It’s January, and I had Kentucky-grown tomatoes this week for dinner.
(Photo from University of Wisconsin)
How, you might ask? It’s obvious, given the recent polar vortex, 1 to 3 inches of snow and short winter days, that this tomato was not grown anywhere in our state recently. However, during the long, cold, winter months I am able to enjoy summer produce straight from my freezer or a can that I prepared myself.
Canning and freezing food is a relic of the past. I know my grandparents grew up doing it, but with our modern conveniences of grocery stores it’s just not a necessity now. However, I am both encouraged and surprised to see many people my own age taking part in this food practice.
Freezing and canning food has many benefits. For my household of two, there is no way that we could possibly consume all the food our garden produces during the short window of time in the summer. Storing our produce helps us not waste those valuable vegetables.
Storing food also saves me money. During the summer if I’m purchasing my produce from the farmer’s market, usually the prices are very reasonable. I am able to purchase extra to set aside for freezing or canning, which saves me money at the grocery store later on in the winter. Storing our food also helps cut down on our meal prep times during the winter. I am able to come home from work, thaw a few bags of vegetables and throw them in with whatever I am cooking for dinner.
When the weather is sunny and 80 degrees, and I’m enjoying my long summer days playing outside, the last thing I want to do is think about how I’ll be spending my days in the middle of winter. Storing food does take some preparation, but it’s not unmanageable.
I prepare by setting aside the produce I want to store each week during the summer and fall. Whether it’s excess from my own garden that I’m not going to cook with, or extra that I purchased from the farmer’s market, I store it in my refrigerator so it doesn’t ripen any further. During the weekend, I set aside a few hours of my time to prep and store my food. For me, this usually means cutting up tomatoes, peppers, squash and eggplant into slices and putting serving size amounts into freezer bags.
I create my own vacuum seal by zipping the top of the bag almost closed, inserting a drinking straw and sucking all the extra air out. Other times, I choose to can rather than freeze, and my prep time may be longer.
I am no expert, but after taking a class at my local extension office, I know the basics and regularly can things in my boiling water canner. Tomato juice, applesauce and various pickled vegetables are all in my repertoire.
Canning and freezing produce takes extra time and planning, but there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment you get with a freezer full of vegetables at the end of the growing season. After all the prep work is done, the hardest part is waiting until the dead of winter to eat the fruits of your labor! Start thinking ahead now and you can enjoy your produce in the winter months as well.
Blair Hecker is an environmental educator with Bluegrass Greensource. She began her work for Greensource in 2010, after graduating from Georgetown College with a bachelor of arts in religion. At Bluegrass Greensource, Blair works with elementary students in Fayette and surrounding counties. She is dedicated to educating Central Kentucky students about environmental issues and loves to watch them become passionate about their own environment. On any given day, you can find Blair playing with worms, dumpster diving or turning old junk into new recycled creations. Contact Blair to schedule activities with your elementary-aged students.