Planting a vegetable garden is a very rewarding endeavor. Not only from the aspect of getting outdoors and enjoying the fresh air and the exercise that comes with hard work, but also from the fruits and vegetable that are produced by taking care of your garden. Sometimes, your garden will produce more than you could ever eat in a single season. Sure, you could give some of it away, but chances are, you will still have some left over.
Somewhere along the line, methods of preserving the foods we grow have been deemed too hard and too complicated. It is just so much easier to run to the local supermarket and grab a can of tomatoes off the shelf. What if I told you that preserving the food you grow in your own backyard garden can be stored to provide you that garden fresh taste throughout the winter months and even ears to come? Your grandmother probably did it. And her mother. It was a necessity back then. Preserving the food you grow yourself can be just as satisfying as growing the food in your garden.
How to Preserve your Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.
There are many ways of preserving foods. They all require a little bit of work on the front-end, but the rewards are long serving. Imagine sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner, well after the garden has died off and maybe the first snow has already fallen, On the table before you is corn you grew, picked and froze. Potatoes and onions you brought up from your root cellar that morning. Later after dinner you slice a fresh tomato from the garden and put it on your leftover turkey sandwich. All of this and more is possible. Let’s look at some of the methods for reserving your food.
Thanks to advances in modern refrigeration, almost every home in the US has a freezer. Maybe not a giant chest deep freezer, but at least the small freezer over the refrigerator. Freezing foods to use them later is probably one of the easiest ways to preserve food. The supplies you need are minimal. Some freezer bags and some time.I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my parents when I was young. My dad was shucking the husks and silk off of the corn from out garden. My mom cut the kernels from the ears of corn and I put the corn into gallon sized freezer bags. We squeezed all of the air from the bags and threw them into the freezer. If stored properly, frozen foods can last up to a year in your freezer.Now days, vacuum sealers are very reasonably priced and manage to get even more air out of the bags allowing the foods inside to keep for longer periods in the freezer. Other foods that freeze well include:
Canning has been around since the 1700’s Napoleon Bonaparte offered a cash reward for anyone who could come up with a way to preserve food. He was running a large and powerful army and needed to keep his men fed. A man by the name of Nicholas Appert had the idea that food could be stored in bottles like wine. It took him fifteen years, but he finally perfected his process for canning food. Appert discovered that if food was heated and sealed in an airtight container, it wouldn’t go bad. It didn’t take long for his method to spread and we still use his process today to preserve foods. There are two methods commonly used by home canners. Hot water bath and the pressure cooker method.
Canning foods in a hot water bath requires some specific tools. Mason jars for storing the food. Jar lids to provide the seal, jar rings to hold the lids securely in place, A funnel, and a pan large enough to submerse the jars. Some nice tools to have, but not necessary are jar lifters and a submersion cage for the bottles. In this process, the jars are first sterilized and then filled with the food to be preserved. The jar lids are heated and attached to the jar with the rings. Then, the jars are placed in a boiling water bath inside the large pot for up to an hour. Once removed from the hot water bath, The jars cool and create an air-tight seal thanks to the change in pressure inside the jar.
Hot water canning is best for tomatoes, fruits, Jams, Jellies, preserves and other high-acid foods.
Pressure canning works best for low acid foods like meats and some vegetables. If you mix a high acid food like tomatoes with a low acid food like beef or chicken in the form of a soup, you should be using the high pressure canning method.. It requires many of the same supplies as canning using the hot water bath method with one big difference. A pressure canner.
The difference between pressure canning and water bath canning is the temperature. In water bath canning, the temperature reaches 212º Fahrenheit. This is the temperature of the boiling water. Pressure canning takes the temperature to 240º Fahrenheit. This temperature kills off the Clostridium botulinum spores. These spore do not grow in high-acid foods, which is why the hot water method will suffice.
Dehydrating or drying food is a process that has been around almost as long as people have been eating food. Allowing food to dry is a great way to keep the natural health benefits of the food you are drying, it reduces waste by preserving foods that are close to their spoiling point, and it is pretty easy to do. While a commercial food dehydrator is convenient and efficient for drying fruits, vegetables, and meats. it is not necessary. You can use your oven to get the same results, or dry foods in the sun the way it has been done for thousands of years.
Freeze drying is a slightly more complex and expensive method of drying foods. A small home based freeze dryer will set you back about $1500 initially. Both dehydrated and freeze dried foods taste great. One of the biggest differences between the two is shelf life. A conventional home dehydrator will remove about 70% of the water from fruits, vegetables and meats. This gives the food a shelf life of about one year if kept in an air-tight environment. Freeze dryers remove 98-99% of water from foods allowing them to be stored up to 25 years or longer. Freeze dried foods also take less time to prepare. Add water and let it sit for a few minutes and it is ready to go. Dehydrated foods need to be boiled to re hydrate and can take twenty minutes or longer to prepare. Your freeze dried meal will taste just as it did the day you processed it, even though it may have been 20 years ago or more. Because you can freeze dry complete meals like lasagna , macaroni and cheese, or chicken cordon bleu, home based freeze dryers are gaining popularity with survival preppers. If you want to try some dehydrated food without the cost of a freeze dryer, check out my wife’s site. She has a huge selection of freeze dried foods for sale.
Salt curing was one of the few methods of preserving meats before refrigeration and the invention of the mason jar in 1858. Salt draws out the moisture in the meat and inhibits the growth of certain bacteria that could cause the meat to spoil. Meats such as fish and pork are preserved very well using this method. The meat is placed in Jars or crocks and then salt is added. The process takes a lot of salt. Dry salting is called corning because it uses small pellets or “corns” of salt. Corned beef is popular during the celebration of St. Patrick’s day. Any meat can be corned, but corned beef is probably the most well known.
Cold storage/Root Cellar
The root cellar is the precursor to the modern refrigerator. Growing up, we had a spring fed pond. The spring filled a spring house that was partially below grade. The inside of the spring house was always cool and humid much like a refrigerator. We kept apples and potatoes in the spring house and they remained well preserved right through the winter months. A root cellar does not need to be an old dirt floor basement. It can be in a cool corner of the house, an attic in the winter or a container buried in the back yard. The key to a root cellar is the ability to control the light, heat, and humidity. root cellars and cold rooms are the perfect choice for preserving
foods such as cabbages, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, apples, pears, onions, and other root vegetables like beets, carrots , and parsnips do well in root cellars. You must choose your foods carefully and handle them even more carefully before putting them up for the winter in a root cellar. Your foods should not be over-ripe or beginning to turn in any way. There should be no damage or any type of decay as this can spread to the other food and cause a real mess of things.
Preserving Foods in Alcohol
Wine, vodka, whiskey and brandy are all great choices for preserving fruits, herbs, spices, and some vegetables. Alcohol is just another pickling agent that works to inhibit the growth of bacteria just like vinegar and brine. The great thing about pickling or preserving foods in alcohol is that the alcohol takes on the flavor or essence of the produce that was stored in it creating a flavorful drink in the process. Lemon vodka anyone?