Our area is still picking itself up after Irene left her gifts of washed out roads and bridges, flooded basements and houses. We have been fortunate here at the End of the Road because we never lost power and the water that ran into our dirt floored basement, ran out politely without making a fuss. We thought our only problem was hoping the popcorn supply would last through Sunday afternoon while we read our books.
In fact we thought we had gotten through the storm with no damage at all – until a neighbor called to warn us that Rowe Road was washed out and that Henry would not be going to work on Monday. We were stranded.
We are country people and do not let the family larder get too low, because you never know what could happen. Power outages, blizzards, hurricanes. Mother Nature can throw any number of gifts at us and we know we should be prepared.
When people checked in with us, the first question was do you have enough food. Yes, we did. We have a freezer full of meat, fruit, vegetables, bread, and even butter. The pantry has soup and pasta from the store, but also homemade jars of pickles, jams and peaches, not all of which were made in my kitchen.
As more and more people are trying to produce a little more of their own food and cut down on food-miles, the issue of preserving the harvest comes up pretty quick. Even a small garden can produce too many tomatoes to eat all at once, and they will not keep long. What to do?
Daniel Gasteiger has come to the rescue with his new book, “Yes, You Can! And Freeze and Dry It, Too: The Modern Step-By-Step Guide to Preserving Food” ($19.95) published by Cool Springs Press. I have my old stand-bys on my shelf, Putting Food By and the Farm Journal Book of Freezing and Canning, but Gasteiger’s book can take an inexperienced reader step-by-photographed-step through a whole range of food preservation techniques.
This summer my 15 year old grandson used ”Yes, You Can!” to make bread and butter pickles to enter in the Heath Fair. The two of us read the recipe and looked at the pictures and discussed the process, but of course, since these were to be entered in the Fair, I could not help any more than that. Rory followed the directions, slicing, salting, soaking, draining, cooking, packing and canning. He won First Prize! And I can attest that the pickles are crisp and delicious.
Gasteiger gives general directions for canning quick pickles, low acid and high acid foods, hot water baths and pressure canning and includes a few recipes. Jams, jellies, syrups and candied fruits get their own canning chapter.
I mostly use my freezer, so the chapter on freezing was familiar material, although he and I disagree about freezer jams. He likes canned jam, and I like freezer jam, but that is just a matter of taste.
I have a neighbor who does a lot of drying and I was interested to see her electric dehydrator recently. Between the ease of using that counter top machine and Gasteiger’s directions for making Tangy Tomato Treats I am tempted to invest. Instant mashed potatoes, dried herbs, dried fruits, yummmm. Very tempting.
Gasteiger talks about cold storage, too. When we bought our house in Maine there was a fenced off root cellar area in the basement. We noticed rat traps in there as well as a couple of wooden boxes. I asked my Vermont farmer uncle what to do about rats. He said, “Reset the traps.” Gasteiger does mention that rodents are something to consider if you set up a root cellar. Then he lists the basic requirements for an effective root cellar, temperatures, humidity and what different crops require.
As he goes through each kind of food preservation from root cellars and fermentation to freezing, Gasteiger gives information about necessary equipment and basic techniques like blanching. The clear photographs of equipment, techniques, and individual processes are very useful to the novice.
I consider myself pretty experienced in the kitchen, but I admit I have never frozen fruit pies, or thought about putting together a real meal for the freezer. Gasteiger seems to have thought of everything, including the advice not to reheat frozen meals in their plastic containers because of concerns about toxic chemicals that might be released from hot plastic.
The organization of each section is logical, the photographs are useful and the text is clear and encouraging. This book is everything a gardener new to food preservation could need, and even someone more experienced will find new information and inspiration.
Don’t forget. The Sunflower Contest, co-sponsored by The Recorder and The Greenfield Garden Club will be held on Saturday, September 17 at the Energy Park on Miles Street in conjunction with the John Putnam Fiddler’s Reunion. Entries will be accepted from noon until 2 p.m. at the Energy Park. The contest is divided into two groups: 15 and younger and 16 and older. The categories are tallest, most blooms on one plant, heaviest head, largest head and best arrangement, which must contain mostly sunflowers. Additionally, judges reserve the right to create a special category should that prove necessary. Winners will be announced from The Station in the park, once the judging is complete. Contest winners get bragging rights, a nifty ribbon and a bag of local apples. Everyone who enters gets their picture in the following week’s Life & Times section. ###
Between the Rows September 3, 2011