already blessed us with 30 eggplants, so it looks like I will have to figure out a plan for those, too. I also freeze herbs whole in ice cubes, prepare and freeze various types of pesto, and save all the veggie ends for crock pot stock. The garlic is cured in the summer, and then I pick the best cloves for planting in the fall.
    Right now I am trying to ferment cabbage on my countertop, but it is a wait and see kinda experiment.


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