Its official the La Plata County Fair is a mere six weeks away.
The county fair offers a fascinating cross-section of our community not only is this a time to see longtime friends in one place, but its also a chance to learn and observe various livestock populations; displays of quilts, floral arrangements and colorful homemade wines and jellies; and, of course, the roar of the demolition derby.
If you have never entered anything in the fair, this is the perfect year to do so. But even more important, with the escalating price of groceries, this is a great year to create your own stockpile of groceries (be it by freezing, dehydrating or canning). Not only will you know the quality and content of product, but cost can be dramatically less (especially compared with this time next year).
Three days ago, I was at the grocery store purchasing produce for my Food Preservation Class. As always, conversation is sparked with other shoppers because of the quantities being purchased. There seems to be a mystique as to the perceived difficulty of food preservation. One shopper said she admired those who preserve, but she couldnt possibly do that. After I reminded her that she froze meat, she grinned as she realized she had indeed preserved.
I then returned the bounty to my class along with a bottle of cheap wine. This time, the wine was used to create a sparkling jelly (from the cheapest wine I could find), and 10 pounds of fresh mushrooms transitioned into the absolute best canned marinated mushrooms I had ever tasted. Salsa, pinto beans and jerky are slated to be our next projects.
Growing and buying food locally has many benefits. Not only does one know the quality and the ingredients, it helps our local economy. I suggest taking this one step further, to enjoy local produce year-round long after the apple and peach trees are buried in snow and no longer have leaves. Snacks of dried apples, peaches and beef jerky take much less space and cost a fraction of that sold in the grocery store. Imagine that half bushel of apples (20 pounds) dehydrating to a mere 2 pounds to fit on the kitchen shelf.
Fruit dehydration is a good way for the novice to start. Our warm, dry days of summer (85 degrees by noon) will accommodate drying fruits outside to a lovely, supple and dry condition. However, with the winds this year, I suggest one find a location sheltered from wind to result in even drying. Dehydration removes 80 percent of the water from fruit, so the process usually requires more than one day. Outside exposure to bird or insect droppings (even under cheesecloth) creates the need for pasteurizing. This kills insect droppings and eggs by placing the fruit in freezer for 48 hours or in a 175 degree oven for 15 minutes. Condition it to even the moisture and then store it to enjoy throughout the winter.
For some, freezing surplus meat and drying fruits might be enough. For others, there is enjoyment in making various jams, marinades or sauces, canning local pinto beans, or making tomato or fruit salsas. Remember, the fair is only six weeks away.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 247-4355. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.