The height of the harvest season arrives for me every year topped with swirls of joy but also with a dollop of guilt.
As farmstands and farmers market stands overflow with deals for bushels of sauce tomatoes and pickling cucumbers, I avert my eyes and keep walking.
I have, I must admit, a deep-seated discomfort with canning.
I did not grow up with a canning grandmother―unless you count the fact that she knew how to use a can opener and ate a lot of things from mass-produced cans in her New York City apartment.
I worry the jars will not be clean enough, the acid level not high enough, the temperature not hot enough―and that I will be responsible for terrible gastric distress or worse. (My one major tomato-canning effort many years ago yielded neither illness nor death, but it did ruin an heirloom dining room table. Lesson: No matter how many blankets and layers of newspaper you put on a wooden table, the hot jars will still cause moisture rings as they cool.)
Several times, I have written about canning for beginners hoping to dispel me own anxiety and each time I feel more confident, but it doesn’t quite stick for the next year. (I think the time it takes and the heat of the kitchen at an already warm time of year might also have something to do with it.)
So every year I create other ways to preserve the harvest that do not require large amounts of boiling water nor active time.
In my kitchen right now, a slow cooker is simmering diced Vermont peaches with some sugar and lemon juice into preserves that will hold in the fridge for a few weeks (all it will take for my teenagers to gobble them up), or in the freezer if there happens to be extra.
While I was in the kitchen, I also sliced up an extra bowlful of not-quite-perfect tomatoes from my garden and my community-supported agriculture share. They went into a low oven for a few hours to slow-roast in olive oil with garden thyme, basil and coarse salt. Although we’ll probably eat them tonight for supper with some grilled shrimp, I could also freeze those for the winter when they will add an intense kiss of summer to a sauce.
During weeks that are really tomato-clogged and I have no time at all, I’ve been known to pop whole tomatoes in freezer bags and throw them in the basement freezer. They can go straight into a large saucepot in winter to simmer down into sauce; just food-mill away the skins and seeds when the whole mixture is cooked down.
I know preserving the bounty this way takes freezer space some don’t have and I know it uses energy that jars sitting on a shelf do not, but it lessens the guilt somewhat. Not to mention that it’s also all delicious.