During this remarkable time when you could trade a four-pack of toilet paper for a three-bedroom house, it is amazing to me that we have forgotten how to prepare for the unexpected. What about the other empty shelves at the grocery store you’ve been seeing? What if the farmers have a bad year of drought, too much rain or a plague of locusts? And of course, global warming is a game changer. Then what? We’ve already seen a shortage of potatoes. Corn goes into so many products that we use every day. Have you read the ingredients on your favorite snacks lately? And heaven forbid, what if desperate countries of the world start eyeballing our amazing farmland as spoils of war. Sigh. On a happier note!
Springtime! The birds are chirping, the grass is slowly turning green and the first signs of tulips push through the dirt. I don’t know about you, but this is the time of year I start to think about gardening. I’ll admit that my passion is flowers and plants that give my little backyard oasis a very Zen feeling. Ferns, Hosta’s, perennials, annuals and usually a few palms I buy each year, cover the patio and flower beds. Gone are the days I planted a quarter of an acre with all manner of vegetables. As my mentor reminds me, “You can’t eat those ferns and zinnias and expect to enjoy it.”
The first home we purchased was a sixty-acre farm. I couldn’t wait to dig in the dirt. My father always planted a garden at our home just on the other side of the Mississippi River and St. Louis. My family was from rural Tennessee, so the country life was ingrained in me from a very early age. My mother and grandmothers always canned food for the long winters. To be truthful, our family never had very much money, and gardening stretched the dollar more than I realized, growing up. We always had delicious food thanks to some excellent cooks and a bountiful harvest.
My first venture into canning (because I only knew how to eat it, not preserve it) was when I moved away from home after getting married. I had a huge plum tree in my yard. An elderly lady next door ask me if she could have my plums to make jelly. I made her a deal. She could have the plums if she’d teach me how to make jelly. That little experience opened the inner gardener which later in life turned into prepping for the future.
With the current uncertainty of our economy due to the virus affecting all aspects of our life, I’ve decided to reacquaint myself with the art of growing vegetables and canning. I usually have some tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, radishes, spinach for the summer. But gone were the days where I canned everything from apples to squash (for zucchini bread) to potatoes. But desperate times have me reevaluating the wisdom of growing a garden that will add to our diets during tough times, if they should arrive.
What to grow
Mostly you should grow what you like to eat. That’s a no-brainer. Here is a basic list if you are new to this and don’t know how to can but want some healthy choices for the summer.
- Tomatoes, Peppers (green, banana, jalapeno)
- Lettuce, spinach, radishes (early season planting – late March/early April)
- Onions, green beans, cucumbers, squash, cabbage
- Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower (Confession time. I’ve never grown these.)
- Herbs (whatever you like to use)
Those are all pretty simple. You’ll have plenty to share with friends and neighbors. You may even have enough tomatoes and peppers to freeze for winter soups. The green beans can be planted several times to harvest. You have the makings of a really good salad. The rest of the list is if you’re planning on preserving your food. You’ll need several more plants of each thing above. Don’t forget to replant #2 in late summer or early fall for more fresh lettuce, etc.
- Potatoes (one plant produces a lot. You can use them in a lot of different dishes.) I’ve canned them and they are delicious. A fast side dish for unexpected company would include a jar of my potatoes and a jar of my green beans. Already cooked so all you have to do is warm it up. If you’re a country cook, you might add a small piece of ham or piece of bacon for extra flavor.
- Corn, okra, beets (If you want beet pickles, which are so good when you make them yourself).
- Watermelon and pumpkin
- Companion plant herbs and vegetables. Use heirloom plants & seeds so you can save the seeds for next year.
The next thing you might consider, if you have some property, are planting fruit trees. I’ve always bought from farmers, farmer markets or produce farms for the public. Apples, peaches, pears, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. I’ve actually taken the cores and peelings from the apples and pears and made jelly after cooking them down. I’ve mixed it with other fruit juices I’ve boiled down when needed. If you like to go in the woods and gather, you might come across wild strawberries, gooseberries and blackberries. I’m way past those days.
You can also dehydrate foods, even meats. I haven’t tried that, but might give it a go this year. Maybe you are afraid of all that presser canner routine. Then try the dehydrator or freezing. Either way you have a new source of nutritious food at your disposal.
What you’ll need
- Pressure canner – Most will come with a canning book. If not, then Amazon or Ball Canning Company, or your local Extension Office can help you. Or try YouTube.
- Canning jars, lids and rings – Quarts, pints and half-pints for jelly.
- Labels – I never used these because I could see what I had. But if you are a budding Martha Stewart, then knock yourself out.
- Patience – This isn’t like baking chocolate chip cookies. You need to set aside time to can and watch the presser cooker. Really! Watch the presser gauge.
And there you have it!
The first time you see those beautifully preserved jars of vegetables cooling on your counter, listening for that pop of the lid that tells you your jar sealed, is pure magic. Be sure you don’t hurt your arm when you pat yourself on the back. Let the family do that for you.