Since our move to the country a little over a year ago, we have been fortunate enough to have lots of land, which meant that we could have an even bigger garden than we had in our plot at the Community Garden in Great Neck. This turned out to be a very good thing, because I find myself becoming more and more allergic to the preservatives and additives food companies seem to be using these days.

So I turned to my new garden with a fresh eye.  We planted this year and had so many cucumbers, tomatoes (24 plants!), butternut squash, zucchini, green beans, lima beans — the list goes on and on.
I had not planned for such a bountiful harvest. Fortunately, the house’s previous owner had left behind a book on canning, and it opened up a whole new world for me.

Canning is a wonderful world within itself. Not only can you can fresh fruits and vegetables for the winter, you can also can whole meals, meats, beans, and casseroles for those nights you just don’t feel like cooking. And they stay preserved without the use of chemicals. The possibilities are endless.

Queens Library offers dozens of books on home canning. A great, widely celebrated place to start would be the Ball Corporation’s Complete Book of Home Preserving. They’re the company that manufactures the jars you’ll probably be using. The book offers 400 recipes for beginners and experienced home canners. They also offer classes around the United States, and an online forum to hear of folks’ successes and failures.

I started my new adventure with the cucumbers. It wasn’t hard to follow the recipe for the pickling spice — the challenge was getting a flavor that we liked! I tried a variety of batches until I found the right combination. My friends and neighbors were very happy to inherit our experimental batches! You might try some of the recipes from this well-regarded book to get you started.

Next I moved onto the problem of 24 tomato plants, all ripening almost at the same time. That was quite the task. Tomatoes can’t just be thrown into brine and given a water bath. They have to be boiled for a few seconds so that the skins peel off, and you have to remove the seeds. Once you have finished this labor-intensive stage, you purée your tomatoes and make gravy or sauce as you would normally. The real secret is letting this sauce cook down for 4 to 6 hours to reduce the water content.  Once it’s cool enough to handle, you fill your jars, and put into your canner or pressure canner for 30 minutes or so.
I canned over 80 pounds of tomatoes this fall, and it was worth every minute of my time, from planting the seeds in the ground, to nurturing and watering the garden, to the wonderful harvest! Now I have plenty of tomato sauce for quick meals after a hard day at work.

If pickling really captivates you, you might also want to check out this free cooking demonstration from kimchi wizard and cookbook author Lauryn Chun at the Flushing Library on January 7 from 6:30 to 7:45.

Curious for more? Here’s one of my favorite canning recipes:

Ellen Hayes’ Split Pea Soup (This is a large batch, so you can cut the recipe if you need to)

4 large carrots, chopped
1/2 stalk celery, chopped
4 cans chicken broth
10 cups water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 tbsp onion powder or 1 cup onion diced
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 lbs of rinsed, dried green peas
1 bay leaf

1. Combine all ingredients in a large pot, bring to boil.

2. Reduce heat and simmer covered till peas, carrots and celery are all tender (about 2 hours). You may have to add more liquid.

3. You can purée the mixture if you wish. I didn’t.

4. Pour into hot quart jars and seal. Process 90 minutes at PSI suited to your altitude. Yields 7 Quarts.