Canning Fest 2015 – And So It Begins

Crunch time has begun. Like so many other things in life food production happens gradually, then all at once. Up here in our mountain climate, over the next 2 ½ months we will be ‘putting up’ food for the next year or two.

I find this overwhelmingly inspirational. Within a short span of four months of gardening we are able to harvest, freeze, can and dry a great deal of food which will then be consumed over the following one or more years. Once upon a time most people lived this way, but to a city raised gal like me it is pure magic.

The planning portion of preserving food is as important as the process itself. Taking inventory and rotating stock gives a clear view of what we presently have and what is needed, what we could be using more of and what not to make (at least in large quantities) at this time.

One of the many pleasures of writing a blog is that most days I take a ridiculous number of digital pictures while I work. With these images, which I store by date, I have been able to go back for the past two years to review what dates I planted, harvested and canned various fruits and vegetables. This has been an excellent aid in my quest for better time management. With this I am also able to begin a multi-year record to see how the planting, growing conditions and harvesting are changing with the morphing weather conditions and my growing knowledge of gardening.

Dill spears and more

The canning festivities began last week with the arrival of armloads of zucchini which seem to appear overnight and replace themselves about every three or four days come rain or shine. Thus far we have canned zucchini dill pickle spears, zucchini-veggie burrito filling and a lovely zucchini-carrot soup which can be spiced with red pepper or curry upon reheating. The first cucumbers were picked while still small and for the first time I tried pickling whole dills.

For a third year in a row the skinny peppers have beat the bell pepper to readiness, but just barely. The first batch of full-sized cayenne peppers have been picked, allowing more to grow in their place. I strung these with a needle and thick quilting thread so I could hang them to dry and turn red in a sunny window next to a string of their freshly picked neighbors, the jalapenos. The first batch of skinny sweet banana peppers are also ready. While I was making zucchini dills, I processed several jars of pickled sweet peppers, much like the ones they offer for sandwich toppings at Subway.

...and the peppers were hung by the window with care... For a great article on easy steps to do this:
...and the peppers were hung by the window with care... For a great article with easy steps to do this: http://www.homegrown.org/forum/topics/drying-chile-peppers-101-poblano-chipotle-serrano

The first of the bigger bell peppers will need to be picked in the next few days. These will replenish themselves all summer, so finding ways to preserve them is a welcomed challenge. Thinking out of the box, Cog asked if it was possible to can sausage and peppers. It never occurred to me, so I started to search google and low and behold, there are recipes galore for putting up sausage and peppers across the web. Guess what I’m doing today?

The wild blackberries have turned a deep red. It has been raining here for the majority of the past two weeks with very mild temperatures, but a few sunny days will quickly turn them black. Then it’s a race to pick them before Teddy (our resident black bear) can gorge himself on them. Blackberries take their time and ripen gradually over the month of July, so berry picking a bucket full is an almost daily event. We have four patches of wild blackberries within sight of our house; a few of them are enormous in size. Jam, syrup and frozen packages for later use are one of those perennial gifts that came with the property.

The first blackberry was eaten immediately, a clear call to ready the jamming equipment. :-)
The first blackberry was eaten immediately, a clear call to ready the jamming equipment. :-)

Unfortunately, the fresh blueberries never made it to the staging area for canning this year. Somebody ate them. All! They were that good. I heard sometimes they were eaten right off the bush without even being washed. And it was a bumper crop this year. What a shame <sigh>.

According to my kitchen notes from prior years, the rest of July will focus on squash, cucumbers, peppers and berries. Sometime around August the first tomatoes will turn red, the onions will be large enough to begin using as needed and the month will become a blur of late night processing sessions. Additionally, the green beans, kidney beans and black beans will add pizazz and protein to many salsas, chili and other dishes being canned for the winter.

Even with all my efforts I still cannot seem to grow carrots. Certain items such as these, along with celery and corn which are a wonderful addition to the soups and stews, must still be found at the farmer’s market. I’ll just have to try harder next year. Truth be told, we elected not to grow corn this year and instead devoted that garden space to other items of greater interest.

The canning fest concludes in September when the apples are ready. Experience tells me that two 5 gallon buckets at a time will supply all the applesauce I can process in a day. I will process apples for many days. This year I am also putting up more apple pie filling, apple jelly and maybe even try apple butter in the crockpot (the cheating method lol) as well.

The hardy kiwi should also be an enormous crop this September. They keep well in the refrigerator for many weeks, so I can make jam and kiwi nut breads to freeze at a more leisurely pace.

I'm not sure we can ever have 'too much kiwi.'
I'm not sure we can ever have 'too much kiwi.'

The ‘end of garden’ days gives us the opportunity to eke out the last veggies from the garden as we pull out plants and ready the garden for winter. This yields an ‘End of Garden Soup’ which becomes a catch all for what is left growing and an ‘End of Season Salsa’ which is an excellent use for any green tomatoes that did not ripen on the vine before the weather turned chilly.

I’ve become a big proponent of canning soups. I add minimal spices so when they are opened down the road, they can be flavored in almost any direction. With fresh frozen herbs added in, not only are these soups wonderful to eat with a spoon, but the broth can be set aside and the contents served over rice, pasta or even a baked potato to form completely different meals.

In the interest of public safety I must caution anyone who considers canning as simply a method to supplement your diet, or perhaps as a primary way to store food, that canning is an addictive activity that appeals to the obsessive-compulsive demon that dwells within each of us. Once hooked, you can never go back. :-)

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3 thoughts on “Canning Fest 2015 – And So It Begins”

  1. Mrs Cog,

    Everything looks really good and the production from such a small window of time is pretty cool. Now, who ate all the blueberries?

    The 2015 Thinking outside the box award goes to Cog for this question: Cog asked if it was possible to can sausage and peppers?

    “Demons” I’m still trying to lose a few, before I add MOAR:)

    Keep calm and keep growing, Mr Pepper

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