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Of all the things we do on our homestead, preserving the harvest is one of the most crucial parts to our self-sustainability and old-fashioned pioneer roots. It’s also one of the ways we keep our food bill down. In the long run, it keeps our health bills down, too, because the food we put up at home is done at the peak of freshness and when grown by us, heirloom and organically.
If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with the business of harvest and canning time, here’s the tips I use to keep things running smoothly and from dissolving into a pool of frustration on the kitchen floor.
1. Inventory your supplies. Make sure you have enough jars and lids on hand before you begin. I try to keep at least a years worth of canning lids on hand at all times and we started using some of the re-usable Tattler canning lids *aff link (check out my review of Tattler canning lids and if they work here). If you’re doing any pickling double check your vinegar and spices. Working with tomatoes, you’ll need either vinegar or concentrated lemon juice to ensure safe acidity levels. Make sure you have canning salt for pickled recipes and enough sea salt for vegetables and meats.
2. Freeze berries. One of the few things you can freeze and then can later without affecting the results is berries. In fact, many recipes turn out better with frozen fruit due to them releasing their juices, than fresh. Take advantage and put them in the freezer for when you’re not pressed with the vegetables.
3. Create an assembly line. I find it much faster to do each task in it’s completeness before attempting the next. For example, wash all the beans, snap all the beans, fill all the jars, and then process.
4. Enlist the help of family. Even small children can help with canning. Have them help with picking the harvest and preparing it. My kids have snapped beans since they were one-years-old. I’d string the beans before they were able and have them snap them. And if I have to break up a few too long beans when putting them in the jars, that’s okay by me in exchange for the family time and help. My husband will often times pick the beans before I get home from work so we can put up a batch after dinner.
5. Put it the fridge. If you didn’t grow it yourself, chances are you’ll harvest a large amount of produce at once. On harvest day, put the produce in the fridge and plan on canning it the next day if you get home late or are too wiped out. I often times will take four days to work my way through the large peach harvest we get from the east side of the mountains.
6. Get in the right mindset. During the month of August, I know I’ll be canning almost every day. It ads to my work load, but it’s for a short amount of time. I know for that one month of work my family will be eating for an entire year. Plus, later when I’m hurried, I can open up a jar of home canned food and have a ready made meal or snack without any prep work. I remind myself it’s just for the season.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV
7. Do a little every day. I find if I do a little every day it’s much easier to stay on top of things. This might mean picking the beans one day and canning them the next, or doing just one run every night while the beans are on instead of saving them up for the weekend. On a work day I might not get the canning done until late at night, so the next day I may only get everything washed and picked up.
8. Celebrate. You’re putting up food for your family, you’re creating a real food pantry, building your food storage, lowering your food bill, and teaching yourself and your children valuable traditional skills. Dance around the kitchen in your bare feet, snap a picture of those gorgeous glass jars filled with food, and give yourself a pat on the back!
What tips do you have to offer?
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.