Black and white does no justice to the deep, rich color of the sweet cherries in these jars. You’ll need to experience that for yourself. These are the first of many jars I will be filling this summer as the harvest progresses. Tomatoes next! photo by Leigh Mills

by Leigh Mills 

The Heyokah Homestead garden is doing very well this year and I have been drying, freezing and canning goodies since early June.  I purchase some items our garden doesn’t give us in bulk and like to glean others from trees around town.  Last month, I “put up” about 45 pounds of sweet cherries I bought.  They were organic, half from Colorado, and best of all . . . on sale.  Most of them I froze; however, some I cooked down into jam and canned.

Preserving food is a lot of work.  I can see why most folks prefer to just buy their food at the store when they want/need it.  You need equipment, space, jars, fuel, and time. Another asset to have is the skill to process the food.  Most books on preserving food talk about the actual canning process.  They leave out how to cut it up and get it prepped for those jars. Twenty years in the restaurant biz taught me how to use a knife and prep large amounts of food efficiently.

Freezing food is the easiest method.  One drawback is the need for a big freezer and the electricity to run it.  Canning food takes energy up front, but only shelf space until you are ready to eat.  Drying is another easy method.  You can use an electric dryer or a solar dryer.  An electric dryer is pretty consistent and fast, but they use a lot of electricity.  We live off the grid and choose to use a solar dryer instead.  A solar dryer is great…when the sun shines.  If the clouds build up, (and it rains!), the drying process gets slower and the food can get a little moldy.

When I can fruit, I use the “Swiss oven method”.  I don’t think you will find that process written in any American canning books.  I learned from another valley homesteader.  After removing the pits from the cherries, I used a food processor to finely chop them.  They then went into a heavy-bottomed pot, and I cooked them down for quite a while.  I hardly use pectin and choose to thicken naturally by reducing the fruit.  I do add some organic sugar, though.  When the fruit is ready, the jars and lids sterilized, I fill and cap them.

It’s hard to explain the depth of sensation I received after I finished this year’s first batch of cherries.  In my body there was a warm fuzzy glow, a slight smile on my face, and most of all, a tremendous sense of satisfaction.  Yep, it’s much easier to just go to the store and buy a jar of organic fruit spread.  However, I know that in the middle of winter, during blowing snow and frigid cold, when I open any of the jars I’ve filled with my own or locally grown produce, I’m enjoying “canned summer”.