The satisfying pop that comes from breaking the seal of a can of preserved tomatoes signals a smell that takes you back to summer. A gardener enjoys it even more because she did all the work to make this happen. Now, with modern food conveniences that would make our ancestors heads spin, urban gardening has become more a luxury or a hobby than a necessity. Nevertheless, urban gardening and supporting local agriculture via CSAs (community supported agriculture), farmers and local marketplaces in SLC is on the rise. Now and through mid October, we harvest, before the first frosts hit—and sometimes later with the help of a row cover—even up until November.
1. CAN IT And by can we mean jar. The old-fashioned Mason jar symbolizes more than just thrift. Add sustainability, work, delayed gratification, not to mention good taste. If canning sounds like a long, hot process, you haven’t kept up. Once you have the basics down, mixing up a homemade brine made with vinegar, salt and pickling spices then pouring into a jar of filled with freshly sliced cucumbers—voila! you’ve made refrigerator pickles. Or—stirring together the prescribed ratio of sugar, pectin and some fresh fruit, and you’ve got something sweet and lovely to spread on your toast.
2. CELLAR IT Before refrigeration was a standard, root cellars were a part of most homesteads. A root cellar utilized the naturally cooler, more temperate underground environment. Some produce, like carrots, can be stored after removing greens into a bin filled with sawdust, while others, like apples, can be stored in barrels of straw. In the Salt Lake foothills and around the valley, many older backyards are dotted with fruit trees planted by former homeowners who valued the harvest.
3. DRY IT Utah’s high elevation and dry climate means dehydration as a form of preservation is easy—many of the crops (such as apples, apricots, tomatoes and chiles) that grow well here are additionally the perfect staples in your kitchen cupboard. Last summer an abundance of cayenne chiles from my garden were strung to dry in a sunny window. In exchange for this, all winter dried chiles were crushed and thrown in pasta sauces, chili and Indian style lentil dal, lending a smoky, bright heat to each dish.
USU’s Extension Office offers master preservation classes, teaching the basics of many food safety and preservation. Class instructor Melanie Jewkes, who has been with the program for more than 12 years says, “In a series, you will learn the basics of canning—equipment, how to use that equipment, how to prepare and fill jars and where to go for safe, research-tested recipes and procedures.” Each session is about 3-4 hours of lecture and kitchen time. The Master Preservation full six-session series is $130 (with day or half-day options) and includes manuals, aprons—and all food students preserve, they take home.
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