Some Thoughts on Year Gates, Preserves, and the Rhythm of My Home

Under different circumstances, I would have done this work back in September. Instead – due to moving, for the most part – I’ve got a couple of litres of diced pears, plus about five pounds of whole tomatoes, sitting in my freezer, waiting to be processed into pear butter and roasted-garlic-balsamic tomato sauce (for which I need to get a LOT more garlic), respectively. I’ve also got four pumpkins – most, if not all, of which will first be carved into Jack-O-Lanterns before being rendered into pumpkin butter (and possibly pie…), and a pound or two of cranberries for making cranberry curd… Although those, at least, is a little closer to “normal” in terms of late-October/early-November canning. Our move is almost done, and – having unearthed my last flat of empty canning jars – I’m looking forward to spending November 1st finishing the 2014 canning extravaganza… a few months later than planned.
 
Having recently installed the Kitchen Shelf (a small bookcase that I’m using to hold soap-and-candle supplies, as well as frequently-used small appliances, large pots, AND all the preserves I’ve put up in one-cup and half-cup jars[1]), I have to say that I’m pleased with the ammount of canning I’ve done this year.
While, last year, I had an inordinate amount of apple butter (what, like… six litres of the stuff?), this year, it’s been tomato products that have been appearing most frequently. Tomato-peach salsa and regular old crushed tomatoes[2], but also a new bruschetta-in-a-jar recipe (like a chunky version of my tomato sauce, actually), and the impending sauce. I do them, primarily, in one-cup jars because cup of tomato product is plenty for a meal for 3-4 people (meaning: two or three for dinner, and then lunch for my wife the next day) when it’s combined with other fruits/veggies (collards/kale, blanched-and-frozen chard, apples, dried peaches or peppers, winter squash, mushrooms, parsnips, celeriac, you name it), some sausage or a braising cut of pork or beef, and some wild rice or pot barley with black lentils. I’m not the kind of gal who likes her pasta swimming in tomato… but would happily add tomatoes to a pumpkin cream curry over gnocchi, or toss some in with a little cheddar to brighten up a mellow-sweet pot full of romano beans and root veggies.
 
It’s intersting, big ol’ Pagan that I am, to look at the Year Gates and how they manifest in the day-to-day functioning of my (witchy) kitchen. Last April, I spent the month Eating Down the Larder (and whining about it on this blog) in order to prepare my freezer and pantry for the influx of new preserves that start coming in as early as late May (freezing Vietnamese Garlic pesto, for example, or lacto-fermenting grape leaves and garlic mustard for making dolmades later on). Now here I am, days away from Beltane’s mirror gate – Samhain – having realized that I don’t want to start using my 2014 preserves until November has begun[3]. Meaning that I set my preserving schedule by the same clock as the year gates swing. I only just realized that a couple of days ago, but it makes a lot of sense. Shoots-and-Fruits Time is for putting things up, praying for good harvests and plentiful seasons. Root time is for resting, enjoying the fruits of your labours – literally, in this case – and making sure your burrow isn’t completely overwhelmed with Too Much Stuff.
 
This move has involved a lot of paring down – an ongoing process to be sure, to-which our basement hoard can attest – and I see that continuing through the winter as I use up items in my pantry (chocolate sprinkles being added to the cookies I make for winter solstice; imported brown rice being used up and replaced with Saskatchewan-grown wild rice and pot barley) thoat won’t be restocked – and I look forward to using up my 2014 preserves (ideally in a timely fashion wherein there’s enough left in April to *do* the Eat Down the Larder Challenge again, but not so much that I’m drowing in, say, unexpected jam[4]) so that, by the time Beltane rolls around again, I’ll have the space to start building my pantry anew (this time with home-grown produce!).
 
Right now, I’m looking at the overcast (recently – it was quite clear earlier today) skies and thinking that I’ve got an hour – time enough to pack up another (the last?) wagon-load of stuff-to-move and bring it home before I have to start cooking dinner.
Time to get moving. (Ha! See what I did thar?)
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] The two-cup/pint jars were about a millimeter too tall to fit on my canning shelves, but I’ve got them in a cupboard with some of the dry-goods, so it’s okay.
 
[2] Which, three years ago, I would never have expected to bother putting up.
 
[3] Which is not actually going to happen, I’ve got a jar of tomatoes that looks like maybe it didn’t seal quite right and, while I’m fairly sure it’s fine (there’s no swelling, for example, it won’t have botulism, not with that much vinegar AND an air leak, but mould? We’ll see how it smells when I open it), it needs to be eaten up if it’s any good, so tonight’s dinner will probably involve (a) diced winter squash, (b) coconut milk and/or yoghurt, and (c) an early-opened pint of diced tomatoes. We shall see.
 
[4] I haven’t actually made much jam this year. Almost none. I’m trying to stick with a mix of savoury-friendly jellies (like crab apple and red currant) fruit curds, and fruit butters (pear and pumpkin, this year, but also a little bit of apricot – all of which I will happily use in weekend pancake recipes and “unexpected company” coffee cakes, as they make for a moist, rich sweetener that doesn’t overwhelm the palate) because I find they’re more versatile. But you get the idea.

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