Winter has come early this year, spawning thoughts of holiday shopping. Although I think gardeners are easy to shop for, my family disagrees. Perhaps you can leave this column in a conspicuous place as a convenient hint for your loved ones.
Some of the more popular items are pruners, trowels, shovels and garden carts. While these are always desired additions to the gardening stockpile, they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Vegetable gardens produce food and a goodly amount of it. Much of this food can be preserved for winter eating but preserving food takes time — time that the gardener would rather spend outside. Consider items that will make food preservation easier for the busy grower. There are essentially five methods of saving your produce: freezing, drying, canning, fermenting and root cellaring. Each method has a wealth of publications to teach the basics. The University of Wisconsin offers tons of information free at http://tinyurl.com/386mqq7. The USDA offers an even more extensive informational site at http://nchfp.uga.edu/. Save some of these publications to disc or print them out for your favorite gardener.
While understanding the basics of home food preservation is vital, it also helps to have the right tools for the job. Although any deep pot can work as a canning kettle, using the classic enameled canner, complete with lifting rack, makes the job easier. For fruits, tomatoes, jams and pickles, this inexpensive water-bath canner works fine. Experienced canners might want to upgrade to a pressure canner for the joys of home-canned soups, meats and vegetables. Don’t forget canning jars and lids! The Ball company even has colored jars for home canners.
Freezing is perhaps the most popular method of preserving food. For best results, it helps to have a stand-alone freezer, but a small quantity can be saved in the refrigerator/freezer. Some folks swear by the vacuum pack method of bagging produce for the freezer, but I’ve found wrapping and then bagging in freezer bags works for me. Gifts of freezer-specific cookbooks, as well as a selection of freezer bags and wrap, are always welcome.
Drying foods for long-term storage is an ancient practice still in use today. In our more humid areas, an electric dehydrator makes the job simple and effective, and dehydrators make super gifts. Prices start at $35 for a small model. All sorts of foods can be dried including onions, celery, apples, beans, peppers and even kale. My current passion is dehydrated, seasoned kale chips.
Like dehydration, root cellaring is also an ancient practice. Before refrigeration, pits were routinely dug into the earth and food stored in 50° conditions. You can seek to replicate these conditions with bins or barrels full of damp sand or sawdust, packed with food and placed in a cold building. Outbuildings can often be used for several months before the temperatures get too low. Squash prefers slightly warmer conditions and many basements will suffice. Store squash on shelves in a single layer.
Think of fermented foods and you think of sauerkraut. Again, we turn to the USDA for information at http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can6a_ferment.html. The equipment needed for fermentation makes terrific gifts. Consider a crock, special fermentation jars and even inexpensive air locks which work well with mason or gallon jars.
If you’re the gardener, consider some of these items as family gifts. After all, the whole family will enjoy the bounty of the harvest. Perhaps a small chest freezer or a large dehydrator would make a perfect family gift. Or, give a subscription to this paper!
Beverly Carney can be reached at email@example.com.