January is nearly done and I still feel like I'm catching up from the holidays. The rain didn't really help, but I did get some cooking done. Cherry pie from canned cherries anyone? Too late ... it went fast. How pleasant it is to have the taste of spring in the middle of winter.
I can and preserve all year long, but the busy season for canning is spring, summer and fall. I'll come home from the market with a case of produce (got it cheap at the end of the market) and can away. Sometimes a neighbor or friend will drop off a basket of produce - canning time. If it is a bargain I'll can it. I don't really care what it is - I just preserve as much as I can as cheaply as possible. Jams, jellies, pickles, condiments, dried fruit, leathers, it is all good and I know that I'll come up with a way to use it somehow.
Supplies are the same way, if I see a bargain, I'll take it - canning jars and lids, pectin, sugar, etc., etc.
Come the holidays, I don't really have a spare minute between my job and family, and if I do, I'm making last minute gifts and putting together gift baskets - filling them from my stock of delicious preserved goodness - making sure everyone gets their favorites as well as something new and different.
So, after all of this ... I'm honestly not sure what the heck I have in my various storage places. How many jars of nectarine jam do I have left? Beats me. My precious 4oz jars of pomegranate jelly are definitely running low, but do I have 1, 2 or none left? Not sure. I haven't used up all the stock yet, have I? (Canned or frozen)
In all honesty, a couple of days ago I was searching for some pickled carrots and came across some jalapeno escabeche I made last year that I had completely forgotten about. Didn't remember I had them. Well, now I remember, and I've got a great condiment for the Super Bowl - homemade and ready to go.
Which must mean it is time for taking stock ... not making stock, but taking stock. Time to go through the kitchen, pantry and other storage areas to assess what I have left and what I need. January is a great time to organize my larder, get rid of some things and put other things on the "use soon" list. It is a good time for some deep cleaning as well.
First, I like to figure out what I have - divided into a few categories. Canned goods, of course, not only my homemade but the commercially canned goods as well. I need to know what I have and rotate the stock. I'll organize it and make sure the older stuff is in front of the newer stuff. Canned goods last a long time, but eventually time takes a toll and the quality degrades. Those jars aren't just there to look pretty (though many of them do). Eat them. If you've been saving for an indeterminate "special occasion" - make one up - make it special by using those precious canned "drunken" figs.
Also, cook from your pantry whenever you get the chance. Instead of deciding what you're going to make ahead of time ... just check your pantry (hey, that can of beans has been there awhile) and make something using what you already have. A few fresh ingredients and what is in your pantry often make the best and most satisfying home meals. All part of taking stock.
Restocking is also part of the drill - especially for some of my "go to" basic ingredients, such as tomato paste, pineapple juice (surprisingly versatile), canned tomatoes (I don't can enough myself), and a few others.
The freezer is my next category. I've got two ... the refrigerator/freezer in the kitchen and a stand alone chest freezer. Needless to say, the contents are in worse organizational shape then my shelves and cabinets. I have to face it, I don't open the freezer that often ... and digging things out of the back is a bit of a pain. Stuff has a tendency to linger in the freezer longer than it should.
Time to pull everything out, toss what is no longer any good (hopefully very little) and remind myself what is there and what I should probably be using in the near future (damn, I have a lot of pork bones - time for some hearty soups - and those walnuts aren't going to eat themselves - pesto?). This is also a reminder why proper labeling is critical for frozen goods - they can be virtually unrecognizable months later. You'll have to open the packaging to figure out what they are - or when they were frozen. I can't emphasize proper labeling enough. It will save you a great deal of effort later on.
Finally, my spices and similar small dry goods. Spices don't last forever. Whole spices I generally keep for a year, ground spices for six months. This is a good time of year to clean out your spice cabinet and remind yourself why you spent so much on that one spice you only used that one time. Here, I'm not very reticent about tossing out old spices. I get rid of the stuff I haven't used and restock. The flavor is worth it. Also, don't forget to label your spices with the date purchased. This way, when you buy some spices in a few months, you'll know next year what is still good and what isn't.
Taking stock might not sound like much of a food preservation technique, but it is actually a very important aspect of a food preservation program.
In other news, my friend Kevin West of Saving the Season (savingtheseason.com) is doing a marmalade demo at Surfas in Culver City this Saturday at 11am!:
Don't be afraid of marmalade any longer! Come see how it's done! Delicious results in one hour or less! FREE tasting to follow! Step right up!
Come join Bettina Birch and me [Kevin West] for a FREE marmalade demonstration at Surfas in Culver City.
This Saturday, January 30, at 11:00 a.m.
Bust the recession and save the season by learning to make this innovative, time-saving, labor-efficient, one-step, no-soak TIME TO KILL CITRUS MARMALADE. As an added bonus, we'll stir up a batch of VIN DE PAMPLEMOUSSE, a zingy aperitif of winter citrus.
Now tell me, how could you let such an offer pass you by?
In Kevin's words: "Be there or be square."
As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me anytime. One note, I've been having some problems with my email filters recently, causing messages to go away before I see them. Hopefully I've fixed the problem, so if you've sent me anything in the last couple of weeks and didn't get a response, please try again.
See you at the HFM this Sunday and Santa Monica on the third Wednesday of the month!
Two Master Food Preservers, Ernest Miller and Delilah Snell, who are promoting the art, craft and science of home food preservation in Southern California. Not only canning, but pressure canning, drying, freezing, fermenting, pickling, curing, smoking and brewing.
You may have seen Ernie and/or Delilah at the Sunday Hollywood Farmer's Market or Wednesday Santa Monica Market helping folks with questions about preserving the lovely and delicious bounty available in Southern California.
What are our ultimate goals? To bring back the Master Food Preserver program to Los Angeles and Orange Counties and build a community canning center.