Canning is the method that most likely comes to mind when thinking of ways to cope with the bounty of tomatoes or beans from the garden. Canning is a safe method of preserving food and is likely the way most of us have room to store the most food.
There are two safe ways of canning food, the boiling water bath method and the pressure canner method. The boiling water bath method is safe for tomatoes, fruits, jams, jellies, and pickles; pressure canning is the only safe method of preserving vegetables. A water bath canner is a large cooking pot, with a tight fitting lid and a rack that keeps jars from touching each other; the rack allows the boiling water to flow around the jars for a more even processing of the contents and keeps jars from bumping each other and cracking or breaking. A pressure canner is a specially-made heavy pot with a lid that can be closed steam-tight; the lid is fitted with a vent, a dial or weighted pressure gauge and a safety fuse.
Remember that low acid foods, such as green beans, salsas, and corn must be heated to a temperature of 240° in order to kill the spores of Clostridium botulinum which grow in the absence of air and product deadly toxins that cause botulism.
A new publication entitled the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning is available for purchase from the OSU extension office. Marisa Warrix, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator at the Cuyahoga County Extension Agency recommends everyone investigate these most current recommendations for home food preservation. “Throw away the directions that came with your grandmother’s canner,” said Warrix. “This publication updates the length of time and pressure under which food should be processed. It also instructs people how to preserve the things most of us like to eat now like salsas, relishes, and chutneys.”
Freezing food may sound simpler if space is available and works well for many fruits and vegetables. Freezing is not usually as economical as canning, but it preserves more nutrients in the food if properly done. Natural enzymes in foods cause changes in flavor and texture; freezing slows this but doesn’t stop it so vegetables need to be blanched before freezing. This is accomplished by immersing the food in boiling water for a specified time, then rapidly cooling it to stop the cooking process. The vegetables can be packed in containers for freezing or placed in a single layer on a tray and frozen until nearly solid then transferred to a freezer bag and stacked in the freezer. Freezing berries is a great way to preserve them for use in pies or muffins. Blueberries, blackberries, and rhubarb are great for recalling the bright fresh flavors of summer when frozen for use in sauces and desserts when winter comes. “Picking berries and making freezer jam can be a fun activity to do with kids,” Warrix said. “It’s easy and you end up with something they like to eat.”
Pickling preserves food in an acid solution, usually vinegar. Antimicrobial herbs are often added such as garlic, mustard, cinnamon, or cloves. While we mostly think of cucumbers as the vegetable to pickle, carrots, beets, giardiniera (a mixture of cauliflower, carrots and onions) and even watermelon rinds are commonly pickled in our area.
Fermenting food is gaining or re-gaining popularity. When you ferment a food, you encourage growth of “good” microorganisms in it, while preventing growth of spoilage-causing microorganisms. Many of your favorite foods and drinks are probably fermented: bread, wine, beer and cider, sauerkraut, vinegar, and yogurt.
Dehydrating food is the oldest method of preserving food. While drying can’t replace canning and freezing because these methods do a better job of retaining the taste and appearance of fresh food it’s a good way to make snacks and add variety to meals. Fruit leathers, apple slices, and even lean meats, such as venison, are good choices for drying.
Whatever the method or combination of methods used to preserve the bounty of the season, resources are available to help you learn or update your skills. Check out localfoodcleveland.org for workshops about preserving food.
Melissa Miller, Miller Livestock