Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Preserving Food and Your Sanity - Part One

Here in Pennsylvania, the garden season is coming to a close. Last week we had several hard frosts and today I pulled the remaining carrots. There is still some garden clean-up to do, but the frantic days of food preserving has come to a close.

So maybe now is the wrong time to talk about food preserving, or maybe it is the right time. We can look back on the past months and make plans to improve next year.

Recently a reader sent me an email asking some questions about food preserving. Since I have had similar questions from other readers, I asked her if I could share her question here.

"We are trying to grow most of our food and put up food for the winter and spring.  We are at a disadvantage as neither of us grew up doing all of these things.  We seem to always get surprised when canning season comes and do not get everything preserved in the most timely manner.  I was wondering if you had any ideas that would help us.  Some of the things I would like to know more about  are tips for getting things preserved when everything is coming in about the same time, what methods you recommend for preserving meat, do you have a schedule of what must be done when putting up food, how many days a week do you designate for canning, how do you know how much food to put up, and what kinds of food do you recommend putting up beyond garden produce?  Are there any books that you recommend?   Do you have any ideas about keeping the house tidy and homeschooling while canning?" 
To answer her question, I turned to two friends. I had conversations with both of these ladies in the past weeks about the challenges of preserving food while still balancing all the other things that a mom needs to do. The answers they gave were so good, I'm sharing them with you, the first is from Stephanie.

Preserving Food and Your Sanity 
By Stephanie J. Leinbach
I don't feel like I have many answers, since I'm still figuring out how to do it myself. But here are a few things I scrambled together:

1. During canning/preserving season, the produce is urgent. The rest of my work--cooking, cleaning, etc.--is important, but not quite as urgent. My house is a mess while I preserve food. The mess will wait until I have time for it. There's only so much a body can do.

2. During the lull between planting and harvesting, do what you can to make canning easier. Freeze a few meals for quick food solutions after a day of canning. Homeschool for a month mid-summer (that's what Gina does). Make sure you have what you need to can: jars, lids, canner, etc. Plan ahead.

3. I freeze our meat, since I don't own a pressure canner. Don't freeze meat in an upright freezer, since most of them have defrost cycles that create temperature fluctuations. Use a chest freezer, or else a MANUAL defrost upright freezer, if a chest freezer is not available. (Note from Gina: This was news to me but Stephanie's husband is an appliance repairman, so she probably has inside info on this!)

4. A freezer is a homemaker's best friend. Freeze tomatoes until you have enough to process. I have tomato sauce in the freezer right now waiting for me to turn it into ketchup when life slows down. I freeze some of our applesauce, in addition to canning some. I freeze green beans, corn, blueberries, and strawberries as well.

5. Canning season is not the time to be a gourmet cook. Keep your meals simple. Get the children to roast hot dogs or some other campfire-type food. Use your slow cooker or meals you previously froze. Does your husband like to grill? Utilize your resources.

6. Even with my childhood knowledge of preserving, I still like to have my Ball Blue Book of Preserving on hand. This book is published by Ball, the makers of canning jars and supplies. Not only does it have the preserving directions I sometimes need, but it also has many recipes and ideas I've used and enjoyed.

7. Family is my most valuable resource. We Mennonites generally have extended family well-versed in the preserving rituals. We get together and work together, making the tasks lighter by sharing them. Not everyone has this blessing, but within a small family unit, this spirit of working together can be nurtured and built.

How many days a week do I devote to food preservation? Until it's done. Most produce needs to be done ASAP to preserve the best flavor. Apples are one exception; they keep well in a fridge for a while.

How much to preserve? That's a tough one. How many times a week will you eat beans or corn? Multiply that by 52, and you know how many packs or jars to put up. Keep meticulous records, so you can refer to what you did last year and the year before and compare it to what you have left over.
Beyond the basics of tomatoes, peaches, pears, and applesauce, I can ketchup, pickles, sweet relish, pizza sauce, apple pie filling, and apple butter. HOWEVER, I don't do all this every year. I have a small baby this year, and he is more important than the usual preservation regimen. This year, I canned tomato juice, peaches, and applesauce (with help from family). I have ketchup yet to do. For the rest of the usual foods, I'm simply going to use what we have left from last year and start fresh (and overwhelmed) next year.

Preserving food is a huge task. The urgency of it, the pressure of it, the long days, balancing it with the needs of a family--I'm always so relieved when it's over. It's getting easier every year; practice does help (except when a baby creates many interruptions). I've learned to be realistic. It isn't worth canning everything I possibly can at the expense of my family. This year, I asked myself what I can live without or reasonably buy when we run out of last year's supply. I preserved only what I consider absolutely necessary. Food is less important than relationships. My children and my husband need attention, too, and I'm a nursing mom--I can push myself only so far. I'm learning my limits (although not as fast as I should). That helps preserving season to be less overwhelming.

Thanks Stephanie! Tomorrow I'll share some hints from Regina. 


  1. This is wonderful information. I am no longer young, nor do I have the demands of children in the home anymore. However, I AM striving to try & live a better/cleaner/healthier life and canning is one of the many ways I am enjoying food! Learning from you ladies (multiple!) is better than any Mother Earth News Magazine article I have EVER read! Again, Thank You for sharing, I look forward to the next installment. I learn alot from this blog.


  2. Such practical, kind advice! I totally agree. I actually welcome this kind of reflection right now because the preserving season is still fresh in my mind, but behind me.

  3. Being a long time food preserver myself, I agree completely that you can only do so much. We need to realize that there will be more than one season in life where we need to refocus our attention from the important to the most important, which in my opinion is family and that that's okay!

  4. Wonderful advice! Thank you. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

  5. Multiply by 52 ?
    Seems that maybe some of the produce will be eaten fresh, no point canning enough for when it's available fresh, say 10-12 weeks of the year?

  6. To your emailer, Stephanie has all good advice there.

    I also use the Ball Blue Book almost exclusively, the rest are family recipes that we have modernized for proper canning today. During canning season the canning supplies are always out and available, the cases of jars, 2 canners, same with boxes of lids, rings, pectin all on hand. Here the supplies go on sale at the beginning of the season so if you need them, get them early. Our store always has supplies, year round, but the sales are early. There is no clearance. It may be different by you.

    It is not so important to keep all the housework up, in my opinion as long as the kitchen is kept clean. And summer food is easy, just eat lots of your fresh vegetables and fruits, have sandwiches, pasta salads, whatever you can make ahead. Eat outside so you constantly are not clearing up canning to put out a meal. We have a camp stove and my husband has cooked dinner outside at times when the stove inside is occupied.

    I think the idea your emailer has of setting aside days for canning would work if you buy some of your produce, for example if you put in an order for pickling cucumbers or if you have produce that keeps a bit, like squash or pumpkin or apples. Then you can be a bit more flexible. Other wise you need to work as you harvest. There have been times I have been up until 1 or so in the a.m. in Fall when I am back to work (I am the librarian in our Church/School). My summer hours can totally be worked around canning, Late Summer/Early Fall cannot.

    I have canned as long as I can remember, starting with washing vegetables, getting them ready for the grandmothers and aunts and mother to can. I have a fear of pressure canners that I have never beaten, so when I need to pressure can I work with my sister in law who lives next door and we do for both of us at once. The county extension offers all kinds of classes on food preservation here. She should look up the one in her area.

    We have a short growing season here; our first frost this year was 10-12 and we do not plant plants out doors until almost Memorial Day. Many many fruits and vegetables overlap so I can be processing more that one food a day, for sure. Now when it is quieter I go back and make the jellies from the juice I froze earlier, or can applesauce or cook and freeze the pumpkins etc. You can even just wash your grapes and freeze them for later processing. In winter when the citrus come into the stores I make marmalades.

    I have 5 children and a large extended family in the near vicinity. If your emailer does not she should scout out friends who may be interested in working with her or sharing childcare during next years canning season. If she likes marmalade that would be a good place to start with practice canning over the winter. It is practically fool proof, easier than making jelly.

    Good luck to her, it is one of the best skills she can learn.

  7. Helpful information. Thank you!


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