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Preserving the harvest

You don't need your own garden in order to get fresh food.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 2, 2009 2:20AM

Seattle is loaded with blackberry vines. The sight of all that free fruit makes me want to forage each summer. My arms get so thorn-raked it looks like I’ve tried to exorcise a cat, but I fill the freezer, make jam, and eat blackberries almost every day for weeks.


On my way to pick berries one end-of-summer day, I saw a dark-purple blob in the dust. A plum had fallen from a tree in a nearby yard. I broke open the windfall and took a tentative nibble from its golden interior. Sweet as the memory of first love.


Peeking through the fence, I could see the tree was loaded. I asked the homeowners if I could trade them a jar of jam for the fruit I’d need to make some. They told me to help myself: "We’re glad someone wants it."


Two batches of jam later, I posted a thread on the Smart Spending message board: Who else out there “puts food by” each year? Do you grow it? Buy it from a farm? Scrounge and scavenge like me? 


Harvest home

A Georgia reader named “old Karen” gardens, hits u-pick farms and farmers markets, and forages for wild edibles. Some is for herself, some for gifts. Either way, “nothing smells better than fixing all this in your own kitchen,” she wrote.


"Jestjack" is drowning in produce, including a "bumper crop of hot-hot jalapeño peppers” from deeply discounted Kmart seedlings. “Nothing better than fresh squash and tomatoes out of the garden...and quite the savings."

"Chrisfan1958” cans or freezes beets, beans, carrots, squash, spinach and other home-grown crops. The southern Oregon reader stores root vegetables, dries herbs, forages for mushrooms, and harvests steelhead, salmon and game meats. 


"And isn’t it rewarding to share your harvest with folks?" Chrisfan wrote.


I’m with her on that one. I’ve already given jam to my sister and to two neighbors in the apartment building. 


A windfall of knowledge

Intrigued by these preservationist viewpoints, other readers posted bushels of questions. How do you freeze fruit? What are the most reliable canners? What is blanching? How much does this cost?


Among the advice from the veterans:

  • The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning is available free online.
  • Request canning and freezing supplies on freecyle or on Craigslist. Or look for them at yard sales and thrift shops. For freezer jam, any kind of jar or container (margarine tubs et al) will do.
  • Check out u-pick farms.
  • Ask for “seconds,” i.e. imperfect produce, at farms and roadside stands.
  • Scavenge! Barter with fruit-tree owners and gardeners in your neighborhood, or post such a request on freecycle or Craigslist.

A success story

The thread inspired reader “Pepperdoo,” who had never made jam, to visit a produce stand near her central California home. The next day, she fixed her husband a peanut-butter sandwich.


"(He) asked where I bought the gourmet jam," Pepperdoo wrote, "and just why was I out spending money for stuff like that when we are SUPPOSED to be on a budget.


"He just about fell over when I told him I made it."


Let her success be your inspiration. If you can still get your hands on fresh produce, freeze it or make some jam. Be warned, though: Preserving is an addictive practice.


You’ll keep trying new and different methods. You'’ll start gardening, even if it's only basil on the balcony. You’ll type "u-pick" into search engines. You’ll knock on doors and ask, "Would you like some help picking those apples?" You’ll seek out raspberries that jumped the fence, or blackberries that swarm roadside ditches.


But some raw, dark winter morning, the taste of homemade jam will bring back the warmth and sweetness of July. And you won’t care how scratched-up your arms got.
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