Larder is a little-used term these days, but most houses built in pre-refrigeration days had one. Usually built on the north side of the house, close to the ground with a mesh window to allow air to circulate, larders were food storehouses. Because they weren’t cold like a refrigerator, much of the summer harvest was cooked and stored in sealed jars, along with root vegetables and grains.
With freezers and refrigerators, it sometimes seems that food changed from something we make to something we buy. We lost something essential in the transition. Growing up in Portland, I helped my mother preserve buckets of berries and boxes of vegetables she’d buy from local farmers. With the larder full of our favorite jams and condiments we didn’t suffer the winter scarcity of flavorful fruits and vegetables.
Today, there is a renewed interest in maintaining a closer connection to the land. The popularity of farmers markets perhaps indicates an interest in cooking from scratch. The small investment of time spent cooking and preserving the best of summer will allow you to enjoy its riches all year. And when you’re entertaining, a well-stocked larder makes it that much easier to kick out something spectacular.
Each spring I lay out my garden, thinking both of what I love to eat fresh and the things I want to preserve in my larder. I turn a good portion of the summer’s bounty of fruits, vegetables, and herbs into jams, roasted pasta sauces, and fruit spreads. These get stored in sealed mason jars in my larder.
On my farm I have one very productive plum tree. I have made barbecue sauces, plum chutneys, brandied plums, and a series of plum pastes. But my favorite is the plum paste with rosemary. Opening a jar of this any time of year brings summer right back. The Ricotta Stuffed French Toast I make in this video is stuffed with sweetened ricotta and topped with this lovely paste.
The joy of pulling something from my larder and dressing up dishes with wonderful condiments made from my garden connects me to a special part of my childhood in Portland: The simple enjoyment of the sweet flavors of summer and treasured memories of making jams and pies with my mother.