It’s that time of year again… when the kids are back in school (or maybe you are!), the socks are back on our feet, and the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte™ begins its annual advertisement ubiquity. As much as I love me a 380-calorie whipped-cream-topped coffee concoction, there are healthier and cheaper ways of celebrating the return of autumn, and one of the easiest is to get your DIY on and start preserving some of that summer produce!

canned dried

There are so many ways to pickle, sauce, jam, freeze, and dry fruits and vegetables that I couldn’t possibly get into all of them here, so I will have to content myself with mentioning a few of my personal favorites along with Library resources I’ve used over the years. Although I grew up in a gardening and preserving household, my mother enjoys lamenting how I inexplicably managed to forget everything I should have picked up through osmosis as she prepared foods for their second lives as canned, dried, or frozen staples. It probably didn’t help that I didn’t appreciate everything she produced. To save time, at one point she stopped coring and stemming apples and pears before drying them on the framed screen suspended above our wood stove, reasoning that people could simply eat around the seeds and woody bits. Word to the wise - if you’re going to dry apples or pears, please take a few moments to poke a corer through their middles before slicing them up. I can attest to the fact that nobody enjoys being stabbed in the mouth by dehydrated bits of endocarp.

On that note, let’s move on to the preserves I did appreciate: zucchini relish (a wonderful addition to sandwiches, or anything in a bun), jam (except for 100% black currant. That is one sour fruit!), applesauce (added to yogurt with a drizzle of maple syrup), pickles and dilly beans, salsa, pasta sauce, pesto, and garlic powder. What’s that, you say? Garlic powder? Yes indeed! Never one to shy away from a culinary challenge, my mother decided that she’d made enough garlic braids one year and painstakingly sliced dozens and dozens of garlic cloves, dried the slices, then ran them through a spice grinder a few tiny handfuls at a time. She called it a “labor of love,” which is mom code for “a LOT of work,” but since I ended up with a half-pint jar of organically-grown homemade garlic powder, I’m not complaining. Why she felt the urge to make her own garlic powder, but couldn’t be bothered to remove the seeds and stems from drying apples, will always confound me. Mom mysteries. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Either way, I fully understand that most people have neither the time nor the inclination to delve this deeply into the food preservation projects of yesteryear, but there are many that require less time yet still deliver a satisfying sensation of self-reliance, along with a delicious edible end product. One of the easiest things to do is to blanch and freeze hearty greens like kale or chard. Just a few quick chops, a dip in hot water, and a minute in a colander, and you can pack freezer bags full of fresh leafy goodness, all ready for a winter soup or stir-fry.

basic basics

Freezing berries is another standby, while drying any fruit merely requires patience and a few tray turns, if you’re using a dehydrator. If you have a juicer, smash those lovelies up and pour their sweet nectar into saved jars or bottles, leaving a little headspace for expansion, and pop them in the freezer. Although freezing is probably the easiest food preservation method, one of its disadvantages is that losing power can put your preserves at risk. A generator can help protect against this, or you can do what my mom did and pile blankets and old sleeping bags on top of the freezer for insulation.

If you’d rather avoid this scenario, or you don’t have an extra freezer, try drying or canning instead! Canning is not rocket science, but there are some basic safety measures that are best explained by professionals, so for that I’ll direct you to the 641.4 area in the non-fiction collection, or search “canning and preserving” or “food preservation” in the catalog. And remember to check Hoopla and OverDrive for a wide selection of e-books:

Preserving Food At Home Book CoverMaking and Using Dried Foods Book CoverCanning and Preserving Own Harvest Book Cover

One of my proudest moments came after successfully making spicy pickled carrots, from a recipe out of a Library book I probably chose by its title: “Put ‘em up!” These carrots are such a great accompaniment to any Mexican-inspired meal that I couldn’t imagine my tacos without them. But enough of my rambling. The moral of this story is: don’t let yourself be intimidated by the idea of food preservation! If I can do it, so *can* you! ;o)

Vanessa Velez, Collection Development Librarian

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