Living

Green for life: preserving food for the uninitiated

Canning and preserving aren't just for queens of the kitchen. Making the harvest stretch can be quick and easy – and may turn you against tinned stuff forever

In Canada, fresh produce in winter can be pretty hard (and expensive) to come by – and never mind that a blind taste test couldn’t tell a post-September tomato from a cardboard box. Even worse, what we do find on grocery-store shelves is “drenched in petroleum,” as they say, having been flown or trucked here from thousands of kilometres away, burning fossil fuels in transit.

Reading Barbara Kingsolver’s 2007 book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, truly stoked the embers of my desire to take full advantage of the local harvest. But unless you are a successful writer with a flexible schedule and a farm in Appalachia, how do you find the time to preserve? Here are a few simple tricks to get the rest of us in the spirit of thinking ahead.

Canning essentials
On your next trip to Canadian Tire, grab a case of canning jars so you’ll have them on hand. That way you’ll feel less daunted by the prospect of canning when you notice your favourite fruit or veg overflowing on the market stands, when it’s cheapest and at its peak. For simple instructions, give Janet Chadwick’s The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food a read. Then have a girlfriend join you for a Sunday afternoon and share the spoils (and the cleanup!).

Backyard pesto recipe
If you’re like me, the first snap of autumn cold makes you realize you never did quite use up all those fresh herbs you planted in June. And I can never get potted herbs to survive once I bring them inside the house. So I now make what we call “backyard pesto”: Combine every last leaf of basil, thyme, rosemary –whatever herbs you have left in your pots – in the food processor with some garlic, pine nuts or sunflower seeds, and olive oil. Spoon the mixture into muffin tins or ice-cube trays and pop them into the freezer. The mixed herb taste is divine, conjuring up fond summer memories when you pull out a cube or two in February to toss with hot pasta.

Tomatoes on demand
Since mid-winter tomatoes are usually pink and mealy, why not put away some of the delicious bright red ones that markets are dripping with right now? If the devilish details of boiling temperatures and sterilization techniques seem too daunting, keep it simple. Wash tomatoes and chop them into quarters, then plunk them into freezer baggies. (Ziploc bags are made without the dangerous chemical dioxin.) Cherry tomatoes can be frozen whole. You’ll never cook with tinned tomatoes again.