Real Food

Savor the flavors of everyday real food, fresh from the garden or stored on your pantry shelves.

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Bowl of Figs

Prior to the 1960s, the fig tree was a ubiquitous fixture in many home landscapes in the Houston area. As the baby boomers bought houses, they drifted away from the more bushy and spreading habit of the messy fig tree in favor of taller more vertical ornamental trees. However, it seemed that everyone’s grandmother had a fig tree -- which meant every summer, they had fig jam.

As a child, fig jam never really appealed to me. It was very foreign looking with big chunks of fruit, but the “old” folks loved it and eagerly awaited its arrival. It appears that recently, the fig tree is making a comeback. Every year, you see more and more of them peeking over backyard fences loaded with fruit and opportunistic birds. We are one of those houses. Our fig tree, chosen by a child and once relegated to a pot, was planted a few years ago along the wrought iron fence in our backyard -- primarily, in my mind, to give us some privacy. For the first two years in its new home, it grew slowly, dropping leaves and putting on new ones at seemingly random times of the year while producing few fruit and none larger than a marble. While it was slowly fulfilling its role as a privacy screen, the lack of fruit made me start thinking about removing or replacing it with a different variety. This was rather odd to me, since I am not a huge fan of of figs, and other than preserves, I wasn’t quite sure what else to do with figs, but the allure of summer fruit, memories of Mimi’s fig tree and my Mediterranean blood kept me from getting rid of our little tree.

Slicing Figs

This year, our little fig tree shot up to about five feet tall and produced its first significant crop of figs - a whopping 2.5 lbs. They were small, about the size of a half-dollar, but tasted great. Being pretty perishable fruit, we ate them daily with dinner usually in salads but sometimes in things like pasta sauces or on the side with our entree. I found myself really enjoying the figs, and since my tastes for so many foods from my youth has changed over the past few years, I decided it was time to re-examine the fig preserves.

We found a recipe in “Joy of Cooking” and gave it a try. It did not use pectin and turned out pretty well. It had a very good taste, but I thought the cinnamon overpowered the fig (my wife disagreed). We did a second batch with half the cinnamon that I preferred but again, wife disagreed. I guess I’ll learn to appreciate cinnamon.

Fig Preserves Recipe

Here is our modified version of the recipe from “Joy of Cooking”1 used for our second batch. It is an old-fashioned multi-step process that takes some time, but is well worth it. It uses an additional step called “plumping” where the cooked preserves macerate in their own juices overnight in refrigerator. This “plumps” up the fruit and keeps them from floating in the jars. It is not a required step.  


• 3.5 lbs figs (stems removed and quartered lengthwise)

• 3.5 cups light brown sugar

• 2 cup apple juice

• 7 Tb lemon juice (bottled is okay)

• 3.5 Tb orange juice

• ⅛ tsp cinnamon (this is half the cinnamon in the original recipe - you can go up to ¼ tsp.)

Yield: Seven half-pint jars


1. If the fig skins are tough, cover with boiling water for 10 minutes, drain and proceed.

2. Mix figs and brown sugar together. Let them “steep” around 4 hours at room temperature.

3. Pour figs into a pot and add apple juice (1 cup). Simmer for 25-30 minutes until the peels are soft. Smaller figs may take less time. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.

4. Add lemon juice (3 Tb) and orange juice (1.5 Tb) and rapidly bring to a boil. Stir frequently until the gelling point is reached. Here at sea level, that is 219-220 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Once the gelling point is reached, remove from the heat, skim off any foam, and add the cinnamon (or not).

6. Plump overnight in the refrigerator.

7. The next day, If you are canning the preserves, you will need to bring them to a boil before filling your jars leaving ¼ inches of headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. As an alternative, fill jars and refrigerate.

Cooking the Figs

I have done a 180 on fig preserves. I really liked these. They were firmer than the ones I remember and the popping of the little microseeds is a great contrast to the smooth soft chocolate texture. In fact, it was so good, that having used our final figs to make our first batch of preserves, we bought figs at the farmer’s market to make the second batch, sans cinnamon, that I preferred.

I’m going to move the fig this winter to a location where it can grow and sprawl a little more. I’m guessing that will set back production for a year or two, but I will be ready when it starts cranking out figs again. If you have any suggestions for fig recipes, please pass them along to me at Thanks.

1 Irma S. Rombauer et al., Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition, 75th ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 2006), 938–39.

Final Product

Ed Hudson is a biochemist for NASA in Houston. His free time is filled with gardening and an ongoing list of food preservation projects with his lovely wife, Jennifer. You can read more MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts from Ed here and contact him via email at He is always looking for comments, new ideas and suggestions.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


A strange floating craft has docked in the South Bronx. Bobbing and swaying with the outgoing tide, now grow plants sending new roots out into fertile organic soil. Why would food be growing on a raft docked in the South Bronx, you ask?

New York City currently prohibits the cultivation of edible plants in public spaces in all 5 boroughs. While the health concern for tainted soil in an urban area is an important concern, many citizens  feel that edible crops should be incorporated into our commons.

As modern urban dwellers more and more demand healthy organic foods, many are turning to within the cities own green spaces to find ways to create community abundance within “the cities walls”. As shipping costs and food prices continue to rise, a movement to partake in local community food production is on the rise.

Some cities like New York are too worried about liability perhaps to sanction such positive victory gardens. However, during World War II, more than 20 million Americans grew “Victory Gardens” to supplement the hard times of war rationing.

Since NYC will not allow such a demonstration on land, a group of activists have turned to the Seas, or the Bronx River to be exact. Why the Bronx River, you ask? The South Bronx is one of the nation’s largest food distribution centers, and yet is considered a “Food Desert” where liquor stores outnumber grocery stores.

S.W.A.L.E. New York

A diverse team of specialists has created a living, breathing 130-foot-by-40-foot barge called SWALE, full of a demonstration food forest and interpretive information on community-grown food and growing systems. The Food Forest Barge is meant to spark dialogue amongst New Yorkers, by providing a living system of public food production. Produce is available for harvest from the barge to all in need. The barge also serves as a living art installation, providing interactive displays of art and technology with ways to turn salvaged everyday urban waste stream items into food production system components.

To raise awareness around the 5 Burroughs, SWALE will dock in 5 locations of NYC for the remainder of the calendar year (see itinerary below). The SWALE barge is currently docked at Concrete Plant Park in the South Bronx.  All are welcome to come down and check out the living edible barge. Come see for yourself if urban green spaces can retain aesthetic beauty while also providing local food.

Successful Case Study: City-Approved Beacon Food Forest in Seattle

In 2009, food activists began working with neighborhood associations as well as the Seattle Parks and Recreation department to address the desire for community food production. Today, this garden stands over 6 years old and is an attractive, safe space that offers food to whomever is in need.

The Beacon Food Forest, starting as a local community endeavor, then worked with Seattle Parks district to develop a 7-acre food forest which still retains functionality of paths, gathering spaces and aesthetic beauty. This sort of success in another major American city sheds an example of hope in and lusciousness in a concrete jungle.

Get Involved!

The SWALE project is taking an action step to create the space for each of us to question the assumption that our commons are static and stationary and merely ornamental. By using Seattle’s Beacon Food Forest as an example, indeed it seems possible to begin to plant edible commons for the benefit of all.

SWALE Itinerary

July 23rd-August 14TH, 2016: Concrete Pant Park, Bronx, NY

August 15TH-September 14TH, 2016: Governor’s Island

September 15TH-October 14TH, 2016: Brooklyn Bridge Park

October 15TH-Novermber 14TH, 2016: Brooklyn Army Terminal

November 15TH-December 15TH, 2016: TBD

For more information, go to

Joshua Burman Thayer is an ecological landscape designer, writer, and educator based in the Bay Area of California. Find him online at Native Sun Gardens, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Our farm guest, Olivia, is sitting at the kitchen table. As she peels garlic for the pickles we are making, she asks, “What is the process for pickling?” It’s simple, I reply. Boil the open empty jars to sterilize them, then fill them up with the hot cucumber mixture, put on lids and boil the filled jars.

Cucumbers Onions

It sounds simple enough. “We’re going to make a quadruple batch of Bread and Butter Pickles”, I say cheerfully, “since we picked a lot of cucumbers this morning.”

I am happy to get so many pickles canned in one day. It is easy enough to slice the cucumbers in the food processor, peel some onions, salt it all down and set it under ice for a few hours. I am easily deceived into a foolhardy plan. It will be an evening of canning, I tell Olivia. We might be up late.

With a few other obligations in the day, and then kids need dinner — we get a late start to the canning portion of our project. The ice has melted from the bowls of salted cucumbers. Time to gather jars and rings. Do I have boxes of new lids? Yes, excellent.

I am ready to roll, looking for the canning pot. It is not with my propane burner where I expect it. The pot is in the front yard, exactly where hubby and son plucked a couple chickens three months ago. They used the pot to collect feathers. Nice. Add an hour to clean the canning pot and boil water to sterilize it. Empty canning pot and add fresh water. Start over.

The first canning project of the season always takes longer, to gather supplies and discover what is missing. The first canning project of the season is never a good time for an afternoon quadruple batch.

How can “sterilize jars for 10 minutes” take so long? Account for the time bringing the water to boil. This is the one time in four years that I wish I had a dishwasher. For sterilizing 28 canning jars. It is dark now. I am starting Batch Two.

The moths are coming in through the doorway as I pop out to the deck where the canning pot is set up on the propane campstove. Our outdoor canning setup  is one of my better canning strategy ideas, unlike this quadruple batch.


How is it midnight and I’m barely half done this project? I sent Olivia to bed an hour ago.

Canning is a humbling production. I scribble a note onto my recipe page: Do not quadruple batch. It is easy to get overzealous, lured by the harvest and the jar count at the end of the day. I get excited about bounty and forget about endurance, every year.

I have been preserving the harvest in jars for over a decade, and I am still seeking a rhythm to it. Maybe this quadruple batch should have been a daytime job for the mega-canner. It’s a homemade canner made out of a half whiskey barrel. It boils nineteen jars at a time. I chuckle about the obsessed vision I must be in the eyes of a houseguest. All for a few jars of pickles.

I look at the second bin of sliced iced cucumbers, now limp and lukewarm. I could go to bed soon, if these disappeared. I heat up a pot of the pickle mixture, stuff it into a jar to refrigerate and use for the next few weeks, uncanned. That is an efficient idea, since my kids want to dive into a jar anyway.

It is 1 AM and the house is quiet, except for me clinking around the kitchen. One more glance at the clock, and a glare at the endless bin of limp cucumber slices. I set those on the deck to go to the pigs in the morning, and I go to bed, content with my fourteen jars of pickles.

My favorite Bread and Butter Pickle recipe is in The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol Costenbader.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Harvesting beets

If you have a small amount of garden space and need a crop that is versatile, beets should be your crop of choice.

Growing Beets for Farmers Markets and Restaurants

We have found that restaurants love to use the "baby" leaves in different types of recipes. You can grow the beets all year so, there is a reliable crop to provide your markets. The larger leaves are used in about he same way as Chard.

The type of beet/s we grow to sell is Detroit and sometimes Golden. Detroit is dependable while Golden is "gourmet." The size of the beet depends on your customer. Some restaurants prefer the "baby" beet while others want a larger beet to slice and quick pickle. Farmers Markets are usually individuals that are looking for a "pickling" size.

Pickled Beets Recipe

This is a very simple recipe that can take on spices of your choosing —this is just a base to begin with.


• 4 lbs. medium size beets
• 2 cups water (or reserved beet water/infusion)
• 2 cups sugar (depends on your "sweet" preference)
• 2 cups white distilled vinegar
• 2 tsp Pickling Spices (you can buy this at the store OR make your own).


First, I wash all the beets with a vegetable brush before putting into water to boil. The reason is I save and reserve the beet water/infusion afterwards.

After washing beets, put into large stock pot (I use stainless) and cover with water. Put on Med/Hi to Hi heat. Cook at least 25 min. after coming to a boil...until "fork tender". When ready either take beets out of water and put into colander or drain liquid off into a container (if you decide to SAVE the beet water/infusion).

Now you can peel/pull skins away from the beets...may need to use a knife some especially around the "neck" of the beet to clean it up more. I always peel my beets before I cut them. You can choose, if small enough, to just can the beets whole. If not, slice.

While I'm slicing my beets, I have another stainless pot on the stove heating my water (or infusion from another batch), sugar, vinegar and spices on Med/Hi to Hi heat. Most recipes suggest putting spices in a cheesecloth and then taking out before using liquid. I put my spices directily into the mixture and keep them IN the liquid. Bring to boil and simmer about 10 minutes.

Have cans ready. I heat mine in the oven before filling each jar. I do one jar at a time. I layer the beets and then cover with the "brine" and use a small spatula to remove air bubbles. Wipe rims and put lids on and tighten. Set on a towel until they seal and cool before moving. And No, I don't use a water bath for my beets.

How to Use Beet Infusion

Now, what to do with that reserved beet infusion!

Canning beets

You can put the beet infusion, when cool, directly into containers and freeze for later use. You can also go one step further and add spices to it and bring to a boil and can the spiced liquid for use later.

This spiced liquid can be used to do a "quick pickle", pickle hard boiled eggs and pickle cabbage.

The peels can be dried and used as natural dye or in paper making! They can also be fed to goats and chickens.

*Please note: This is the recipe we use on our Homestead. We do not make beet pickles to sell. If you are interested in selling pickles at market check your local state rules and regulations. In our area, Western North Carolina, you must go through a "Pickling/Fermentation" class given by the Cooperative Extension Agency before producing and selling pickled/fermented products.

Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that had been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Find Susan on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


 Catch of the Day

What I love about living in France is that it seems that just about everyone is interested in food. When you arrange a trip to go mushroom foraging, you won’t just get a group of esoteric foodies, but an enthusiastic oui from everyone you invite.

I was just settling down for a sieste when Thomas called (none of the characters in this story have particularly French names). It had been raining on and off the last few days, and now the weather was fine. There was a chance we might be able to pick our first mushrooms of the season.

Considerations for Mushroom Hunting

I equipped myself with a small Tupperware box, and a knife. I had read that there are vipers in the French woods, and that for some reason, they prefer to bite women, so I wore a stout pair of boots.

When I got to Thomas’s house, I saw that he had stuffed his tiny car full of wicker baskets. I looked at my little box. Clearly it was going to be useless for the bumper harvest that Thomas expected, and I cast it aside.

The next friend to arrive was Marina, and she squeezed onto the backseat alongside the pile of baskets. All was well, and we drove to meet Kevin. Kevin however, is not a petite vegetarian dancer like Marina, but a big tattooed trucker. I had to give up my place in the front, and Marina and I settled down under all the baskets. Thomas had shown me the mushrooms we were searching for, the very expensive and tasty Ceps and Chanterelles. I was looking forward to the return journey, when the baskets would be full of the heady scent of foraged fungi.

Which brings me to my second tip for mushroom hunters. As well as the strong boots, take a friend with you who knows what he or she is doing. Have a target mushroom or two in mind, and learn about the conditions it prefers and the time of year it might be expected to show up.

You should also check if there are any poisonous mushrooms that it might be confused with, although I would suggest that as a beginner, if there is any chance you might confuse your target with something deadly, it is not worth the risk.

In France, there is also the amazing service offered by the pharmacies. If you are unsure about what you have picked, you can drop it by the local pharmacy, and they will identify it for you.

Foraging for Mushrooms on Public Lands

In France they also have huge tracts of forest designated for communal use. For me, as a Brit, this is amazing. The moment you stray six inches off the forest path where I come from, you find yourself confronted with a tweed-clad aristocrat pointing his rifle at you and claiming he thought you were a pheasant.

The boots came in handy, stomping through the undergrowth. In a country as devoted to its gastronomy as France, it is clear you won’t find any mushrooms worth eating by the side of the path, they will be long gone, and you have to journey deep into the forest to find anything. Look around ponds, ditches, and other damp areas, and on dead wood, although where you will find them depends on the variety you seek.

I found some alarming-looking orange mushrooms by the side of a creepy stagnant pond. My hair had got caught in the branches and I let out a shout.

“Found anything?” Called Thomas

“Lots!” I shouted back, “But all poisonous” In my mind, mushrooms are like those Amazonian tree frogs, their colors and markings serving to indicate that they are deadly. And I had got myself stuck in a patch of toadstools big enough to bring down a heard of elephants.

Kevin and Thomas knew a lot more than I did, however, and declared them not only edible, but delicious. They were Pied de Mouton, Hydnum repandum, also known as sweet tooth, wood hedgehog or hedgehog mushroom. They were orange, lumpy and irregular in shape, and the underside was covered in hairs. I picked them, but left the smallest ones to grow to full size for someone else. I also left the really big old ones, which wouldn’t taste good anyway.

When you pick mushrooms, never take all you find, or the mushrooms won’t return the next year. Thomas and Kevin decided they would be a good sauce for a joint of wild boar Kevin had in his freezer, so I took enough for the four of us, and left the rest.

Pied de Mouton Mushrooms

Sadly, those were the only edible mushrooms we found all day, and my final tip for mushroom hunters is to view your expedition like a date with the forest. Don’t expect anything from it, and treat it with respect. And bring a beer as a potential consolation prize.

When we got home, my husband joked that he’s going to train me to find truffles next, but Kevin proved to be the most successful hunter of all of us, when he managed to find a bar in the middle of the forest. Yes, an actual bar, with cold beer and snacks.

The French really do know how to forage in the utmost comfort. The old hands who hang out at the bar, Gilbert, Caroline and Sava, told us of their triumphs and failures in the forest. Gilbert even showed off his cha-cha skills with Marina

Cha-Cha in the Forest

Most of the baskets came home on our knees as empty as they had arrived, but we had collected enough for one meal, made some new friends, and had a pleasant walk in the forest. I would say that my first mushroom hunting trip was 100 percent successful, even if we didn’t find any of the prized Ceps or Chanterelles.

Later that night, we all met again to eat the mushrooms. Thomas had added them to the wild boar stew. They were excellent, absorbing the meaty juice of the stew, while retaining a firm texture, unlike many mushrooms, which go flabby after long cooking.

For me, that meal, made with local and wild food , enjoyed with friends, is exactly what real food is all about.

Hannah Wernet grew up self-sufficiently on a sheep farm in Wales. When she was 20, she moved to Austria where she works as a teacher and owns a small expat bar. She dreams of one day returning to a self-sufficient life in the French countryside. Read all of Hannah's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


As the pickling season approaches, it is very helpful to have everything you’ll need on hand. Sometimes you can pick up ingredients on sale (like cane sugar at Valentine’s Day) or you can order spices you’ll need in bulk, which will save a lot over the little bottles at the grocery.

Vinegar for Pickling

Vinegar used in pickling must be at least 5% acidity, so some homemade vinegars may not have enough strength to properly preserve your food.

Once, back when I was still a teen, I bought cheaper, store-brand vinegar and ruined an entire batch of my watermelon pickles — 2 days’ work. Lesson learned: Never compromise the quality of your ingredients when canning.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is my choice for pickling. It is now commonly available with a “mother,” but I don’t use this for pickling, because it’s cloudy looking and I want my pickling syrup to be sparkling clear. ACV is only available in pint and quart sizes. The half-gallons are actually “apple-cider flavored distilled vinegar.” Not the same thing at all, so don’t be fooled.

White or distilled vinegar is very useful for cleaning, and I do use it to scrub my plant flats, but rarely in pickles. White vinegar can be very harsh and sour-tasting, so even though it’s cheaper than ACV, I don’t use it except for things like jalapenos and “sour” pickles, which aren’t really my forte.

Stock up some ACV ahead.  Stores do run out, usually right when you have a nice bucket of fresh produce ready to pickle.

Spices for Pickling

Dry, powdered spices don’t work well in pickles so you’ll want a supply of whole spices on hand. I have found that, stored in a glass jar with a tight lid, whole spices stay fresh for years, so I take advantage of bulk packs I find at a local Middle East grocery.

I also can get these spices in the bulk bins at another store and have even found them on Amazon where the larger pack is always the better buy. Another source I like for spices and herbs is Atlantic Spice Company. They offer most spices and herbs you can think of in bulk quantity at excellent prices.

Spices. For pickling, I keep a stock of yellow mustard seed, cloves, allspice, black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, whole green cardamom pods, celery seed, and fresh ginger.

Ginger. My favorite pickle recipe calls for fresh ginger. Ginger puree is so handy to have on hand. Watch for fresh, silky-skinned ginger and buy a big piece. Roughly peel it and slice into ½-inch pieces. Toss those into the mini-prep processor, add about 2 Tbsp cane sugar to 1 cup of ginger chunks, and process to a puree. The sugar keeps it from freezing too hard. Keep this in a jar in the freezer to add to preserves, pickling syrup, and even stir fry. And, yes, gingerbread! There’s not enough sugar to make any difference in flavor.

Cinnamon. In pickles, you will use whole sticks. For a ketchup, chili sauce, relish or preserve that calls for cinnamon, you do not want to use ground cinnamon — it makes a murky mess. What you’ll want to use is cinnamon red hot candies dissolved in either water or vinegar. Look for these in the cheap candy section of your grocery. They’ll be in a little cellophane package, probably Brach’s Brand.

Salt and Lime for Pickling

When a recipe calls for a salt water soak or a salt pickling brine, you should use only the pickling salt and it is better also when a little salt goes into the syrup. Regular table salt or sea salt will cloud your syrup.

Also, when lime is called for in the recipe, do use it for a super crunchy pickles, but be sure to rinse at least three times: Drain off the lime water, put the pickles back into the bowl, fill with water and drain again three times. Then, soak the pickles in fresh water for an hour or so.

The Right Pot for Pickling

If you cook any part of your pickles, be sure to use a non-reactive pot. I have a 6-quart Revere stainless that I like and also a pretty le Creuset enamelware pot. Aluminum or cast-iron pots can react with vinegar or brine and could ruin your pickles.

Keeping Pickle Ingredients Submerged

When you soak veggies overnight in salt water or lime water, they always want to float and some aren’t submerged. Fill plastic bags with water and use them as “lids” and they will keep it all under the water.

When filling jars, some pickles want to float out of the syrup or brine. You can’t fill the jar all the way to the rim or it could crack during processing. Pick up a packet or two of clear glass marbles in the floral department of a craft store (Joann’s, Hobby Lobby, even Wal-Mart).

Dip the marbles in the water bath to sterilize them, along with the rest of your equipment.  Fill your jar as usual to within ½ inch, then add marbles to cover the surface up to the rim. Be sure the liquid is only to the ½-inch mark, then seal as usual. The marbles will hold your pickles down into the liquid.

Sure, folks look puzzled when they open the jar.  I wash the marbles as I open jars and keep them together in a jar for next year.

Notes on Pickling Jars

Take inventory. Make sure your jars are clean, check for any chipped rims, and be sure you have plenty of new lids. A jar with a chipped rim won’t seal, because the chip leaves a gap.

Never reuse a lid — the rings are fine as long as they don’t have any sign of rust and aren’t dented. Although the fancy glass-top jars are beautiful and tempting, I think the standard mason jars with two-piece lids are safer to process for storage. If you’re short on jars, either buy more or try to retrieve empties from gifts to be sure you’ll have enough for all your projects.

Speaking of gifts, be sure to label all your jars. You can write on the lid with a sharpie marker or buy circular labels to hand letter or print with a computer. Include the year in your label.

At Christmas, sometimes I like to put a pretty cloth circle “lid” on jars. To do this, carefully remove the ring, center a piece of fabric about 5 or 6 inches in diameter on the lid and replace the ring. Do not disturb the sealed lid. If you will enter a competition, do not label your jars. There must be nothing to identify the entrant, so you write on a tiny piece of masking tape and stick it to the bottom of the jar so you can identify which is which. Be sure to pull off the tape as you hand over each entry.

Shine up your jars for gifting or entering the State Fair. This is a good use for white vinegar. Dampen a cloth with the vinegar and wipe down the jar to give it a sparkling shine.

Notes on Spoilage

I hope this never happens to you, but be aware. If a jar is leaking, please just toss it. If you open a jar of pickles and, instead of crisp, they are mushy, toss them out immediately, without tasting. They have spoiled and could make you sick. (Sorry, but I had to tell you.)

Have fun pickling!

Wendy Akin is a happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Summertime for many of us means taking advantage of all the wonderful spoils and capturing that by using different methods of food preservation so that we have garden-fresh produce for many seasons to come.

We love picking fruits of all kinds. From foraging for berries in our mountains, where we have to do a little climbing and work to get small pails of huckleberries, to simply sitting in the large patches of thimble and juneberries that blanket the forests.

 What we lack from the forest, we get from our own homestead or get from our generous neighbors who offer their organic fruit if we will do the picking. Living in a banana belt, we have a vast variety of fruit: apricots, peaches, plums, apples, pears, cherries and even some types of kiwi are able to thrive in our climate. All of it gets picked and preserved.

Although everything we harvest on our homestead is very much the same as many of you out there, generally, our way of preservation is different.

Living off the grid often requires us to approach things from a unique perspective. Old ways become new ways with a more organic and green outlook!

So, in this article I share some off- grid ways to preserve some of your summertime spoils without having to plug in any appliance along the way. You may be surprised at how easy food preservation at your home can be without electricity!

Room in the Pantry — No Freezers Allowed  

What’s unique to our way of living is that, while most people are making freezer jam or packing up everything to freeze, we instead bypass this method and simply process everything for the pantry shelf.  Even something as simple as freezer jam is a detail that needs to be addressed for our long-term storage and solar needs. Freezers use a lot of electricity, even if you are connected to the grid.

Plus, freezers offer a shorter-term approach to preservation that may not be fool-proof. When the electricity goes off, you may lose your precious spoils of summer. Even sitting in the freezer too long can lead to the dreaded freezer burn.

So, for us to sustain ourselves with practicality and assurance, everything should be preserved to go on the shelf and not in a freezer. Taking this new approach will, for many of you, free up your freezer space and also give you more long-term storage for your food.

Here are two summertime jam recipes that are easy and make for a great pantry shelf jam!

Easy Jam Recipe

Cherry Preserves with Honey

Dehydrating Food Using the Power of the Sun

Another example of practical, off-grid thinking is dehydrating foods. When I lived on the grid, my Excalibur dehydrator was running all summer long. I simply plugged it in and forgot about it.  I also used my oven for some of my drying. All of these conventional methods were simple and practical. But how often we overlook the power of summertime and the sun, which is free to use!

Therefore, when it comes to dehydration, we utilize homemade items, such as our handmade air dryer. Even the window screens that are not in use get pulled and stacked with 2-by-4s to create drying racks.  Many of us overlook all the items laying around the garage that can be made into a simple drying rack. Be creative with this approach — you don't need much to create a outdoor drying rack!

A Homemade Solar Food Dehydrator

Check out our homemade dehydrator, which has air-dried many of our garden spoils:

Another viable source for dehydration that is sitting is our garages are our vehicles. Vehicles are the best and fastest way to dehydrate even the toughest of foods that may seem to really require the use of an electric dehydrator.

Take for instance fruit rollups. Recipes usually require the fruit rollups to sit in the oven for hours, using valuable propane or electricity. Other recipes require the use of that electric dehydrator, which again has to be left on for hours.

Not on our homestead. We simply cook our fruit, spread it out on parchment paper and place the trays right inside the hot vehicle! Within a day or two, the leathers are ready to eat.

So, next time you pick some berries, or want to dehydrate some fresh celery or other garden veggies, try some of these out-of-the-box off-grid ideas. You will be surprised how easy they are, and how rewarding it will be to not plug in the appliance and experiment going green.

Fruit Leather Recipe Using Your Car


Any ripe fruit, washed, cut, and de-pitted, if necessary


1. Place fruit in big stock pot. Cook on medium heat till soft.

2. Optional: Add honey, stevia, agave, or sugar to sweeten.

3. Remove from heat, and spread onto sheets of parchment paper on cookie sheets.

4. Add creative edibles, such as sunflower seeds, chia, flax seeds, or coconut flakes.

5. Place trays in hot vehicle and let the sun and heat go to work.

In 1 to 3 days, depending on the fruit and weather conditions, you will have fruit leathers.

Starry Hilder and her husband, Mark, live off-grid on a 13-acre self-sustaining homestead in the stunning mountains of Northern Idaho. Unique in their approach to homesteading, they rely on working with nature and utilizing their skills and knowledge with a back-to-basic outlook. From hunting and fishing, to gardening, composting, canning, and trail running, paddling, and hiking, there is never a dull moment on their property. Starry enjoys sharing her journey and all their life skills on their YouTube channel. Read all of Starrys' MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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