alive & digging: Canning? Yes, you can

By Paige Slaughter

Canning time! It’s one of my favorite times of year—vegetables are piling up on the counter and pouring out of the fridge. What to do with all that bounty?

Maybe this month you’re beginning to enjoy the overflowing abundance that gardens provide. Or, if you’re at a slightly higher elevation like me, maybe your crops are just finally starting to realize it’s summer. (Why are you so shy, squash flowers?)

Whether it’s your garden that’s overflowing, or you’re the proud farmer’s market visitor who buys up all the seconds, ‘tis the season of preserving: canning, drying, dehydrating, pickling, fermenting and freezing.

Locally grown produce is harvested at the peak of its growing season, which makes it both tastier and more healthful than what you’ll find in grocery stores. Personally, I don’t buy a single tomato outside of tomato season. Instead, I dehydrate and can as many tomatoes as I can during harvest time and enjoy that peak-season flavor all year long.

Eating on nature’s schedule

Our bodies, just like nature, are at the same time amazingly complex and quite simple. In the subtlest ways, we crave and benefit from the exact nutrients and types of food that nature provides throughout the seasons.

In the heat of summer when we’re active, sugary fruits are in abundance and we have plenty of herbs and veggies to dry and otherwise preserve for the seasons to come. In fall, we begin to slow down as the weather cools, turning to root vegetables and hearty soups for grounding. Winter-hardy dark greens provide nutrients while we stay warm cooking up vegetables that keep well–potatoes, onions, carrots and dried herbs. When spring comes, we join in nature’s waking up by eating sprouts, crisp radishes, crunchy asparagus and the like.

Eating in sync with the seasons is just another way to tune into nature and experience our gardens as bridges to a more connected, natural world.

Growing your own food is just one wonderful way to tap into this rhythm. A few others:

• Support local growers by visiting farmer’s markets. Talk to different vendors to learn about how they’re growing their food and what makes them special. Ask what produce they have an abundance of to support their farming while participating in the ebb and flow of growing food.

• Reap (and share) your bounty! Take time to enjoy the fruits of your labor, brag to your friends about all you’ve grown, swap stories and bounties with other garden-dwellers, and share harvests with your neighbors and loved ones.

• Preserve the harvest to enjoy all year long.

Preserving abundance

Taste and nutrition are reasons enough to preserve local produce while it’s in season. Caring for our planet and supporting the local economy are bonuses, each helping to create and preserve an abundant world for all people.

• Drying and dehydrating: Drying herbs, fruits and vegetables is an easy and a great way to capture the nutrients of plants for winter. Air dry tender herbs by bundling and hanging them upside down in a cool, dark place with a bit of airflow. You can also spread a thin layer of herbs, edible flowers or chili peppers in a basket and lay a cheesecloth over the top to keep dust away. Slice fruits and veggies, and dry in a dehydrator. Once the moisture is gone, you can store dried produce in jars to use in soups and other cooked dishes through the seasons.

• Canning: While the process varies for different items, you only need a few tools and a recipe to get started. This is one of the more time-consuming preservation techniques, so choose wisely. I like to save my canning efforts for sauces and jams: I blend all my tomatoes into a sauce, and roast peach halves in the oven for winter pies.

• Fermentation: This process can be a little scary if it’s new to you, so find a recipe to follow. Basically, let food and liquid sit in a clean jar on the counter, and wait. Fermentation is a natural process that food endures under certain conditions, and our ancestors have been doing it for a long time. There are many different types of fermentation, leading to fantastic eats like kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, wines and spirits. Fermented products are full of probiotics that benefit your gut.

• Pickling: Vinegar is a natural preservative, and one of the easiest methods of preservation; use it to pickle peppers, cucumbers and more. I love dicing peppers and pickling them with garlic, salt and herbs to use on sandwiches year-round.

Resist the urge to be scared off by preservation horror stories, and you just might discover a new favorite way of eating and summertime hobby all at once!

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