Organize your pantry, then be generous with the harvest

Consider the transient character of the food preserver's pantry, how it captures a sense of the seasons as they unfold.

In early spring, the shelves are as barren as a late-winter countryside. But it's an emptiness that holds as much promise as the swelling buds of the apple tree — a harbinger of fresh harvests soon to arrive with summer.

By October, the roar of the farmer's combine has faded. Kitchen rhythms have slowed from the frenetic beat of high summer, and once again, a canner's pantry imitates nature as the vivid hues of an autumn landscape are conserved in echelons of glass.

We continue to squirrel away the remnants of late-season offerings, but the pace is almost leisurely. My passion to cram lovely pieces of fruit and vegetables into little glass jars has abated.

More or less. I still get misty-eyed around a bushel of heritage apples, and the remaining tomatoes and peppers in our garden with enough gumption to fully ripen will not be ignored.

But as the late October frost settles over the jack-o'-lantern, we food preservers are definitely into our bell lap. And by the time the first dusting of snow reaches the Cascades, the pantry will be primed to surrender its bounty through the cold dark months that lie ahead.

One of your last jobs for the year will be to evaluate your storage situation. An old-fashioned pantry is the ideal place to store your home-canned foods, because it's typically cool, dark and dry. With that said, you may have to settle for any space that meets those ideals, avoiding basements and garages if they become damp or if temperatures drop dramatically.

Make sure all your jars are dated and labeled with a brief content description, if possible. I even try to detail each one with the specific variety of fruit used in the preserve.

And when I'm attempting an extra level of charm when sharing my preserves, I even like to make note of where that particular batch of Marionberries or apricots were obtained ("picked along the banks of the Sandy River, Mollala, Oregon, summer of 2007"). People love that.

But if you've still got enough oomph to preserve, I'm all for it.

Consider my classic fruit butters. There's no butter in these butters, of course. But there is plenty of fruit and a whole lot of flavor. So during the Northwest apple and pear harvests, consider putting up a few batches of this old-fashioned treat, as well.

I used to steer clear of fruit butters because of the mess that results when lava-like globs of thick fruit puree erupt from the pot during cooking.

There also was a certain amount of risk to any bare skin in the path of this flying fruit since fruit butter prepared in a pot on top of the stove has to be stirred almost constantly to keep it from sticking and scorching.

However, several years ago I learned from a veteran preserver that primo butters can be created in the oven, or even on the kitchen counter if you possess either an old-fashioned or retro-newfangled electric roaster.

The risks associated with the stove-top method are reduced dramatically. Plus, during the process, your house will smell more delicious than any apple-scented candle ever could.

Meanwhile, be generous with the harvest you have captured so far. You'll make friends for life!

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at

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