Preservation Frenzy

It’s that time of year. Harvest time. Squash, beets, potatoes, fruits, honey, and all kinds of other things are pouring in, so it’s time to put by for the winter.

Put by? Isn’t that just something old people and crazy survivalists do? No. If you want to eat well, eat local, and do it on a budget, you learn to “put by.”  There are some foods available in winter, and we’re luckier than some because here in VA, we have a season that often lets things grown right through winter. Unless, of course, you were here last year. Last year, we had more snow than many northern states, colder temperatures, and very few good ways to deal with it. Our stores shelves were stripped bare, and we were snowed in (even though we have a 4-wheel drive and are from MI) for a week at a time. The state simply doesn’t keep the equipment around to dig folks out in a hurry.

If you want to make sure you can eat local, healthy food, and if you want to do it without having to make a choice between your mortgage/rent and eating, preserving is the easiest way. This year, we’re doing as much cold-storage as possible. Here in VA, there often isn’t a good way to do a cellar. We live on rock. So, we store hard vegetables and squashes in our bathroom:

Yes, I said bathroom. This room isn’t heated and isn’t exactly well-insulated. It’s our half-bath, and in the winter it’s not used much. We keep the door closed, so it stays very cool, which is perfect for squashes, beets, cabbage, apples, potatoes, and the like. It’s not 100% perfect, but it’s enough. This is just the beginning of our store. The space will be full by next week, and I’m going to hang some things, as well.

Some things, as pointed out by Sharon Astyk in her book “Independence Days,” are fine in a cool house. Our house is cool whether we want it to be or not most of the winter (historic home, undersized heat pump, and a rental so we can’t do much about it). Fortunately, we tend to like it cool, so it doesn’t bother us. And, it lets us store some thing right inside:

These are just a few of the local, organic pumpkins we’ve got stored. They work great in the house because they do double duty as food (they’re amazing roasted, pureed, or steamed) and fall/Halloween decor! That’s also some of our local garlic, which actually needs to go into our hanging basket.

For the stuff that can’t be stored as-is in cold storage or the house, there’s drying, freezing, canning, salting, and lacto-fermenting.  We have a fairly large store of grains like oat groats, rolled oats, millet, quinoa, etc. (all frozen for 14 days before going in the pantry, because it helps them keep longer), beans and the like. But, we do like some fruits and veggies, too. For that, we often freeze (which, for us, is actually more energy-efficient than canning because we have an appallingly inefficient electric stove), lacto-ferment, and dehydrate.

Watermelon and limes. The watermelon are local, the limes are not (though they are organic). I assuage my guilt about this because we eat few things that aren’t local, and trade has always been an integral part of civilizations. I just pick my trade items carefully. Okay, fine, I just like limes.

We don’t do a ton of dehydrating, though. It’s just not great for a lot of things, and the humidity is so high here that it’s hard to do many foods. Our primary choices are lacto-fermenting, freezing, and cellaring. In the next few weeks, I’ll be putting up more posts, including some how-to stuff and maybe video, about those, too.

What are you doing to get ready for winter?

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