I love to cook. I love to garden. I strive to be healthy. So today I’m beginning a seven-month challenge for myself. It’s time to begin cooking from all the vegetables we’ve preserved this summer.
People have been preserving food for far longer than I’ve been alive, but it’s relatively new to me. It wasn’t until I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that I felt truly motivated to do more than throw a few vegetables into the freezer for storage. With just my husband, Jim, and I to feed, the work that preservation takes didn’t seem like it was worth it.
However, as a breast cancer survivor who constantly seeks ways to stay healthy, I have learned about the nutritional value of the food grown in my garden compared to what I buy in the grocery store. As my holistic nurse advised, I typically buy local first then organic, then I work my way through the fresh, frozen and canned goods in the grocery. I had never thought about the vitamins that foods lose when they are harvested early to allow for transport before they go bad. Neither had I given much thought to what is used to preserve foods I buy in the store. As my awareness grew, so did my enthusiasm for preserving our harvest.
We bought a small, chest freezer last year. We began stocking up on locally raised organic chicken and beef during the summer season. I bought a book on the easiest ways to preserve food and we invested in freezer bags, jars and lids. Then we borrowed a pressure cooker. Luckily for me, Jim knew more about canning that I did so he took the lead on that. (That was especially crucial this summer when I broke my ankle and was very little help to him for a month or so!)
Now we have a shelf of salsa, tomato sauce, whole tomatoes, tomato juice (yes, we had a bountiful tomato harvest this year!), beets, carrots, okra and green beans. Plus there’s plenty of broccoli, corn, greens, berries and more in the freezer. And we have dehydrated tomatoes, apples and beets.
While Jim is the primary canner, I am the primary cook. Earlier this week I wandered through the garden to see what fresh choices remained. I filled my basket with what’s still in the garden—a few tomatoes, butternut squash, pumpkins, Swiss chard, lettuce, arugula, raspberries and herbs. I left the walnuts for the squirrels since we still have plenty left over from last year. If it doesn’t freeze soon, some of the garden will continue to grow until November.
With fewer fresh vegetables to choose from, it’s time to beginning cooking from what we’ve preserved. I’ll be experimenting with recipes and sharing what I’m learning. And I hope you’ll share your knowledge and experience with me. There are lots of green beans on our shelf and only so many ways I know how to cook them!
Tomorrow: Pesto pizza with sun-dried tomatoes.