Green and Thrifty

The pear and apple harvest is becoming positively ridiculous. Yesterday morning The Girl employed her new, patented pear harvesting system by parking the trampoline under the pear tree and climbing up into it and shaking the branches. Of course, what mostly happened was the pears bounced onto the trampoline and then right off again, but it was quite fun. I employed the more traditional method of balancing a basket precariously on top of the ladder, and I am pleased to say that I have sustained not a single broken limb.

Yesterday I borrowed a friend's Vacola kit and preserved some apples for the very first time. I have stewed and frozen fruit before, but this is the first time I have messed about with my quite extensive Fowler's jar collection (I always knew I would get into preserving, just hadn't worked up the nerve yet, hence the jar collection..).

Look at these babies with their dear little clips still on:

I was lying awake in bed in the early hours of this morning convinced I'd neglected an important step and that I will inadvertently kill the family due to careless preserving.. but I followed all the steps in the book religiously (for once - I am nothing if not adventurous with recipes..).

I do have some advice for beginners though - starting a day's preserving at 4.30pm is just silly. Four hours of peeling and chopping went into those seven bottles of apple preserves. I kept having to pop back out into the garden to pick more apples. It is extraordinary how they just disappear into the bottles. But it does keep the neighbours on their toes. My apple trees hang over the front fence, and I can tell you now, people just don't expect to see a middle-aged woman ten feet above them picking apples while they are walking their dogs.. I think this is possibly the main benefit of growing fruit trees - they remind you that climbing trees is not just for ten year olds, but a perennial joy.

At the same time that I decided to preserve apples, Rosy decided to sew another pencil case, which entailed bringing all the tubs of fabric down from the shed. Posy had a friend over and they were running up and down the hallway chasing the dog and The Girl and I were cutting up apples. Every surface in the kitchen and dining room was covered in fruit or fabric, the sewing machine was clattering away, the children were shrieking with laughter, and the whole house smelled like apple, cinnamon and cloves, and suddenly I thought, 'This is exactly where I want to be, and exactly the life I want to be living.' All it takes, it turns out, is a severe case of RSI of the wrists and a lot of loud children to make me perfectly happy:)

This week has really been all about food. Preserving it, stretching it, saving it, making do with what is in the cupboard. Our post-divorce stringency measures include a food budget that is actually the food budget. Always in the past there has been plenty of wiggle room, and I pretty much always went over what I had planned to spend, but really, it didn't matter. Now however, there is an amount on which we can spend on food, and that is it. No wiggle room, because everything else is allocated as well. I hasten to add that we are not going to starve or go short of food in any way, we just have to be careful. There is no room for extras. Again though, I am finding that an imposed parameter on shopping can actually be a good thing. Each Monday I spend the week's grocery money, and then it is gone. I cannot pop out to the shops during the rest of the week just to pick something up for dinner, or for some arcane ingredient that the girls want to cook with. That has to wait until next week. And it is fantastic, because I HATE popping out to the shops. We get to eat what is in the house, and that is making us into more creative cooks, which is a good thing.

Yesterday, after I had cut up the daily quota of pears for drying, The Girl made a double batch of crumble topping which we popped into the freezer to top the endless parade of stewed fruit that issues from the kitchen these days. Hint of the week - add fresh grated ginger to your crumble mix. Oh my, yum. Then The Girl made chocolate syrup to make milk shakes and pour on pancakes with cream. Then I made pikelets for the little girls for afternoon tea. It does rather look like we have fallen off the 'no sugar' band wagon, doesn't it? It's OK, we still get our once-a-week treats and dessert, and my, don't we appreciate them..

Last week in the comments, Heather said I had inspired her to save some nasty apples from their composting fate, and stewed them to top her oatmeal instead - well, I was inspired right back yesterday, and instead of tossing some sad and bruised oranges into the compost, I cut up the nice bits for fruit salad with some slightly wrinkled grapes and lots of pears and apples. My in-laws were beekeepers back in the day, and introduced me to the excellent tradition of anointing fruit salad with a spoonful of honey. Rosy was very happy to find fruit salad in the fridge, and I was very happy to feed her a 'rescued' afternoon tea. I am thinking of it as dumpster diving in my own fridge. There is a scary statistic that we waste up to 40% of the fresh food that we buy, and it is my mission to get this down to 0% at our place.

Have you been dumpster diving in your own fridge at all this week? What did you create with your left overs, and how are your autumn harvests going (if you are having autumn or harvests at your place at the moment)?


gretchenjoanna said…
Oh, my, the pear harvest looks scrumptious to me. I have two pears on the counter right now and I think I will go eat one.
Bek said…
Those pears look fab. Yay Fowlers Vacola!
I cannot wait until my fruit trees are big enough to climb. Tree climbing is an all ages activity!
Linda said…
Can't get over the huge amount of pears you have. From one tree? Autumn 2013 the apple tree in our UK garden went mental and gave us huge amounts of apples. Don't know the tree variety but it starts to go brown as soon as you begin to peel it so it's a race to get the apples peeled, cored and sliced and the stewing process started! That year I stewed dozens and dozens of pounds of apples myself and froze them and inundated friends and neighbours with them until they all said "No more"! Now enjoying (2nd hand from neighbours's gardens) our NZ Autumn harvest. I am being very inventive with marrows, slicing them thinly and creating stir fry veggie masterpieces with carrot, onions, peppers,garlic, cumin and any other veggies we get given. Great fun.
Jo said…
Gretchen Joanna, is there anything more beautiful than a pear? I have been admiring the gentle sunset colours of mine all week.

Bek, I love climbing trees - spent most of my childhood climbing trees wherever possible, and am loving this renaissance of tree climbing:)

Linda, yes we have a very old, enormous pear tree in the back garden, and this year the crop is abundant and delicious. Some years it is sparse and the pears are dry, and I still haven't worked out why.. I do like the sound of those stir fry masterpieces. So many vegies can be rescued by stir fry!!
CJ said…
How satisfying to have all those jars of fruit preserved ready for the winter. It does sound like a blissful afternoon, and starting a mammoth job at 4.30pm is exactly the sort of thing I'd do. I rescued half a swede the other day, and cut all the dodgy outsides off and mashed it with potato, it was delicious. And last night I used up the tomatoes that weren't good enough for salad in a lentil bolognaise sauce. Wrinkled peppers are good in pasta sauce too. Like you, I am trying to avoid wasting fresh food. Or any food in fact! Have a good weekend. CJ xx
Anonymous said…
Smells yummy!

I remember being happy as a child staying on a farm, with no electricity, cooking jam, baking, making preserves, gardening. Now whether I could be happy if I doing it long term. Mmm?!? Wish I had money behind me to give me the choice. But if I quit work I wouldn't have the option to return. I'll save this for retirement.
Heather F said…
I love it that you are embracing your strict food budget, rather than fighting against it. You have such a great outlook! Your daughters are learning such valuable life skills from you. I wish I knew how to preserve food in ways other than freezing. My father makes jars of jam and pickles every summer, but he is so lacksidasical about it that I am paranoid about botulism. I end up rushing to eat the stuff before it all can go bad (at least in my mind). It's kind of comical the way I pressure my family to consume it all so quickly.
Anonymous said…
Well done you on every level! Most impressed! :)
Food wastage drops to nil when you grow the stuff yourself and you know the true work that goes into food. :) Although others who didn't grow it themselves might forget to pour the tomato salsa over the fish meal cooked and in order to hide that they forgot it, feed it in its 100% homegrown glory, to the chooks! If forgiveness is a virtue then I am sorry to report, I am NOT virtuous in that case. ;)
Jo said…
CJ, isn't it marvellously satisfying to rescue food, and make it taste good as well? It is becoming a bit of a matter of honour here to not waste food. Although it is easier now that we have a dog who eats anything!

Lucinda, just think how much preserving you could do in the long summer holidays! I am finding I am recapturing some of that childish joy doing all these fun things. I think it is that rush we got as children when we made something ourselves - it's still there, and it is wonderful!

Heather, I have this wonderful image of you forcing your family to eat jam by the spoonful. But you know, the risk of botulism is miniscule with jam and pickles, as they are drowned in sugar or vinegar, which are very effective preservatives. If your father takes to canning carrots, then you should start worrying!

Jessie, oh no, I am absolutely hearing you on the horror of other people not treating your home grown, home made food with the sacred respect it deserves:(
dumpster diving - I like that one! I'm all for using up everything and did so last night. A few provisions were in low supply so with a bit of rummaging I managed a feta and veg tart thingy and also some stewed apples topped with muesli/crumble. I am very impressed with your preserves and perservance in picking them! cheers Wendy
heather said…
The kids eat a lot of hard boiled eggs around here, but they only like the whites. I didn't really blame them as I didn't care for the crumbly texture of the cooked yolks much myself. The dog was getting a yolk or two a day, but after hearing and really internalizing the same 40% food wastage statistic, Jo, I decided that that's not OK with me anymore. I've found that I really enjoy the yolks mashed, moistened with a spoonful of yogurt, and spiced up with Sriracha (my go-to sauce for all manner of leftovers), and spread on toast. A nice lunch with a little salad or some fruit. I gave myself double points this week for using the bread heel for the toast (formerly chicken food, now also not OK).

Re. Starting a major preserving project late in the day, I've done it many times, to my regret. But Sharon Astyk's blog gave me the inspiration to try to preserve more frequently in small batches, which take less time. Yes, it's a hassle to haul out the canner and gear (and not so feasible if you are borrowing), but you really can put up a small batch of pickles or jam, or a few jars of veg in the pressure canner, between dinner and bedtime. Just nothing long simmered, or in massive quantities. Applesauce (or pear sauce, which my daughter likes even better) can be done in a flash, especially If you are running it through a food mill, so no peeling. (I still core them because I am particular about those little bits of seed that make it through the mill.) Oh, the pride in seeing those jars lined up on the counter cooling- you've got to try it, Lucinda.

And yes, the savage fury when somebody wastes that hard work! I think we all should be offended by wasted food. I read a Tuscarora Indian story in a Native American gardening book in which a man picked up and planted every spilled grain and bean seed out of respect for the plants, and of course the plant spirits then came to his aid when he was sick, out of gratitude. There is something in that story which makes me think a little harder about tossing that last two tablespoons of whatever in the serving dish when I'm washing up after dinner.
--Chicken Heather
Unknown said…
I love what makes you happy. Such a happy home of women. I have visions of "Little Women" with Susan Saradon as Mummy. :)
Annabel said…
Hi Jo, I love your preserved apples well done!
Love all the pears too. So many possibilities. To me a post on food preserving and using up what you have is just wonderful.xx
Jo said…
Wendy - rummaging - what a great word. It brings to mind visions of Rat and Mole hunting for things to eat in Mole's cupboards when they stumble across his old house in the middle of winter and make a cosy meal out of odds and ends.. all the best words come from Wind in the Willows..

Heather, mmm, yum egg yolks. I eat a soft boiled egg with salt every morning and it is possibly my favourite meal of the day..the yolk needs to be runny though, for complete perfection. Today Posy made a curried egg for breakfast, mashed egg with mayo and curry powder. Very 70s. That's great that you have found a way to eat them - but I bet the dog is sad..

And I don't have a food mill, so endless days of peeling here still. Never mind, all the apples and pears will be gone soon, then I will miss them.. I made another batch of preserved pears today, and have managed to streamline the process already. One more time and I'll be a pro!

I like your story about the sacredness of grain - Michael Pollan tells a similar one in Omnivore's Dilemma, and it stuck in my head, and I remember it every time there's outrageous food waste in my life.

Lynda, you are so right, I am SO like Susan Sarandon in every way:)

Annabel, lovely to see you here. Yes, I am seeing visions of pears dancing in my head every time I close my eyes! I am loving the possibilities!
heather said…
Nope, the dog is ALWAYS happy. She is a golden retriever, and may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but even forgoing her egg yolks doesn't cloud her sunshine. Besides, there is always the food that falls on the floor...
--Chicken Heather
Totally agree that food preservation projects need to get started early! Mine always take twice as long as I think they will. We're six weeks away from strawberry season, and I will be doing lots of jamming and freezing then. I've never done scary preserving (well, with the exception of spaghetti sauce that was right on the line). I, too, fear for my family's life.

Good for you for sticking to your budget! Something I've never done but wish I would do is take out cash for the week's groceries--and once it's gone, it's gone. Credit cards make budget overages too easy.

Jo said…
Heather, we too have a happy dopey dog who eats anything. It is delightful, isn't it?

Frances, the most reliable way to stick to a budget that I have ever found is to become ever-so-slightly poverty stricken!
Anonymous said…
I'm not growing anything these days but I'm happy to mooch; there are always gardeners giving away cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes! I aim for zero waste too; am doing reasonably well - learned how to buy the right sizes, which took some figuring out!

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