Pandemic skills of sourdough bread making, gardening, and canning are wonderful. I’m curious how many people will keep up with these new talents.
A few years back I learned that wild yeast is everywhere – the grapes and apples growing in the yard have harvestable yeast. Last year my granddaughter wanted to try making sourdough starter from raspberries. She captured very vigorous yeast. Her mother gave it a six-month break, resting in the refrigerator, took it out the other week, fed it, and it’s “happy,” as you can see in the photo. For three years I’ve been using a starter that came from either apples or wild cherry. I had both and kept the most vigorous. If you like science, try to collect wild yeast with directions from King Arthur Baking.
Thinking back to my early plant experiences makes me cringe. My houseplants used to die regularly; I figured I had a “black thumb.” Guilty feelings arise when I think about the amaryllis that failed to grow a second year; I didn’t know dormant plants need minimal watering! I felt so badly about it that I was determined to learn, by reading gardening books and magazines. My dream was to have a garden, and when we moved into a house with a small yard (nothing like what we have now) with a large plum and two pear trees, I went to work.
Growing food is rewarding and is never the same year to year. It can also be frustrating when the weather or pests dash your dreams. And what to do when fruits and vegetables mature all at once? The choices are to give the extra away, let it rot, or put it by. Freezing works well, if you have the space – we’ve maxed out our freezer. Drying, otherwise known as dehydrating, works well for some fruit and vegetables. I have been known to slice my plum tomatoes, place them on trays, and carry them out to the car on hot days. Leave the car in a spot that gets full sun for most of the day, crack the window, and let the sun work for you! You may have to finish them off in your oven or dehydrator but much of the work will have been done for free.
Canning is the more labor-intensive method. If you haven’t canned before, the thought of it can be daunting. We all have heard the story of exploding canned tomatoes, though I’ve only experienced that from a store-bought can. If I doubt the seal of a home canned jar, its content goes into the compost. It doesn’t feel a total waste if I feed the microbes in my compost.
Thinking back to the small yard I mentioned, at the time we lived next door to an older couple in their 80’s. The woman, Dorris, had learned canning from her grandmother and she taught me the water-bath method of canning. We started with canned pears. She urged me to submit jars to the county fair. What a surprise when I discovered it received a blue ribbon, which was an added bonus. What I cared about was inside that jar. Before long I was experimenting with canned tomatoes, pickled garlic scapes, and sweet cucumber relish, anything that had a certain amount of acidity. Now I use both a water bath and a pressure canner. Pressure canning requires a set amount of pressure determined by your altitude for a specific amount of time. Nelson village is roughly 1500 feet above sea level. I use pressure canning for green beans and poultry.
Hard to believe, but I’ve been canning for 30 years. The science doesn’t change much, but always check the most up to date directions from the USDA. The old-fashioned glass jars that use a rubber gasket, glass top, and wire band will work, though most people use Mason jars that come with lids and screw-on bands. After canning your ingredients, these lids “pop” as the temperature of the interior decreases; it tells you there is a good seal. In 2020 the popularity of canning created a shortage of those metal replacement lids. To be sure I could can this year, I ordered extra lids and ordered early. After your canned goods cool, remove the screw on band and be sure to date the lid or jar so you can rotate your stock on the shelf. I use a chalk marker that washes off easily.
It is satisfying to walk into the pantry and look at beautiful jars of food waiting to be eaten. Satisfying to know you have put by healthy local food for your family. Plus, if it’s grown from seed you saved, you’ve saved even more money by not buying seed.
An update on my pea experiment mentioned in this column’s August edition: After I harvested all the peas I wanted to eat, I left the remaining pods on the plants to dry. I picked the dry pods, sorted the peas by number of peas in each pod and let them dry further on a screen. Interestingly, all the peas were of a similar size regardless of how many in a pod. The data is:
#peas in a pod ~ weight
- 7+ ~ 150g
- 6 ~ 141g
- 5 ~ 120g
- 4 and less ~ 127g
I look forward to what I get next year when I plant the 7+ peas!