Putting food up each year feels like a puzzle of time—I build a pantry from produce, notes, and recipe ideas, always trying to prepare more accurately for the cycle of each season. Some years, I’ve made too many niche goods like plum salsa and tomato jam that while good, there can be too much of a good thing. Or I’ve made perfectly cooked tomatoes or blanched greens that are flexible and delicious ingredients, only to run out too soon!
But each year I get a little better at the puzzle. When I first started preserving food I didn’t have in mind that I would try to stock my own year’s worth of larder, I just enjoyed making jams, pickles, relishes, and salsas! Every jar was unique but not very flexible in different recipes, and over time I’ve gravitated towards making large batches of staple foods that can be used many different ways in our kitchen.
Around this time of year, the early spring, I always have a little trepidation about the canning season that lies ahead. ‘Putting up’ requires focus. It begins with strawberries, onions, and greens. I pay attention to the farmers market: what looks fresh, which produce is plump and perfectly ripe, and the fruits and vegetables that have arrived at their finest hour – perfectly harvested at just the right time. I puzzle: how many cans of tomatoes will we eat this year? When can I buy them not too soon, not too late, but just right? Who will offer me a wholesale price? If I impulsively buy twenty pounds of beautiful plums….will we ever eat them all? How many hours peeling peaches over a hot pot is too many hours? And so it goes until the last of the cranberries, apples, and greens have found their way into storage.
I’m not quite sure what keeps me going on this marathon. Putting up is a lot of work, especially when there are aisles upon aisles of canned and frozen foods I could have instead. And I have no grandmother or salt-of-the-earth oldtimer in my life to ask when, how much, what, and why.
But we’ve just finished our sweet corn from last summer. We were sad to see that sugary gold go—it was delicious. In the basement, there are three quarts of tomatoes left, each gleaming like a warm ember. There’s not a chance they will last until the first sweet tomatoes of June, and I’ll be waiting for those first sunny gems. And what a treat to have sunkissed, lavish peachy jam on a rainy spring day!
I think this is what keeps me going. The land is mostly out of sight here in the city, but in my pantry it is present. Those summer gifts are singular and special—no grocery store canned good can compete. My food isn’t magic. It’s hard work, a journey of soil, farmers, markets, preparation, and time, but it is a hard-won friendship with my home. Usually delicious and always surprising, for me, putting up is worth it.
I didn’t take great records of quantities this year, but here’s a few things I made, plus where I bought the ingredients:
- Plum tomatoes. One Straw Farm
- Succotash. One Straw Farm CSA
- Pickled okra. Whitelock Farm
- Pickled black Spanish radish, daikon, and French breakfast radishes. garden
- Peach jam. Baltimore Farmers Market
- Strawberry jelly and syrup. Baltimore Farmers Market, Brown’s Orchard
- Plum preserves. Waverly Farmers Market
- Tomatillo, tomato, and plum salsa. One Straw Farm CSA & Waverly Farmers Market
- Marmalade. Not local. I buy in bulk from Mom’s Organic Market when Florida citrus is in season and on sale!
- Roasted peppers. Waverly Farmers Market
- Giardiniera. 3 quarts, One Straw Farm CSA
- Pickled eggplant. Waverly Farmers Market
- Bread & Butter Pickles. Fells Point Farmers Market
- Apple butter. Baltimore Orchard Project/The Farm Alliance
- Sauerkraut. One Straw Farm CSA
- Kimchi. Roberts Roost Farm, garden
- Hot sauce. garden
- Miso. soybeans from Mom’s, koji from South River Miso (on the lookout for a local soybean source, holler at me)
- Full-sour pickles. Fells Point Farmers Market, garden
- Peach vinegar. Baltimore Farmers Market
- Hard cider. Brown’s Orchard
- Mead and fruit wines with mulberries, strawberries, serviceberries, wineberries, ginger leaves, mugwort, sage, maple syrup, and cranberries, Baltimore Farmers Market, Apex Apiary, & forage
- Sweet corn, One Straw Farm CSA
- Strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, serviceberries, blackberries. Baltimore Farmers Market & forage
- Blanched kale, collards, and other greens. garden
- Chiles. garden
- Ginger and turmeric. Baltimore Farmers Market
- Broccoli. One Straw Farm CSA
- Peas. garden
- Green beans. garden
- Lard, stocks, and meats. John Brown General, Ferguson Family Farm
- Spices: coriander, dill, anise, and fennel seed, garden
- Herbs: rosemary, sage, lavender, mint, anise hyssop, thyme, marjoram, oregano, garden
- Ginger and turmeric leaves, Baltimore Farmers Market
- Black walnuts, forage