This weekend, in addition to enjoying the glorious weather, getting to the farmer’s market, and finally getting my hands on some rhubarb, I did something strange: I planned ahead.
Planning: it’s not something I do a lot of in my everyday life. Oh, I do it all the time in my work life: plans, and contingency plans, worst-case sceanario and best-case scenario. Every conceivable outcome of a study or analysis has to be considered and planned for in order to move efficiently from point A to point B: such is the puzzle of drug development. But, maybe because of all that planning in my work life, in my personal pursuits I tend to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl. I don’t make lists, I don’t plan menus: I go to the markets and see what is there. I like spur-of-the-moment projects, and I’ve been guilty, more than once, of diving in without knowing what I’m doing, then doing the research after the fact (hence my first-ever batch of canned tomatoes? No lemon juice, no citric acid. Clueless.) It makes my traveling soccer buddies crazy that I don’t plan in advance for big trips like the World Cup: I don’t book hotel rooms (first & last night only), don’t plan itinearies, often I’m not even sure of what cities I need to go to for games until I’m on the flight, passport & game tickets in hand. And my husband, the consummate planner, has shot me more than one long-suffering look when I reply to his “Do we have any plans on August 17th?” with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and a smirk.
True story: In high school, I excelled at computer programming (in BASIC, of all things), but my teacher, Mr. Proposki, used to call my programming style “loosey-goosey.” “You just dive in and start writing code,” he would say. “You’ve got to have a plan.” Well, I can see where planning is handy in computer programming; but planning is all about efficiency, and maybe moving through my life efficiently isn’t my primary goal. However, efficiency has its good points, especially when everyday life threatens to overwhelm. If you want to fit it all in: work, play, hikes in the park and waffles for breakfast, preserving the harvest and visiting friends, rhubarbaritas on the deck and conferences in DC; sometimes, you’ve got to have a plan. Hence, the weekend: my Spring has been really busy and right now Summer looks like more of the same. But as a local eater, I am committed to preserving the harvest, as much as possible, lest I want to survive on nothing but meat & beans all winter long. So, if a little planning now will help me carve out the time to put up one more batch of peaches, or tomatoes, or sweet corn, this summer, so be it: I call it a worthy investment.
So: I took stock. I went down to the garage-cum-pantry and took a peak at the larder shelves. Checked out what was running low (BBQ sauce, salsas, cucumber pickles) and what I still had plenty of (marmalade, chutney, boozy fruit). I scoped out my supply of empty jars (I need quarter-pints and pints), lids (I should probably get a sleeve) and bands (I’ve got a bizillion). I discovered that I need to order gaskets and pickling salt, but I’ve got plenty of ClearJel and citric acid. I rousted the strawberry huller and the cherry pitter from the depths of the utensil drawer; I tested my thermometer and gave the canning pot a good scrub. I boiled my jelly bag and checked the supply of butter muslin; I made a note to stock up on vinegar and sugar. I thought about things I might want to pick up this year, like a lemon squeezer or a soft-skinned peeler.
I felt good when I was done: all of these things will make my life a little easier during the busy, busy growing season. None of this planning is essential, but any of it can contribute to a less frustrating and more enjoyable preserving season. And less frustration + more enjoyment? I can get behind that plan.
What about you? Have a great planning tip to prepare for the season? Please share in comments!
Below I share a checklist of sorts, things to consider at the beginning of the preserving season. Links are provided simply to illustrate a particular tool or product, or to specify the ones that I use and/or where I source them. I encourage you to seek out tools & supplies at your local markets, hardware, or kitchen stores.
You don’t have to do an exhaustive inventory, but it helps to understand broad categories of preserves; what you are eating and what you are not.
- jams, sweet & spicy
- chutney, salsa, other savory
- staples: tomatoes, whole fruit, frozen vegetables
- condiments: ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, etc.
- Ball/Kerr (I order my beloved wide-mouth half-pints online and have them shipped free to my nearest Ace Hardware store)
- Weck (available many places now, but I buy them directly from Weck online)
- Fido (Container Store has frequent sales)
- Vintage (eBay, etsy, local antique shops)
- Bulk: Fillmore Container
- Fancy swingtop/hermetic bottles
- Regular-mouth lids; in bulk, by the sleeve, from Fillmore Container or Lehman’s
- Wide-mouth lids; in bulk from Fillmore (wide-mouth at Lehman’s same link as above)
- Tattler plastic reusable lids (I haven’t tried these)
- Rubber gaskets: Weck, Lehman’s, Container Store (search for “hermetic” and both jars & appropriate gaskets will come up), Amazon
Canning & Preserving Tools
- canner or stockpot
- canner rack (check for rust), or use Marisa’s awesome trivet idea
- jar lifter, lid lifter
- instant thermometer (test in boiling water: should read 212 degrees F at sea level)
- dehydrator (check plug, trays, etc.)
- Jelly bag + stand
- Cheesecloth, butter muslin
- Food mill
- Knife sharpener
- strawberry huller, cherry pitter, tomato knife
- White (for fermented pickles)
- Cider & wine (for quick pickles, infusing, chutneys)
- Balsamic, dark & white (for flavoring sweet jams, fruit leathers)
- sugar (raw, organic evaporated, white)
- maple syrup
- agave, Lyle’s, or other
- frozen concentrated orange, white grape, or apple juice
I get a lot of my bulk spices from Penzey’s which has much better prices for things like mustard seed and pickling spice than your local grocery store.
- canning/pickling salt
- Kosher salt (iodized salt, including sea salt and table salt, can cause browning of preserves over time)
- citric acid
- ClearJel (for pie fillings)
- pickling spice mix, dill seeds
- mustard seeds
- cinnamon sticks
- black peppercorns
- dried chiles
- tea ball for infusing