This week, I’m in the market for a small deep freezer. I’ve actually been looking at them for a couple of months now, but with the smaller ice box atop my refrigerator completely full, and bags and bags of tomatoes, squash and green beans that need to be preserved, now’s the time.
I don’t ever remember a time during my growing up years when we didn’t have a “deep freeze,” as we called it. Hidden in back bedrooms, on front porches, or in the corner of garages, our freezers were always full of sides of beef or whole hogs, raspberry jam and cut corn from the garden, frozen pizzas and ice cream, and loaves and loaves of bread on sale from the grocery.
Having a deep freeze full of food wasn’t just about the storage space, though. It was about having plenty. Though the cabinets and refrigerator might be running a little low – not to mention the checkbook – there was always something from a season gone by that was still out in the freezer. It might take a little planning to go from 0 degrees to the dinner table, but we always knew there would be something to eat.
Though most of us don’t give a second thought to squirreling away food for leaner times, we are just a generation or two away from the times when it meant survival. Though earlier generations took advantage of cold winters for preserving food, freezing is a relatively new method of preserving food. Drying, smoking, pickling, and canning were much more suitable options. And though they are a dying art, you can still buy the supplies for these projects at your local hardware or grocery store.
Just this week, in fact, my dad canned 14 quarts of tomato juice, and sent me home with a couple of jars of his homemade pickles. Though we may be beyond the “need” for preserving our own food, the art of it is still alive and well.
Preserving home grown food also is a way to eat local during the “long” winter months when you’re lucky to find even some left over winter squash or green house lettuce at the farmers’ market. For the last couple of years, I’ve made soups, stews, and stir frys by pulling out tomatoes, green peppers, and squash from my freezer all winter long.
I’ve been doing my freezer shopping homework, I’ve lined up some friends to help transport it, and I’ve narrowed in on a GE model at Home Depot. Though the freezing will begin tomorrow, the real reward will be home grown corn in January!
Knowing I was planning to purchase a freezer at some point this summer, I recently starting making my own freezer jam. My first attempt involved two quarts of strawberries I picked from my step-dad’s patch, two boxes of Sur-Jel fruit pectin, a 4-lb bag of sugar, and 10 jars in various sizes. I was making a double batch.
I had been warned by both my mom and my dad that making jam required following the instructions precisely. I need to measure everything exactly, I need to stir for the entire three minutes as directed, and I must leave 1/4 inch at the top of the jar so that it won’t explode when the jam freezes.
When I completed my double batch, I was thrilled with myself. It seemed a little runny, but then again it was supposed to sit for 24 hours to firm up. I called my mom to brag a bit about my luck, and as I told her that I had just made my first two batches of jelly because I doubled the recipe, she audibly gasped. My heart sunk.
“What?” I asked. “I followed the directions exactly.”
“You’re not supposed to double the recipe,” she said in a slowly recovering whisper.
“Nobody told me!” I protested.
“I said to follow the recipe EXACTLY,” my mom reminded.
“It’s not in the recipe. I promise! I read it through all the way before I started,” I said, since she knows I usually consider recipes more of a “suggestion” or a “place to start” rather than actual instructions for cooking.
Though the runny (and tasty!) jam was all the proof we really needed, my mom still sat down and read through the entire instruction booklet. When it came right down to it, we discovered that in fact the recipe does not say you can’t double the recipe, apparently because it is such a well-known fact.
Later, when I asked my dad if he knew that you aren’t supposed to double the recipe when making jam, his reply was, “Of course, everyone knows that.” But since I am proof that it is possible to go a good part of one’s life and still miss out on this universally known truth, my dad told me it was now up to me to tell the next generation.
And so, dear blog readers, we come to the real point of this post. It’s not a motivational essay about eating locally or being good stewards of your food. I’m not going to get sentimental about being grateful for the plenty in my life or my renewed interest in the domestic arts. No, this post isn’t even about shopping around for a deep freeze or choosing to pay a little more for the one with wire baskets and compartments.
It’s all about the jam, people! Do not, under any circumstance, double the recipe when you make jelly or jam. (There, now it’s up to you!)
Ruining a double batch of jam didn’t keep me from sharing it with friends. When one particular friend and her two sons (ages 3 and 5 at the time) were bragging on it, I took the opportunity to pass along my new-found wisdom about recipe-doubling. I ended the whole store with a dramatic pause, then “Never double the recipe!”
Little did I know just how seriously those little guys were taking in my advice. When I arrived the following week with a plate of muffins, the three-year-old immediately asked, “Did you double the recipe?” Come to find out, he also had been passing the advice along to his grandmother!
The torch has been passed.
Though I have known Peggy for just a few short years, we shared a bond through our disease that became very special to us both. I already feel your absence, Peggy.