We’ve been stocking up food in earnest these last few weeks. There is some weird nagging feeling in the back of my brain, possibly fueled by rising energy and food costs (not to mention our recent brief loss of power), and certainly not hindered by hormones and/or the changing weather, that is driving me to fill up the larder and prepare for a long, cold winter.
I can’t believe how much food has gone up in recent months. The “fancy” flour I often buy (not organic, but unbleached / unbromated, small-batch stuff) used to cost $2.99 a bag, while the “cheap” stuff was about 89 cents. Last time I went to the store, fancy flour was up to $4.79 a bag, and the cheap stuff is $2. Similarly, my favorite bakery bread used to be about $2.99 a loaf, and it’s now up to $4.49. Ouch!
There are several plausible theories about why food has suddenly become so expensive. Most obvious is the rising cost of fuel. Sad to say, most Americans who don’t live in California buy their foods from large grocers, and those products travel a considerable distance to get to the store in the first place. Worldwatch, a sustainability organization, suggests that American foods are often shipped 1500 – 2500 miles before reaching (in their highly-processed forms) our dinner tables.
Another theory about why food has risen dramatically is the current biofuel craze. Farmers are planting acres and acres of corn so we can burn it in our gas tanks. I’d rather eat than drive, personally. And I would rather give other people the opportunity to eat rather than fill my tank, if it came down to it. But we don’t think about that when we go to the pump. In fact, we don’t think about much, other than the dent it makes in our individual wallets. But Americans still drive. We drive a lot, and we drive big stuff. Why anyone would still be tooling around in a Hummer or Escalade or even a crew-cab dualie pickup is beyond me.
I think there are also other factors contributing to higher food costs, too, but the who-what-where-why of our current petroeconomy is not the point here. I just wanted to talk about my personal small steps to being (only) slightly more independent this coming winter, when expensive food is accompanied by the necessity for expensive heating fuel. Unfortunately, both are pretty important in my neck of the woods, so let’s plan ahead as much as possible, eh?
I canned tomatoes again yesterday. Tomatoes cook down an incredible amount, once you slip the skins and seed them. I was surprised at what I thought was a relatively small amount of food product from what seemed like a relatively abundant harvest. From our own garden, we got enough tomatoes for about 4 jars. Of course, we ate quite a few, but I canned most of what we picked. My MIL gave me a big 5-gallon bucket of tomatoes from her garden, and I bought a half-bushel basket (about 20 pounds) from the farm market. This gave me, all told, about 16 large jars and 3 half-pint jars of tomato product. That is enough for our family for about 3 months, but only if we considerably curtail our current fetish for the red fruit. If I had enough to last til next year, we would put up at least 4-5 quart jars per week for our family. That is approximately…. um…. 192 jars (48 weeks * 4). In other words, I’d have to put up about 12 times as much as I did.
So next year, I’m going to forgo our favorite cherry and grape varieties (which can’t really be canned, although you can dry or freeze them for soups, etc) in favor of more plum varieties, which are the best for saucing and canning. I’m also going to move the tomato garden to the front yard, which gets sunlight for a longer portion of the day. This should increase our yield per plant. A person down the road from us has tomato plants lining his horseshoe-shaped driveway. It looks pretty, but is also super-functional. I think we may try to do something like that next year.
As for the rest of this year’s garden, our corn crop did not fare well for the amount of room it took up; we harvested a few ears, but – while very tasty – they were quite small. I think the corn also needs more sunlight than it got. The pumpkins were hit by a squash borer beetle, which I didn’t realize until it was pretty much too late, so no pumpkins, either. Our cukes did great, but next year I will plant a smaller gherkin variety that pickles better. The pickles we did this year were too big and ended up slightly mushy.
I’ve already gone through our entire potato harvest, but learned a lot about potato culture and think I can improve on it considerably next season. And we’re still waiting to dig up the carrots. I’ve snuck a few, and they are delicious – but we’re holding out for later this fall.
Meanwhile, there are peaches to can today, and a few pears, then we’re looking forward to fall apple season with sauce and pie filling. Then there’s the task of convincing my family that they looove winter squash. (They do NOT.) Buying these things from the local market when they’re in season means I get great prices in addition to fresh, local taste. One thing at a time, I suppose.