The Importance of Preservation
I grew up learning the value of preserving food for the winter and hard times. Our family grew a big garden each year and canned or froze the extra for later. We visited pick your own farms or combed the fields for wild apple trees to harvest fruit to stock our pantry. I continue to put away produce for my own family now that I’m a wife and mother. I want to make sure there is plenty of food in our house in case a snowstorm closes the roads or price increases put the basic necessities out of our price range. Besides that, I get a real sense of satisfaction when I pull jars of my own home canned foods out of storage and make a meal entirely from foods I preserved!
Start with the Basics
Some of the easiest methods of food preservation are storage in a root cellar, dehydrating, freezing, and brine curing. Try your hand at these techniques first if you are concerned about your ability to can your harvest. As you learn how to save food with these methods, your confidence will increase and, before you know it, you’ll have a pressure canner on your stovetop!
A cold cellar or storage space that stays above freezing, but below 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit is a great place to store potatoes, carrots, beets, cabbages, turnips, rutabagas, onions, and more. These good keepers will last until well into winter, or even spring, under the right conditions. My go-to resource for information on cold storage is Root Cellaring: Natural Storage of Fruits & Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel. They give lots of great information about the best keeping varieties, best conditions for keeping a wide variety of crops, preparation and recipes for many of these foods, and different methods of keeping foods in cold storage.
Removing the moisture from fruits, veggies, and meats is an excellent way of preserving them. There are a host of different food dehydrators on the market that make this task easy and safe. You can also spread foods out on screens in hot, dry climates to dehydrate them with the power of the sun. Solar dehydrators can be built by do-it-yourselfers pretty quickly and inexpensively, and have the added advantage that it costs nothing to run. Be sure to dry foods thoroughly and store in a cold, dry place for best results. Start out with herbs hung in bunches in a dark, dry closet and work your way up to fruit leather and jerky.
Freezing for Later
Keeping your harvest in the freezer is a quick and convenient way of preserving it. Most vegetables need to be blanched by boiling them briefly to kill the enzymes that cause a loss of taste and nutrients. Fruits, for the most part, can be washed, chopped, and frozen in a bag or container with no further work on your part. Meats are also easy to freeze and need no special pre-treatment. Using a vacuum sealer prevents freezer burn and will increase the storage life of your frozen foods.
Brine Curing and Fermentation
Sauerkraut and pickles are examples of foods that are fermented or brine cured as a means of preservation. Salt, salt solution, or vinegar can be used to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria as the beneficial bacteria are allowed to work their magic. Be sure to follow instructions and keep the food covered as it cures to prevent contamination. Here is an easy recipe for brine cured pickles that are ready to snack on in 24 hours.
Brine Cured Dill Pickles
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 cup sea salt
- 2 cups distilled white vinegar
- 1 Tbs peppercorns
- 2 or 3 dill flowers or a handful of dill leaves
- 8 or so cucumbers (or other veggies), washed and sliced
Heat water and salt in a pan and stir to dissolve salt. Remove from heat. Pour salt water and vinegar into a glass bowl or small crock and stir to combine. Add cucumbers, dill, and peppercorns. Make sure brine solution is deep enough to cover all of the vegetables. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or waxed paper. Place a plate on top that is small enough to set right on top of wrap and solution. You will need to put some weight on top of the plate to hold all of the vegetables under the solution. Vegetables that are in contact with the air may spoil. After a day or two you can start dipping into your new pickle stash! Don’t use your fingers, use a slotted spoon to remove pickles and prevent contamination of your brine solution.
Canning your fresh fruits and veggies might sound intimidating at first. You do need to be careful to follow all instructions to the letter, including processing times. Failure to bring the canner to the right temperature for the right length of time can lead to botulism poisoning, so play it safe and follow the latest instructions for canning.
Low acid foods (like potatoes, beans, beets, carrots, and meats) must be preserved in a pressure canner. High acid foods (apples, peaches, pears, plums, pineapple, and cherries) are safe to can in a hot water bath canner. Tomatoes are generally considered a high acid food, but newer varieties have often been bred for higher sugar content and lower acidity, and should be processed in a pressure canner.
For complete instructions and information for beginners and old pros alike, check out The National Center for Home Food Preservation. Their website lists blanching times for freezing vegetables, information about dehydrating foods, instructions for canning, and much more.
Too Much Information?
Does this all sound like too much to think about? If you are new to food preservation, I can certainly understand. But you don’t have to dive into the deep end right away! Learn one or two new skills each year and practice them over and over. You’ll be glad to know how to save up all those extra goodies from your garden or the farmers market each summer. Having your own home preserved foods on hand saves money and provides healthy meals for your family. And that is a skill worth learning!
By Lisa Lynn