Ways to satisfy your inner squirrel

By Leigh Bramwell

I imagine most people, with the exception of Barack Obama and Kate Middleton, who have been rather busy lately, know I am on a bandwagon to get people to grow food.
If the floods, droughts, tornadoes and earthquakes that are wreaking havoc virtually daily don't convince you that it's a good idea to be able to feed yourself, the price of a small block of cheese should do the trick.
Not that I'm advocating we all have a cow (although a small goat might be a possibility), but I do believe that if we can grow our own vegetables and fruit and keep our own hens, we stand a better chance of survival in a crisis than someone who needs a supermarket within a 2km radius to make a meal.
My partner, a cook on a high-country station in a former life, proved the point when the station was snowed in for weeks and he had to feed 10 people a day from the pantry, garden and paddocks.
If our shopping centre gets wrecked by a tornado anytime soon and I have to depend on my garden, I'll be living on feijoas, chillies, rocket, carrots, parsley, pumpkins, guavas, kiwifruit, apples, mandarins and limes. It doesn't sound half bad and it'll be good for both my finances and my figure.
Next year, I'll be sorted, because I'm on another bandwagon about relearning how to preserve food. If you have a surplus - and most people with a half-decent vegetable garden do - you need to know how to store it to feed yourself when there's not much else around.
This requires a shift in thinking. First, you have to be prepared to eat what will grow in your neck of the woods. Then you need to teach yourself to eat seasonally. It's no use hankering for tomatoes in July.
Plan your crops and discipline yourself so you don't end up with 37 lettuces ready to eat in the same week.


Be prepared to eat whatever's ready in the garden that day - and if this means steamed courgettes, roast courgettes, stir-fried courgettes, courgette fritters and courgette muffins, learn to live with it.
The happy solution to gluts is, of course, to store your surplus. For many of us, that's a whole new ball game. Storing potatoes, pumpkins, onions and the like is easy enough, but what do you do with surplus fruit and other vegetables?
The long answer is pickling, freezing, bottling, drying, canning, potting, jugging and, believe it or not, burying. There's no shortage of methods.
If you're a beginner, you may want to kick off with simple stuff like bottling, freezing or making jams, chutneys and pickles. Start by collecting jars and containers, clear a few shelves in the cupboard, put together the equipment and ingredients, and wait for a rainy weekend. It will take perseverance and practice, but slaving over a hot stove will result in a pantry full of food you grew and preserved yourself. There is no satisfaction quite like it.
If you have suggestions, questions or want to agree, disagree, advise, elaborate, comment or berate, email me at info@gardenpress.net
BOTTLING
Bottling is a great way to fill your shelves with fruit that looks and tastes fabulous. These are some common methods.
Slow water-bath
* Pack the bottles with fruit and slowly pour in enough cold syrup (or brine) to come to the top of the bottle. Put the lids on loosely.
* Put the bottles in a deep container with a false bottom, making sure they do not touch each other or the sides of the container. Completely cover with cold water and cover the container with a lid.
* Bring the water slowly to the boil, raising the temperature gradually from cold to 55C over about an hour, and then up to the required temperature for the contents for another 30 to 35 minutes.
* Remove the bottles to a wooden surface and immediately tighten the tops. Leave for 24 hours before testing the seal.
Quick water-bath
* Heat bath slowly so that the water reaches simmering point, 88C, in 25 to 30 minutes. Continue simmering for the recommended time for the contents. Remove and finish the jars as above.
Pressure cooker
* This is a quick method of bottling fruit as the boiling-point temperature is raised when under pressure, thus reducing the processing time and saving energy. You will need a cooker with a false bottom that's deep enough to take the bottles. It must also be capable of a maintaining a steady low pressure.

Moderate oven - wet pack

* This method can be used for all types of fruit and also for solid-pack tomatoes. Preheat the oven to 150C. Pack warm bottles with the fruit and pour in boiling syrup, brine or water, allowing 25mm space at top. Sit the lids on top but not the clips or screw-bands. Place the bottles 50mm apart on a baking tray in the centre of the oven.
* After the processing time, remove the bottles and secure the lids. Leave for 24 hours and test the seal.
Testing the seal
* Remove the clips or screw-bands and lift the bottles carefully by the lids. If these are tight and secure, the seal is complete. If the lids are loose, either re-process or simply use the fruit within a couple of days.
Store bottled fruit in a cool, dry, dark place and admire it at least weekly.
FREEZING VEGETABLES
Anything you find in the supermarket freezer - and plenty you don't - can be frozen just as successfully at home. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Broad beans
Shell and wash, blanch for three-and-a-half minutes. Cool in iced water. Put on a tray in a single layer and freeze for 30 minutes. Pack into freezer bags, remove air and seal. Keeps up to six months.

Broccoli and cauliflower

Choose young heads with no flowers and tender stalks. Wash well and divide into sprigs. Blanch for three minutes in boiling water. Cool in iced water. Drain. Spread on tray in single layer. Freeze for 30 minutes. Pack in freezer bags, remove air and seal. Keeps up to six months.
Carrots
Scrub and cut into pieces. Blanch for three minutes in boiling water. Chill in iced water. Drain. Spread on a tray in a single layer and freeze for 30 minutes. Pack in freezer bags, remove air and seal. Keeps up to six months.
Leeks
Remove the tough outer leaves and wash remainder. Slice the white flesh or cut in half lengthwise. Blanch for two minutes if sliced, three minutes if cut lengthwise. Chill in iced water. Drain and place on tray in a single layer. Freeze for 30 minutes. Transfer to freezer bags, remove air and seal. Keeps for six months.
Parsnips

Peel and dice. Blanch for two minutes, chill in iced water, spread on a tray and freeze for 30 minutes. Pack into freezer bags, remove air, seal. Keeps up to six months.

Peas

Shell, wash and blanch for one minute. Chill in iced water. Drain and place on tray in a single layer. Freeze for 30 minutes. Transfer to freezer bags, remove air, seal. Keeps for six months.

New potatoes

Scrub and cook in boiling water until almost tender. Drain, cool, pack in freezer bags and seal. Freeze for up to six months.
Pumpkin

Peel and boil in salted water until tender. Mash, cool and pack into plastic containers, leaving headspace. Freeze for up to three months. Alternatively, peel and cut into pieces. Bake until almost done. Cool, pack in freezer bags, remove air and seal. Keeps up to three months.
Courgettes
Slice into one-inch pieces. Saute until just tender. Cool, pack into plastic containers leaving headspace. Freeze for up to three months.

- Northern Advocate

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