Preserving food for the long winter

My 3-year-old daughter and I have been reading “Blueberries for Sal” often this summer. Most people have probably read this classic 1948 children’s book. In it, a mother and child are collecting blueberries, and Sal is constantly reminded to pick her own blueberries and stay out of her mother’s bucket. Hers, she reminds Sal, are being saved to be canned for winter.

This message has really hit home in our household; our daughter is now convinced that every berry, bean, or random leaf she picks should be put away for the winter.

In this age of convenience, why do people bother to preserve food for winter? It could be their desire for economic independence and food sovereignty, a chance to reduce their carbon footprint, a commitment to eating locally, or simply a hobby that gets them outdoors. Taking the time to preserve your summer bounty ensures you eat well, save money, and enjoy local food year-round, in spite of our cold climate. It can be as much or as little work as you wish; there are multiple options for preserving food. With a little investigation you can choose what is best for the produce and for your lifestyle.

Canning Food

Canning food is an excellent choice for those with limited freezer or refrigerator space, or those who live where power outages may be an issue, as the end product is shelf stable. It’s also good for creating ready to eat foods, such as jams, pickles, salsas, or sauces. It’s quite a bit of work upfront, and you have to be sure to read up on the process, using tested recipes for safety. For tomatoes and tomato products especially, canning is a great choice. Try the classic “Ball Book of Canning” for a great variety of recipes and clear instructions.

Freezing Food

Studies have shown that frozen food is often more nutritious than the fresh food that comes to us from distant places in the winter. Good candidates for freezing include: beans, broccoli, corn, cauliflower, and any berries (strawberries, raspberries, etc). You can also freeze greens that you use for cooking such as chard or kale. While less work than canning, you still need to blanch or cook your produce before you freeze it. University of Minnesota Extension has some great, straightforward directions and a blanching chart that is helpful. Find it at www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/vegetables-herbs/blanching-vegetables/, or contact your local MSU extension office.

Dehydrating Food

You can dehydrate a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Dried fruit is great for use in cereal, trail mixes, for fruit leather, or on its own. Dried veggies are great for one-pot meals or for making your own soup mixes. A small dehydrator is an inexpensive way to dry food, and more reliable than trying to use the sun in our climate, though some people do successfully dry with the help of a solar dehydrator.

Storage Food

Some foods, such as potatoes, cabbage, beets, carrots, squash, garlic, onions, and even apples store well without any processing as long as they are kept in the proper conditions. The conditions vary according to the type of food, so be sure to do a little research. You can even store foods in an apartment, you just may have to be creative about where you put it.

We do a combination of all of these techniques in our own home, and have learned that any of these tasks are much more fun when we invite friends over to work together. Even our daughter helps (sort of), picking leaves off of basil or kale, mixing ingredients, or by just generally providing entertainment.

She is especially eager to help with berry picking. She’s not so good at stockpiling them, just like Sal in the book she runs raids on my bucket, focused on how many she can possibly eat.

Her joyful feasting is my reminder to relax in the moment. I can fill my belly and my bucket, and enjoy the food in season, as well as in the winter.

Editor’s note: Sarah Monte is employed by the Marquette Food Co-Op.