“What do you do with all that produce?” one reader asked recently about our garden. “Do you really eat it all, or does it go to waste?”

We eat it, but not at once. Though we enjoy a lot of the food fresh from the garden, we preserve most of it for later. I’m fortunate that Kris loves to can, and so we enjoy the fruits of our labor year-round.

Canning was once a vital skill for American families, though it’s now something of a lost art. Writing in The Gastronomical Me, M.F.K. Fisher describes an American kitchen circa 1912:

There was a series, every summer, of short but violently active cannings. Crates and baskets and lug-boxes of fruits bought in their prime and at their cheapest would lie waiting with opulent fragrance on the screened porch and a whole battery of enameled pots and ladles and wide-mouthed funnels would would appear from some dark cupboard. […]

Grandmother and Mother and the cook worked with a kind of drugged concentration in our big dark kitchen, and were tired and cross and at the same time oddly triumphant in their race against summer heat and the process of rot. […]

I have a feeling that my Father might have liked to help with the cannings, just as I longed to. But Grandmother, with that almost joyfully stern bowing to duty typical of religious women, made it clear that helping in the kitchen was a bitter heavy business forbidden certainly to men, and generally to children.

And so, too, canning seems to be forbidden to me, except when I do something stupid, such as the other night when I picked all nineteen pounds of apples from our tree at once. In these instances, I am required to help with the canning. (My mistake with the apples turned into 3 quarts of applesauce.)

Yesterday, Kris organized her pantry, which allowed us a chance to inventory this summer’s work. So far, she’s put up:

  • 16.5 quarts (approx 16.5 liters) green beans — “It’s too bad you don’t like green beans,” Kris told me. Yes, it is.
  • 7 qt. dill pickle spears
  • 7.5 qt. salsa, which I do like, especially this batch
  • 2 qt. pickled beans
  • 4 qt. spiced apple chunks
  • 4 qt. cinnamon-apple wedges
  • 5.5 qt. canned cherries
  • 7.5 qt. blackberry pie filling — good grief!
  • 3.5 qt. berry applesauce, which is very good
  • 3 qt. spiced applesauce
  • 21 qt. barbeque sauce, most of which will be given away
  • 3 qt. pickled plums in spiced syrup
  • 1 qt. pickled tomatoes
  • 1 qt. dried pears
  • 1 pint dried plums
  • 2 qt. pizza sauce, which she made yesterday and smells delicious
  • 2 qt. strawberry syrup
  • 1 qt. cherry-blueberry preserves
  • 1.5 qt. strawberry jam
  • 2.5 qt. spiced blackberry jam
  • 1.5 qt. berry jelly
  • 1 qt. peach-elderberry syrup
  • 1 pt. red-currant jelly

Kris has also put away about 2.5 quarts of freezer jam, 12 quarts of frozen berries, 4.5 quarts of freezer pasta sauce, and 4 quarts of frozen vegetables (tomatoes, snowpeas, beans, zucchini). Before the summer’s through, she hopes to put up another batch of salsa and maybe make something with pears (if she can find a source for the fruit). When the grapes are ripe in a couple weeks, we’ll certainly make grape juice.

This may seem like Little House on the Prairie to some of you, but it’s not. Canning fits our way of life. There are startup costs involved (jars and equipment), but once you have the stuff, preserving the produce you harvest from your garden (or that you pick elsewhere) is an effective way to stretch your food dollar.

The main ingredients for each of these products have come from our garden, from friends and neighbors, from U-Pick farms, or from our local organic produce stand. (Canning food you buy from the grocery store or at the produce stand will taste good, but it’s not cost-effective.)

For more information on canning, check out:

I asked Kris if she could recommend a book for beginning canners, and she suggested the BALL Complete Book of Home Preserving. She also likes Blue Ribbon Preserves: Secrets to Award-Winning Jams, Jellies, Marmalades, and More. Your public library probably has copies of both books.