In the colder parts of this country, veteran cook-gardeners know about stocking up. And while not the life and death matter they once were for farm families, the frantic fall sessions of produce preservation--pickling, jamming, jellying, drying, canning, pressing and juicing--still puts food on the shelf for the long winter months.

Except maybe in Los Angeles. There are no life-threatening winters here (unless you count mud slides). In this convenient climate, every season offers an opportunity to line the shelves with edible bounty.

Although I didn’t grow some staples--corn, potatoes, onions--before I moved to Oregon, I grew what I liked and what I enjoyed preserving. My typical Los Angeles schedule went something like this: In winter, I picked lemons, limes and guavas for lemon chutney, candied lemon peel, lemon curd, lime marmalade and guava jelly.


Come early spring, the Savoy cabbage was ready for sauerkraut or piccalilli. If I’d ever grown enough extra peas to freeze, I could have done that, but I didn’t. In late spring, I made my favorite condiment, apricot preserves. By early summer, the zucchini were ready for bread-and-butter or dill pickles. After the usual June-July tomato deluge, tiny cucumbers from France gave forth cornichons, chile peppers slowly dried on strings and the summer apple tree (a Beverly Hills, I think) inspired applesauce. September brought yellow fall apples, winter squash and the last tomatoes. Sometimes I picked green tomatoes for pickles and chutney just to be different.

I come by this passion for preserving semi-honestly. My grandmother, a farmer’s daughter, put up everything she grew. I’m not kidding; it went straight from the garden to the pressure cooker, rarely appearing on our plates in anything resembling fresh form. She grew strawberries, green beans, peas, corn and tomatoes. I doubt she ever tasted an eggplant, and she had no use for zucchini. When I was a little girl, her garden ended up in jars that filled shelves in the garage, dozens of quarts filled with red, green and yellow treasures. (My grandmother’s mother stored all her jars in a dank root cellar reached by a steep ladder, where nobody ever wanted to go, no matter how hungry.)

Years later, when I finally had a garden of my own, I put up a few jars. Suddenly, I had a shelf glowing with colorful stuff, and I felt mature, responsible, smug and proud. “I made that,” I would say, pointing to a pint of pickles or a half-pint of jam. “You did?” was the usual surprised response. The one I wanted to hear.

Another nice thing about these sparkling beauties: They make great holiday presents, and besides, it’s hard for one or two people to consume eight pints of green-tomato chutney.

I’m not a profligate canner. I don’t own a pressure cooker, so I make only those high-acid items that can be finished in my steam canner. I use only produce that is free, or near enough, from my own garden. Buying fruits and vegetables to put into a jar goes against my farmer’s heritage. The exceptions are two items I crave that I can’t grow (or haven’t yet): cranberries and mangoes, both of which make winter chutneys.

Modern urban gardeners don’t can much anymore. It isn’t a lost art because it’s easily found in dozens of books, but with today’s emphasis on fresh produce and the year-round availability of formerly seasonal stuff--squash, red peppers, corn--there’s no real need to stock the pantry for winter.


Still, putting up food has its own rewards. I know exactly what went into every jar: no salt in the tomatoes, no store-bought pectin in the jam, no spots on the apricots. And the aesthetic pleasure of the different containers--old Ball Perfect Masons, blue Atlas bale jars, teensy one-quarter Kerr pints, square pints, round ones, wide-mouths--satisfies my soul.

Look at those jars. I did all that. Yes, really.