Editor’s Note: This is a new series that will run through fall. Twice monthly, the author will teach readers how to preserve the season’s bounty.
It’s challenging to be a home cook these days. To support the community, we’re encouraged to buy local. Farmers markets punctuate the connection between availability and seasonality. Weather influences prices and sometimes devastates a crop. We revel in the abundance of summer, but fall back on our old ways as soon as winter comes, buying fruit from faraway lands and tomatoes that will never turn red.
This was a terrible winter. It was too cold to overwinter many vegetables, so the offerings at the farmers markets were sad. It was the winter of the cauliflower, when kale and broccoli and Brussels sprouts overstayed their welcome. Don’t let this happen again. Eat local tomatoes, strawberries, peaches, blueberries and peppers in February. Reach for a jar of your own salsa, chutney, jam and relish in December.
If you’ve always meant to, this is the time. Not because it’s kitschy or because you will have pretty jars on your shelves (although both are true). Not for any twee, adorable, Brooklyn-wannabe reason, but because it is a way to have tomatoes in December that came from your farmers market in August. To taste June’s apricots in February’s tart. Dapple September’s hot pepper sauce on March’s chicken thighs. Canning with purpose, to build the convenience of a grocery store in your own pantry, is a whole different ballgame. These are foods that are better when homemade than any grocery store version; they are foods to use.
Over the course of the growing season, we’ll convert what’s fresh into delicious jars of preserved foods. We’re talking about jars that start suppers, bedazzle brunch and complement as a condiment. These are looking-ahead recipes that make small quantities of exceptional foods, each jar to be treasured, given to (deserving) friends and relatives.
Ultimately, canning will ease the way to weeknight dinner preparation. Next winter will not be as traumatizing as this one, even if the weather is a repeat. Snow days will be pantry days, with jars of fabulous flavors waiting to be enjoyed. Zombie apocalypse? Bring it.
This week, as our own farmers markets begin to wake up, the first of the greens and asparagus are on display, a few onions and last year’s potatoes. The harvest is still too sparse to even think about preserving it. And while I’m all about local eating, I am not without some weaknesses. Which leads us to artichokes.
Right now is the season of the perennial artichoke, the globe, rounded type that is harvested between early May and late June. (A conical version appears later in the season). There were rumblings on social media about a robust harvest, which was all the incentive I needed to think about preserving. Because artichokes are still precious, this is a very small-yield recipe, just three jars to be treasured.
Shop for baby artichokes or buy the large mature chokes, but in either case look for tightly formed buds, firm and weighty. To keep costs under control, look for artichokes at ethnic markets, Costco or Trader Joe’s.
To trim the artichokes, break the leaves away from the heart until the tender, yellow-bottomed center leaves are revealed. On a baby artichoke, that will be only a few of the outer leaves, but larger artichokes have many more fully formed leaves. If all of the leaves have thorns, remove them all and scrape away the furry inner choke. Work quickly. The hearts will darken when exposed to air. A lemony water bath will preserve their light color.
I’m not going to lie. This preparation takes effort, but the result is so spectacularly different from the vaguely metallic, overly acidified versions on the grocery store shelf, it is a revelation. Once they have cured for a month or more, these artichoke hearts are velvety, tart and full of flavor. They layer on pizza, flatbread or sandwiches; add texture to salads and frittatas; or, combined with cured black olives, roasted red peppers and goat cheese, make a bruschetta topping or side dish for a charcuterie platter.
Barrow’s first cookbook, “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving” (W.W. Norton), will be published in the fall. She blogs at www.mrswheelbarrow.com. She will join Wednesday’s Free Range live chat at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.