Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The ant and the grasshopper

From childhood onward I have read, or have had read to me, well over a hundred books. Many stories are forgotten, but there is one story from my childhood that I keep thinking of lately, Aesops fable, the Ant and the Gasshopper. The grasshopper played and fooled around all summer long while the ant worked diligently to store food away for the winter. When winter came along and there was no food to be found the grasshopper was begging the ant for food. I think the ant said no dice, and in the end the grasshopper died from starvation, or something along those lines. The point is, these days I feel like an ant. While millions of Americans are peeling off the plastic from their microwaveable supper I am diligently washing, chopping, peeling, seeding, canning, freezing and vacuum sealing my food away for the winter.

I won't preach about the virtues of cooking from scratch, frankly, I am too tired from working in the garden and all this kitchen prep to climb onto my pedestal. But I will share with you why and how I became so obsessed about preserving things. It all started with blueberries.

I am no stranger to canning, I like to can salsa and occasionally I try my hand at pickles. Mainly though it's been a once-a-year occurrence. But this year I started making jam. My husband and I found a wild blueberry patch 20 minutes from our house. We have picked there several times, even dragging my poor dear mother-in-law along, in the blazing sun, when she came for a visit. We accumulated enough blueberries to make 10 jars of jam before the drought cut the season short. Then we found a black raspberry patch and red raspberry patch withing walking distance, so we made another 6 jars of jam. Because I was getting the berries for free, the jams were only costing me the price of sugar, the jars and my time. It was like buying organic jam for a little over a $1.00.

At work we often have one crop in abundance at any given time and there is only so much zucchini or cucumbers we can unload on our CSA members. The wheels in my head go into overdrive thinking of uses for our vegetables. One time I decided to take home the lemon cucumbers and make pickles. I made up the recipe and put lemon and basil in the pickling juice. They were so beautiful looking.

My co-worker Lise asked me why I didn't freeze more. Personally, I like my salsas and jams in jars. Its easier to transport and convenient to use. But we both agreed that canning can be quite time consuming. She introduced me to the vacuum sealer and I will be forever in her debt. The first thing I vacuum sealed was beans. I quickly learned that grated zucchini must be flash frozen before being vacuum sealed because there is so much liquid being sucked out that the seal can't form.

Being obsessed with preserving the summer bounty can be quite stressful at times. All day I am thinking about what I have to do when I get home. A few weeks ago I went peach picking with the Glynwood crew at Fishkill Farms, really great U-pick farm that uses IPM, and brought home 15lbs. The next day I was expecting a friend from Montreal to visit with me for the weekend. I rushed home after work on Friday and started making peach salsa and peach and blackberry jam. I was in a frenzy trying to use up the peaches because there was rock salt on them, the rock salt was in the trunk next to my peach bag and I accidentally knocked the bag over. The peaches were super salty, even after soaking them for 12hrs in water, and couldn't be eaten raw anymore. Just as my jam was beginning to boil the power went out. I was in the dark thinking to myself, are you kidding me? It's August, I have salsa ready to go and my jam has reached a critical point and the power goes out. Turns out a tree fell on a power line. Lucky for me, my husband set-up our outdoor propane stove to I could finish canning.

This week has been especially tiresome. Every day I have been coming home with bags of tomatoes. Monday I made a quart and half of rich and flavorful tomato sauce, Tuesday I froze whole skinned tomatoes, Wednesday I made ratatouille and more tomato sauce. Today? Taking a break, but I will be back at it tomorrow. Maybe I will roast them in the oven this time...see, even when I am writing about food I am thinking about food.

Deep down I know this is all worth the effort. In the middle of winter, when the power goes out and the we are thigh deep in snow, I can reach deep into my freezer and pull out the ratatouille and I'll be able to re-live the taste of summer. The most delicious and freshest, organic, local, wholesome summer.

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