Ever since I decided to try to eat more local, nutritious and fresh foods, I've had to think about menu planning more seasonally and spend more time in the summer getting food ready for winter. What's great though is that food prices are cheap in the summer at farm stands or upick, and even neighbors or your own garden give plenty of food. If you can preserve this cheap deliciousness in the summer, then you have a cheaper grocery bill in the winter when you have to go back to relying on the grocery store.
Planning how much you need of each item isn't hard if you keep notes. The first year you start canning you won't know how things turn out or how much you use various goods. But planning pays off as you know when you've made enough and you won't end up with tons of something you won't eat!! And consider the non-canned goods that you want to save like frozen fruits and dried vegetables.
Here's what my pantry looks like (and there are more jars on the top shelf I couldn't get a photo of!)
I've got a bunch of jam (mostly leftover from last year- I just don't eat that much jam as I prefer unsweetened raw fruits from the freezer). I am stocked on salsas (red and green) and there's some gravenstein vanilla applesauce tucked away in various corners.
Here's how to make your own customized preserving plan:Autumn of your first year of canning:
Write down how much of each recipe you made and stocked away
Make sure you save off the recipes you used so you know which recipes go with which jars (I keep a binder for preserving recipes, separate from other recipes. I also note the date I made the recipe and the actual yield I had on the recipe-- helps so you know what size and how many jars to sterilize next time!)
Spring after your first year of canning:
Check the pantry. Take a tally of how much is left of each item. Compare to your autumn inventory to calculate the # of jars used for each recipe. This is your baseline # of cans to produce this year. Now adjust by considering:
- Did you run out of something before spring? If so, when did you run out? Use that to calculate the run rate of how many jars/pints you consumed from autumn inventory to the approximate date you ran out.
- Were you stingy with something and would have liked to give away more applesauce, or use more salsa? If yes, add to those counts.
Use this info to make a plan for the upcoming year. We found that we use a ton of tomato products (canned diced tomato, tomato sauce, tomato salsa) and not much jam. I like to have applesauce on hand for baking or when someone feels sick or gets work done at the dentist.
Also consider if any recipe tweaks, using a different variety of produce, or finding a new recipe is needed. Was the salsa too mild? Do you prefer one type of apple to another?
And finally think about your typical serving size of each recipe and whether the jar size was appropriate. My first year most of the salsa was in half pints. But this year I realized that a half pint of salsa is one person eating chips for a snack, so now I can my salsa in pint jars (and make a couple half pints to give as gifts).
Here is my "must have" list I used for the 2013 season:
- Diced Roma tomatoes: at least 8 pints
- Pureed tomatoes: at least 4 pints. I use the same recipe as for diced tomatoes but instead of peeling and dicing I run them through the vitamix. This is a great way to can up funny shaped tomatoes you don't care to peel, and for cherry tomatoes.
- Tomato basil sauce with onion, garlic & herbs: at least 4 pints (great for pizza, lasagna, or last minute pasta)
- Tomatillo Salsa (salsa verde): at least 10 pints
- Roasted tomato salsa: 15-20+ pints
- Vanilla Gravenstein Applesauce: 13-15+ pints (people love this for gifts, and with holiday food, it's great for the day after Thanksgiving)
- Frozen strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries (these can be picked in the spring/summer for $1-$1.50 a pound where I live- much cheaper than buying from the store!!)
- Dried chile pepper powder
- Frozen basil pesto (vegan version or more standard version- really just grind up any greens you have with some basil, lemon, garlic, salt, pepper and nuts)
- Fruit leathers
- Sour fermented dill pickles
- Pies (yes you can bake and freeze 'em whole, wrapped in foil, to thaw and enjoy for a party or holiday)
- I also freeze cookies, muffins, banana cake and bread. That way we don't have to try to eat a whole batch, and they thaw pretty well in the microwave. And when my husband wants a treat while I'm trying to eat virtuously this set up makes us both happy :)