As fall approaches and harvest is underway, it is an exciting time for farmers, gardeners and homesteaders. Your friends may be gifting you pickles or, as the memes indicate, stuffing zucchini into your unlocked vehicles.
It is one of my favorite times of the year, feeling the abundance of the Earth expressing itself as succulent fruits and vegetables. It’s also a delicious part of the year, which might have something to do with it being my favorite.
Long ago, before refrigeration and shipping, the upcoming fall season was a busy time of food preservation. Salted and smoked meats, canned goods, root cellars and dried vegetables were just some of the intelligent inventions of our creative ancestors. They had to be pretty resourceful if they were going to eat their way through winter.
Nowadays, of course, we can drive to the grocery store in the middle of January (if our cars start) and pick up apples, mangoes, salad greens, fresh brats and the works.
But often, the food has been shipped from afar. That means it has lost some freshness along the way, and it has a high energy cost to get transported so far to our plates. Not to mention, produce prices go up in the winter thanks to all those shipping miles. If gas prices continue to inch upward, we can expect produce prices to do the same.
Yet in stores right now, produce is more abundant and more local. You’ll even see sales going on as stores try to sell produce before it goes bad. That’s where homesteading comes in.
Whether you’ve got an enormous garden or you live in a small apartment, you can practice some beginner homesteading skills in your own home and kitchen. Modern homesteading doesn’t mean settling west and getting "free" land; rather, I think of homesteading of more of a DIY agriculture-based mentality. What can you make yourself instead of buying it at the store? How can you creatively reuse this item?
Doing some of your own food preservation this fall fits snugly in the category of homesteading -- processing foods at home to avoid eating unhealthy, mechanically processed food all winter long.
There are so many ways to bring homesteading energy into your life, many of which became popular during quarantine. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- You can start an indoor herb garden. If you already have herbs growing outside, replant them into pots and bring them inside. As long as they’re in a heated space and next to a window, herbs like rosemary, basil, chives, parsley and thyme can thrive in your home.
- Not sure what to do with all that excess zucchini? Noticing people giving it away on Grow Bemidji on Facebook? You can shred zucchini by hand or in a food processor and either freeze it shredded or get ambitious and bake zucchini bread -- which you can also toss in the freezer and warm up on the first snow day.
- Canning is shockingly simple and if you can correctly, nothing needs to be refrigerated, which is a huge space saver. All you have to do is boil some water, sterilize your jars, fill it with the vegetables you want to preserve and the hot vinegar-based brine you want to preserve it in and boil the jar again. It’s a great way to buy vegetables while prices are low and eat nutritiously all year long.
- Freezing is another overall great way to store food; we make soups at home and freeze them in Ziploc bags -- they can be lifesavers after a frigid hike in the woods. Freezing veggies (after you blanch them, usually) is another way to preserve your garden or carrots when they go on sale.
- Fermentation is another fun homesteading activity to get into. Sauerkraut is one of the easiest ways to introduce yourself to fermentation (it’s only got two ingredients -- salt and cabbage) but so is kombucha and even beer, wine and sourdough bread. This one might be more for the joy of learning a new skill than saving money, but it’s another safe way to preserve food outside the fridge.
Not everyone has the space, time or energy to pick up homesteading skills, but I still think it’s important that you don’t have to have a rooster crowing in your backyard in order to start developing some basic food preservation experience.
Originally from Phoenix, Ariz., Rachel Beglin now resides in Bemidji. She is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, sustainability advocate, gardener, writer and coffee enthusiast.