Ah, the vicissitudes of time. Four years ago, when there were no currently relevant small scale farming introductory handbooks available, many of us welcomed the publication of Richard Langer's Grow It! with open arms. Now that we're all older and more experienced, however, some folks find it increasingly easy to criticize that breakthrough beginner's guide.
Which brings us to another breakthrough book that is just as important (probably more so) now as Grow It! was four years ago, and which may well come up for its share of criticism in another 24 months or so. Be that as it may, John and Sally Seymour's record of 18 successful years on a 5-acre homestead in England is important now and should offer welcome encouragement to today's back-to-the-landers, both real and imaginary.MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been serializing their book, Farming for Self-Sufficiency. This installment deals with storing fruits and vegetables. Many readers will no doubt want a personal copy for their home libraries.
Copyright © 1973 by John and Sally Seymour,
Introduction copyright © 1973 by Schocken Books,
It Is very hard to imagine, Indeed, what anyone
should want ice for, in a country like this, except for
clodpole boys to slide upon, and to drown cockneys In
skiting-time.— William Cobbett
From which remark one gathers that Cobbett would not have
been a great exponent of the deep freeze. We have a deep
freeze now, but personally I think it is a misuse of this
instrument to use it for the storage of vegetables. The
reason for this is that, in the British Isles at least,
it is possible to have good fresh vegetables from the
garden all the year round, and it is far better to "enjoy
the fruits of the earth in their season" than to try and
prolong the seasons of vegetables by freezing them into
some horrible mush in plastic bags in a freezer. The
reason why asparagus tastes so marvellous when you first
get your teeth into it late in April or early in May,
when you have just begun to get sick of spring cabbage,
is that you have not tasted it for eleven months. If you
had it every few days out of a deep freeze it would be
old hat—there would be no freshness about it. This
applies to peas, too, which I am told "freeze well";
when fresh they are a great gastronomic experience (if they
are garden peas—not blue bullets from the greengrocers),
and it is a crime to keep nibbling peas all winter, thus
doing yourself out of the great treat of eating them in
the summer time when they come ripe as a fresh
experience. I am not talking about dried peas, which are
an entirely different kettle of fish.
People freeze runner beans. They are crazy in their
heads. I have eaten frozen runner beans and they are not
a patch on salted ones. Runner beans are things you can
quite justifiably store, because if you have planted them
properly you will have such a glut that you will
eventually get tired of them, and they store so cheaply
and easily. Pick them when they are young and green (not
old and stringy), slice them (we do it with a little bean
slicer that screws on the table), lay them in layers in a
big crock with 1 lb. salt to 3 lbs. beans and pack tight
to exclude air. When the crock is full cover it up. If
they go bad you have not put enough salt in them. When
you want runner beans, some time in the winter when the
weather is foul and you don't feel like going out into
the snow to pick Brussels sprouts, pull a handful out of
the salt, wash under the tap for an hour and then boil.
You can hardly tell the difference between salted runners
and fresh. I know this goes against the "fruits of the
earth in their season" philosophy, but I think an
exception should be made in the case of runner beans. It
is good always to have some green vegetables available no
matter what the weather.
Root vegetables of course should be stored, for the idea
of the swollen root (or stem as it is in some cases) is
just that—to store the summer's goodness for the
winter time. We have discussed clamping under potatoes,
but I will recapitulate it here. Pile any root vegetable
in a long pyramidal heap, cover the heap well with straw
or bracken (a foot thick at least), cover that with earth
which you pat on hard with a spade. Leave straw sticking
out at the bottom about every two yards to let air in,
and little straw chimneys sticking out of the ridge at
the top every two yards to let the air out. Most roots
don't like frost, and the clamp protects them from it. If
you have a good dry root cellar, or really frost-proof
outbuilding, you might use them instead: less work than
clamping. Potatoes don't like light (it makes them green
and inedible). Parsnips don't mind frost—in fact
they taste better after having been frosted: leave them
out where they grow and dig them as you want them. A
disadvantage of the root cellar or indoor store is that
you can get a build-up, after a year or two, of spores
which attack the roots you keep there. Clamps avoid this
trouble, and personally I prefer them.
Dried Peas, Beans, or Pulses
These must be properly harvested. They must be allowed to
ripen absolutely in the haulm, gently pulled, left in the
sun and wind for some time, turned occasionally, then, if
you have the room, hung up in bunches from the roof of a
shed. If you don't have room like this to spare, and have
a lot of peas or beans, make a rick of them and keep the
rain out. Thresh with a flail and keep in dry bins or
crocks. Soak for at least twelve hours before cooking,
and add a little milk to the water when boiling.
Onions should also be properly harvested. When they are
quite ripe it is a good plan to bend their tops over for
a week or so. Then lift them out of the ground and lay
them on their sides, bottoms to the sun, for a week or
two, turning them occasionally. The best way to store
them is to hang them in strings, which is quite simple. Just hang four strands of bailer or binder twine down
from a hook, and plait the short tops you have left on
your onions in to the strings—weave them in like
the warp and weft of a cloth. Nothing looks nicer than a
dozen or so fat strings of onions hung under the eaves of
your house on the southern side, or else hung in an airy
shed, or a big kitchen. To pickle onions: soak in brine
for three days, wash, dry, and put in boiling vinegar.
Celery is better when it's had a frost on it, and is that
valuable thing—a winter fresh vegetable. Leave it
in the garden, well earthed up, and eat it sparingly.
Like peas and Brussels sprouts you will never have
enough. In very severe weather cover the rows with straw
Tomatoes can be bottled when ripe, made into chutney
green, or each one wrapped separately in tissue paper and
put in a drawer. Some can be laid, green, on a
window sill to ripen, but they'll probably go rotten like
this. We used to lay them in draper's wadding, in
drawers, not touching each other. If you live in a hot
country, like Spain, you can hang them, ripe, in bunches
in the sun. They'll shrivel up and keep good. I think we
should experiment in England with doing the same thing
with artificial heat. Spanish dried tomatoes have a
marvellous flavour. When picking tomatoes for dry-storing
leave the stems on and do not bruise. To bottle tomatoes,
wash in cold water, place in bottles, fill bottle with
brine made with 1/2 oz. salt to 1 quart water. Put the
screwtops on the bottles but do not screw them tight
because, obviously, the steam must escape or the bottles
will burst. Place the bottles in a large kettle of cold
water, with the water covering the tops, and bring slowly
to 190° F. (88° C.) Keep it there for half an
hour. Remove bottles from water and screw tops tight
immediately. Another way is to scald the tomatoes in boiling water for ten seconds, pull them out, drop
in cold water, and remove the skins. Pack
the fruit tightly into the jars with no added liquid, but
if you add a teaspoonful of salt and half a teaspoonful
of sugar to each pound of fruit it is said to improve the
flavour. Then heat and seal the jars as for tomatoes in
I will here say a word or two about bottling in general.
We have always used kilner jars, which are proprietary
jars with screw tops holding down a glass disk on a
rubber ring. The rubber rings need renewing occasionally
(every few years—or as soon as they stretch) and
the metal parts of the tops should be well rubbed with
vaseline before you use them, otherwise they will rust.
Store rubber in the dark. There are other proprietary
bottling jars: they all have one thing in common: they
cost money. Our forebears used to preserve things by
putting them in stoneware jars, or pottery jars, or old
glass jars, sterilizing by boiling as we do, then sealing
by running hot fat, hot wax or other air-excluding
substance over the material to be bottled. The principle
of bottling is simply this: You destroy all the
micro-organisms which might cause decay by heating them,
while the material is still sterile; then you seal it
from the air so that no more micro-organisms can get in.
Canning is the modern industrialized way of doing the
For bottling it is very good to have a bottling boiler,
which has a false bottom to stop the glass jars from
standing directly over the source of the heat, and a hole
in the lid for a thermometer. You can buy a special
bottling thermometer. If you haven't got a thermometer
you can achieve the same result by filling your bottles
with hot syrup or brine, plunging them into hot water,
heating until the water is simmering, and keeping it
simmering for half an hour. The idea, though, of the
thermometer method is so that you do not have to heat the
stuff you are bottling more than absolutely necessary to
sterilize it, for over-heating kills the flavour, and,
with that, the vitamins. If you haven't got a bottling
boiler any old receptacle will do, provided that it is
deep enough for you to be able to stand the bottles on a
metal plate or grid or something (even a thick cloth)
just to keep their bottoms from touching the source of
If you grow outdoor tomatoes most of them won't get ripe.
Such of these, as are not blighted, as you don't think
will ripen in drawers, make chutney of:
Take 1 lb. of green tomatoes, cut them up; chop up half a
pound of onions, put in 1 oz. of salt, 2 teaspoons of
cayenne pepper, 1 1/4 pints of vinegar, 3/4 lb. brown
sugar or honey, 1/2 lb. raisins; simmer in a saucepan
until it goes thick. Bottle hot in hot sterilized jars,
and you don't need to heat the jars again. Don't cover
with metal covers or the vinegar will eat the metal.
Greaseproof paper is good enough to cover chutney, like
It is well worth going to some trouble to preserve
tomatoes. If you can grow a few tomato plants in the
greenhouse, and some out of doors, you will have fresh
tomatoes for a good many months of the summer and autumn,
but after this you must have them preserved. Tomatoes
make all the difference to good cooking, and, further,
they are the third richest source of vitamin C that we
have available (black currant being the highest, lemon
Another use for surplus tomatoes is tomato juice. To make
this you simmer the tomatoes and then rub the pulp of
them through a fine sieve. Add to it 1/2 pint water, 1
oz. sugar, 1 teaspoonful salt, 1/2 teaspoonful pepper.
Bring to boil immediately (you must not leave it in the
air or it will go brown), pour into hot bottles, stand
for ten minutes in boiling water and seal.
Bottling and Drying Fruits
Other things well worth bottling, particularly if you
have children in your community, include blackcurrants,
blackberries, raspberries and their kin, gooseberries.
Put into bottles, fill bottles with a syrup of 8 oz.
sugar to 1 pint water, boiled and then cooled, put on
caps lightly, place bottles in bottling boiler, fill with
cold water over the tops of the bottles, bring slowly to
165° F. (74° C.) and keep there for ten minutes.
Haul the bottles out and tighten tops hard immediately.
And here is a tip about tightening tops of bottles. After
the bottles have cooled, unscrew the metal tops and pick
the bottles up by the glass discs. If there is a proper
seal there will be a vacuum inside and you can do this.
If the glass tops come off then you must boil and seal
again—you haven't got an airtight seal. After
testing, if successful, replace the metal screw-top and
screw on hard. Shove the bottle in a shelf and forget it
until the darkness of the winter. It is very satisfying
to walk into your larder and see shelf after shelf of
bottled fruit in the early part of the winter:
particularly if you know you have got a Jersey cow or two
to milk and will have plenty of rich cream to go with
Soft fruit freezes quite well, and if you have a deep
freeze you will probably find yourself using it to
preserve your soft fruit and not going to the trouble of
bottling. Pack in polythene bags of course.
People bottle all sorts of other things, like apples, but
personally I think it is a waste of time.
Apples, if they are keepers, should be laid out on clean
shelves (no spores from last year's fungus to decay
them), on paper if you like, not touching each other, in
an even temperature well above freezing and with
ventilation. They should thus keep the winter through. If
you have doubts about them dry some apple rings. Slice
your apples into discs, core them and thread them on a
string, dry them at from 120° to 150° F. (50°
to 65° C.) for five hours, hang them in the cool for
twelve hours, then pack in cardboard boxes and store in a
dry place. If you don't want them to go brown put in the
fumes of burning sulphur for ten minutes before you dry
Pears can be quartered and put in brine of 1 oz. salt to
1 gallon water for a minute (this stops them
discoloring—you can't use sulphur with pears because it
spoils the flavour). Dry the quarters on trays starting
at 100° F. (38° C.) raising to 150° F.
(66° C.) for five hours.
Prunes can be made of any plum or damson, and they are a
rich source of vitamin A. Dip the plums into a lye made
of I oz. caustic soda in a gallon of water for a few
minutes. This softens the skins. Wash very well in cold
water, dry on trays over your stove at 120° F.
(50° C.) raising to 160° F. (71° C.) very
gradually or the plums will burst. Keep in heat for two
days. Soak prunes in water for 12 hours before using.
Any fruit juice can be made (if you have small babies to
think about) by boiling fruit for half an hour, then
strain juice through strainer, let it stand for a day,
boil it for half an hour again, skim, add 1 lb. sugar per
gallon of juice, boil again, skim again, pour hot into
hot sterile bottles, stand bottles in boiling water for
ten minutes, seal. Blackcurrant is very good like this.
Mushrooms are marvellous dried. Thread on strings and
hang over stove, 120° F. (50° C.) is right, until
dry. They are best crumbled up to a powder and stored in
airtight jars or cans. Marvellous for flavouring soups or
All herbs can be dried. Pick just before they flower and
hang in bunches near your stove.
Chutneys can be made of nearly anything. The principle is
simmer your fruit or vegetable together with onions and
spices (the more spices the merrier in my opinion and
onions are essential) in vinegar. When it has boiled down
to a thick goo bottle and cover with greaseproof paper.
You don't need recipes of 2/3 oz. of this and 3/4 oz. of
that if you just use common sense. Of course you need
salt and pepper.
Pickling Gherkins and Onions
To pickle anything cut it up, lay it in salt for a day,
rinse and cover with cold vinegar. Gherkins are well
worth pickling. Leave these in a brine of 1 lb. salt to 1
gallon of water for at least three days (weeks if you
like), pull them out of the brine and drain, pour hot
spiced vinegar over them, then cover and leave for 24 hours. Then drain the vinegar off, boil it again, and pour it over the
gherkins. Do this twice if you like—it improves the
colour. Bottle and store.
To pickle onions leave in brine of 1 lb. salt to 1 gallon
water (don't skin the onions first) for at least 24 hours— months if you like—the longer the better. Drain, put in
jars, fill with cold spiced vinegar.
Freezing of Fruit and Vegetables
You can freeze tomato juice or other fruit juice by
pouring it into cartons, putting it in the freezer until
solid, taking out of the cartons as small blocks of ice,
putting in plastic bags and back into the freezer.
All vegetables, if you must freeze them, plunge into
boiling water first. Bring the water back to boil and
boil for three minutes, plunge into cold water, drain,
pack in plastic bags, seal bags, label, and freeze.
Soft fruit you can put straight into plastic bags, seal,
and freeze; except gooseberries, which you should crush,
sprinkle with 1 lb. sugar to 3 lbs. fruit, bag and
If you live in a land where no greens grow in the winter
time because it is deep in snow, make sauerkraut. This is
done by fermenting shredded cabbage sprinkled with salt
in deep bins until you want it, which is done this
Rub clean the inside of a wooden tub (crock would do)
with vinegar. Line it with cabbage leaves. Shred 12 lbs.
cabage, mix with 8 oz. salt, pack in tight, cover with
whole cabbage leaves, stir occasionally for first three
weeks, and then leave covered until you want it. To cook
it, drain, put in boiling water, and boil for 2 hours.
Sweet corn: boil well on the cob, dry cobs in slow oven
overnight, break kernels off cob, store in closed jars.
Sweet corn will freeze well too—take it off the cob
of course and stow in bags.
We lived for eight years in Suffolk without a deep
freeze, and we lived very well indeed. We hardly ever
bought any food and we never felt the lack of anything.
We bottled a lot, made jam a lot, dried a lot. We were
never short of vegetables nor of fruit. The only
difference now that we have got a deep freeze, as far as
vegetables and fruit are concerned, is that we freeze
soft fruit and fruit juice and don't bottle them. I have
a feeling that they were nicer when we bottled them.