I suppose that, for some, gardening is its own reward. But for those who tend produce, the harvest is usually the bigger compensation, especially if they preserve some of it. They get to taste, with special enjoyment, their labor in their food, the way a furniture maker must sigh with particular appreciation when settling into a chair he fashioned himself. Conserving the surplus only extends that pleasure.
When I was growing up, preserving was a matter of frugality and necessity, and our mother taught us how to garden, can, and freeze. As my interest in food widened, so did my interest in growing and preserving. Mom preserved the basics--frozen corn, green beans, and blueberries; canned tomatoes; peaches and pears in syrup; cucumber pickles of all types; strawberry jam; and grape juice. I still do some of that, but I've been able to follow my culinary inclinations further afield.
My husband and I have always enjoyed beans. Fresh limas, particularly the smaller butter beans, were a revelation the first time I ate them as an adult. And fresh garbanzos, often available at Middle Eastern markets in the summer, have none of the chalky starchiness of their dried counterparts. Once we found sources for interesting bean types--Italian borlotti, the New England yellow-eye baking bean, French flageolets, marrowfats--we began growing and eating them fresh, as shell beans and as dried ones. A third of our garden now is devoted to beans, and my husband spent much of last summer planting, picking, and shelling beans. We freeze what fresh ones we don't consume immediately, and store, in old, blue-green canning jars, those that have dried.
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