Stocking up

For as long as people can remember autumn has been the season for preserving food in temperate climates. In the day of modern supermarkets and food that travels around the world in short times, these practices have faded. Here in Rapid City we have a seafood market that features the catch of the day. Remember we live more than a thousand miles from any ocean. The airlines fly in fresh fish packed in ice every day to replenish the stocks in the market. We can buy bananas and tomatoes year round and fresh spinach and lettuce are stables in the grocery store.

Still, there is something inside of us that carries an urge to put up a bit of food when the days begin to shorten and the night takes on a chill. This year was a banner year for tomatoes for us. We didn’t think it would be that way. On July 15 our plants were stripped of their leaves by a hailstorm that lingered and dropped hail for more than a half an hour. Although bruised on the tops, the tomatoes that were on the vines at the time survived and many of them ripened. It took a few weeks, but the plants recovered remarkably well and by mid-October we had hundreds of tomatoes back on the plants. We finally decided, a week ago, to go ahead and clean out the garden as we were seeing frost at nights and covering the plants was becoming a chore. With the busy days and the string of meetings we had last week we ended up bringing the green tomatoes into the house to ripen. Now we’re working to process the tomatoes that have ripened while we devise strategies for those that remain in the basement and search the internet for recipes for green tomatoes.

In addition to the tomatoes, we still have a fairly large box of apples from a friend’s apple trees. So yesterday I went to the basement and got out our food dryer and loaded up five trays of apples and a single tray of tomatoes. The dryer has been a part of our family for around 30 years now and it is a bit noisier than was the case when it was new. It still works well and within 24 hours the fruit will be ready to pack into bags for winter storage. Dried apples can be reconstituted for apple breads, but we mostly just eat them dried as snacks. They are tasty and nutritious. The dried tomatoes work well in omelettes and other cooked dishes. Tomorrow will probably be a day for freezing a few tomatoes for soups and such as well as putting up a few jars of salsa.

Our modest process is nothing compared to the generations who have canned and put up food for storage. I still encounter people purchasing cases of canning jars and know that there are lots of people who can the summer’s bounty as their primary process of preserving food for the winter season.

I remember jars and jars of apple sauce each fall in our home when I was growing up. We rarely make apple sauce these days and rarely eat it. After all, we can buy fresh apples in the store all year round and take advantage of the storage and shipping of the professional growers to have access to all of the apples we need. My mother also was a good one for putting up lots of chokecherry jelly and syrup for winter use. It was a banner year for chokecherries back home this year and the chokecherries all went tot he birds except for those harvested by a wandering bear that came around when they were ripe. We just don’t eat much jelly or jam any more. Our lifestyles and food choices have changed with the changes in available foods and the pace of our lives.

Still, there is something comforting about the sound of that noisy fan in the food dryer. It feels satisfying to be putting away a bit of food for the future. Knowing that we will have some snacks in the house when we get hungry is a good feeling.

We still keep a basic stock of food in our house. We are not dependent on having to go to the grocery store every day. As recently as three years ago we were snowed in at our house for three days and although we didn’t have any electricity, we were at no risk for going hungry. There is always rice and beans to cook and our freezer has a selection of meats that can be cooked. Our kitchen is all electric, so when the power is out we do our cooking in the garage on our trusty Coleman stove.

Although they are not stormed in, our children living in Olympia, Washington, have been witnessing some really intense storms over the past few days. The remnants of a Pacific typhoon have brought wins above 50 mph to the whole northwest. There were plenty of trees down, including trees that fell onto the Interstate, blocking travel in some lanes. And they’ve had a couple of extended power outages. One day last week our grandson went to school in the dark. Officials thought that power would be restored during the day, but it was still out when it was time for the children to go home. It was a fun adventure for a kindergartener, getting to use flashlights to go to the bathroom and modifying activities so that they could be closer to the windows for light.

We are constantly reminded that the weather is a powerful force and it is beyond our ability to manipulate or control. Like our forebears, we need to maintain a healthy respect for the forces of nature. It just makes sense to stock up on staple foods and have a plan for dealing with the inconveniences that come with severe weather events.

Besides, stocking up for winter is so ingrained in our upbringing that it feels natural.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!