What’s in Your Food?
My friends and family ask me all the time why I spend all that time preserving the produce from our garden if I can just buy it at the store? My answer: You can’t buy it at the store. What store sells my homegrown blueberry jam or my seasonal cherry preserves without all the additives? The first reason I choose to preserve my garden’s harvest and other seasonal produce is because I control what goes in my food.
The preserves at the grocery store have a lot of preservatives and dyes added. A primary requirement of the food sold at a grocery store is to be shelf stable for a long period of time. For this to happen, additives must be included to help the food look fresher, thus more attractive longer. You can’t blame it completely on big food producers. The desire for “pretty” and “perfect” food is deeply ingrained.
I have witnessed this bias for perfect food from my booth at our local farmers market. I have watched time and time again a deliciously ripe tomato with a few blemishes get passed over for a “perfect” hydroponic/greenhouse tomato at the booth across from me. I guarantee if you did a blind taste test on the two tomatoes, there will be no doubt which one wins: perfect isn’t always better.
Living Closer to Your Food
The second reason why I preserve my own food is that is brings me closer to it. From seed to table, I have been there throughout. I have labored in the cold and heat, wet and dry, mud and dirt to coax the seed into a mature fruit. I’ve plucked pesky squash bugs and caterpillars off their leaves and endured countless mosquito bites and fire ant stings to keep them healthy. The best part of it all is that it’s right outside my back door. You can’t get much closer to the source of your food than that! Yet, the best part of having a productive garden is teaching my kids where food comes from.
Even if you don’t grow your own, you can still capture that fresh, seasonal taste by purchasing food that’s in season and local. I do not grow peaches in my garden, but I live in the peach state. I source fresh, ripe peaches from local orchards. I know when figs, cherries and apples are in season and where to get them. You don’t have to garden to have control over what goes in your body; by being a knowledgeable shopper you can still control what goes in your mouth.
Sharing a Piece of Your Garden
Now, those same people that ask me why I spend so much time preserving my harvest are the very same people who get jars of my preserves every year. In fact, I am often asked if I will be making those bread and butter pickles or that blueberry jam . In addition to sharing fresh produce with neighbors and our local food pantry, I love to gift my homemade preserves to friends and family. A homegrown preserve is a double gift; it’s a piece of your garden as well as a piece of your time and love bottled up in a delicious pickle or jam.
My friends and family know how much time I spent on picking blueberries or raspberries. They know I am not fond of being hot. So, when I gift them a jar of jam or pickles, they appreciate all the work I put into it. I love knowing that they savor each slice of pickle or spoonful of jam and that they anxiously await their piece of my garden every year .
The Story of Your Food
There’s always a good story that goes along with a can of preserves. This year most of my stories are about my mission to get more people to cook with fresh herbs. You will see that many of my preserves this year have a herbal theme (check out my Basil Ginger Peach Preserves). I tried my best to pair a complimentary herb to match whatever fruit or vegetable I was preserving.
I can tell you the whole story from the moment the produce was grown, purchased or given to me, to it’s end result in a delectable dish. Sometimes the story is exciting or humorous…I tend to avoid it if it’s sad. The point is, I can tell you how, when, where and what happen when that jar of preserves was made.
Teaching the Art of Preserving
I didn’t grow up preserving food. Most of what I have learned I sought out on my own and have learned since being married (Mark grew up preserving food). My boys are interested mostly in eating the preserves more than making it at the moment, but it’s a start. The more they eat fresh, non-artificial-additives-packed food, the more they will appreciate the taste of garden ripe produce.
I don’t think my boys could ever eat anything other than my jam on their toast. Every morning my oldest proclaims that I make the “bestest jam ever” when he eats his toast (FYI, he also tells his grandmom this when he eats her jams at her house, but I’m not complaining). As my boys get older, I will pass on this knowledge. Who knows, maybe one of them will be a prize preserver at the State Fair. If not, at least they will be able to make a mean jar of jam.