Friday, June 27, 2008

Locavorism: Pre-week I

With the month of locavorism officially beginning in four days, we have done a great deal of prep research and practice. Although I've only committed to pure locavorism for a month, I fully expect many of our eating habits to change for the long term. Like my pioneer forebears, I now see food transported from a long way away as a luxury item. I hope to eat things like mangoes, or Italian cheese, with full awareness of how far they travel to get here, and the unseen petroleum cost I pay each time I eat one. I hope to be more intentional about when that premium is really worth something to me, and when it isn't.

So it's cherry season here in Washington, and we are swimming in luscious, delicious cherries. But cherry season passes in a flash. One week it's Chelans, then the next week Rainiers, and then Bings. Thinking about the long winter and spring, ahead with no fresh fruit - it'll be all luxury items from October to June, except for the cold-stored apples and pears which grow blander as the months pass - I decided to can some cherries, to have a local fruit treat available for the winter.

Now I've only canned for freezing before, so I first spent time reading up on water bath canning (which is sufficient for fruits, all too acidic to spawn botulism), and purchased a 21-quart canning pot along with fresh jar lids. My first batch were the lovely golden Rainiers - because whoosh, the Chelans were done already! - and I canned about 2 pounds, which produced four pretty pint jars:

On the same day, I finally mastered a decent buttermilk honey wheat bread, too:

Buoyed by my success, I bought an extra couple pounds of Bings the next week at the farmers market, richly red, and set up for more canning. I had also purchased a steam juicer, so I came home with a pound of "apriums" - a cross between apricots and plums. Canning takes so much water - most of it hot - to heat and sterilize the cans and lids, to clean and soak the fruit, to prepare boiling syrup, and to immerse the cans in boiling water for (in the case of cherries) a full 25 minutes. So I figured, I might as well do the steam juicing right after the canning, to re-use some of that boiling water.

Alas, this time all did not go as smoothly. I overfilled the jars, and they overflowed during canning, which means the seals cannot be considered reliable. One jar did not seal at all, so I chopped those cherries up and put them in with some applesauce I'd made with last year's cold-stored apples. As I poured those cherries into a colander, I kicked myself for letting all that beautiful, thick cherry syrup go down the drain. Two jars were sealed but I could tell they'd boiled over during canning, so I froze them just in case. (Little bits of food under the seal can be enough to cultivate unwanted organisms.) Only one looked like a clean seal.

On to the juicer, then. My pound of apriums, supplemented by some strawberries from the garden, produced less than a quart of juice. I regretted the squandered cherry syrup even more. The juice was bitter, but good - more like lemonade - and delicious with a bit of honey. More attentive to waste now, I scraped the remaining fruit oodge from the steamer, and added some honey to make a fruit compote for yogurt.

Apart from learning how much water goes into canning, and the importance of respecting jar head space, I am learning other things from this. First, now that I am putting more thought and work into obtaining my food, I eat smaller portions. It takes more work to get the food, so I think hard about how I'm going to use it. Plus, I rarely cook more than we need to eat, because the fresh food tastes so good.

Second, I have deeper respect for the skills of the pioneer or peasant woman who had to think through what she had, how she could use it, and what she might or might not have on hand later. Slowly, I am getting the pioneer spirit: waste not, want not. When the only fruit available is mealy, cold-stored apples from last fall, you make applesauce. If the seal on your canned cherries fails, you throw them in with the applesauce, and retain the syrup for something else. A little bit of high-quality bacon adds a lot of flavor to those nutritious collard greens. And juice - good heavens! The amount of fruit and energy required to make a glass of juice! Talk about a luxury.

When reading my great-great-aunt Lou's diary, I noticed the attention she paid to what she ate. In the winter in Winnipeg, she would comment when they opened a can of cherries for a treat. She commented on how many pickles she ate with tea, and the joys of a lovely fresh salad in summer. I think I'm beginning to understand why those things deserved valuable space in the single-page daily entries of her journal - writing space being carefully rationed, just like everything else.

Why am I doing this? Partly, it has piqued my curiosity. Partly, I am committed to eating local most of the time, and that means stocking up now for winter. And partly - I must confess - I see the deepening economic clouds, which seem frighteningly close to moving us from simple recession to true depression, and I think - it can't hurt to learn these skills now. Who knows when I might need them. Maybe that's crazy, but I just can't shake the feeling.

1 comment:

TX Poppet said...

Oh what gorgeous cherries! I'm quite jealous. Well done.

TX Poppet at Canned Laughter