In the heat of summer, remember the dead of winter.
When the farmers' markets and roadside stands have tables aching under the weight of cucumbers, tomatoes, raspberries and everything else under the sun, you should remember what snow looks like outside your window.
Because it is possible to bottle summer.
Lisa Marie Brow believes this. She's the head baker at Dartmouth's Two If By Sea and an avid gardener. It was her abundance of fresh produce that pushed Brow to learn how preserve almost everything that came out of her garden in all sorts of ways, from pickles to jams and more.
"It just gets you excited, the idea of cracking into something in January that tastes as fresh as when you harvested it is so soothing," she says. Brow has fond memories of eating her grandmother's freezer jams, and she wanted to recreate that feeling, but with the food she made herself. "It makes me feel a little more down to earth, and less detached from my country upbringing," she says.
But Brow doesn't romanticize the work required in preparing food for bottling and canning. "My friend and I drove to the Valley once and spent an afternoon and filled the back of the car with dill and pickling cucumbers. We made 50 jars of pickles and pickled peppers."
That's right. Fifty.
"It's a process," she says, "and it doesn't make sense to do it on the small scale. So go big or go home." All the work is worth it for Brow, who now finds herself indulging in all sorts of goodies from her pantry, including her favourite dilly beans. "There is a flavour and charm that you canned this yourself, you sweated over this."
Brow sees preserving as a way to respect the summer, by choosing foods when they are at their best. When she picks cucumbers for pickling, they can't have blemishes or anything of the sort. "You're preserving the perfect, you want to get it at the peak," she says. Getting things at their peak also means buying them as locally as possible, she says. "I wouldn't buy English cucumbers from wherever regular grocery stores get their stuff. It has lost its integrity. The closer you can get it from the ground into your bottle is where you will taste the difference."
Aimee Carson is a food co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre. She teaches classes on all sorts of ways to preserve foods, from bottling to fermenting. When it comes to work, Carson thinks that it's important to embrace the collective spirit in preserving foods as a joyful and rewarding part of the process. "When people do collective activities that they have been doing for generations, it's about regaining that traditional knowledge that has so many historical and social facets to it," she says. "When they do it together, all kinds of things open up in that way, and people connect in different ways. It serves as an ultimate convener."
She views preserving food as a way to extend the shelf life of eating seasonally. "Let's say we buy blueberries and preserve them, so in the winter we don't buy California-grown ones," she explains. "That in itself is a huge, as we invest in the local economy and support local farmers, and eat local food all year long."
Beyond the personal or social connections found in preserving, there is something to be said for how preserving food can provide people with a sense of pride. "When you recover a skill set you never imagined you had, it's like a child learning something new," says Carson. "I took this thing and created it into something that has value."