Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Channeling My Inner Betty Crocker

The leaves are beginning to turn. The fresh produce of the summer is starting to become scarce. Late summer crops are starting to ripen. And Upstate New Yorkers are beginning to mention in passing how snow is not unheard of in October. It's that part of the summer when panic starts setting in. Winter is coming and it's time to take a hint from the animals and start squirreling food away.

I have been wanting to start canning food for a while now. I've grown increasingly disturbed by the quality of food available in the grorcery store. I want my American children eating food grown in America (and locally, if possible), and I also want to know exactly what has gone into their food--be it salt, sugar, or preservatives. I never could quite get my act together in South Carolina. But here in Scotia, there are two different farm stands up the road, and both get their crops from the fields right behind them. The food is fresh fresh. And that makes me really happy.

When my mom came to visit in early August, I asked her to help me can some New York sweet corn. I could wax poetic about this corn, and yet words don't do it justice. It is sweet and crisp, naturally buttery, totally amazing. When I eat this corn, I completely understand why Native Americans would bring it to explorers seeking gold. Canning corn is pretty straightforward, but I will admit that I am terrified of my hand-me-down pressure canner. I remember an incident during my childhood when my mother's pressure cooker nearly exploded and ever since, I have had an irrational fear of steam heating. This hand-me-down pressure cooker is so old that its handles fell off and has hand-hewn wooden handles made by my grandfather when he was still alive. The pressure gauge is also permanently stuck at 5 lbs. I don't like the idea of pressure caning with a brand spanking new canner. I'm convinced that I'll burn the house down if I use the old one.

Then my new friend, Kira,and I got to talking, and both of us wanted to start canning. It turned out that one of the nearby apple orchards (because they are all over the place around here) also had pick your own raspberries, so we decided to take the boys berry picking and then can some jam. I wasn't sure how well that was going to go, but the boys loved it. There's something so calming about gathering food--calming in the sense hat it's mindless and repetitive, but also calming in the primative we-have-food-and-we-won't-go-hungry sense. And the raspberry jam turned out amazing, too. Since hot bath canning is appropriate for fruits and I didn't own a hot bath canner, I went to Wal-mart and sprang for a fabulous pressure canner/hot bath canner/pressure cooker.

This past Saturday, Kira and I also canned applesauce (9 quarts) and came to the conclusion that despite its level of deliciousness, unlike the raspberries, applesauce was neither cost, nor time effective, to do it ever again. But like everything else, it's a learning process... We'll try sliced apples or apple pie filling the next time we can apples and elimate the six hours of hand grinding apples that the applesauce entailed.

Lately, I've also gotten inspired to give couponing a try again. It's a time-consuming pain in the butt, and requires a ridiculous amount of time to match coupons to sales, but slowly but surely, I'm amassing a nice stockpile in my basement food storage room. When we looked at the house initially, I saw this room and thought "Oh, a storage room..." but didn't see its possiblities until we moved in. With its built in cabinets and shelves, it's perfect for storing all my canning supplies, canned foods, and stockpiled groceries. Having a dedicated food storage room has had the unexpected benefit of leaving room in the kitchen pantry for a small amount of groceries at a time. Since the pantry isn't stuffed, I can easily see what's in it, and when I know what we have, I'm more inclined to use it.

Maybe living in a Depression-era house makes this type of "Happy Homemaking" easier, because the original owners were probably doing exactly what I'm trying to do now. I wonder about that a lot--how this house must've looked when it was first built. I'll bet it had a garden once upon a time. I'm planning to dig up the decorative flower beds (I know. The horror!) and plant a vegetable garden (or two) in the backyard. Next to the house, in a neglected bed, is a sad and straggly blackberry bush. I've got plans to prune it back, and add a few more bushes--and raspberries too. I figure it'll be much more cost effective to can foods when I'm growing them myself. And I'm looking forward to gardening all summer with the boys. I think they'd have a lot of fun with it.

I know I will.


  1. this post is making me really miss NE now. i love growing my own food, and think you will, too. this year was pretty slim for my garden plots with the ridiclous heat we've had, but right now, my little strawberry pot is producing the tiniest little buds of fruit, so red and with the biggest flavor! it was this year's best 'crop'

  2. Brittany, you are my hero! I'm not kidding. I SO want to learn how to grow things and can them, but I am absolutely terrified of the whole process! I love that you have a whole room just for storing food. I am absolutely green (with envy at your awesomeness) and I hope that just by reading your fabulous blog I will be able to soak in some of that canning expertise! :-)


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