I have a vivid memory at this time of year of my grandmother sitting, colander in lap, constantly trimming beans, shelling peas, bottling, pickling, preserving, wrapping and otherwise storing the tide of food from my grandfather's back garden-turned-allotment. With the advent of freezers and supermarkets this has become something of a lost art.
When I wrote recently of my beetroot bounty and of the saga of my onions (now properly dried), several people remarked on the usefulness of the book I turned to. Camillap, who writes about her veg growing at Seeds and the City commented, "Funny how storage is something veg books seem to gloss over a lot of the time." Strange, but true - as a quick browse through my gardening bookshelf revealed. The shelf offers plenty of advice about when to sow, when to reap, what to do in between and recipes - but nothing (apart from the occasional chutney) on storing. And even one of my most experienced gardening friends recently said "I haven't quite got the hang of successional sowing… " as we stared wistfully at her mounds of lettuce, etc.
The lettuce conundrum sent me delving back into my copy of How to Store Your Garden Produce: The Key to Self-sufficiency (no, you can't store lettuce) and I thought a post about the book (from a gardening viewpoint) might be of interest. (There are, of course, plenty of reader reviews to be found you-know-where…)
The first thing that I immediately appreciate is that the book is written and published in UK. Not that I have anything against books published elsewhere in the world, it's just that, in this instance, I recognise the ingredients, the quantities and the terminology which is very reassuring because I am, after all, reading it as an idiot's guide to getting it right, with the added comfort that any recommended varieties are more likely to be successfully grown in the UK climate.
The author, Piers Warren, puts the argument for storing your produce very succinctly in his opening paragraph: "… with less than an acre of garden, you can grow enough produce to feed a family of four for a year but, since much of the produce will become ready at the same time - in the summer and autumn - most of it will go to waste without proper storage, and you'll be off to the supermarket again." Presumably having chucked a goodly portion of your (excess, bolted or woody) veg on the compost heap.
This is the revised and expanded edition of the book, the first being published in 2003 with much less practical information. The book is very light on pictures - just a few in the middle of the book which are wholly unnecessary and (say it quietly) a bit boring. (The same could be said of the design.) But that's not what we're here for.
There are two sections: the first covers various methods of storing, some of which were already familiar (freezing, pickling, jam), some nice tips on drying, salting and bottling, the difference between fruit butter and cheese explained (new to me) and plenty of recipes for vegetable wine. I'm not so fussed about that, but it shows the range of the book. Part Two is an A to Z list of fruits and vegetables ranging over slightly more than 100 pages. The list is not exhaustive but covers the basics and more. I was impressed to find a section on Horseradish (my teeny, tiny horseradish plant is now over a metre tall) with 2 alternatives for storage and a recipe for H sauce - and I now know that I can put the young leaves into a salad. Bonus!
I love that the author is a gardener first and foremost, then a cook - or possibly then a winemaker? Each vegetable section has a paragraph of advice and tips on when to harvest (e.g. cut lettuce in the morning for the crispest leaves), recommended varieties (onions, for example, best types for pickling, best for storage, even a Japanese onion for sowing now and harvesting early next summer), and then the most appropriate methods of storing. Not everything can be stored and, when that's true, he says so and offers other appropriate advice. (Short term storage and successional sowing for lettuce.)
Some people have criticised the book for not having enough recipes; I think they're missing the point. It's a book targetted squarely at gardeners like me, jumping on the Grow Your Own bandwagon and not being experienced enough to plan ahead or quite know what to do with the glut when everything ripens at once. With this book at my side, I'm able to work out what I should grow next year to see me through the winter and spring - and what I should grow more sparingly for eating in the summer.
It's not the ultimate reference book for storing produce (particularly if you're the leading light of your local Womens' Institute) but, for me, is an excellent starter book on the subject and definitely one of my gardening books that I have actually read!
And the recipes? Haven't tried any yet but Mushroom Ketchup, Spinach Soup, Spitfire Sauce, Rhubarb Cheese (I'm guessing same texture as lemon curd - yum!), Pea Pod wine (didn't Alys Fowler do something alcoholic with her pea pods on TV?) and Baked Beans have all got my attention.
Now I just need to find a nice, dry, dark, cool but frost-free cubbyhole to put everything in…
My copy of the book was kindly sent to me by the publishers, Green Books, in Devon. As they say "Green by name, Green by nature." Where possible, books are printed on recycled paper, covering topics which may appeal to the environmentally, ecologically or conservationist minded. ("Soil, Soul and Society".) You can find more information about the publishers, including their latest publications and where to buy, on their website.