All the products used for canning, drying, or storing should be in perfect condition.

Neglect in this particular is the cause of more trouble and loss than probably any other one thing in connection with keeping food for future use. For the best results it is necessary not only to have products which are absolutely free from decay, but to have those that are at just the right stage of development or ripeness to be used to give a product of superior quality. Much of the prejudice against canned vegetables and fruit has been due to the fact that the general source of raw materials was surpluses from the garden. These surpluses were not made use of for canning or for drying until they had passed their prime, so far as table quality was concerned, and had begun to deteriorate in this respect even if perfectly firm and sound and free from decay. Vegetables of many kinds change decidedly in texture as they reach maturity, and become pithy or fibrous; this makes them not only poor in quality but much more difficult to prepare.

There is another reason why the product to be used for saving for winter should be obtained or gathered while comparatively young. In many vegetables and fruits, further growth or chemical changes continue to take place even after harvesting. There is always a tendency for the vegetable or fruit to reach complete maturity before being subject to the attacks of destructive bacteria. Therefore all products which are fully matured or overripe have a tendency to spoil much more quickly than the same products if taken at an earlier stage of development.

Hence there are many reasons why all decayed stuff, or even overripe or over matured vegetables or fruit, should be discarded, or, if not bad enough for that, put up by themselves, when canning or drying. These second grade products, if put aside for early use, may be well worth keeping; mixed with other things, however, they might become a source of contagion that would result in considerable loss.

The modern idea of saving foodstuffs for winter, however, is not merely to make use of surpluses, but to plant and to grow crops especially for this purpose. In this way they may be had when there is most time to do the work and gathered when they are in perfect condition.

Most of the fruits, of course, must be taken in their regular season, but provision can be made in advance to can or dry them immediately they have been obtained. All soft fruits begin to spoil very quickly, and where there is a day or two of delay in getting ready to do the work after they have been bought or picked, there is a great deal more work in putting them up, and a product of doubtful quality.

In both canning and drying vegetables, also, it is important to use them the same day that they are gathered, if possible, with products from the home garden, everything should be in readiness in the kitchen before one goes into the garden after the crops that may be wanted.

In the following paragraphs the suggestions are given as to just when the different vegetables or fruits should be used to be in the best condition, with a mention of the varieties which will prove satisfactory for this purpose, and especially satisfactory for saving for winter. In the planting table at the end of the chapter are shown the approximate number of days that it will take the different crops to be ready for use and the date for planting to have them ready at a given time.