And not minding a bit. Loving it, actually!
That price is partly monetary, partly "sweat equity."
The money is for the propane, the slightly-higher power bills from running the stove to process and preserve some of the excess food.
"Excess..." That's not exactly the right word, truthfully. It's only "excess" when evaluated just for the day; not for the longer term.
The produce is coming in like gang-busters and we're enjoying all sorts of fresh veggies every day. Everything from the ubiquitous zucchini to kohlrabi to purple snap beans (and the plain green ones, too), sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes, leeks, acorn squash, 'spaghetti' squash, well, you get the picture. It's quite a variety, and that's the whole idea.
(More below the Orange Cheesy-Poof Of Death!)
But the payment in "sweat" is just as real. And I mean real sweat. It's HUMID around here to begin with, even though I do as much of the actual hot-water and steam processing as I can on a propane burner out back. But we still sweat. OK, my wife, classy lady that she is, "glows." (Like a light-bulb!!)
But it could be worse. (It could ALWAYS be worse. NEVER challenge "worse," he gets snippy and always rises to every challenge.)
We have been extraordinarily lucky with the temperatures of late, with record low temperatures and the coolest July since they started writing this stuff down. But still, the majority of the produce we're keeping is being hot-packed (boiling water bath) into jars. Also some is frozen, some is steam-processed instead of just being canned in a boiling-water bath. Some will be be dried (solar-powered dryer) as it comes out of the garden.
Oh, yes. We sweat. Real sweaty sweat. And we actually do real, old-fashioned, better'n Granny used to do ("Better" because Granny didn't understand biochemistry as well as we!), home-canning. Done properly, canning is a great way to put 'excess' produce away for the winter. Some people have a fear of home-canned food, but there is no reason for such prejudice, when it is properly done.
I'll be the first to insist that it HAS to be done correctly. You MUST pay close attention to a lot of factors - the quality of the produce, the process (steam or hot-water process) which you use, the recipe and times for the actual sealing-bath, all kinds of things that most people wouldn't have any idea was even necessary.
It is somewhat complicated, and there are occasional failures (which get eaten immediately or frozen in the short-term bags, when the jar seals fail). We look out for such things (checking seals over and over again as time goes by, watching for any signs of deterioration, looking for bubbles in the jars, that sort of thing) any time we make or use canned food.
But quite frankly, after forty years of doing it, every bloody year (more or less - I took a couple of years off when I was in the military, but not every year even then), I think we're probably good enough at doing this kind of thing not to have to worry too much.
Today we packed about forty pints of zucchini pickle-relish, two quarts of banana (sweet) peppers in vinegar/brine, and thirty-odd 12-ounce jelly jars full of peach jam. There are also twenty pint jars of corn, cut off the cob and packed (STEAM-CANNED AT HIGH PRESSURE!!!) We have canned (also STEAM PROCESS - all the low-acid foods get steam/pressure packed) green beans as well.
We've frozen a bit of it; some corn, kernels cut off the cob as well as several dozen ears on the cob (blanched), and some more green beans. Well, most of them started out as purple snap beans, but once they are blanched (or cooked when fresh) they turn a rather odd greyish-green.
Not everything gets the hot or cold treatment, thought. Fermentation to the rescue, three cheers for good ol' microbiology! There are two crocks full (one 5-gallon and one 8-gallon) of dill-and-garlic cucumber pickles, the old-fashioned fermented/brined pickles. They smell stupendously good now, better every day since I put them down two weeks ago.
I will make a 2-gallon crock of sauerkraut this Fall when the cabbages come to nice, firm heads. Some will get covered with a thick layer of leaves and left in the field. Some (Just a couple, you can only eat so much cabbage in a non-survival situation after all!) of the cabbages will be cut down and just cooked right away, with a bit o' corned beef or perhaps just boiled with potatoes and other veggies for a soup.
A few of the early-crop tomatoes got serious and put out simply HUGE quantities of fruit, so we had more than could be sandwiched, grilled, eaten right off the vine for a snack while chopping weeds, or even sliced and refrigerator-pickled*. I had to strip a few of the vines completely, down to just flowers and a few greenies, and make tomato sauce of the excess just to get things back under control. Even the neighbours were about up to their ears in tomatoes, and didn't want any more, so canning some sauce or chunks was about our only option. Now there are four pints of that sitting quietly on the pantry shelf, shining out all pretty and red and delicious, next to all of the yellow and green things in their jars.
The large green tomatoes which were picked to empty those vines got sliced, the slices dipped in beaten egg, dredged in flour, dipped in the egg again, dredged in coarse crumbs (crushed crackers, or panko), then fried until golden in olive oil in a heavy iron skillet on medium heat. Delightful. (No cannibalism required here for fried green tomatoes, Hollywood can get stuffed.)
"HUGE quantities"? "Four pints"?
So four pints maybe doesn't sound like much, since I'm talking about "HUGE quantities of fruit." You must realize that I started out with about eight times the finished, canned quantity; fresh tomatoes get reduced that much when you start concentrating them down for sauce. For paste, the reduction is close to double that.
I have found the best method for tomato paste, using shallow, flat pans and reducing the crushed tomatoes in the covered gas-fired barbecue grill out back on the deck. Got to stir often, at least every ten minutes, and keep the fire fairly hot, but a few hours later you have the nicest, thickest, sweetest tomato paste you could ever want. You can just sit down with some of this, a spoon, and a slab of crusty bread or some crackers, and EAT. I recommend a nice rose' wine, personally, lightly chilled. A hearty red or a very fruity white would also work. So will a good Kolsch or Weissen, if (as I do) you prefer beers.
The bread or crackers is actually optional, though highly recommended. It helps neutralize the acid and fills you up more rapidly than just the paste is likely to do. After all, you DON'T want an upset stomach, or worse, an acid butt-rash from too much 'mater too quickly.
No, you truly do not. And if you don't believe me, just ask my 16-month-old grand-daughter about that. She did the normal toddler-in-the-garden thing, parked herself at one of the cherry tomato vines, and started stuffing her little face when her parents weren't paying enough attention. (An all-too-often occurrence, in my opinion, but that is another story entirely....) So, she over-did it, stuffing herself with all the tomatoes a baby could ever want, and got a REALLY raw and red bottom the next day after filling the ol' diaper.
All of the acids from the tomatoes, added to the rather large quantities of fresh, tree-ripened peaches, nectarines, and plums, made her a miserable little baby-girl yesterday morning. Today, her pediatrician prescribed a couple of creams for relieving the pain from the owie-bum, and suggested she have a slightly-lower-in-acid diet for the next few days. Suggestion had already been implemented. Alkalines and neutrals for her for a bit. But, OH! Is she miffed that she isn't being allowed to gorge on fruit! Eh, she'll get over it. (So will her tush. It's mostly cleared up already. I gave her a bath with some baking soda in the water, and that soothed her quite well.)
(*"Refrigerator-pickled"??? You don't know? Oh, Mensch! Oy veh! You're in for a treat if you don't know this one. Take a lidded container, we have a small crock with a dedicated spot in the refrigerator all summer, just for this. Slice in a tomato or two, a cucumber or three, an onion or six (I'm joking! One onion usually suffices, but if you really like onions, feel free.) and a couple of well-blanched / microwaved / steamed cloves of garlic, chopped or minced finely.
Make a marinade of olive oil (one part), wine or cider vinegar (one part), and water (two parts). In all, the quantity made should be enough to cover all of the vegetables you want to drop in there. Adjust the proportions to suit yourself, some like it more acidic, some less. It MUST be fairly sour, though, else the vegetables will spoil. You can substitute some lemon juice for some of the vinegar, or lime juice either one, if you prefer that flavour. This is YOUR choice, make it to suit yourself.
Some folks add a small dollop of honey, others a pinch or two of white sugar. Add or don't add the sweeteners, as you see fit. (But DON'T substitute any of those artificial sugar substitutes, and this includes stevia unless it's fresh or dried stevia leaves. Even then, be chary with that stuff, it has shall we say "deleterious effects" on the flavour of the pickles that honey or cane don't.)
A good sprinkling of salt, another goodly dash of pepper, and then add in a biggish sprig of fresh dill (if you like, or some parsley or cilantro, or a couple of small bunches of summer savory, or ...). Whatever you like the smell of that day is probably going to be perfect. Mix this all up very well, and pour it over the sliced veggies in the bowl or crock. Cover.
Let it stand on the counter for one or two hours (NO MORE THAN TWO!!) and then pop it in the refrigerator over-night. Let it stay in the 'fridge for at least 24 hours. If you can wait that long. Then just start eating the pickled vegetables.
As you eat them up, replenish the goodies in the brine. Slice in about anything, whatever you can get that is to spare. Sliced carrots, cauliflower or broccoli florets, tomatoes of course, cukes, perhaps another onion, whatever. The marinade might need a bit of added vinegar or oil as time goes by, but just enough to keep it nice and sour. Add in different (or more of the same) herbs to change the flavours. It's a summer-time favourite here, we go through gallons of this stuff over the summer.)
Sometimes there just is too much of a good thing at one time. The old joke around here has to do with not leaving a car unlocked in August. (If you do, so the joke goes, you'll come back to a car stuffed to the roof with zucchini squash.) In support of the veracity of the car-loading properties of zucchini squash, we've put up fifteen gallon zipper bags of shredded zuke for winter soups and stews, and 12 loaves of zucchini bread, in the freezer in just the last two weeks.... And we're still in the early goings for the squash crop, the main part of the crop is yet to come!
(Ah, well. The food pantry says they'll take all we can haul in, so people don't have to worry about their vehicular zucchini load limit.)
I've also gotten a good return on the potato crop, and I am working on making a root cellar to keep those beautiful yellow-fleshed spuds (Yukon Golds) over the winter. The idea is to take a defunct / junked chest-type deep-freezer which is headed for the landfill, and have the local appliance people (if I don't get it from them in the first place) remove the 'guts' - the compressor and such - after sucking the refrigerant gas out of it into their containment device. (As the law, and good stewardship of the planet, requires. This is why I am hoping to get it from them in the first place; they will have to do this anyway, so I am NOT expecting to have to pay for it!! They get paid for the old freon, and DON'T have to pay to have the rest of the carcass hauled off into the landfill.)
Once I have it here and have sanitized it with plenty of bleach, I am putting some of those cheap plastic shelving units inside, and then placing it out back near the back door, on its side in a shallow excavation, sort of at an angle. Then it is going to be covered over with a plastic tarpaulin, and the whole shootin'-match gets buried in a HUMONGOUS pile of wood chips and earth. Another tarpaulin will be placed on the heap of mulch, then another layer of chips goes on top of that. Next a sort of three-sided wooden frame is going up, to keep the area that is now the lid accessible so we can retrieve produce, or fill it up.
If I can't get a chest freezer it will be three large plastic barrels, stacked in a pyramid (or six, if I can afford them) buried in the same fashion, with their lids clamped on tightly, and shelves screwed to the sides to make places to put the goodies.
The idea is to use the insulation value of the earth itself to keep the barrels cool in the summer, and cool but not frozen in the winter. That houses do not come with a root cellar any more is a conspiracy by the power companies, I suspect. A root cellar to store some apples and potatoes, a few onions or even a bunch of squash or pumpkins, it ought to be a standard item on any house plan. No power needed, just requires a good Spring cleaning once a year and you're good to go. What could be simpler? Or more convenient?
If we manage to get a little closer to flush, monetarily, I'm planning on upgrading this to a real root cellar, with fieldstone walls set into the earth, a full meter and a half deep into the ground. Shelving will be installed, bins and storage lockers too, and then a small roof, earth-covered, over the whole thing. Rig a thermometer and a thermostat in there to make sure nothing freezes, and a light-bulb or maybe one of those pond-ice-breaker things placed in a bucket of water, to turn on if it gets too cold; then you're set for good. Replace the light bulb with something low-wattage and solar-powered. It just has to keep the thing barely above freezing, which isn't that difficult in all truth.
That's the present plan, here on the old urban homestead. Next real challenge, to get the idiots on the city council to relax their sphincters enough to allow back-yard POULTRY!
It's legal to have chickens in Chicago. and New York. even in Los Angeles. (Or so I hear, but I am not certain of the veracity of that bit of information.) Even in the next town East of us, Carbondale, Illinois, the University town where SIU has its home, you can have chickens. (Unlike my town, they have Lawn Gestapo people in Carbondale, who sneak around and measure your grass, and harass people for not raking enough; but you can have chickens!)
But not here. Nope. NO birdies. BIG fines from animal control, and they confiscate everything. I want chickens for the eggs and meat, but mainly for insect control. I want ducks for the eggs and meat and bug-picking as well, and maybe a couple of Chinese Orchard Geese for the lawn mowing under the fruit trees. But we can't do it, not without breaking some stupid, short-sighted (But hopefully soon to be short-lived!) laws.
So much to do. So little of me left to do it. No rest for the wicked. Or the weary, for that matter. But there are compensations....
(First eggplant that comes ripe, soon, and there's gonna be GRILLED VEGGIE SAMMICHES, WITH FRESH AIOLI!!! Six or a dozen sorts of vegetable, all brushed with olive oil and grilled quickly over a high flame, then served up on crusty bread slathered with lots of fresh, home-made aioli! Millionaires don't eat better than that! We-all may be po' folks, but we eats good!!)