10 October 2012

As canning season wraps up, a check-in

Canning season is wrapping up. I can tell, because I'm almost out of jars. I have just a handful of quart jars left (I've never used so many before this year! A new record for me), and I've reserved only enough pint jars for one good batch of apple butter, which is a pantry staple the Rowhouse Livin' household can't do without.

Part of the calculations here is that I have two dozen each of the common sizes of canning jars: half-pints, pints, and quarts. I have another dozen of 12-oz. jars, a size between pints and half-pints. But I don't like to use them because they're apt to topple over in the canner, and I risk a seal failure when a jar falls onto its side the way these clumsy jars do. Finally, I have another half-dozen half-pint jars for canning, and about a dozen antique quart and pint-and-a-half jars I use solely for dry storage because I don't know how reliably they'd survive the canner due to their age and questionable provenance.

I'm undecided about getting more jars. On the one hand, putting up food and eating from my pantry is a helpful economic strategy for the household. On the other hand, the household is crammed into just under 1,000 square feet. That's not a lot of room to store too many more than the 100 or so jars that I have, at least not with the storage system I have.

And oh, my storage system! My main tool is a piece of furniture I was fortunate to keep after my divorce: an 81-inch-tall pine cabinet we found used, at a garage sale in West Seattle sometime in the 1990s for a fraction of its original price. And by fraction, I mean like 1/6, because we got for about $125 what the sellers probably bought for about $800 new from a craftsperson.

I don't mean to brag. It's rude. We were very lucky to find this cabinet -- and I'm very lucky to keep it, because my home, built in the early 1980s and likely planned for childless yuppies, doesn't feature the kind of closet pantry that builders have been designing into many newer homes. The cabinet can easily hold all of my jars, canned or uncanned, with room to spare for a dozen boxes of pasta, six bottles of wine, 10 cans of generic spaghetti-o's and condensed tomato soup, and enough martini fixin's to get us through the worst of a mid-Atlantic blizzard. I could install some heavy-duty, jar-capable shelving over in the laundry nook behind the galley kitchen, I suppose. But I'm not sure that I truly need more storage space for the Rowhouse Livin' pantry strategy of having enough on hand for two weeks of not getting to the grocery store.

Anyway, my point, and I had one when I started, is that the end of canning season is bittersweet. I didn't put up any raspberry jam this year, which is far and away my favorite sweet spread. But I did use my pressure canner more than ever before, which stocks the pantry with "real food," you know, for actual meals, as opposed to condiments and preserves.

Canning is such a satisfying hobby.

How are your winter food preparations coming along?

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