The oldest person on our road is a World War II veteran, a black man who once told the Bearded One that beans saved his life. He was standing on his porch talking about the 1920s and zoot suits and the Depression. “The black people would have most likely just died off without beans,” he said. We grow lots of dry shelling beans as a direct result of that conversation. It’s so wet here that I have to finish drying them in the dehydrator, and then, if kept cool, they will last a decade.
Food preservation excites me. Part of my fascination is with saving money, part with having healthy, delicious food no matter what the government and the economy do. Another cool part is how satisfying the work is, with beautiful jars to show for your labor. But most of all, there’s something metaphysical about it. Real lead into gold stuff. Alchemy.
Forms change, essences survive, life cycles expand. Broccoli is an annual, born in February, lives through the summer and then goes to seed and dies in the fall. But once I dry the leaves in the dehydrator for winter soups, they become immortal. The nutritional value is superb.
Strawberries are perennials, they “die back” (go dormant in winter) each year. The mother plants send out many shoots in the early spring called daughters which take root, flower and make berries for a few weeks in July (used to be June, but the weather is changing), then they all, mothers and daughters, die back in the fall, only to come roaring back in the spring all over again.
The strawberries themselves last for a few days if left unwashed and cool. This makes us wonder how all those gorgeous store-bought baskets of strawberries from Chile can survive long enough to be shipped. Our home-grown berries will last for up to 2 years as jam. After that they are suspect. They also are a big hit dried, but slicing small strawberries gets crazy real fast. We now buy huge ones for that.
I dehydrate, can, and freeze, although I do very little freezing. It takes up too much space in our freezer and we lose power enough each year that it’s too big a risk without a generator. Last year I froze twenty bricks of pumpkin pulp. I still have 18.
I have a good recipe for chocolate chip pumpkin muffins and imagined making many more batches than I actually have. But the pumpkin bricks are still good.
This year’s pumpkins will go into the root cellar for the chickens which are imminent. We are finishing out the coop/aviary. If allowed to, and if protected and lucky, chickens can live for 10 years. Most, though, especially roosters, expire much sooner.
I’m not a big fan of canned vegetables, so I don’t mess with them. I can all kinds of jam, some fruits in syrup (blackberries mainly for cobblers in the winter), and tomato sauce.
These are my dehydrating success stories: zucchini, peaches, strawberries, tomatoes, beans and herbs. I put the zucchini in soups and chili; the peaches and strawberries are to-die-for right out of hand, chewy and naturally sweet; the dried tomatoes go in jars with olive oil and basil and voila! sun-dried tomatoes for pastas, pizzas and sandwiches. The beans go into chili and burritos. Dr. Oz says beans are the perfect food for humans. Our oldest Twenty-Something helps me make batches of 24 burritos, then she takes most of them back to Seattle to freeze.
Practically everything on earth, animate and inanimate has an expiration date, including the Bearded One , Yours Truly, our elderly neighbor, the Federal budget ceiling, and even beans. The only exception is cats, of course, who have nine lives.