Planning for plenty
Filling the pantry and root cellar is easier if you plan for abundance. My general rule of thumb is to plan for 52 units of whatever I am putting up. And for temperamental crops that I will can, I plan for two years of storage. I know it seems silly to have so much food on hand, but if I can this food in jars it will keep a longgggggg time. We can easily go several years here without apples or pears. So when we have a plentiful crop, I make as much applesauce as possible. Of course, we eat fresh apples from the tree and cold storage as much as we can. My 52 week x 2 plan works on the assumption that we will eat applesauce or pesto once a week. Where my stockpile can grow a little is, all those weeks I just make fresh applesauce or pesto from the garden. The pantry police will come for me if they ever find out that I have eaten 10-year-old canned applesauce and it didn’t really differ from sauce that was 6 months old. I try to rotate my stock better than that, but…just sayin.’
So why on earth am I talking about canning now? Because I work backwards when planning my planting. I don’t plant a ton of stuff and then wonder what I am going to do with it all – I plan for how much I want to preserve or store. By midwinter, the fruit room shelves are starting to have empty jars, signifying I really did use up some of that planned abundance. And it is time to order seeds and think about starting them. We use a lots of tomato products – salsa; tomato sauce; V-8 juice; and whole tomatoes. That takes a lot of tomatoes! Whole canned tomatoes are one thing, but once you start cooking them down to sauces, it can be a little disheartening to see a 20# box of tomatoes disappear into just a few jars of sauce. And that doesn’t even count the potential crop failure dilemma. I always have an overlap of preserved goods, and I am OK with that. I would rather have too much than the alternative. And I find if I have a plentiful pantry I am more apt to use that. Home-canned V-8 juice is a great companion with broth for a stew base. And no, I won’t address the raw, fresh food issue any more than to say, I have to come down in the middle of the road. I just recently read an article about carrots – that Vitamin A packed food almost everyone loves. Come to find out, we only can glean about 3% of the carrots’ beta-carotene if we eat them raw, if we cook the carrots, we can garner 39%! That being said, I eat a lot of raw carrots, and I like them cooked too. Steamed and served with a dollop of grass-fed butter, or roasted with olive oil, yum But pressure cook them at high temperatures – I won’t go there. .
Think of your pantry as your total food stores, not just a cupboard or room in the corner somewhere. I can, freeze, and ferment some things, dry storage and root cellaring come into play too. But being lazy by nature, if I can grow something and not do too much to it in the way of storage or preserving. I take the easy route. Our climate allows for storing some hardy root crops in the ground until spring. Not always - I did lose some of my crops this year in December, but that is again where my Plenty Plan comes into play. I don’t put all my eggs in one basket, if I did, I would not be eating any carrots at all now. Two rows froze out in one garden, two rows survived in the other. Do I have less than I planned for? Yes. But, I still have enough. And that brings the question of waste into play, Josh has a good post here about that very thing. Vegetable matter composting in the soil is giving back part of what it took in the first place.
Another no-fuss vegetable we depend on is winter squash. Some varieties keep until May after proper curing. A warm cure, and then cool, and dry storage, like an unheated bedroom is perfect for squash. I just use these as needed. No reason whatsoever to cook these or preserve them in any way until I need to actually cook them for a meal or pie. Their sweetness improves with storage up to the 6 month after curing, and then they start to lose quality. The perfect frugal food, no fancy storage and no energy expended to preserve. I don’t follow my 52 unit rule with these. I strive for 300#’s or so, each squash weighs about 10 – 12 pounds, so about 30 squash… . If you’re not a squash lover that would be a little much – I eat squash for breakfast, so I make sure I have enough to last.
This post is obviously not an airtight plan for a garden, but it gives you a good idea, just how much food you might need if you really are depending on stocking your pantry from your garden. The best way to save a lot of work when canning and preserving is to not spend much time growing and putting up things your family will not eat. Concentrate on what you really will cook and eat and plant those vegetables in quantity. If good tomatoes are inexpensive in your area, it may pay to buy tomatoes and allot your garden space to other vegetables that are not available. Variety selection is key too, that romantic sounding heirloom tomato with the great taste may only give you 10 ripe tomatoes in a season, whereas a newer open-pollinated variety may give you 50 pounds to preserve. Both take up the same amount of space, fertilizer, water, and time. The only difference will be the yield. If preserving is your goal, make sure the word productive is part of the variety description. I plant two hybrid SunSugar cherry tomatoes each summer, they are crack resistant, we eat them like crazy until we are sick of the glut – then I strip the plants and add them to the last sauce. They are very productive, feeding us all summer and into the winter with their tasty sauce. Do I need them? No. But I want them, and I will buy the seeds as long as they are offered somewhere. But I will warn you, they are a Seminis variety, and I occasionally eat white sugar too and cheap chocolate.
Probably the best advice I can offer is not to listen to me or grow what I grow, but to find out what growers in your area have had success with. Some vegetables and fruits require certain conditions – for instance growing peaches and nectarines here is not a no-spray proposition, too much rain. But 40 miles in either direction are abundant stone fruit orchards. It makes more sense for me to buy those fruits, than it does to try to grow them here. And if I look around at old orchards, there are no trees of that sort nearby. But also don’t be afraid to experiment either – kiwi wasn’t planted here until recently, and it thrives. So be adventurous and cautious if that is possible, and remember, Next Year brings a new gardening and preserving season!
This post is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday feature. Be a food renegade and peruse the posts there. Great recipes and health news too!