Monday, September 21, 2009

What's on the basement shelves?

So why all the food preservation talk around here? A few years ago, (after reading Barbara Kingsolver's then-brand-new book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, of course), we decided to make a much more concerted effort to buy only locally-produced food. As with many other decisions we've made, we decided to see how far we could go, and never turned back. For us, it's come to look like this:

We eat only locally-grown produce (with the exception of lemons, which we haven't been able to do without. And dried coconut. We all have our weaknesses.) Because we live in New England, this means we have to preserve a lot of food in order to eat in the winter.

We try to choose locally-produced other foods, whenever possible.

We try to avoid buying packaged, processed foods. We do better or worse at this depending on how crazy our life gets. This winter, I am determined to return to baking bread, and making yogurt, for example, but for now, we're buying those.

It became clear early on that we'd need a system to keep track of what we'd stored, to help us use it up efficiently, and to help us remember from year to year what worked and what didn't. Above, you can see the system we're using now, our food storage inventory. On graph paper, we keep track of "item," "date," "source and recipe," "quantity and status," and "notes." (You can click on the picture to see it larger.)

Under "item," we list the name of what we've stored, using specific recipe names if applicable so we can remember which recipe we'd used. We list everything from dried herbs to frozen veggies to canned jam to storage squash all on the same inventory. Some day, I might further organize things by type, but for now, it's all organized chronologically.

The "date" part helps us remember what's in season when so we don't miss mulberry season, for example.

Under "source and recipe," we note where we got the food--which farmer, friend, or foraging spot. And we write down where we found the recipe so we can find it again. "CBHP," in the photo above, for example, is the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Under "quantity and status," we make a slash in a box for each item, and write below what size it is: gal. bag, or 1/2 pt. As we bring it up from storage, we put another slash through it, making an X, to mark it gone. This way, we can see at a glance what we have lots of and what we should use sparingly. As I plan meals, I use this tally to help me figure out what we should eat.

In the final "notes" column, I write down if we loved or hated it, if I altered the recipe, if I bought too much and it all rotted, or whatever might be useful the next year.

Now, back to the kitchen. There's lots more pages to fill if we're to keep to this commitment this year!

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