50 Before 50 #24: Preserve Food

I grew up with a grandma and a momo who both canned every summer. The porch shelves and at least one outbuilding were always full of jars sealed with Ball lids and, in the case of those done by Momo, with paraffin. I helped with some of the basic processing, but never was really that interested in how the whole thing worked or, really, in homemade canned products since I was used to industrial food. My grandpa and I canned a bit one summer right after grandma died when I was attempting to keep him company, but then we exploded the pressure canner and that was the end of that.

Then, in grad school, I got hit with the urge to preserve things but had no space to start doing it. Hence the line on this list. When we moved to Central New York eight years ago, we bought a house with a large kitchen and a basement that could be used for cellaring, and we came with the intent to really explore food. And we have done that. For me, part of the process was learning food preservation, and over time it’s become a basic part of how we live our lives. We both hope that this becomes even more the case in the coming years. At this point, we dry, can, cure, and freeze items, and we’d like to expand the canning and freezing further. But in the meantime, I’m counting this goal as met because we’re competent in so many more ways than I ever really thought we’d be.

I wrote about starting to set up a cellar back in 2012, when I poked around through the process as a diversion while on sabbatical. Nowadays, there’s always at least several pounds of red and yellow onions as well as 10 pounds of potatoes of various sorts. In the fall and winter, there’s also squash roosting on the shelves. We’ve begun buying flour and other dry goods in 25 or 50 pound sacks and keeping them in food-safe plastic tubs, which is quite a bit more economical. So far, we seem to go through everything at a reasonable pace.

Strawberry-vanilla jam has become a ritual for opening the season, and I always make enough for me and for my dad.
Strawberry jam volcano

And spiced Italian plum jam closes the jam season each summer.
Spiced Plum Jam in progress

This was the canning shelf for this year, mostly jams and jellies and salsa and simple pickles. We have bigger plans for the future:
Canning, summer 2016.

We make a big jar of refrigerator pickles whenever the mood strikes or the crisper demands it.
Refrigerator pickles

And when the cellar demands it, headed-south onions become confit for sandwiches and quick French Onion Soup.
When the world makes little sense, make onion confit. Wash the flannel sheets. Tackle the work pile.

Herbs from the garden are always hung and drying in September.
Sage harvest, hung to dry

I taught myself to make bacon fairly early on from Ruhlman’s invaluable Charcuterie, thanks to my friend Greg.
Homemade bacon, ready for the pan.

This year, I made pancetta. One batch came out wonderfully, the other developed case hardening.

And we’ve finally gotten a handle on freezing to the point that we’re considering a second freezer. We cook chili, marinara, meatballs, tamales, broth, puerco pibil, and a number of other things in huge batches, freeze it in portion sizes, and then have meals ready to go for a few months at a time. And of course there’s the usual stash of chickens, pork roasts and chops that we’ve portioned out from bigger loins that we find at Costco. With another freezer, we’ll have more room for organization and for frozen produce. So finding the right freezer at the right price probably the next goal at this point.

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