Preserving the Harvest

Autumn is in full force in Wisconsin. The leaves have been turning colors for weeks and the Summer plants have been dying back. It’s been a rainy fall making it difficult to get grains dry enough to take them out of the fields. Not to mention making fall gardening an absolute mess. Still, I curl up in the evenings with our own cider we pressed in September. The cats curl up around me and I get to enjoy a good book. Most of my gardening and preserving projects are finished. Time to relax!

I can only relax, though, because I have taken all the work we’ve put into the garden to grow beautiful veggies and stuffed it into jars and freezer bags. Preserving and harvesting is what Autumn is all about to me. It’s such an important part of the season that I felt like I share some of the ways I preserve my harvests.

First, I can things all Summer and Fall. I make a list of how many jars I’m hoping to have of the essentials. Pickles and tomato sauce are the biggest priorities. Salsa, applesauce, jellies, stewed tomatoes and beets also usually get done every year. My list of jars and things I want to get done is larger every year. I’m also trying to slowly invest in Weck canning jars. They are the best jars for canning but a bit pricey. Each year I buy one more set of nice jars. Thus far it’s working out well. Nothing makes me feel more secure and wealthy than seeing all the jars filled, sealed, and stored in my cupboards.

Second, I freeze lots of veggies. There are many vegetables that I could can. However, to do that I’d either have to use a pressure canner or pickle them. Green beans are just better stored in the freezer than with vinegar in my opinion. Some day I’d like to be able to freeze things in glass containers. Right now the priority for glass jars is canning. The freezer gets plastic bags instead. Not environmentally friendly at all, but it’s what I’m able to do now. Fruits get chopped up and stuck in bags right away. Vegetables get blanched and then put in bags. Broccoli, green beans, squash, rhubarb, strawberries, mulberries, apples, pears, spinach, garlic pesto, zucchini and corn all make a regular appearance in my freezer.

Third, many of the best parts of the garden need to be dried or just stored away. I use a cheap dehydrator to dry my herbs for the Winter. Herbs and edible flowers are what keep my cooking interesting all Winter. They are also what helps keep illnesses at bay. I also store some garlic. We don’t grow enough of our own garlic to store enough for the Winter. However, there is this lovely farmer who will do garlic braids at the farmer’s market for you. They are pricey but such a fun, beautiful splurge that lasts throughout the Winter. The potatoes are also dug and brought in. I haven’t found the best way to store potatoes yet. Our apartment doesn’t have a root cellar which makes it a bit more tricky. Still, we make a good go of it. Other root crops like carrots are also dug and brought in. They last pretty well in the dark corner of our fridge.

Fourth, fermenting starts to happen. Ok, well I ferment all year round. I do press cider on the family oak press this time of year. We let some just ferment naturally at the back of the fridge for hard cider at Christmas Time. Then I mull some throughout the fall evening and enjoy every last sip wishing I had enough to last until June. Kombucha and sourdough bread complete my fermenting projects.

Fifth, I attempt to finish most of the projects I started in the Spring and Summer. I like to wrap things up in the fall and just relax during the Winter. It’s nice to start creating the space needed to reflect on the year. Tying up projects and crossing off things on the to-do list also allows me to tune into the shift that happens at Samhain. The flurry of living settles into a calm that allows for the thinning veil to be felt more keenly. There is more time to walk the land and to a honor the work of my ancestors.

I am so grateful for the things that I have harvested this year. I know that this Winter will be an interesting one (my parents are moving their farm) but I’ll be prepared for all the shifts and changes on the way. My pantry and freezer is stocked and it’s time to enjoy the fruits of harvest!

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