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How My Withered Garden Still Inspires Bountiful Preserves (with recipe!)

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It’s August and the drought drones on…*heavy sigh*. I’ll admit that the heat beat me up this summer and left me listless on the couch with the swamp cooler on high. The unrelenting heat has so intimidated me that I shied away from gardening this year. I feel guilty. 

On top of that, I’m assailed by headlines and news reports declaring a drought induced low supply of fruits, veggies and grains paired with a high demand from the marketplace (that’s me) creating a predicted scenario of high prices and food scarcity in the months to come. 

I’m not one to panic over news reports but this news does make me think what a higher grocery bill will do to my monthly budget. It’s a dark thought filled with painful screams from my checking account and an echo in my pantry. 

While I did shy away from my garden, I also took on an indoor hobby that is related to gardening yet had nothing to do with the fruits of my own labor. I made preserves from fruits purchased at the grocery store. There was some guilt over the fact that my picking was done in the store and not my own garden but that quickly faded when I realized the sale price on the fruit made my jars of sugary goodness less than what I would pay for the grocery store jars. 

It does seem odd to me that I was drawing the blinds to block out the sun and thus the view of my garden in favor of standing over a kettle of boiling water. It was 106F that day and my kitchen reached 80F even with the swamp cooler on but it was the most rewarding and satisfying garden-related project of the season. 

Berries have not been a part of my gardening scheme to-date but they may be going forward. The grocery store fruits of my labor yielded an impressive pyramid of strawberry, blackberry, and blueberry jam that now graces a small section of shelf in my basement. My bounty will sustain my family’s jam needs for most of the winter. The best part, though, has been in giving away the jams. 

From my quilted jar bounty, I’ve already checked off a dozen folks from my holiday gift-giving list, I’ve paid my friend in jam for watching my children, and I participated in a social media homemade gift exchange where I received a wonderful homemade bookmark and beautiful homemade earrings. 

All that from a day of work and a stack of glass jars filled with fruit and sugar. 

This was my first solo foray into home preserving and it was a quick attack inspired by a great grocery ad and a Saturday left blank on the calendar. 

Last year my interest in preserving was sparked when I took part in the first Gleaning of Denver, a collaboration between Slow Food Denver and History Colorado. Click to read about our cherry picking and pie filling making to benefit Project Angel Heart from July, 2011. There I learned the basics of canning and felt ready to tackle a preserving project in my own kitchen. 

Supplies were purchased: glass canning jars, funnel, jar lifter, kettle with jar rack, pectin, sugar (lots and lots) and the berries (all on sale). My intention was to can up strawberries but then I saw the price of blueberries and blackberries so they were added to the list. 

The Pioneer Woman was my guide through the jamming process. Her basic recipe (the same recipe from the Sure-Jell package), simple instructions and photos for every step guided my progress and bolstered my confidence. 

The Basic Strawberry Jam Recipe from The Pioneer Woman

5 cups hulled mashed strawberries
7 cups sugar
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 49g package powdered fruit pectin 

That’s not a typo on the sugar measurement. It really is a ridiculous amount of sugar. PickYourOwn.org has a great introduction to low-sugar canning.

The Pioneer Woman’s two part instructions are so complete and were incredibly helpful to my process that I won’t even duplicate them here. Take a visit to the website and see how easy it is: The Pioneer Woman Canning 101 and Strawberry Jam Part I and Part II

If you don’t want to go through the whole water bath process of sealing jars, small batches of jam can be whipped up in no time and stored in the freezer. About.com has a quick and easy strawberry freezer jam recipe

Next on my preserving to-do list is pickled beets. I’ve loved pickled beets since I was a kid and it’s shamefully difficult to find good canned pickled beets and I’ve become jaded about canned beets. Several years ago, I was given a jar of homegrown, homemade pickled beets with cloves and promised myself that I would learn how to make them myself. 

2012 appears to be my year for preserving (even if I didn’t grow it myself). I’ve got the tools and one project under my belt. Finding a great deal at the grocery store and preserving it myself may be the key to filling up my pantry while staying on budget. Look out produce department! Here I come!

Heather Ruch
Author: Heather Ruch

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