Sooner or later, Dr. Sneed asks everyone the same question:
“Where do you buy your groceries?”
Don’t worry if that sounds like an odd question to you – it did to us as well the first time we heard it. It was a visiting cousin from Germany, actually, who was curious as to where I managed to find the olives that went into that night’s lasagna.
“um…the grocery store?” was my baffled reply.
Now please understand, I still get my olives from the grocery store. Fredericksburg, at least to my knowledge, is not a habitat which is hospitable to the growing of olives. But I do understand a bit more my cousin’s baffled response – why would we, living in a city surrounded by such fertile farms, not be buying at least some of our groceries direct from the farmers that grow them? We are extremely fortunate in the abundance of produce available to us May-October each year. There are farmers markets and stands in almost every section of Fredericksburg and the surrounding counties – not to mention a number of farms you can buy directly from just by sending them a quick email or two. (You can find a list of some of the local farmers and resources we like to buy from for our own family on our local resources tab up top!)
So, May through October, if anyone asks me where I get my produce I can almost always tell you the name of the farm, the farmer, and what their growing policies are (pesticides? fungicides? herbicides? organic?).
And then comes winter.
Granted, we are not living in the wilds of Maine or Alaska – our winters here are actually fairly mild in comparison. And there are some farmers who still grow a limited variety of crops in greenhouses year-round. But there is a definite reduction in produce, and a large majority of the farmers markets and stands shut down as the temperatures drop. Wegman’s, of course, is always an option. But so is your pantry.
How’s that? By canning! While it takes a bit of time now, during late summer and early fall, it allows you to include local, even organic, produce in your meals year-round – and usually cheaper than if you were buying the same produce fresh from Wegman’s in January. Buying in bulk direct from the farmer, last week I purchased local, organic tomatoes for $2 a pound. Organic tomatoes, in season, from Wegman’s currently cost $3.99 a pound. And even non-organic tomatoes from Wegman’s currently cost $2.99 a pound.
But isn’t it time consuming? Now I tend to go a bit overboard….I see all the gorgeous tomatoes, green beans, bell peppers, peaches, and apples in season, and I want to CAN ALL THE THINGS. But you don’t have to go crazy! You can buy a few pounds of exactly the produce your family enjoys and can just a batch or two. If you like it, can a bit more the next summer. Or you can decide that you want green beans to be a staple of your winter diet, buy 15lbs and put the kids and your husband to work snapping them while you can them, making it a family affair from start to finish. You can do as little or as much as you like.
But isn’t it expensive? You can spend as much or as little on canning as you’d like. A basic water-bath canning set (which includes the canning pot, rack, funnel, and jar/lid lifters) is about $35 at Target right now – but watch for sales and coupons, they sell them all over the place (True Value/Earl’s, Tractor Supply, Wegman’s). You can get jars at yard sales dirt cheap,then buy new lids and rings for $4 for a dozen. And you can find a ton of recipes online (Ball has a fantastic resource website to walk you through ALL the steps and some great recipes at www.freshpreserving.com). This will get you canning high-acid foods (mostly fruits and tomatoes) for $55 or less for your first batch of 12 cans (minus the cost of the produce), and if you like it you can always invest a little more for a pressure canner to can low-acid vegetables and other foods.
And remember – I’m canning local, organic tomatoes for $2 a pound, which is less than I can get non-local, organic tomatoes in-season at Wegman’s right now!
Is it safe? So long as you do the following:
Follow the canning instructions and recipes from reliable sources (again, Ball is a great resource for these as they test everything before they put it out for the public). These should be recipes that have been laboratory tested to produce safe, delicious home-processed canned foods. You can also find resources and reliable recipes at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, or the US Department of Agriculture’s Complete Guide to Canning and Home Preserving. Your neighbor’s cousin’s grandmother may swear she canned pureed pumpkin back in the day, but the thickness prevents assuredly thorough heating all the way through and can lead to botulism – not something you want in your pumpkin pie.
Use your senses.
Touch: Withn 12-24hrs of canning, the lids should be firm when pressed in the center of the lid, meaning the lid should not indent or pop back up after being pressed slightly with your finger tip. Any lids which are not firm have not sealed properly and should be stored in the fridge and eaten or discarded within 3-4weeks.
Sight: If you see anything growing in the jar, throw it out. Mold. Mildew. Black, white, green, brown, purple spots/sludge/slime/scum/etc. This means that the food was not processed completely or at a high enough temperature, or was contaminated during canning, allowing bacterial growth within the food. It should be discarded without tasting or eating.
Smell: If, upon opening, you smell anything odd, off putting, or noxious – throw it out. Don’t taste it, and don’t
WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT. Seriously. If you are worried about it, pitch it. If you’ve followed the directions and recipes the chances are low that you’ll have to, but if you are ever concerned just dump the contents of that jar down the drain and move on to the next. We’re trying to prevent hospital bills, not create them.
So how do I start? There are some great resources listed throughout this post to get you started, but I’ve listed them below for you as well. And ask around – odds are you know someone who already is experienced with canning. Your mom, neighbor, cousin, friend – we’re all around!
As with all of our posts and links through out the website, we were not paid or compensated in any way to promote any resources or products mentioned or linked to in this post. They are just things we found helpful and hope you might as well.