A friend gave me a couple of feed bags full of organically-produced pears. Pears are a wonderful crop but they must be picked unripe and then ripen off the tree. The lore states that you need only bring a bowl of unripe pears into the warmth of the kitchen and they will ripen in a few days. I have found this to be not quite true and have sometimes found a whole box of pears in cool storage that have gone ripe all at the same time, necessitating a day of impromptu canning.
This happened again to the sacks of pears my friend gave me but I was ready for them and canned over 100 half-pint jars of pear baby food. Yes, we are expecting an addition to the family. I have never made baby food before but it seemed like a good thing to do and is a simple process. Parents tell me that pear puree is the most tasty of all the baby foods.
To make the baby food, I cut the pears up and took the seeds out. I did not peel them. I put the chunks of pear in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes and then put the cooked chunks in the blender. I poured the resulting puree, with no added sugar or preservatives, into the half-pint jars and put lids on and popped them into the water-bath canner. When the water came back to the boil, I timed 15 minutes and then brought the jars in to cool.
The next day, we take the rings off the jars and lifted each jar by the lid. If the lid is secure, you know you have a good seal. Food preserved in this manner can last for years.
Baby food, in general, is easy to prepare. Steamed vegetables can be pureed in a blender or a food mill which is an old-fashioned handrolic device that does much the same thing as a blender but has the added advantage of removing skins and seeds as it purees food.
I spoke with one young family on Denman and their baby had cost them almost nothing as they simply pureed some of the food they had prepared for themselves and fed that to their chubby, happy baby. I see those little pots of baby food for sale in the grocery store and really wonder at them being able to sell such a product when freshly-steamed vegetables and fruit or stew would be so much better for a little person and a lot less expensive.
Another way we are preparing for the future is to manure, lime and leaf empty beds in the vegetable garden. You always have to put more in each year then you take out from the garden. We add heaps of lime in the autumn as our soil on the Coast is so acidic. The soil is both acidic and nutrient deficient because of the heavy rains we experience, with any luck at all, in the winters. Rainwater is naturally a little acidic but we get it in such quantities that it both turns our soil acidic and washes nutrients out of the soil.
So, after liming, we manure with compost and waste hay and manure from the stable. The hay will send up grass seedlings which are not wanted in the garden so we rake up all the leaves from our huge maple tree and cover the manured beds with maple leaves. This is enough to stop the seeds from sprouting and adds a layer of both food and insulation to the soil.
I am protecting this year’s garlic bed under a layer of oats and buckwheat that I sowed right after we got the garlic up in the summer. I did not get as many oats as I had hoped but the buckwheat filled that bed with lots of lusty plants and had heaps of white blooms that the pollinators went crazy for. We even got a crop of buckwheat seeds!
The oats are an excellent cover crop for a heavy soil as the roots are as deep as the oats are tall. This is a way of pumping carbon into the soil. When the winter kills the top of the plant, the roots also die and decompose deep in the soil, leaving channels for both air and water to penetrate the soil. The roots are mostly made of carbon and that stays in the soil and enriches it. The standing plant matter and the compost and leaves all protect the soil from frost, the punishing effects of rain on bare soil, erosion and provide food and habitat to all the creatures that are essential for soil health.
One day, we hope to pass our smallholding down to future generations in a better condition than we found it.