LOCAL FLAVOR: It’s never to early to start ‘putting up’ food

As we relax into the warmer days of summer it is time to sit on the porch, drink that tayberry lemonade and drift along with the buzzing of insects as they move about the yard from flower to flower. Well that is the fantasy isn’t it? If you are a gardener like me, as soon as the temperature hit 10 degrees this spring I was already feeling behind! Then I put my back out and well that just doesn’t go well with preparing the beds, weeding and planting. So double behind!! Luckily my back got better and nature did what she did and I adjusted.

So here we are in mid-July and I am already thinking about my winter garden, as per usual, getting slightly ahead of myself. I need to start to focus on the bounty of the summer harvest. Yes, there is fresh stuff at the grocery store year round, but there is nothing like food that you “put up” yourself or trade with friends. I come from a line of gardeners, foragers and fishers. We grew a garden, caught fish from Okanagan lakes and picked fruits from the valley orchards. When I moved to Victoria to go to University that was one of the things that struck me, the change in the rhythms of the seasons and the foods were so different. This West Coast was a whole new ecosystem and experience. As with any invasive species, I adapted to the new environment. However, it continues to be a learning curve even 30 years later!

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Last year, for example, I was struggling to keep my raspberries and strawberries watered during the drought through June and July. No rain! They were stressed and so was I. Being on a well, I was trying to balance our needs for the household with my thirsty garden. Grateful to live in rural Saanich, I noticed that while my berries were struggling; the salmonberry, huckleberry, and thimbleberry were abundant. Would it not be more fruitful to focus on harvesting instead of trying to cultivate? Not to mention there were copious Himalayan Blackberry along the roadside! Why was I working so hard to keep these raspberries alive, when Mother Nature was taking care and providing so generously just outside my garden fence? That definitely deserved a change in approach and I am busy picking and freezing these delightful and nutritious berries this season.

“Putting up” food is a term used to describe this preservation and storing of food during the harvest season to be eaten later in the year. There are lots of ways to do this from freezing, drying, fermenting, pickling to canning. My family were great canners and it was something that was done at times by getting all of us together. My grandmothers, aunties and cousins gathered to process big batches of fruit and jams. My sister and I still can regularly and in turn have been teaching our friends that get a taste of our fresh sweet and fiery salsa and want to join in. My husband jokes that one of the things that he had to learn about me was that it would not be unusual to hear me start banging pots around in the kitchen at 10 pm at night. What was I up to now? Just taking advantage of the cooler summer evening, honey! It can get pretty hot processing on a summer day.

So why spend this effort you ask? It takes time and planning to “put up” food. I can tell you that there is absolutely nothing like breaking out a jar of peaches in the colds of winter. It is like opening a can of sunshine. There is also something extremely satisfying with having a full pantry and freezer. I feel prepared and I feel blessed. Beyond the pure love of home prepared food, it is also economical and more nutritious to take food at its peak of ripeness and when it is bountiful. I have three kids who all play competitive sports and the amount of smoothies that we made over the years from frozen local berries was pretty astonishing. Let’s just say that there might have been something in those berries that afforded over a dozen BC Soccer Championships, two trips to Nationals and try outs for the Canadian Rugby Team! Just sayin!

Whatever your reasons are; now is the moment. From u-picks, to farm gate sales, to farmer’s markets and backyard gardens, its go time! If you haven’t tried preserving the harvest in the past, don’t worry. There are lots of resources on line, workshops at local recreation centers, or the tried and true method of asking your family or neighbours. Have a salsa making party with friends. Make jam! Just make sure to follow instructions carefully to make your food preservation safe. For the love of good food, give it a try!

Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at lgeggie@crfair.ca.

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