Use It Or Lose It

I’ve been preserving my garden produce for years – I’d say at least 25 years or so. Only within the last few years, though, have I found a solution to using my canned goods in an organized manner, making sure that we had enough to last us until the next season or avoiding an excess of something that wasn’t a favorite. Prior to moving to an apple-less location (sob!) I made hundreds of pounds of apples into applesauce every year. This was by far my kids’ favorite pantry item, so it was easy for us to use it all up and then find ourselves without any for months on end. Or the opposite would happen: those six jars of pickled peppers that tasted fine but turned out mushy kept getting pushed to the back of the pantry, leaving us with canned peppers at the height of fresh pepper season.

I found the solution in a copy of The Tightwad Gazette years ago. In it, the author shared her plan for making sure her preserved foods were used up before the next season’s glut of zucchini and green beans without depleting the stores too soon: A simple chart.

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Once my canning for the season was done, I’d create a chart similar to the one above by determining how many jars of each item I had and dividing it by how many month’s I’d like my stock to last. I’d mark the result in each month using little circles to represent the number of jars and then tape the chart inside the pantry. Every time I pulled out a jar of applesauce or peaches, I’d fill in a circle. It was easy to tell at a glance what I had plenty of. Or what I needed to serve more of. I generally started my chart in November, since that’s about when the garden stopped producing. Keeping track of the canned goods in the pantry in this manner meant that we had a nice variety all winter long.

Do you have a system for using your canned goods? Or do you just use them willy-nilly until they’re gone?

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  • Toni Welch-Hiner ,

    willy nilly sort of gal. : )

  • John Weston ,

    This is a great idea! We’ve only been canning a couple of years and so we were definitely “willy nilly” beginners. This will help a lot. Thanks for the post!

  • Toni Welch-Hiner ,

    however, canned plums that we make into cobbler….you have to fill out an application and be interviewed before you get to open one of those jars for anything other than a very important holiday. I was thinking about pleading my case since my birthday is next week. Its not a big birthday that ends in a 0 or a 5, but maybe they will all agree to it since I plan on sharing it. : )

  • Great idea. We had a problem with not getting through our feijoas this year-not because they aren’t desirable, but just not always thinking about them in the winter months. A chart like this would help.

    • @FrugalKiwi This reminds me – I want to look into feijoas!

      • @Attainable Sustainable Make sure you like them before you get a tree. They have an interesting taste that not everyone loves and the trees can bear prolificly. We got 200 kg of fruit off our one mature tree last year!

  • teresarobeson ,

    Hah! I wish we were that organized. But our root cellar shelving is pretty easy to take in at a glance so canned goods aren’t as hard to keep track of. The freezers…oi…that needs this system you have. :}

  • merr ,

    I can’t speak to canned goods, but I do make my own soups and tend to make more than we can eat in one week before it starts to turn. I have come to learn when to freeze some for a month from original cooking time. It’s like discovering something brand new – and always tastes fresh!

  • merr ,

    I can’t speak to canned goods, but I do make my own soups and tend to make more than we can eat in one week before it starts to turn. I have come to learn when to freeze some for a month from original cooking time. It’s like discovering something brand new – and always tastes fresh!

  • I used to can nearly ALL of our stuff, but not since I’ve taken over the breadwinning role in the family. But thanks for reminding me about the Tightwad Gazette. I think I still have all those awesome newsletters in a file somewhere.

  • I am amazed at your organization and discipline. Very, very impressive.

  • I use a similar system with frozen soups and stews, labeling each tub and keeping track of the dates so I can use them up in order. But my stores are much smaller; this is very impressive indeed!

  • What a great idea. I have my own system for making sure I have enough food on hand in case of emergencies, but nothing like this. Growing up, my mom was a diehard canner (I wish I would have paid more attention) and she kept track using a similar method

  • Very good idea. You are so organized!

  • Kim Curiel ,

    I don’t think any management system would keep pickles in my pantry. As soon as there is a case of them they seem to disappear in the night.

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