Anyone who has a food garden will quickly learn that the work doesn’t end at the front door. It continues in your kitchen as you prepare, cook, and preserve all that fresh food you’ve grown.
A big part of being a successful gardener is learning to make the most of your crops, avoiding waste, and discovering the joys of not only gardening but preserving as well.
For me, this is a busy time of the year. We are in the middle of our peak harvest season for the fruit trees in my woodland garden.
If you have read previous articles of mine you may know that I am fortunate to live on a property that has a number of mature fruit trees that were here when we moved in. We have a very large and productive plum and a number of apple trees (along with some newer additions that will do very well).
Over the last seven years I have transformed a walled orchard that was laid to grass into a woodland garden with much more diverse and layered planting. While I still consider this to be work in progress, I am very pleased with how it has gone so far and the returns we are seeing.
As well as working on the outside of our property we are also renovating an old stone barn, doing most of the work ourselves in the evenings and weekends alongside our full time jobs. This year, for the first time, all of the canned goods I make can go to our “forever” home – my walk-in cold room/pantry. This is a cool, dark room on the northeast, isolated from the building envelope.
Stay on top of a rotating pantry
While bringing canned foods into a more ideal environment is a huge step forward for us, I realize I must continue to do the pantry chores that I have done for the past few years.
One of the most important things is making sure I know what I have in my pantry at all times. Especially when I know that a lot more food will be coming in over the next few months, it’s important for me to know what I already have.
We do not store groceries. We don’t conserve to keep food for long, but aim to rotate our pantry so we use it all up before next year’s harvest—or within a few years at the most.
Inventory of the pantry
At the moment I have a range of jams mainly made from gooseberries, red currants, black currants, raspberries, plums and apples. More blackberry, Japanese quince and elderberry recipes are coming soon. I also have dried preserves, store-bought and homemade flours, legumes, etc., and some fresh produce for storage.
I like to take stock, starting with the earliest harvests and working my way through to those harvested later in the year. I take inventory when I can, note how many I make, and take inventory when each major crop rolls back around so I know what, if anything, is left.
For each type of fruit or plant, I make a note of the different jars I have and how many of each I have. If there’s any left over after harvest, I might want to consider making less of this recipe next year.
But sometimes I earn enough to get by as we sometimes have “free” years and of course things can go wrong in a garden. So I build in some contingency and try to do a little more than I think we need.
This year is a great fruit year. Last year wasn’t the best. But I have a few jars of unsweetened applesauce left over from last year, in addition to the couple extra jars I just saved with the first of our apple varieties.
A dessert apple, but a poor keeper, we eat some fresh and juice most of them; but I also like to have them on hand all year round. If I only have a few jars left, I’ll know I’ve made about the right amount for our needs. (I mainly use unsweetened applesauce in soups and stews during the winter.)
With later cooked apples I make some sweetened applesauce, apple butter, apple jam and apple chutney. I’ve run out of these this year so plan to make more for next year’s enjoyment with our more bountiful harvest.
Why an inventory is important
We’re not totally self-sufficient, and while we want to go even further in that direction, we only have a third of an acre here, so there’s a limit to what we can do in some areas, particularly crops. But we want to eat as much as possible from our own gardens. So we need to know what we have in order to plan and eat accordingly.
You should grow for what you eat. But you should also eat for what you grow — you might change your eating habits a bit to accommodate what can be grown in your area year-round.