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Six months ago I drew this picture in my diary - somehow for me, when I draw my dreams, it seems to really increase the chances of them coming true. I think the drawing reminds me of what I need to do to follow the path towards my goals. Despite having never preserved food before, my project for this summer has been to learn to "put away food for winter", like my great grandmother did. Why would I do this, when there's abundant food available in the shops all year round? Because this way I can spend my money ethically, to support local farmers, rather than giving it to big corporations and increasing their power. Also because this way my food is all local, and far less resource intensive than a can of tomatoes from Italy, or out of season vegies from Queensland that came here on a truck. The single biggest thing you can do for the environment is change the way you eat, to eat food that is produced locally and sustainably.
Anyway, you can see in the photo the results of my project. I think I've finished for the season. I do have another box of jars that could be used but it seems I've missed the peaches, there'll be apples at the farmer's market all winter, and there's nothing else to preserve. Next year ... I'll do more.
The top two shelves are all fruit. Nectarines and plums from our trees, apricots, cherries and peaches from the farmer's market.
The next shelf has food I dried myself. Dried nectarines (we just tried some and I think we've discovered why you can't buy dried nectarines.. they're nothing special. Oh well - next year I'll bottle them), dried apricots, sultanas, dried tomatoes in macadamia oil, dried apples, and dried zucchini from when we had a glut. There's also kombucha to drink in the bottles at the back, and honey from my aunt and uncle's bees.
The next shelf has condiments. Mulberry sauce from the tree around the corner (we'll use this to make icecream, and to put on pancakes, and to add to stewed apples or apple pie to change the flavour), strawberry jam, a humungous jar of pickled gherkins from my garden, several batches of bread and butter cucumbers from the garden, nectarine chutney, tomato chutney and zucchini relish.
The bottom shelf is tomatoes. I bought 60kg of them from a local farmer and frantically bottled them before they all went off.
I don't know if this will be enough to get us through winter. Jesse and I plan, as a homeschool activity, to sit down with a count of each item, and a calender that shows each week from May to December, and then we'll allocate "rations". Once a week I'll bring in the allocated rations, and give them to Paula for cooking. I imagine a week's rations might be something like this: a jar of fruit, a jar of tomatoes, a small handful of dried fruit, and a condiment. It's not much, but supplemented with local in-season vegies from my garden and the farmer's market, it might be enough. I hope so!
Was it really hard to do this? Would I do it again? It wasn't hard - it's more that it was a bit inconvenient. For example, the day the fruit trees decided to be ready was never an open free day in our calender that was perfect for bottling. It always had to be done around the gamut of life. I tried to keep Saturdays after the farmer's market free, ready to process all the food we buy, but on the same day that I had ordered boxes of peach seconds and grapes for sultanas, it turned out to be my niece's birthday party. It's very hard to make time and keep it free for preserving, especially when you're as inexperienced as I am and so not as good at anticipating when/how much time will be needed. On the other hand, it's pretty peaceful work, and easy and calm to sit down in an evening to a box of peaches that need pitting or grapes that need to be picked from their stems. I found it much easier to do batches of small jars of apricots and cherries, and sterilise them on the stove, than the big batches of plums and nectarines that I did in the vacola. But the big batches will form the staple of our eating. If only, somehow, next year, I can time things to allow the time to be free when I need it, then I can relax and enjoy the process. I'll definitely do this again next year. It was very satisfying and I feel really good about the ethics behind it all too. I suppose I'll know more after a winter of eating, whether it was worthwhile or not.