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Happy recipients of Grab & Grow Gardens receive vegetable seedlings to plant at home. Photo by Mim Michelove/Healthy Day Partners
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Jano’s Garden: Pandemic and the food pantry

Do you have a clear quart glass jar with a screw-on lid hidden somewhere in the back of your cupboard? Well, then you are ready to begin Food Preservation 101.

Over the past six months, many people, regardless of their economic status, have felt the effects of COVID-19 food scarcity.

Although many of us who live in cities such as San Diego may not have huge vegetable gardens that provide food for now and later, we do have access to some of the best farmers markets and vegetable markets in Southern California.

If you shop wisely, at a market such as Primo’s in Vista and Oceanside or Paradise Produce Market in Rancho Santa Fe, there will be times when a summer staple such as cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers will be on sale for less than a dollar a pound.

Your neighbor might have a windfall crop of Roma tomatoes that she would just love to pass on to you, or maybe a handful of hot peppers that her family just doesn’t care for.

When I lived in Upstate New York and had a small 2-acre farm, all of my neighbors had root cellars proudly displaying their summer’s bounty of vegetables preserved in Ball Jars on the shelves. These farmers taught me a great deal about “putting food by,” an expression coined in the late 1800s when the Ball Food Co. introduced the Ball Mason Jar.

“There are few everyday objects more iconic than the Ball Mason jar. John Landis not only created the perfect quart glass jar, but also the metal screw-on lid that would extend the lifespan of people’s food, and prevent the danger of foodborne illnesses such as e.coli,” states the Ball Co. website.

In an effort to pass on food preservation techniques, I am including a refrigerator pickle recipe adapted from that of a fellow garden columnist, Katherine Whiteside in Cold Spring, New York.

In her weekly column in the Putnam County News, she describes her recipe as produced, “The Lazy Girl’s Way, because I do not love pressure cookers, or steam baths in the heat of late summer.”

You do not have to process these pickles in the water bath method, but you store them in the refrigerator after they are processed.

The absolute joy of this recipe is that you can adapt the technique to any fresh, non-acidic vegetable such as radishes, green beans, carrots or peppers.

For a complete, free guide to all food preservation techniques, including processing tomatoes and other acidic vegetables, visit the Cooperative Extension websites at University of Georgia at nchfp.uga.edu or Cornell Cooperative Extension at CCEschoharie-otsego.org.

Program founders Nan Sterman, third from left, and Mim Michelove, third from right, join volunteers to celebrate 5,000 Grab & Grow Garden bags distributed. Photo courtesy Mim Michelove/Healthy Day Partners

EASY PICKLED CUKES from Katherine Whiteside

Before processing the recipe, purchase four-pint size Ball jars, wash well and allow to dry before filling with cucumbers

Ingredients

2½ pounds unwaxed cucumbers – Kirby or English

1 pound Yellow Onions

SPICES – ¼ c. Kosher Salt, 1 tsp. Mustard Seed, ½ tsp. Red Pepper Flakes, ¾ tsp. Celery Seed, Six Whole Cloves, ½ tsp. Tumeric, Five peeled Garlic Cloves

VINEGAR – 1 C. Apple Cider Vinegar, 1¼ C. White Vinegar (check for 5% acidity)

SUGAR – 2¼ c White Sugar

  1. At least four hours ahead (and up to overnight) prep the cucumbers and onions like this: wash thoroughly and cut the unpeeled cukes into ¼-inch slices. Cut the onions into very thin slices and separate into rings. Mix together in a large bowl. Cover with salt, toss to coat cukes and onions with salt, and cover with two inches of ice. Place a clean tea towel over the bowl and put bowl in fridge.
  2. After the prep time is complete, dump the entire bowl into a large colander and rinse with lots of cold water. Stir cukes and onions with your hands, and keep rinsing and draining several times.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large pot on top of the stove, add the vinegars, sugar, garlic slices, and all the pickling spices. Bring to a boil. Stir. As soon as all the sugar has dissolved, add the cukes and onions. As soon as liquid boils again, remove the pot from the heat.
  4. Use a slotted spoon to remove pickles from liquid and press gently into jars. Fill to one inch from rim. Then use small ladle to pour the liquid into the jar almost to the top.
  5. Let jars cool a bit, then screw on lids. Wipe juice from outside of jars. Place in fridge and start enjoying after three days.

@ Katherine Whiteside, Putnam County News, Cold Spring, New York.

SHARING AMID CRISIS

Outside their own kitchens, two women have almost single-handedly started a project in North County that has helped nourish local  families during the pandemic.

Mim Michelove, CEO and president of Healthy Day Partners, and Nan Sterman, Waterwise Gardener, have begun “a program based on the shared mission of helping people grow fresh fruits and vegetables for themselves and their families — especially people who live where grocery stores and fresh produce are not readily available.

“Nan and I put our gardening know-how to work to produce hundreds of seedlings in our backyard.  Then, the seedlings are put into Grab & Grow Gardens bags with instructions in English and Spanish and the recipients replant them at home. The bags are distributed through hunger relief programs throughout San Diego.”

Grab & Grow Gardens are distributed through hunger relief programs throughout San Diego.

As people pick up meals and produce for the week, they are offered a garden to take home as well. As of Sept. 15, 5,000 Grab & Grow Gardens have been distributed through six area agencies.

The response was overwhelming and as word spread, more agencies and organizations reached out, asking to offer Grab & Grow Gardens to their clients as well.

Mim Michelove can be contacted at www.healthydaypartners.org/grab-and-grow-info for information regarding volunteering, becoming a contributor or suggesting a food site for distribution.

Whether we are preserving food in our own home, or reaching out to those who might need assistance, this is a time when we are all learning about the need to create a healthier food system for the future. Please contact me for further information and resources.

Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist and former Director of the Cornell University Master Gardener Program. She works in community gardens in North County. She can be reached at [email protected].