Spring marks the season of gardens, blossoms on the trees, and the start of the canning season. At first, it seems there is plenty of time for canning specialty items, like jams and jellies. Soon, the daily harvest becomes too much for one canning session, and some practicality comes into play. If you have the canning bug, now is the time to start becoming organized before that overwhelming time of year gets here. Here is the plan that I use, to organize my pantry and stay ahead of the crops that I want to preserve.
Planning for Canning: Get Organized to Save Your Sanity!
First, plan by making a list of the most commonly used foods in your home – On our farm, we use tomatoes, pickled anything, jams and jellies and sweet corn, more than any other food. My husband likes his hot sauce (eww for the rest of us), so that gets added to the list as well.
Now that there is a list, I can plan my garden! By working off that list of foods, I grow dozens of tomatoes, a dozen cucumber plants, as many hot peppers as I can find, and a few rows of sweet corn. That portion of the garden is just for the preserved foods – I still have to consider the foods we eat fresh all season long. The berries and grapes for jams and jellies will take care of themselves as they ripen. Luckily, these items are found wild in my area, so I don’t have to plant them.
Once I have planned and planted my garden, I need to plan for the preserving method – Canning and drying are my favorite ways to keep a large amount of food in a small area. Freezing is also useful, but our freezers are usually holding the meat we raise, so it isn’t my main choice. If you have an empty freezer, it is a great way to quickly go from garden to storage. Bear in mind that it is also a good idea to have a variety of preserving methods – this keeps your diet from getting too boring. I always say, “cook few foods many different ways, instead of many foods a few ways.”
Canning Basics – Assemble the Tools of Your Trade
Now is the time to assemble the tools you’ll need when canning day arrives – The day of canning is not the time to count your jars! Buy what you need during the off season (this is always after the actual time that you need things, so look for next year’s items this year). Find jars every chance you can – even at thrift stores and yard sales. Chipped jars will still hold dried foods and keep them organized in the pantry. Purchase lids and bands every time you can, and everywhere you see them on sale. I make a habit of tossing a couple of them into my cart every time I shop. This means I have a box FULL of each, but without them, there is no canning session. You can also find dehydrators at thrift stores all year round – they store easily under a bed or in the garage if need be. You may find that your dehydrator sits on the counter year round, all for you to use at a moment’s notice. Buy a case of freezer bags for the pantry, and you will have them anytime. Keep salt and vinegar on hand in the pantry as well.
Organize Your Pantry
Are you prepared to store all that food once you’ve packaged it? Don’t forget to organize the pantry itself – Rotate foods of course, do a monthly check to be certain everything is neat and tidy. Check for leaking, torn or worn packaging in your rows. Make a list of not only what you use, but what you don’t use as well. I have found that a pantry of breakfast cereal goes stale before my family uses it. I no longer buy any, even on sale! Make room for the canned goods you will be adding this year. Keep canning jar boxes to place your filled jars into, and label everything immediately! I also use food-safe pails for larger items, like flour, sugar, brown rice, white rice, elbow noodles. These sit on the bottom of the pantry, so it frees up the shelves for the jars I will be adding.
Labeling Food For Future Use
Finally, keep track of what you put into the pantry. I label all my canned foods, even if it seems like a no-brainer. Jelly all starts to look the same, when there are cases of it on the shelf. This is the start of the busy season, if you are trying to build up a supply of food. If you are ready, there will be less chance of becoming overwhelmed. Before you know it, there will be a stash of foods set aside for the days ahead.
This is a guest post by Amy Jeanroy from The Farming Wife. She lives a frugal, earth friendly lifestyle on 130 acres in a forest in Northern Main. Amy grows much of her own food (including livestock), and is passionate about food preservation.