Ping! Ping! Ping! Every time I hear the exclamation of a fully sealed jar of pickles, preserves, or fruit, it fills a neglected corner of my heart with the classic warm and fuzzy feeling familiar to all people who gain a great deal of satisfaction from producing truly useful things. The line of jars full of sweet-and-sour cauliflower, lemon pickled beans, spiced plums, and dill pickles will not only allow me to eat a bit of local food in February, but the mere act of producing them is pure rebellion. (Right, chant that over and over as I scrub the burnt plum syrup off the stove. It boiled over…)
In America today, consumption has become the king of all driving forces. We are told to buy, buy, buy and then, oh, go buy some more. Because the economy is failing. Because it’s good for national security. Because your three-year-old won’t stop screaming at the grocery store until you buy the box with the cute blue puppy on it. Preserving your own food is one step toward short-circuiting the glorified gore of consumption.
You can flummox the marketers, minimize packaging waste, avoid (some of) the horrors of the modern grocery store, have instant solutions for what to take to the potluck, and have handy presents for sudden occasions requiring gifts. Wedding gift? Give them a jar of jam and the promise of a fruit tree or two come spring. Birthday? A jar of pickled beans, a bar of homemade soap, and a couple of jars of dried herbs.
Plus, joining the legions of Americans who have preserved food gives you a connection to the past and a mildly esoteric skill set that may be needed again someday. Maintaining such skills is a vital and often neglected area of food culture. Like saving seeds (and field dressing a moose), saving culinary traditions can give us insights into the past and provide inspiration for new ways (and survival—your home-canned food plus a few cans of tuna can be your emergency stash).
For anyone who has limited freezer space, canning can be a good way of preserving local food for the dark and cold winter months. The only real problem with canning is that many recipes that can be made without a pressure canner tend to be a bit high in salt, sugar, or both. Decreasing the salt and/or sugar is generally not an option since the salt and sugar maintain an environment hostile to microbial growth. Also, keep in mind that if you are using an old recipe, you should check a more modern source for processing times as guidelines have changed.
Joining my shelves soon: crunchy Asian cabbage, pears, more plums, and maybe applesauce.