In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2002
Regional Report

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Relishes, pickles, jelly and herb vinegar. Truly summer in a jar!

Summer in a Jar

Our house is in the midst of putting summer in jars. All winter we'll recall the sights and scents of summer as we open jars of home-canned fruits and vegetables. Opening a jar of our tomatoes in the dead of January lets the odor of summer waft through the kitchen and the scent is so strong that you can almost hear bees buzzing and feel the warmth rising from dark soil. "Putting food by" is much more than just filling the larders for winter consumption -- it is an elixir for the soul. Not only is the food good for us, but one of the best prescriptions available for keeping the winter doldrums at bay is homemade strawberry jam on warm toast.

Use Everything
My mother, who taught me to put food by, always used everything from the garden. After I'm done canning tomatoes, green beans and squash, the leftover vegetables go into chow chow or green tomato piccalilli. Even bolted lettuce and endive are blanched and frozen as bitter greens for a winter stir-fry. Fresh apples and pears go into the root cellar while the overripe or bruised fruits are made into musky butters or tangy chutneys. To this day, each time my mother is introduced to a new plant, her first question is not how to grow it, but "can you make jelly out of the fruit?"

In our house, ripening currants start a frenzy of jelly and syrup-making which continues as plums, elderberries and grapes ripen. For August, September and October the kitchen is converted into a canning kitchen. The pressure cooker takes a position of prominence on the counter, surrounded by canning lids, freezer bags and various utensils for lifting, tightening, pouring and straining. We put up tomatoes, green beans, beets, pickles, hot peppers, relishes, pears and herb vinegars.

I read that the Ball jar company sold its canning jar business because "too many working couples have too little time to engage in the culinary ritual of preserving fruits and vegetables from the home garden." It makes me sad to think that we are losing a valuable psychological tool for getting through the long winters. The optimist in me likes to think that the real reason canning jar sales are down is because people are rediscovering the jars in their basement or are inheriting and using jars from parents and grandparents. Even empty, a canning jar is a work of art. It is a masterpiece of solid construction, made of tempered glass that will withstand the pressure cooker again and again. I have jars that I inherited from my grandmother bearing dates from the late 1800's. They appear to be as sturdy as those purchased today and give me a strong tie to the past as I put bits of summer in them.

A Luscious Time of Year
Although fall is approaching and bringing with it the bittersweet feeling of losing our long days and warm temperatures, the smells of ripe fruit and vegetables and the bright jars of pear butter, tomato sauce, tarragon vinegar and green tomato pickles make this a luscious time of year.

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