I am preparing a food preservation workshop for NOFA. Over the next several weeks I will be putting pieces I finish in my blog. I know there are a lot of preservation expert that visit here. I hope by posting I can also pick your brains to see if I have missed something.
While, for some people, preserving food refers to a pleasant afternoon making a batch of jam from some purchased berries, for a lot of us, preserving food is about making sure that the fruit and vegetables we have spent the summer babying along will be available to feed our families during the long winter. We have hundreds of hours of invested in producing high quality food and that food deserves our best efforts in preservation. The steps you take prior to getting to work can spell the difference between success and failure.
Now is the time to clean and organize you kitchen. You will need all the available work space you can find so knick-knacks and decorative items should be packed away if possible. Make sure you have all of the equipment you need. There is nothing more frustrating for a preserver than discovering that you have misplace something crucial like your wide mouth funnel over the winter just when you need it to can the carrots. Inventory your jars and lids and your supply of ingredients. Most things like sugar, canning salt and vinegar will be significantly cheaper if purchased in bulk than they will be if you are forced to run to the market for a last minute purchase. Read over you food preservation book with an eye toward finding some new things to try. If you will be using a new recipe or process, read the directions over many times and make certain you understand them. Check out the USDA’s website and make sure you have the latest and best safety information available.
I treat food preservation like a job. I can’t do it with major distractions. Small children need to be occupied. Maybe you can swap childcare with a neighbor or get a teenager to take the kid outside for a few hours. I would rather do a major canning session a night than attempt it while minding a toddler. Timing is too crucial to be interrupted by dirty diapers or bumped knees. Plan an easy dinner and get it ready ahead of time. There is some truth to the “slaving over a hot stove all day” line. I usually make something easy like a pasta salad the day before or have a cheese, bread and fruit night when I am canning all day. I also plan to let the machine screen my calls.
One final thought about making plans. It is often a really good idea to have an extra pair of hands. If you put out the word, you may be able to put together a canning co-op. I have done this in my church kitchen. The shared work is far more pleasant, the shared knowledge really helpful and the shared resources more economical. It is also a picture of how the world might function in a smaller, more local economy.
Tomorrow, I will address specific preparations for my first workshop: Preparing to pressure can.