My Food Preservation Journey

Several years ago, my husband decided he wanted to try gardening as a way to get him away from the computer and out of work mode. Since he works from home, it’s very easy to be in that mode 24/7—but if he goes outside and leaves all technology inside, he’s forced to take a break from it.

What started as “just a little strip of dirt for some potatoes” quickly evolved to our whole back yard. Then the strip alongside our house. Then the front yard. Then the neighbour’s back yard (which he had been using as a garden until recent years). And now we’re helping the neighbours on the other side develop a garden too.

My husband and I are a two-person family and we end up with hundreds of pounds of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. In other words, it was far too much food for us to eat as we were harvesting it. We needed to figure out how to preserve as much of it as we could. We have a tiny house, so that means no basement cold storage and no deep freezer. We have the freezer in the kitchen, but it can’t hold anywhere near enough.

An IKEA bag of beets

I started with finding storage

My mom doesn’t live too far from us and, thankfully, she lets us store some food in her place. She has a cold storage room in the basement that’s perfect for our potatoes and squash. And she has a deep freezer, which I fill up every year with bags and bags and bags and bags of washed, chopped, and frozen rhubarb.

There are some easy-to-store-in-a-tiny-house things, like popping corn. That usually fills a few jars that we can easily store in our snack cupboard, and some of the other items that come up in the following sections—like freezing, canning, and fermenting—have found storage spots in our house.

I then started freezing

There are a few things that freeze well. Brussels sprouts are one of them.

My husband loves pesto for dinner and over the years I’ve developed a handful of pesto recipes. There’s the traditional basil pesto and sundried tomato pesto, but I also make garden pesto (with spinach, kale, and Swiss chard), kale pesto, and green onion pesto. I’ve learned these freeze really well in single-serving glass jars that I purchased from the dollar store. Plus, they store much longer than they should—every recipe I’ve read said they can stay in the freezer three to six months, but right now (2023) we’re eating pesto that I made in the fall of 2021 (about 18 months ago) and it’s still great.

I discovered canning

I knew very little about canning other than the fact that you could pickle things and store it in the cupboard until opened. We got into this because my husband loves beets, but they don’t seem to store very well for us, so I needed to figure out a way to preserve them. I knew my mom had an old water bath canner kicking around, so I stole it from her and taught myself pickled beets. It took some time but it was easy to do and my husband loves them.

From there, we’ve experimented with pickling a huge number of things. Some have worked out great and some not so much. I love my pickled hot peppers, but neither of us cared for pickled carrots.

In 2022, given that we were starting to grow more produce than we could reasonably eat in a year, I signed up for a few farmers markets. I canned a bunch of pickled things and got into jams and jellies. It was a moderate success, but I figured out a bit about what people are looking for at a market, so I’m hoping future years will be more successful.

Rhubarb simple syrup (for cocktails) and caramelized onion jam with Balsamic vinegar

I took the leap into pressure canning

There were some pressure canning recipes I wanted to try, but couldn’t. Pressure canning gets the jars hotter than a water bath canner is able to do, so the recipes are not swappable between types of canners. In particular there was a cherry tomato pasta sauce and a seasoned tomato juice cocktail. I made both of them, but since I lacked a pressure canner, I stored them in the freezer.

I got a pressure canner for Christmas in 2021 and quickly dove head-first into that. I got a great cookbook for pressure canners—Pressure Canning for Beginners and Beyond by Angi Schneider—and worked my way through a lot of it. In addition to the older recipes of cherry tomato sauce and seasoned tomato juice cocktail, I was suddenly canning soups and stews for lunches and heat-and-eat meals for dinners. These easy dinners became a real life saver during busy times of year like harvest season or Christmas holidays—I could have a nutritious and delicious meal on the table in under twenty minutes with next to no effort.

Then came the dehydrator

I needed to preserve some foods that weren’t canned, mostly because we could only consume so many jars of the same thing within a year and we needed some variety. I started with dehydrating cherry tomatoes, which became a delicious after-work snack (just shake a few out of the jar and pop them in my mouth) and an impressive appetizer for when guests come over (rehydrate them in some olive oil and serve with crackers and fancy cheese).

I struggled with figuring out how to best use my dehydrator, though the sheer number of dehydrated tomatoes alone made it worth the purchase price. Recently, we started getting into planting herbs, so I’ve been using it to dry the herbs as a way to store them.

And then there was fermenting

I’d heard that fermenting was a way of preserving food but I really struggled to find recipes that were appealing to us. My first experiment were fermented cherry tomatoes—they have an interesting champagne texture on the tongue (they’re fizzy), but they didn’t really taste all that great to us.

Eventually I took a fermenting workshop. We did a fermented sauerkraut and kombucha. The sauerkraut was a hit at our barbecues and the kombucha was a hit with my husband. I now make kombucha weekly. I’ve grown to become comfortable with fermenting—my biggest lesson was that fermenting is more of an art than a science. There’s room for experimentation once you understand the basics.

Which eventually led to baking

It seemed like everyone’s COVID pandemic hobby was learning how to make bread. I never got into it. Well, we did get a second-hand bread machine from my husband’s uncle, but I was never really happy with the results.

In late 2022 I finally got bitten by the “I want to learn how to make bread” bug. But I didn’t want to do something easy and straight forward. No, I wanted to learn how to make sourdough. And learn how to make my own sourdough starter (which is fermented flour). Following some online tutorials, I created my own starter and made my first loaf. With some tips from some online friends, I tweaked the recipe to better fit my climate here in the depths of Winnipeg winter. I’ve expanded from there with focaccia and English muffin bread. I’ve got a list of recipes I want to work through in the coming months.

Along the way, things got a little tipsy

During this whole process, I started learning wine and beer making using kits from homebrew stores. Once I got the general process under my belt, that allowed me to experiment with garden wines and infused alcohols.

For garden wines, I’ve made rhubarb wine, dandelion wine, parsnip wine, lemon wine, and rosemary wine. For the most part, they’ve been great—some better than others.

For infusing (putting alcohol and fruit/veg/herbs together), my big one is rhubarb ginger gin. It’s hard to keep that one stocked in my home bar because everyone wants a taste and then a second glass. Beyond that I’ve done rhubarb schnapps, a Bing cherry liqueur, and citrus-infused soju.

Citrus soju

And next…?

I don’t know if there’s a new food preservation technique I’m looking to take on, but I definitely want to expand and solidify my experience and knowledge in all of these things.

All of this is what’s led to this blog.

I’ve accumulated so many recipes over the years and adapted or created some of my own, and I need a place to store them and share them. I get a lot of compliments on my kitchen skills because the food I make usually seems difficult or expensive to make, but really my motto of food has always been “How can I make this super delicious but also super affordable and super easy?”

I love food. I’ve learned I love to preserve food. And I love sharing that food with other people.

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