I know that some folks' idea of spring cleaning is washing rugs, scrubbing floors, and cleaning windows. You can safely assume that spring will come and go, and my place will still be overrun with rabid dust bunnies. Once the days start to warm, not much can keep me inside, least of all the prospect of cleaning. I will, however, find the time to clean out my pantry. There are a couple of reasons for this. It will help me to use up my older preserves, as well as serve as an inventory to guide my activities for the growing season to come.
Here are several points which I like to consider when cleaning out the pantry.
1. What needs to be used? Since I'm a good little squirrel, and mark everything that goes into my pantry with a date, it is easy to see what needs to be eaten. I move everything which needs to be used to the first shelf in my pantry, or the top of my chest freezer. During this last little stretch of winter, I will make a point of featuring these items in my menus.
2. What worked, and what was a fail? This is the perfect time to take note of which recipes were a hit, and which needn't be recreated in the future. Make a list. I can officially declare cherry liqueur to be the unchallenged hit of last summer. But nobody terribly enjoyed my dandelion sauerkraut. Lesson learned.
3. Which items did I make too much or not enough? I made entirely too many spruce tip pickles last year. This year, I may only make two small jars, or skip them altogether. On the other hand, I couldn't get enough stonecrop pickles, so I will want to pickle just as many as I can over the coming summer. Also, ditch plums were so plentiful last year, and I put up such a great quantity of preserves, that I may not need to preserve them again this year.
Last year, I gave up gardening in an organized manner in order to spend more time foraging. Over the course of the year, I learned these lessons with regard to my pantry.
1. Preserve in small batches. Back when I was an avid gardener, I'd make myself bonkers every fall in a frenzy of canning and preserving. Now that I obtain the majority of my produce from foraging, I make an effort to preserve my foods in small batches throughout the growing season. Every time I bring home a batch of greens, I make an effort to blanch a few bags to put in the freezer. If I harvest a bit of summer fruit, I put away a few half-pints of chutney, etc. It is truly amazing how well I managed to stock my pantry last summer by preserving in this manner. And the big bonus is that I never end up with a case of canner's rage.
2. Use multiple methods. When it comes to putting up food, don't just rely upon one method of preserving. Take full advantage of a variety of preserving methods. Preserve small batches with both water baths, and with the pressure canner. Make pickles and chutneys. Make jams and jellies. Make syrups and shrubs. Try making flavored vinegars. Lots of forage does very well in the freezer after a brief blanching. Freezing works especially well if you've got a vacuum sealer. Look into more unusual methods of preserving, such as oil curing. Try your hand at fermenting both pickles and hooch. Ever try making elixirs? Don't forget about drying. Last but not least, don't forget my own little rule - when in doubt, stick it in alcohol!
3. Consider bi-annual batches. Another great way to cut down on your time spent preserving is to consider preserving certain plentiful foods every other year. This strategy works particularly well with fruits. I mentioned above that ditch plums were abundant last year. During peak plum season this year, I might only pick enough to enjoy fresh, and spent my time seeking out other foods.
What methods to you use to make best use of preserves, whether you are a forager, gardener, or simply a happy seasonal shopper?
I'm sharing these tips with Real Food Wednesday.