It’s canning season where I am and probably most other places in the US. Although we had a very late start to the growing season, hold on to your hat, produce is here, zucchini in spades and tomatoes abounding.
I ventured out into the food preserving world this year, took some classes to improve my knowledge and abilities. Boy, did I get an education! High acid, low acid, pressure canning, water bath, dehydrating (yogurt of all things), my head was spinning at times. Tricks of the trade were displayed, but one the best of these for me was, THE SHARPIE. And maybe not even so much a sharpie as labeling items and keeping a log so you know what you have and where you put it.
This labeling thing had occurred to me before, but to see it in action was a beautiful thing. Jars and zip locks with dates, preprinted labels waiting to go on jars that were still hot, what it is/was, a log of which recipe was used, how many were made, the details were only limited to your personal touch. It all come together—run your food storage like a business would, keep a running inventory, save time and money.
Enter the SHARPIE, a wonderful tool when used correctly or should I say, just use it. This is the big downfall I think. You have to actually use the tool to get a result and most of us are busy running to the next thing we don’t take the perceived “extra” time it will to write things down. However, if you do the math, it is SOOOOOO much easier to look at the item, with the label, that tells you what it is and when it was packaged/processed. Best estimate, 30 to 60 seconds to write it down per item as opposed to the frustration of “I KNOW I froze apple sauce!” and digging through three shelves to only to turn and find it in the freezer door (guilty). No more “Surprise!” red stuff in the container that could be last years left over tomato paste or something from five years ago that got lost in the bottom of the freezer drawer because you kept putting it back since you weren’t sure what it was then. If none of this rings a bell, you are a better food keeper than me and I am not worthy, but, I can be taught!
Moving on from my class I have incorporated this labeling concept. It was not easy, since my idea of labeling my home canned goods included the year I did it, at least I could see that it contained peaches. Now I have my food product log that includes the date I make the product, the recipe/details, the amount I make, WHERE I STORE IT and perhaps some other notes depending on what it is. And that was just for starters as I discovered how much easier it was to have all of this information at my fingertips. The utter relief, frustration level reduction and time savings was an awesome revelation. Keeping labels in the cupboard, next to the cup of pencils/sharpies has become a Godsend. Love that jam you just opened? Look it up and see how you made it. Fruit leather turn out kinda funny, maybe you can look back and discover why. I have a friend who logs everything she stores. She can put her hands on anything at will. If she wants to make something in the winter she froze for that purpose, no problem. If it is a whole fruit that is getting old, make jam, preserve, butters, etc. Perhaps you had a hankering for strawberries in January, well there they are, page 2, shelf #3, frozen on June 9th. Wow. For something that it only takes a few weeks to establish as a habit and this one is a keeper, trust me–!
I make a cleaning mixture for my counters, same stuff every time (1/2 tsp bleach to 1 Cup water in a spray bottle, spray on, wipe of with paper towel, sanitizes the surface) and typically I would check to make sure I had the proportions correct, so I would look it up, if I could find it, frustration level climbing. Now I have it written on the bottle, duh, how simple was that? Instant memory. Saves a lot more brain cells for other service. Can’t remember which lid goes with which plastic container? Try numbering them. Just drained a can of pineapple and saving the juice (use the juice in place of half the water when you make Jell-O, much more flavorful!)? You won’t mix it up with the other liquids it looks like if you take the time to label it. If it ends up at the back of the refrigerator for too long, now you know why it has that green stuff on top, smells funny and has no resemblance to something you would actually consume. When I come home from the store I am working at marking on the items the price and when I bought it. I then grab my inventory sheet and discover I didn’t really need four more cans of olives. Opps, missed that one, I vow to get better and you have to start somewhere. Fortunately we eat a lot of olives.
Labels are easy to come by too. Have some you use in the printer? Seen any at a garage sale that someone else can’t find a use for? Old file folder labels and some tape. Someone gave me several boxes of Avery Dot Matrix labels (for you younger folks, printers used to pull the paper through on spools) a few years ago from cleaning out an office, they are perfect! Self adhesive, lots of room to write, free——whoda thunk? They make sticky reusable tabs. The options, if you are creative, are endless and inexpensive. I need to label that box those labels are in—–.
I have become a Sharpaholic/labeler; I even carry a Sharpie in my purse now and the car. The funny part is, I have used them, on site, for whatever. Not much is safe from my pen any more. The family gives me wide berth when I have one in my hand, fearing they might be next. It’s a thought. But I can find things now I never could before. I can look at that red stuff and know if I want to keep it much less eat it. I know I have purchase too many cans of olives. It is a freeing experience I plan on expanding it, some day, to include other areas of my household. Maybe someday, before I die, I will be able to tackle my recipes and cookbooks, one can dream. Until then, happy marking!