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Nothing Gold Can Stay

Preserving the Bounty of the Season

Article by Grace Adele Boyle

Photography by Emma Hampsten

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

Autumn in Colorado is ushered in by the sound of elk bugling and aspen shuddering gold. Generations before us marked harvest season by preserving the abundance of fruits and vegetables at peak ripeness by canning, freezing, pickling, fermenting and dehydrating before the long winter months. Now, with year-round produce from gems like Natural Grocers, the pastime of preserving has become a hobby. But don’t let that dissuade you––learning to preserve your own foods is fun––and it’s one of those skills that looks great on your post-apocalyptic resumé. 

Canning

The most unforgiving of these processes is canning because you must follow a recipe exactly to get the correct balance of acid and sugar––or you can poison yourself (and others) with botulism. Where you can get creative, once you’ve advanced in your canning technique, is to swap in different spices that don’t change the sugar and acidity level. Think of canning like baking: follow the recipe and you’ll get a great result every time.

For canning, you’ll need glass mason jars, a large stock pot, a jar lifter and rack, a wide-mouth funnel and canning lids. Fortunately, McGuckins carries all the canning supplies you’ll need. To get started canning, these trusted books will take you through the entire process step by step: Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan; Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff; Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

A final word on canning: because you seal the jars (making them shelf-stable) by placing them in a boiling water bath, the fruits or veggies in the jars will cook. For berry preserves and pickled beets this isn’t a problem but if you prefer a crisp pickled cucumber over a mushy one––turn to pickling and fermentation.


 

Pickling & Fermenting

Sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, sourdough starter and more––pickling and the lacto-fermentation process are forgiving, allowing for more creativity. From shredded cabbage to curried cauliflower to pickled peaches, you can ferment or pickle almost anything. 

Pickling is the art of preserving food using a solution of either acid (vinegar) or salt (brine). Think of fermentation as a type of pickling where the brine encourages the growth of healthy bacteria (kickstarting the process of lacto-fermentation which gives that delicious twang) while killing off the bad bacteria. 

The key to fermentation is salt but there is a wide range of how much is acceptable without throwing off the lacto-fermentation process. And if your fermentation does go bad, it will smell foul and get mushy––it won’t secretly poison you like botulism because you will not want to eat it.

All you need to start pickling and fermenting is a jar, and some salt, vinegar and spices. Two great books to get you started on your fermentation journey are Wild Fermentation, and The Art of Fermentation, both by Sandor Ellix Katz. 

The classic beginner recipe for pickling is fresh cucumbers packed in a jar with vinegar, salt, water and spices. You can also add cauliflower, carrots, beets, fennel, onions, radishes, turnips, grapes, rhubarb, squash––the list goes on. Once your fruits and veggies are submerged in their jar, place them in the fridge where they can be enjoyed over the next couple of months.

Sauerkraut is the place to begin fermenting. Start by thinly slicing cabbage in a large bowl and massaging it with salt until it starts to release its water (creating its own brine). Once you’ve packed your kraut in a glass jar, submerged under its own brine, cover it with cheesecloth and let it sit in a cool, dark corner until it begins to bubble. Once your creation has reached its ideal fermentation, store it in the fridge (because it’s alive!) and enjoy.

Final Tip: Boulder County has the longest farmers market season in Colorado, running from April to November. Some farms even offer “seconds”, discounted boxes of produce that are either too small or imperfect for market sale but perfect for honing your food-preserving skills. 

Special thanks to Nina Melina Zinsser Booth

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