The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Mother-daughter canning day

Cutting up tomatoes

There are a few homesteading projects I consider important enough to make the cut for Weekend Homesteader but which I don't personally undertake very often.  The first one was the rain barrel project in the May volume (which seems to have started me thinking about rain barrels --- stay tuned for more on our upcoming rain collection experiment.)  The next was canning.

Filling jars with tomatoes

I've canned tomatoes and applesauce a couple of times before, but I'm not a big fan of the preservation technique.  You have to save up masses of food and process it all at once, and I just don't think that most foods taste very good canned.  (Tomatoes and apples are the sole exception.)  On the other hand, knowing how to can is a good skill for any homesteader to have since you don't need to use electricity and the result will last for multiple years.  Plus, canning is so archetypal that if I asked ten artists to draw a picture of homesteading, five of them would probably protray canning.

Canning lids

I asked Mom to come over and help me preserve a load of tomatoes to refresh my memory before writing up the project for Weekend Homesteader: September.  I'm so glad I did!  She bubbled over with so much enthusiasm and knowledge that I could tell canning had been one of her favorite parts of living on the land.

Canning tomatoes

Weekend Homesteader paperback I know several people who can masses of garden produce every year...then don't eat any of it.  After canning with a passionate expert, I understand how the process could turn into a fun hobby even if you don't like the taste of the results.  The boiling water gets your adrenaline pumping, the reflective glass and colorful produce sates your eyes, and canning is a perfect bonding experience if you bring your mom along.  Thanks for doing all the heavy lifting, Mom!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I've been involved in canning since I was a little girl, when my mother and grandmother would have their own "mother-daughter canning day" (or week) and my brother and I would be chased out of the basement (where canning took place - much cooler - my grandmother was the only person I knew who had a stove in her basement :) ) with tiny dishes of salt and a handful each of pickling cucumbers for snack time. So of course when I grew up and got my own home I had to can: jams, jellies, pickles of various types (I know you guys aren't fond of those, but for those of us who love 'em, well, we love 'em! :) ), tomatoes (both whole and as sauce or in salsa) and lots of apple butter (although never apple sauce, since we aren't particularly fond of it). We do use all of the stuff we can, and it's especially useful for us since we have no space for a freezer at the moment. However, I must admit that I can in part simply for the beauty of it: I still remember being fascinated by the rows and rows of colorful jars of fruits and vegetables which filled my grandmother's root cellar by mid-November. Today I get that same feeling of joy and fulfillment when I look at similar rows of jars in my pantry! It's partly a nesting thing - all of that food put aside to feed my family through the coming cold weather. It's partly a connection to the past - both my own happy memories from childhood and the greater past in which people have been putting food up in jars for one hundred and some years (canning was developed as a method of food preservation in the late 18th/early 19th century, but it really came into its own as a homegrown food preservation method after the American Civil War). And partly, it's just beautiful - a colorful glass and produce tapestry to brighten up one's food storage area. And that's the end of my rhapsodizing - not a very useful comment, perhaps, but I could hardly pass up the chance to write a paragraph in praise of one of my very favorite jobs! :)
Comment by Ikwig Sun Aug 21 09:20:55 2011
I know there are a lot of people like you who not only love the process, but love the canned food too. That's why I figured it was essential to include a basic project in Weekend Homesteader.
Comment by anna Sun Aug 21 11:06:05 2011

I can't really say I 'love' canning, but I do love the results. I did tomatoes, salsa, peach preserves, strawberry jam, zucchini relish (the best!) and cucumber pickles, both dill and sweet.

I like most vegetables frozen, though, and pray we don't lose power when lightning strikes or ice forms on the power lines. I'd say I do a good mix of both canning and freezing, and haven't yet felt the need to buy a pressure canner.

The deer have found my garden, just in time, as I'm running out of stuff to pick. They don't care for squash, and that's about all that's left!

Comment by Debbi Mon Aug 22 08:50:07 2011

Debbi --- We have a generator that we can run during power outages. We've found that about half an hour a day during the winter is enough to keep the freezer frozen. In a worst case scenario, I'd probably borrow a friend's pressure canner and go ahead and can a lot of the produce.

The deer can be a catstrophe in the garden. I sympathize!

Comment by anna Mon Aug 22 15:10:53 2011

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