I’ve never been a gardener so I’ve never had the surpluses that come from even a modest garden and therefore have never tried to preserve any of that surplus. But my wife is a good gardener and this year we had several surpluses to deal with.
First it was a huge mass of San Marzano tomatoes. After hearing about these on food shows and buying a few at Whole Foods we (I’ll say ‘we’ even though I didn’t do much) grew a bumper crop this year. San Marzano’s really are better and so literally with bushels of them I couldn’t bear the idea of just eating as many as we could and letting the rest rot. But tomatoes are easy. First I used one of Alton Brown’s recipes and made some really great sauce which is only a fraction of the raw pickings and thus easy to freeze. So not much practice there.
Second, our real success this year was chiles. The plants got huge and the peppers were largely hidden in the foliage but with the early freeze that occurred while we were on vacation we came home to dead plants and many visible peppers. So one day, uncharacteristic for me, I started harvesting them, initially in a bowl and eventually filling the largest basket I had after hours of gradually cutting back the plant and finding more and more. So a bounty of jalapenos and serranos sat around on the counter gradually rotting.
So I picked through articles on the Net, got some Mason jars and tongs, a jug of vinegar and set out to preserve some of these. Terrified of stories of botulism by improper canning I vigorously washed all the jars and boiled them for almost endlessly while meanwhile slicing more peppers than I’ve probably consumed in my entire life. Unfortunately this took so long my wife, who had some canning experience, was too asleep to share any expertise on the actual part of putting them in the jars. So I learned this morning that only two of the jars had sealed properly (which is still probably at least a year’s supply). The other jars didn’t seal and thus would spoil but can be kept for a few months under refrigeration but that’s more peppers than we can probably eat in a decade (and every friend/family already has their own supply).
So this season is already over with only a modest amount of homegrown produce to last until next season which I’m now already eagerly anticipating with the hopes of doing a lot better. Garden-fresh food is amazing so I’m not as enthusiastic about preserved food (doesn’t seem much different than store-bought) but there is something satisfying about starting with a few plants and then ending up with days of work (and the need for a need freezer) to actually save the bounty.