Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thrift: An Introduction to Food Preservation

Sooner or later, the matter of thrift was going to come up. My family isn't a wealthy, well-to-do bunch of hippies that is experimenting with a lifestyle just for our own amusement. Most of the things we do because we feel that we need to do them. We behave in ways that support our beliefs: family, community, hard work, faith. Thrifty living is one of those things.

**** History ****

My skills of food preservation are legendary. They started back in 1997. Young Master Farmer was just 2 years old, and I was staying at home raising him. We lived in an antique store in Maryland, which I minded while Mr. Farmer worked. With an average of 2-3 customers per week, I really spent most of my time chasing the toddler around once everything in the store had been arranged. Mr. Farmer, on the other hand was busy at work cooking and delivering meals to a string of non-profit daycare centers. Once again, he was my inspiration.

The non-profit status of the daycare system gave us access to a local food pantry, where marginal groceries could be obtained at an unbelievably low prices. Cereal was purchased by the pound (box weight included) for pennies. Produce was sold for $5 per item- as much as you can carry of that item. So about once a week Mr. Farmer would cook, load up the van, deliver the food, then go to the food pantry and fill up the van again.

Children are not as fond of fresh vegetables as they should be. So sometimes there would be far more than could be logically used, or the boss might veto a particular dish that Mr. Farmer had planned. In these scenarios, case after case of borderline-spoiled produce would arrive in my kitchen, and with a quick kiss Mr. Farmer was off and running again.

The first was eggplant. In spite of his assurances that the children would assume it was meat once it was fried and covered in sauce, the boss refused. So, I began breaking it down. I sorted out the completely spoiled eggplants and put them aside. I cubed the partially spoiled and froze the cubes for use later in veggie sauce and Ratatouille. And the best eggplants were sliced thin and frozen or breaded, fried, and frozen for later use in Eggplant Parmesan. The tops and spoiled parts were put aside and delivered the following day to a local farm animal rescue where a very greedy pig was waiting. This process continued for months until I had preserved nearly every type of vegetable and fruit imaginable.

Leaving Maryland did not mean the end of my preserving career. Shortly after we settled in the mountains in PA, Mr. Farmer's brother came to live with us for a while after the passing of his boss/landlord of the previous 24 years. He came to be employed across the street from a large flea market, and frequently worked on Sunday. So nearly every Sunday, all season long, he would bring home whatever produce the vendors had not sold and were ready to sell at a loss. One day he brought 2 flats of strawberries, and we made Strawberry Pie, Strawberry Jam, and Frozen Strawberry Topping. A tall box of sweet red peppers was purchased for $2; the sliced/diced and frozen peppers from that box lasted a year! Three flats of cucumbers yielded gallon after gallon of every kind of pickles imaginable- and my new found love for pickling anything.   All at no cost to me, and very little cost to my brother-in-law.

Yes, there is a trade off of time for money when reclaiming nearly-spoiled and cast-off food. I invested in a mandolin slicer to save my poor fingers from the many knife blisters I have endured. Many a Sunday afternoon has been spent cooking and processing rather than relaxing. But the rewards are immeasurable: a homemade product, a lack of waste, and a savings of cash!

Preview: My Next Preservation Project
Details Soon!

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