03. April 2012 · Comments Off on Further Experiments in D-I-Y Food · Categories: Domestic

I went through a phase like this once before, when we were stationed in Utah for a couple of years. The house that we lived in had a garden patch out in the back – which was customary for older houses, and a couple of bearing fruit trees – also customary. In the case of our house, the fruit trees consisted of about fifteen apricot shrubs along the southern fence line of a deep but rather narrow back yard, and an aged cherry tree towards the back of the property. I loved that house, incidentally. The other long fence line was lined with lilac shrubs, which produced heavy bunches of dark purple, white and pale lavender flowers for about two weeks in spring. I am certain that it was the cherry tree which sold me on renting the little house in the first place … but as delicious as the best of the apricot trees were – and two or three of them did produce huge, meltingly-sweet and flavorful fruit –  there would be a lot of them. In fact, that part of the yard was mined with several layers of hard, blacked and barely decayed apricot pits from past seasons. There were more than I could ever eat, or dry or make jam out of, or even bring in sacks to work to give away.

Because everyone else at work lived in the same kind of neighborhood; the best that we could do was to trade sacks of seasonable fruit, and vegetables to people who had different fruit trees in their yards. And preserve, dry or freeze what you could. It was an atavistic impulse, and also part of the culture of Utah, settled as it was by members of the LDS church. It was encouraged; one of those done things, like Lutherans bringing lime Jell-O salad and tuna-noodle bake to pot-luck luncheons. This resulted in the local ZCMI department store chain having mind-bogglingly extensive housewares departments, and bulk staples in the fifty to a hundred pound sack range pretty freely available. What can I say? It was in the water, or something. I came away from that assignment with a standing freezer, a dehydrating unit (with additional trays), several boxes of Ball jars in assorted sizes, and a Kitchenaid mixer. All these items I still have, and lately we have begun to put to use again.

I used to say that if you had champagne tastes and a beer budget, there were three alternatives available to you: learn to like beer, drink mineral water six nights a week and champagne on the seventh … or learn to make champagne. If you like the high-end stuff, but can only afford the cheap and usually horrible – learning to make it yourself is about the only alternative there. So in recent years, we have branched out to experimenting with home brewing of beer and wine, and making our own cheese, with very pleasing results, although my barely-barely-twenty year old Texas tract house could use a good portion of the storage capacity of that little, sixty-year-old Utah house had, what with the root cellar, larder and cupboards everywhere. (No kidding – there were built-in cupboards everywhere!)

Now, what with reviving the garden in the back yard, and with success at the brewing and cheese-making, now my daughter wants to branch out. She bought a canning kettle and some other home-canning things last week, and searched out my collection of Ball jars, and we’re back at it. One can only eat so much jam and jelly, and I am not interested in exploring the many ways that you can get botulism from home-canning, or investing in a pressure-cooker. So, most of our home-canning ventures will be in doing pickles, relishes, sauerkraut and other high-acid content things which can be done safely in an ordinary kettle. This will leave us only one problem … where to store the finished products. Seriously, we’re running out of room.

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