Pantry planning

Lets say (theoretically) that your garden is in, summer crops are growing but not producing yet, and you have a little lull in your steady workload of backyard.  This is probably a good time to do a little planning for your preservation needs. For me this is a multi-year process.  I didn’t figure it out all at once, and it’s still changing as my habits and skills evolve.

It of course all starts with garden planning, way back before you plant your garden.  But that's another entire topic!  Now is when I make the game plan for actual preserving--how to divvy up that potential produce into the useful pantry items we need.   Here’s what I do.

First, look back at how much you put away last year.  Hopefully you have notes, or an inventory, from back around November.  Next, look at what you have NOW.  Are you swimming in frozen corn?  Have you been out of salsa since December?  Be realistic in what you were hoarding, or what you just didn’t like.  By looking at this data, you should hopefully figure out about what you need to have on hand at the end of the summer to last until next.  It’s not an exact science, but you can usually come up with a basic plan.

Take another look at your leftovers. It’s fine with canned goods to rotate stock that’s over a year.  But, don’t make a boatload more of something if you have lots leftover.  Last year I had quite a few jars of plain tomatoes at the beginning of the season.  I had upped my tomato sauce production, and found I didn’t use as much of the plain jars.  That’s fine, but I was sure to use up the oldest jars first, AND to adjust my goals for the next year so I didn’t have too many.  Now, as gardening is unpredictable, it may be nice to have a little extra on hand in case of a crop loss, such as the tomato blight year.  However, don’t keep making 50 jars of tomato sauce a year if you only use 20.  Everyone has a story of cleaning out a grandparent’s basement with hundreds of jars of unused jam and pickles.  Use it up, give it away, and stop making it if no one eats it!

After making this year's list, I stuck a few more tomatoes in the ground.

Also keep in mind you will be eating fresh veggies for much of the summer!  This sounds silly, but do remember that for (hopefully!) 10-12 weeks of the year you should have a goodly (or perhaps ungodly!) amount of summer veggies to eat fresh.  If you think you need a jar of salsa or tomato sauce every week, this is three months you don't have to preserve for.  And, I find the more I eat seasonally, the less I want winter-type staples in the spring and early summer.

last year's list...

So after all this self-assessment, my goals for the year are a simple list written on a piece of paper and kept in the kitchen.  As I freeze/can/pickle/dry, I make a hash mark on the list.  This really helps me prioritize:  if I have a counter of miscellaneous vegetables, I can look at my list and think “ooh, still low on salsa” and choose what to do next.  I also tend to save easier tasks for later in the season—I am enthusiastic about chopping peppers and onions early in the year, while by late September it might be easier to just make plain tomato sauce, or throw some veggies in the dehydrator.

Keep an eye on your list, and consider stopping when you reach your goals!  It’s nice to have a few extra jars for gift giving etc, but remember to take a break too.  Perhaps take a week’s harvest to a food pantry instead, or help a friend or neighbor who wants to try canning.  All in all my goals for the last season or two go beyond preserving what we need for an entire year.  It’s also about having fun, enjoying the process, and having time to spend on non-garden summertime activities!

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