Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire. –Gustav Mahler

I’ve spent a lot more time in the kitchen this summer than I ever have before. Some of it’s been spent cooking with my wonderful fresh veggies and herbs, and some of it–a surprising amount–has been spent putting away the food I can’t use up. There are bags and bags of tomatoes in the freezer: chopped, roasted, dried, juiced. There are bags of grated zucchini, some for bread, some for fritters. (Zucchini fritters may be my most favorite new recipe.) There’s pesto and pasta sauce. There are green beans and dried beans (if not many). There’s dried sage in my pantry, and basil and oregano and rosemary will soon be joining it.

And I know I’ve barely touched what I could be doing, what some people are doing–canning, pickling, drying all sorts of things. Maybe next year I will. But I don’t know. Even the small amount of food preservation I’ve done has taken a lot of time. And no, I don’t have any particularly pressing competitors for my time. But it occurs to me that this, perhaps, is the chief benefit, the main timesaver that technology has given us: it is not necessary for us to preserve food for the winter. I don’t have the slightest need to save any of my tomatoes, or my herbs, or my beans. I can go buy food. I can’t necessarily buy food this good, or this variety, but if I don’t preserve a single thing this summer, I’ll still eat well this winter.

Now that I’ve thought about it, this is marvelous. I imagine how the first humans must have coped during the cold months, eating what small, stringy meat they could find, maybe some roots they had saved, maybe even grains with some water. As agriculture grew, methods for saving the harvest would have as well. But until the globalization of food production, until freezers and supermarkets, winter would always be something to keep in mind, winter hunger something to fight all summer. I can only imagine how the knowledge of what, and how, and how much to store to last an entire winter would be passed on from generation to generation. For my society at least, that knowledge is lost. And I think it’s a good thing that we don’t need it anymore; I just hope we won’t need it again without being able to gradually relearn.

So yes, I will continue learning about food preservation, not because I need to, but because I want to know what my ancestors knew. And perhaps next year I won’t scale down my garden to my consumption, as I had entertained the thought of doing. Perhaps I’ll increase it to its utmost and store what I can’t eat fresh, and learn what it takes to pull the fangs of winter.

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