I am an absolute summer fanatic. I wait impatiently through the cold, dark, rainy winter for the summer days of swimming, hiking, finding wildflowers, and most importantly, fresh fruit. I used to live in the Okanagan, and in the summers I would spend most of my time by the lake, eating apricots, cherries, peaches, plums, and pears as the summer wore on. There is such an abundance of fruit grown in this province and I just can't get enough of it.
'Putting by' is an old-fashioned term that refers to various processes of preserving food for the leaner months. It has always appealed to me to have a deep freeze full of pies and shelves lined with glowing jars of jam and other preserves, but I didn't grow up learning any of these skills (though I'm sure my grandmother would love to teach me). Because many preserving methods require a lot of knowledge about food safety and chemistry, I have felt uneasy about teaching myself these skills. Many people will have horror stories of jars exploding or yucky home-canned goods from well-meaning neighbours.
In light of all this, last night I attended a water-bath canning workshop hosted by the Food Skills Connection. This group puts on monthly workshops, often with guest expert facilitators, that are free and open to anyone. There are always snacks and goodies to take home. I learned a LOT about preserving and wanted to share some of what I learned on the blog! (p.s. most of this I learned from our facilitator Tim, who is the interim coordinator of the Fruit Tree Project at Lifecycles. Thanks Tim!)
First things first, there are four main methods of preservation:
2. Fermentation (think Kombucha or Kimchi or probably other K things)
4. Canning (pressure canning or water bath canning)
Fun fact, water bath canning was more or less invented during the Napoleonic wars, when Napoleon himself offered a reward to anyone who could figure out a way to make food last longer which would enable the feeding of troops from afar. It is always interesting what motivates innovation...Fermentation, on the other hand, has a much longer history.
Speaking of history, I was surprised to learn that our region is home to an incredible diversity of fruit tree varieties and was the epicenter of the fruit growing business before the Okanagan earned that honour. Tim shared that he has heard stories from local Elders about fruit trees that were here prior to European settlement.
One barrier many people face when it comes to canning is the tools and supplies. The Victoria Tool Library has canning sets (as well as dehydrators and other neat stuff) that you can borrow, and you can also scour local thrift shops for old sets. I have found lots of jars at Value Village in particular--just make sure they don't have any chips or cracks. The canning process involves thorough sterilization but you need to start with safe equipment.
With a delicate process like canning, learning from a workshop or a home-canner you know is probably your best bet. Luckily, there are lots of places around the city to take workshops. This Fall, Fernwood NRG is offering numerous workshops on a variety of preservation methods such as food deydrating, cheese making, and canning tomatoes.
I'm still not quite ready to launch into home canning, so for now I'll stick to freezing. So far my freezer is crammed with strawberry freezer jam, blueberries, corn, and cherries. This week I'm hoping to make some peach pies to pull out in the middle of winter when I need that summer taste to remind me of the harvest's abundance. I'm definitely at the beginning stages of learning about our local food system and fruit trees in particular--and what better way to learn than to dig in and make something?!
Any other summer-savers out there? What are your techniques to preserve bits of the summer? As we come to the last few weeks of this beautiful season, I hope we can savour it in the moment too <3
Jasmine Robertson is a recent UVic graduate and CRFAIR's new Communications and Engagement Coordinator. You can usually find her by the water with lots of snacks and sunscreen.