Eating locally and seasonally in Connecticut is a hard task unless you plan ahead. Making things and storing them for future times is essential to a happy cook and a well-stocked kitchen. In order to put up produce and meat, sauces and fruits, I have some essentials in my kitchen that I could not live without. Below you will find a list of must-haves for preparing for leaner times.
I can’t say enough about investing in a good chest freezer. The simplest way to store meat, vegetables, and fruit is to freeze them as soon as possible after picking or harvesting. It maintains the vitamins and nutrients far better than canning or other methods, and in most cases keeps the food safe for months or even years. It is the easiest and fastest way to put up a harvest at its freshest, and to store produce for the winter months. I have a deep chest freezer that I bought new from Sears for about 350.00, and I store thousands of dollars’ worth of fresh meat and vegetables in it every fall to last through the winter months. If you don’t have one, don’t want to incur the cost of a new one, there are several online sites where you might shop for a used one for much less. So much of the excess produce from my kitchen garden goes into the freezer right after picking, and it is such a delight to browse the shelves for a cooking idea knowing that my choices are ripe, delicious, healthful, and clean.
Canning pot or Pressure cooker.
A canning pot is a lovely thing to have, and very useful for storing jellies, sauces, broth, fish, and some veggies. Not all veggies are suitable for canning fresh, so we can mainly prepared foods, like chili and tomato sauces, sweet butters and jellies and cooked vegetables like sauerkraut. We use ours most often during the fall months when we make and can sweets and sauces to give as gifts during the holidays. We also jar hot sauces and pickles of all sorts, chilies, beans, corn and tomatoes. If you lack a proper canning pot, take some time to look for one at your local thrift or consignment store, where they can often be picked up for a few dollars. Without one, you can still make many canning recipes in a regular sturdy pot.
I love my juicer. It was given to me by a dear friend who lived off the grid. He had a generator for electricity, but every time he tried to juice he would blow a fuse. When he parted with the juicer, he made me promise to make him juice anytime he came to visit, and even though he still lives at about 10,000 feet, deep in the mountains of Colorado, with no phone, I’m still waiting to make good on my promise. The juicer is a Champion, and very old and outdated. It is essentially a big motor connected to a shaft that drives a shredder and some plastic implements to strain the juice, but it will juice anything. I could put a potato in and get potato juice. I use it for fresh fruit and veggie juice during the summer months, (carrot beet apple is my favorite) and in the fall I juice leftover kale and spinach, freeze the juice and add it to soups and stews during the winter to add flavor and green nutrients.
Anyone can use their oven for a dehydrator, but it’s just so quick and easy to use one made for the purpose that this is on my list as well. With the dehydrator there is no need to turn the produce, as it gets evenly dry in a much shorter time than using the oven. We use ours to dry fruit for snacks, beef jerky, dried fish to be used in soups, and most especially mushrooms. Dried and then frozen, mushrooms can be stored for years in the freezer, but they never make it that long. Wild mushrooms are a treasure and we hoard them in season and use them sparingly for the rest of the year. I’m learning more and more about the wild world of fungi and I’m excited for a season of mushrooming this summer and fall.
When you hunt or gather the majority of your own protein, having a grinder is a blessing. Meatloaf, hamburgers, hash, and meatballs all require the meat to be finely ground. The added benefit is, with a small attachment, ground meat can be stuffed into casing to make delicious sausage! I love venison sausage, and many of our friends and family have come to love it as well. It’s one of the things we give as gifts during the holidays and it is always well received. My husband makes a garlic cheddar sausage that is mouth-wateringly good. The recipe follows.
Cheddar Garlic Venison Sausage
4 Lbs. Venison, ground fine
1 ¼ Lb. Pork fat, ground fine
8-10 cloves garlic, chopped fine
½ Lb. Cheddar cheese
2+ Tbsp. Crushed red pepper, depending on your spice tolerance
½ cup white wine
2 Tsp. Sugar
1+ Tbsp. coarse ground Black pepper
1 Tbsp. salt
5 feet medium sausage casing (you can get this from a butcher).
Mix the fat and meat together and then mix in the remaining ingredients. Mix by hand until everything is uniform. Stuff the casings with the mixture into 4 to 5 inch lengths. Allow to settle in the fridge for a day or two, to allow the flavors to blend. Cook in water or stock, on a grill or pan fry over medium low heat. These can be used like any sausage, served alone or with pasta, in a salad, or on sandwiches. They freeze remarkably well. Try substituting any game meat. We made them with caribou once and they were just as delicious.