Photo by Brian H.
We’re entering mid February, which begins the period of time that the Norse referred to as the “hunger month”; the time between this month and the later part of March in which food stores for humans and animals alike were depleted, but the first new plants of spring had not yet poked through the snow. This was the month when belts were tightened against gnawing hunger pangs, and animals ate just about anything they could in desperation… but many still died of starvation (and still do, if they’re not fortunate enough to have stored up enough food, or if they don’t live behind a doughnut shop).
Though there’s a grocery store just down the road from us, the evidence of this hungry month is also visible here, with produce items being priced at triple their worth because they’ve been shipped in from warmer climes. As we haven’t yet established our garden and greenhouse and have only grown a few herbs indoors this winter, we have little choice but to shell out $6/head for cauliflower or broccoli for a bit of variety to accompany our root stews and canned veggies. Our homemade stores are running low as well: I just opened the last can of pickled beets yesterday, and I only have one jar of dill-garlic pickles and another of relish left over from the canning-fest we had last September. We’re not running low on other food by any stretch of the imagination, but my experience this winter has certainly taught me some valuable lessons, and I’ll be switching up my food storage methods a bit for next year.
Photo by Dory
Change #1: Year-Round Canning
I recently picked up the Kindle version of a little book entitled Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round. The idea behind it is rather self-explanatory, and is something I mentioned in an earlier post: canning year-round instead of in one fell swoop once autumn arrives. Whenever something’s in season, can it so it’s at the height of its freshness (and at its cheapest, if you’re buying instead of growing your own). Can lemon and lime juice when the fruits are on sale, and minestrone when your garden is threatening to drown you with all the zucchini and beans it’s been producing.
We’ll be preserving fiddleheads, spruce tips, and cattail hearts this spring, and taking advantage of the berry farms in the area once June rolls around. As different vegetables come into season every couple of weeks over the warmer months, we’ll can them as they attain maximum flavour/ripeness and just keep going that way. In addition to canning and pickling next autumn, we’re aiming to do a bit of fermenting as well (probably sauerkraut and kimchee). Once the fresh produce has trickled off, we can focus on brewing mead and beer. Cheese too, though that’s another post altogether.
Change #2: Hidden Stashes
I’ll be taking a cue from the squirrels and creating a food stash in a location other than my pantry from here on in. The idea behind this is that if I open the cupboards to see what’s usable for supper, I’ll obviously use up what’s in there before I replenish stocks, so if I hide away items and stop myself from digging through them as a known backup source, I’ll have a miraculous cache of deliciousness once February rolls around.
It makes a bit of sense, neh? If I create some shelves at the back of one of our closets and tuck in just one jar every time we can, we’ll have some rather lovely things to dip into in the dark grey of the year. A can of summer-ripe tomatoes is one of my favourite things in the world—I’ve been known to just crack one open and devour its contents with a spoon—so discovering in March that we have a few jars still around from August’s harvest would be happy-making indeed. Imagine how glorious it would be to open a jar of strawberry preserves or grapefruit juice months after you thought you’d finished the last of it all! Or buttery summer corn…
Photo by Chotda
The most challenging aspect of this would likely be the self-control needed to keep ourselves from dipping into the hidden stash. Hm. It might be a good idea to create a cupboard with a lock on it, and then keep the key in the basement to make it harder to break into the cache.
I really hope we can put this into practice, as I think it’s a brilliant idea, and I’d be rather delighted if I suddenly discovered that I had a few jars of tomatoes still lurking at the back of the closet.
In addition to our own enjoyment of summer fruits and such, it’s important to also share with those who might be in need this season. Our little town has its own food bank, but much like those in larger cities, the stores found in there are often the surplus canned beans, tuna, macaroni, and tinned soups that people draw from their own cupboards to donate. If you find that you have a couple of extra dollars when you’re at the grocery store, consider picking up a can of peaches or jar of jam and put that into the donation bin: it’s sure to brighten someone’s day exponentially.
Remember that our animal cousins are also hungry at this time of year, and may be downright desperate for food. Around here, deer have been flocking to the hay and alfalfa feeders that people have put up for them, and there have been more little songbirds at our feeder than there were during the autumn migration. If you have the means and the inclination, put out some seeds and/or bread scraps for the wee ones—they’ll be more thankful than you can imagine.