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MARGARET PROUSE: Reflections on preserving

Home preserving is good stewardship, writes Margaret Prouse.
Home preserving is good stewardship, writes Margaret Prouse. - 123RF Stock Photo

Fortunately, I had a sizeable stash of Mason jars, and wasn’t affected when the current shortage of preserving bottles struck. Last week I made a second batch of canned stewed tomatoes, and used the last of our garden cucumbers in Lady Ross Relish, and Thousand Island Relish.  

Preserving takes time that I could use for other projects, and it keeps the kitchen messy. It leaves my hair smelling like a pickle factory, and my aprons stained red, yellow and green. Why do I do this? What drives me to chop and sterilize and stir and seal? Why not just buy a can of tomatoes or a bottle of relish at the store?

It isn’t for everyone, but for me, there are lots of reasons – practical, personal, and frivolous. 

Home preserving is good stewardship. It’s a way to use what you have, and prevent waste. When gardens produce more vegetables that you can use at the table, it seems wrong to let them rot. By canning, freezing, pickling, we can make use of the abundance. 

It can help to stretch the food budget, too. Yes, it may involve buying extra sugar, vinegar, spices and snap lids now, but it allows you to choose foods from the pantry instead of buying them at the store later. 

Winter’s coming. Like the chipmunks, who scurry around filling their hiding places with seeds to dig into later, I want to have food on hand.  We can build meals around the tomato sauce and stewed tomatoes, and the pickles and relishes, jams and jellies, make meals more enjoyable. 

As a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic, we have experienced isolation, this year, unlike any most of us have seen before, and we know how vulnerable we are if we don’t have what we need to survive at home. Living on P.E.I., we know that a severe winter storm can leave us, especially those who live in the country, stuck at home for days at a time. Having a freezer full of food is useful when we have electricity, and when the power goes out, it’s great to leave the freezer closed, and reach for something from the shelf.

Preserving food is also a link with the past, when most Canadian families found it necessary to put aside food that they could make it through the winter. It is, then, part of a cultural heritage.

That is not to say that it’s a good idea to preserve certain foods the way our ancestors did before they understood some of the science that we know about now. Grandma used to process low-acid vegetables like corn and string beans in a boiling water canner, but we now know that they need to be done in a pressure canner or frozen for safe keeping. 

I like knowing what’s in the foods I serve, and feel proud that we are taking an active part in putting tasty and wholesome food on the table. 

Homemade jams and jellies, pickles and relishes are also good little hostess gifts. Tuck a few bottles into a little brown shopping bag, with some colourful tissue paper, and you have a pretty and personal present. 

I am glad that a lot of this year’s preserving is done for this year, leaving me with more time to do other things. There will still be food to preserve, though: broccoli, pumpkin and squash to freeze, apples to make into pies for the freezer, cranberries to freeze or make into chutney or sauce. 

I don’t really enjoy the texture of frozen zucchini or other summer squash served as a vegetable, but you can freeze zucchini by grating and packing in pre-measured amounts for use in baking recipes. 

Pumpkin and winter squash, such as buttercup or butternut, keep for several months in a cool basement, but to extend the season further into the winter, they can be frozen. To prepare them, cook until soft by boiling, steaming, pressure cooking or baking. Scoop or scrape the pulp from the rind, and mash. Cool by placing the pan containing the pumpkin or squash in cold water, and stirring occasionally. Package, leaving 1 cm (½ inch) headspace, seal and freeze.  

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, writes this column for The Guardian every Friday. She can be reached by email at [email protected].

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