- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008

What would you do if your living room was occupied by 100 pounds of carrots, 40 pounds of sweet potatoes, 70 soft bananas and some big bags of cabbage? No, it’s not a math problem - it’s a real-life dilemma I have been finding myself in, as a result of volunteering in food bank efforts.

Abundance of food is a wonderful thing - but unless we have ways to preserve it, the food spoils.

It made me realize that for most of us, home economics is not really well-understood. I took academic subjects in school, and didn’t grow up on a farm. I can cook, but I never did any food preservation.

With the aid of several Web sites and advice from the many older people I know who learned these skills as they were growing up, our family is learning the science of food management. This is something any family can do together, involving skills that can be matched to appropriate ages and capabilities.

If you want to freeze produce, most vegetables must be blanched - immersed in boiling water for two to three minutes - first and then bathed in cold water, before they can be bagged and frozen.

Some items, like cabbage, onions, peppers and tomatoes, can be sauteed in a little oil before putting them in plastic containers for freezing. For sweet potatoes, I sometimes just wash them and put them whole into the oven, filling all the racks and baking them till the insides are soft and can be mashed and frozen.

Fruit can be cut up and cooked for 10 minutes or so, adding a bit of sugar, then cooled and frozen. Carrots can be peeled and grated (thank you, food processor!) and stored in large plastic zipper bags for cooking and baking. Potatoes can be steamed or baked, then stored for later use. Bananas can be mashed with a bit of lemon juice to be turned into banana bread.

I usually do some baking days, making big batches of breads or cakes with the fresh materials - and then freeze the pastries.

A gift of venison sent me again to the Web: I learned that slow cooking the meat in a savory marinade produces a delicious and very tender roast, which I then incorporated into a stew using many of the root vegetables - turnips, carrots, potatoes.

We chopped cabbage, carrots, onions and ginger into a sauteed filling for wonton wraps, creating homemade spring rolls. We stuffed peppers, cabbage and squash, and cooked huge batches of minestrone soup, curry, chili and pasta sauce. The family eats the first batch, then we freeze the rest for future “no time” meals.

Food management involves a lot of science and offers opportunities for applying math skills. Your kids can learn about using high temperatures to kill bacteria, or low temperatures to preserve quality.

You can discuss how heat helps break apart the cellulose of the stiff cell walls to release the starch, sugars or proteins stored within. They can learn that nature is an abundant provider, but that humans are the ones who can harvest, preserve and use that abundance, using intelligence and effort.

Children can learn to live well, cheaply, when we involve them in such time-honored tasks. With a little know-how, they can use what is cheap and abundant in a certain season, and preserve it for future use. Also, basing family meals on fresh vegetables, whole foods and even wild game helps maintain health and avoid chemical additives.

To learn more about food science, try the Web site of the National Center for Home Food Preservation (www.uga.edu/ nchfp/index.html).

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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