by Rachel Dunstan Muller
Source: Island Parent magazine
Original Article: Click Here
Originally Published: August 2013
August is the season of plenty on our temperate Island, which makes it a great time to shift to a more local diet. If you’re lucky, you have your own backyard garden to supply your table. The rest of us can visit farmers’ markets and roadside stands to find a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in season. Many Island grocers are also making an effort to stock local produce, as well as dairy products, meat and seafood. And for those really committed to a 100-mile diet, it’s now possible to find locally grown grain.
Shifting to locally sourced food has many benefits. There’s the satisfaction of supporting food producers in our own region, and the pleasure of getting to know some of them personally. There are the considerable environmental benefits of a reduced food footprint. And let’s not forget the joy of serving our families great, super-fresh food.
But while it’s relatively easy to find local fruits and veggies during the summer, it takes some planning to continue through the fall and into the depths of winter. One answer is to do what our ancestors have always done: preserve some of this season’s bounty for the colder, leaner months that are coming.
Food preservation can range from simple and free, to labour- and energy-intensive. My own efforts tend to be focused at the easy end of the spectrum, but I’m hoping to work my way up as I gain experience.
Drying is one of the oldest forms of food preservation. Properly dried foods keep well, retain much of their nutrients, and take up less storage space than frozen or canned foods. Unfortunately our climate doesn’t always supply the ideal conditions for solar dehydration. Successful natural drying requires about three to five days of uninterrupted high temperatures coupled with low humidity. You can significantly reduce the amount of time required to dry food in the sun by building a solar dryer. Builditsolar.com has links to plans for a number of DIY solar dryers. Alternatively, you could use an electric food dehydrator, or dry foods at a low temperature in the oven. These are more energy-intensive methods, but they may give more reliable results. There are many easy-to-follow fruit leather recipes on the web to get you started.
Root cellaring is another traditional method for keeping summer-harvested produce good through the winter months. Most root vegetables, many members of the cabbage family, and even some fruits will keep well for months when stored at the right temperature and humidity. But successful root cellaring is a little more complicated than merely piling bags of potatoes or boxes of apples in the coldest corner of your basement. Motherearthnews.com has some great introductory articles on every aspect of root cellaring if this form of food storage appeals to you.
Fermentation is another low or no-energy preservation method that has been practiced all over the world for millennia. Fermentation not only preserves many foods—it transforms them entirely. Yogurt, wine, and cheese are among the more familiar fermented products in our culture, but the possibilities for fermenting fruits and vegetables are almost endless. Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation (Chelsea Green, 2003) is the go-to book on this subject.
Freezing is at the high-energy end of the spectrum—but if your freezer is going to be plugged in anyway, it might as well be full of summer’s bounty. Blackberries are my favurite freezer fillers. They’re packed with antioxidants, perfect for using in winter smoothies—and free for the picking. To keep berries from freezing in solid clumps, freeze them first in a single layer on a tray, and then transfer them into ice cream pails or other suitable containers. Blueberries also freeze easily, and should still be available in August. Some local farms may have ever-bearing strawberries through late summer. To find a u-pick farm in your area, try web link.
Check for special instructions before freezing produce from your garden, since some vegetables require blanching or other preparation.
Canning can be as simple as putting up a few jars of homemade jam, or as complicated as making and preserving your own relishes, salsas and pickles. Canning is probably the most labour-intensive and potentially intimidating preservation method, but the payoff can be considerable. The library has a number of good books for novices and experienced canners alike. Canning For A New Generation (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2010) by Liana Krissoff is a good one to check out. Definitely follow the instructions to the letter when preserving food this way. Improperly canned foods provide the ideal breeding ground for botulism—a rare foodborne illness that can be fatal.
A winter garden is a fabulous way to supply your family with fresh vegetables right through the spring. Depending on when you read this, it might not be too late to plant one. The book Year-Around Harvest (New Society Publishers, 2011) by Salt Spring Islander Linda Gilkeson is an excellent resource for West Coast green thumbs.
Still looking for sources of local food? The following websites might be helpful:
For guides to farms and farm fresh products for Greater Victoria, the Gulf Islands, the Cowichan Valley, and the central Island north to Parksville, try web link. The “Get Fresh Guide” available online at web link offers information on growers, producers and suppliers from the Saanich Peninsula to Victoria. Salt Spring Islanders can find a wealth of information at web link. For Sooke area farms, check out the Farm Guide at sookefoodchi.ca. The Cowichan Valley Green Community puts out its own wonderful guide for area residents and visitors, at web link.
For inspiration and more general information, visit web link—the home of Vancouver Island’s “Slow Food” movement, or web link.
If you don’t have the time or energy for food preservation this year, don’t despair. Local fall produce should be available for at least a few more months, and local honey, cheese, milk, meat, seafood, and many specialty products are available year-round.
Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found at web link.
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