Making pickles was my gateway into food preservation and the spark that ignited my excitement for the garden and my dream of a homestead.
A few years ago, I saw a bag of pickling cucumbers for sale at my local grocery store next to an enormous bouquet of dill. I thought, “I could do that. I could make pickles.” I came home with two big bags of pickling cucumbers, a case of quart jars, and lots of gusto. I had never preserved anything, but I was determined to figure it out.
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I poured over so many recipes trying to find the best one. I ran all around town looking for a water bath canner and had to go back out again and again for additional supplies. But in the end, I did it! That fall I put up several jars of pickles. Shelf stable food that I had prepared in my kitchen with my own two hands. I was thrilled.
I brought jars of my homemade pickles to barbecues, potlucks, and cookouts, and I gave them away to any friend who would take them. We had home-canned pickles well into the next spring. I was so proud. It was exhilarating! I was completely romanced by the idea of food preservation.
The next year I grew a cucumber plant in a container on the patio, and ginormous heads of dill along with it. The cucumbers I grew probably only filled a pint jar, but still. I was ecstatic.
Next came jams. Peach, strawberry, rhubarb, blackberry. I’ve experimented with different flavor combinations and learned how to make jam sweetened with honey and bursting with the flavors of summer. Seeing all those jewel-toned jars lined up in a row on my pantry shelf gives me all the warm fuzzy feelings. I haven’t bought a jar of jam in years.
I have outrageous dreams, goals, and notions of putting up a year’s worth of food for my family. It’s probably not going to happen at our current place, or maybe even our next place, but that’s okay. Every vegetable I grow in the garden, every new food I preserve teaches me something. I gain a little more experience, a little more know-how that prepares me for the next season. It’s all a process of learning and growth.
This year I have three thriving cucumber plants, and I’ve found a variety I really like. I’ve learned how to grow and harvest them, and which pickle recipes we like. I’ve already harvested a few, and last weekend I picked up some more at the farmers market to fill up a couple of quart jars of pickles.
If you have goals of preserving food, don’t think it has to be all or nothing. Start small, with what you have. If you have a container on a patio, grow some herbs and freeze the excess. Buy produce in bulk at the farmer’s market or even the grocery store and figure it out as you go. See if any local farms have u-pick offerings that you can take advantage of. Learn how to water bath can (it’s actually not that complicated) or even just prepare and freeze some produce. Don’t let the ideal stop you from starting. You can preserve food right where you’re at. Even if it’s just a jar of pickles, it’s something. You never know where it may lead.