Food Preservation Methods Got us Through the Great Recession
Knowing Ways of Preserving Food Saw Us Through a Fateful YearPromoted by Harvest Right
I should have made shirts declaring, I survived 2009. If I said that food preservation methods saved us, would you believe me?
How many of us don’t have scare stories from that year? 8.8 million jobs lost. Food and gas prices soared sky-high while home values plummeted. Reno, Nevada was hit hard by the Great Recession as businesses shut down like dominoes tumbling along our major thoroughfares. While unemployment rose, so did the number of homeless people walking past my house on a Tuesday to dig through my bins for recyclables before the garbage truck rumbled past. Every few days, strangers knocked on my door, offering to water my planter boxes in trade for a little cash. I turned them down because I didn’t have a dollar to spare.
An entire population struggled in limbo: employed but still unable to pay all the bills. Unemployed with nobody accepting applications. It just wasn’t enough and families were drowning in debt.
My husband had just lost a good job contract and his new employer paid entry-level wage. The kids, ages seven and nine, had a diet to address special needs; all that cheap nonperishable food was off limits. I was 32, just out of school and trying to build a career. And I had just been diagnosed with cancer.
Keep your heads up, they’d tell us. Someone has it worse. You could be on the streets.
We were lucky. We had a garden plot and I knew how to work the land.
Food Preservation Methods Save Every Penny
Kids aren’t born knowing how to pinch pennies. They don’t realize that every bite they refuse to eat is money you paid and will never get back. I pinched back words as edibles fell into the garbage can, but I wanted to scream.
The garden was good to us. Between clients, after picking kids up from school, I watered zucchini and tomatoes. After each doctor appointment and progressively worse diagnoses, I relaxed by pulling weeds from between carrots, sighing in satisfaction as noxious roots lifted from moist soil. Armloads of squash and peppers piled on the counter, ready to hit the frying pan.
But the waste! When you work that hard to bring in a harvest, you hate to see it fall into the trash can. Yes, we composted, but most of those leftovers were still edible. Then there were the ends, the tops, and that last bite of pasta in the pot that nobody wanted.
When I had bitten my tongue enough and too many frustrated words tumbled out, I researched food preservation examples. Something had to be done. I knew how to use a freezer bag, one of my favorite methods of preserving meat without a pressure canner. My mom dehydrated food when I was a kid, and that seemed easy enough. So, whatever could freeze, without becoming a bitter mess when thawed, went into plastic containers or zippered bags. Grapes from the back fence turned into jarred juice. The forced-air dehydrator received extra zucchini and fruit. I started to see more food hit the storage shelves than the garbage.
A Food Preservation Method Arsenal
Who has time for all that?
Not me. The first cancer treatment was in September, right during harvest. Right when school started back up. Right when my husband wasn’t turning down any overtime, even if it kept him at work until midnight. Surgery put me down for a week. After that, I had to get right back up for work, to grow the food, to be a mom.
An arsenal lined my counter: methods of preserving food, all in a row, ready for use. The dehydrator sat on the left, next to plastic bags from sandwich size to one gallon. My water bath canner held clean jars and both vinegar and pectin waited in the cupboard.
Each evening, after cooking dinner and bringing in ripe and ready produce, I put the kids to bed. Then I started on my lineup. With each food preservation method ready, it didn’t take long. An hour each night tops. I scooped leftovers into lunch containers then loaded insulated bags for both kids and my husband. Food that didn’t need blanching met the knife then piled into freezer bags. If the food did need blanching, I had the pot and colander ready. And the dehydrator took care of all the zucchini tumbling out of the garden.
Zucchini chips are delicious. Have you tried them? Just take those extra squash, slice thinly, arrange in the food dehydrator, then flick the on switch and go to bed. Tell your husband to turn off the switch and load up a bag of chips before work. Dehydration allows the natural sugars to come through.
If I’d had a freeze dryer, I would have loaded that right up, as well, preserving the enzymes from summer peaches and green beans. I would have saved those fruit bits to make trail mix later.
I learned how to ferment my garden radishes and cabbage into kimchi. How to simmer extra milk into cheese so it will store longer. I boiled bargain-bin chili peppers into hot sauce. I bought dry goods in bulk then oven canned them to seal away moisture and weevils.
Food Preservation Methods, For the Win
Did food preservation methods really save us?
We are grateful for so much that year: For an understanding landlady who let us work the garden. For friends who were also going through hard times and acknowledged the power of the barter system. And to the surgeon who successfully removed the cancer on Thanksgiving Day. On December 7th, I was announced officially cancer-free and ready to move into 2010.
My arsenal of food preservation methods kept leftovers out of the trash and put them in school lunches, saving a couple dollars each day. It saved $5 to $10 each time my husband microwaved a freezer container instead of hitting a fast food joint on his break. When we wanted something sweet, I popped the seal on a jar of applesauce made from a friend’s bountiful orchard. Dinner came from that extra sausage nobody wanted two weeks ago and that gallon of tomatoes from harvest, cooked with dehydrated herbs and piled on spaghetti. A $2 bag of cheesy poofs we could have bought was now a sandwich bag of zucchini chips. Food preservation methods kept us from resorting to processed food and it kept us out of the produce aisle with its $3/lb tomatoes.
Mostly, keeping those food preservation methods on the counter, ready to load up at the end of the day, saved my time. It often felt like it saved my sanity. It was a small factor in allowing me to keep living and move forward, to put a few pennies toward other bills, to just keep going.
Have you ever relied on food preservation methods to get through tough times? I want to hear your stories.