Sunday, December 06, 2009

Relocalization in action.

Today, with a bit of help from my husband, I canned 25 pints and 3 quart jars of pumpkin puree. It took me from about noon until right now to do this - the last jars are processing in the water bath even as I type this. Whew. All the windows in the house are steamy - we opened the front door. What I spent in electricity on the stove I saved with the HVAC. I don't believe the heat has kicked on since this morning, and it's not exactly a warm day outside, either.

We obtained the pumpkins locally, of course - it took only two ordinary large orange pumpkins (free from the garden or half-price after Halloween at any farmer's market, say about $5 total)and about 3/4 gallon of distilled water (a whopping $.99) to make that quantity of pumpkin puree - and I still have a large white pumpkin to go. I have never personally cooked with or canned a white pumpkin - I will need to read up a bit and make sure it has the same acidity, density, etc. as regular pumpkins. I'll bet it does, but it never hurts to be sure.

I began helping to can vegetables and make jam when I was 12 - and by the time I was 16, I was doing it on my own. This is one of those valuable skills that is nearly lost amoung young women today - and may actually be lost for the "generation y-ers" and "millennials." Today is the first time I have canned anything since we moved to this townhouse in the fall of 2005. Our backyard is tiny, but we hope to employ a square foot gardening technique with raised beds this coming spring. In the meantime I have grown many herbs and spices, leaf lettuces and cherry tomatoes in a small raised bed area out front. I have dried herbs the past three years, but haven't canned anything (cherry tomatoes just don't survive long enough - my husband and the boys eat them all as they ripen!).

My sons observed today but did not participate - our kitchen is tiny in this townhouse and with my husband there, we lack space for much of an audience. I explained a bit to them across the counter as they were doing their homework, though, and they've seen me make jam before. So they know the basics, but have never actually done it themselves. That puts them way ahead of most kids their age - and I do intend for them to help make jam next spring with the bounty of a new strawberry bed, and hopefully we'll get some blueberries, also, from the five bushes and the two blackberry vines we planted this year.

While I will certainly be happy to pass on what I know to my future daughters-in-law, I have serious doubts that they will be interested in learning until the day comes when their survival over a winter depends on knowing how to do this - and it's not good to be learning a new skill under such duress, to say the least.

Most women in observant Jewish communities had grandmothers like mine who were not strangers to farming, milking, and preserving food. But few of the women themselves have the foggiest idea how to put up produce from a victory garden - and they need to learn. And even if they don't have room for a large garden, there are plenty of opportunities to obtain fresh produce and learn to preserve them: join a CSA, or go to a local "u-pick-em" type farm, or a local farmer's market, or partake of the gardens of their parents, siblings, or good friends. This accomplishes two things - one, local growers are supported, and two, families can re-learn the basic skills their grandparents used to know - skills that provided for their families during hard times, like the hard times that are clearly in view.

Like any skill or craft, there are some initial outlays to obtain the necessary equipment - but once these are obtained, if they are cared for properly they will last for decades. But the old-fashioned ways of doing things were not that expensive, and can still be. I use the metal rings and lids - about $.10 per jar. The jars I have collected over many years. I'm still using glass mason jars my grandmother gave me (with beans or other goodies in them at the time, of course). And, God willing, my grandchildren will enjoy my jams and preserves and one day use the jars for their own garden produce. Some jars, of course, I give away as gifts of jam and holiday preserves - sometimes they even come back to me the same way. The circle of community never ends.

The end result will be one more bit of self-sufficiency for my family and my community. I will be able to choose locally grown produce from farmers who choose sustainable gardening practices instead of using petrochemicals. And since home grown or locally grown fruits and vegetables are picked ripe, are far fresher, and travel only a fraction of the time that factory farmed junk travels to reach your table, you will have more tasty, more nutritious and less toxic food, as well as cut way down on your carbon footprint for transportation. You will know where your food came from, and who grew it, and how. In this age of adulterated and toxic foods from producers like China who will do literally anything to their products to make more money, this is not an insignificant point.

It might seem like a little thing, but every little bit helps.

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