Taking an Inventory of Home-Grown Preserves in My Pantry

It's important and useful to keep track of what you preserve, store, and eat.

shelves with jars of home preserves

jatrax / Getty Images

Everyone who has a food-producing garden will soon learn that the work does not end at the door to your home. It continues inside your kitchen as you prepare, cook, and preserve all the fresh food that you have grown.

A big part of being a successful grow-your-own gardener is learning to make the most of all that you harvest, preventing waste, and discovering the joys not only of gardening but also of preservation.

For me, this is a busy time of year. We are slap bang in the middle of our main harvesting season for the fruit trees in my forest garden.

If you have read previous articles of mine, you might be aware that I am lucky enough to live on a property that has a number of mature fruit trees that were here when we moved in. We have a very large and productive plum and a number of apple trees (along with some newer additions yet to yield very much). 

Over the past seven years, I have turned what was a walled orchard laid to grass into a forest garden, with much more diverse and layered planting. Though I still consider this a work in progress, I am very happy with how it's gone so far and the yields we derive.

As well as working on the outside of our property, we are also renovating an old stone barn, doing most of the work ourselves on evenings and weekends around our full-time jobs. This year for the first time, all the preserves I make are able to go into our "forever" home—into my walk-in cold storage area/pantry. This is a cool, dark space to the northeast, insulated out of the building envelope.

Staying on Top of a Rotating Pantry

While moving preserved food into a more ideal environment is a big step forward for us, I realize I must keep doing the pantry jobs that I have been doing over the previous years.

One of the most important things is making sure that I know what I have in my pantry at any given time. Especially when I know that a lot more food will go in there over the next couple of months, it is important for me to know what I already have.

We don't stockpile food. We are not preserving to keep food for a long time but, rather, aim to rotate our pantry so we use up everything before next year's harvests come around—or within a couple of years, at the longest.

Taking an Inventory of the Pantry

At the moment, I have a range of preserves, mostly made from gooseberries, red currants, blackcurrants, raspberries, plums, and apples. Soon more blackberry, Japanese quince, and elderberry recipes will be added, too. I also have dried preserves, bought and homemade flours, pulses, etc., and some fresh produce to store.

I like to take an inventory starting with the earliest crops and working through to those that are harvested later in the year. I take an inventory when I preserve, noting how many I make, and again, take inventory when each major harvest rolls round again, so I know what, if anything, is left.

For each type of fruit or plant, I make a note of the different jars I have and how many I have of each. If some are left when the harvest rolls around, I might want to think about making less of that recipe next year.

But sometimes I make enough to last us through, since we sometimes have "off" years and, of course, in a garden things can go wrong. So I do build in some contingency and try to can a little more than I think we need.

This year is an amazing year for fruit. Last year was not the best. But I still have a couple jars of unsweetened applesauce left from last year, alongside the few extra jars that I have just preserved with the first of our apple varieties.

A dessert apple but a poor keeper, we eat some fresh and juice most of them; but I also like to have them on hand throughout the year. Having just a couple of jars left lets me know that I made around the right amount for our needs. (I use unsweetened applesauce mostly in soups and stews over the winter.)

With later cooking apples, I make some sweetened applesauce, apple butter, apple jam, and apple chutney. I ran out of those this year, so I plan on making more for next year's enjoyment with our more abundant harvest.

Why Taking an Inventory Is Important

We are not entirely self-sufficient, and while we want to go even further in that direction, we only have one-third of an acre here, so there is a limit in some areas, especially grains, as to what we can do. But we want to eat as much from our own gardens as possible. So we need to know what we have in order to be able to plan and eat accordingly.

You should grow for what you eat. But you should also eat for what you grow—potentially changing your eating habits a little to adjust to what it is possible to grow in your area throughout the year.