It is fall and the garden season is coming to an end. Hopefully it’s been a good gardening year for you. There are many ways you can deal with your abundance of produce. Your produce can be preserved by freezing, drying, or canning. I use a combination of all three methods.
Freezing your extra produce is probably one of the simplest and least time consuming ways to preserve your harvest. Your freezer is an excellent resource to keep your vegetables ready for use at a moment’s notice. You can also freeze whatever size portions work well for your family. Frozen foods are more like fresh foods than those that are canned or dried. Freezing keeps the natural color, fresh flavor, and nutritive qualities of most foods better than any other method of preservation. The equipment needed for freezing vegetables includes pots and pans and strainers and other utensils that are normally used in the kitchen for preparing everyday meals. In the fall I often freeze my herbs in ice trays to be enjoyed during the winter.
The quality of your harvest is the most important factor in determining the quality when it is served. Packaging designed for freezing foods is required for proper storage for food in the freezer. You can find specially designed plastic bags or small plastic containers to freeze your harvest. For specific guidelines for the various vegetables consult a cookbook or the Ball Blue Book which is found in most stores that carry canning and freezing supplies.
Dehydration is another method used to preserve your harvest. Foods can be dehydrated using a dehydrator, the oven, or the sun. The three basic elements in home food dehydrations are heat, dry air, and air circulation. When food is dehydrated, 80-95 percent of the moisture is removed, deactivating the growth of bacteria and other spoilage microorganisms. Again you want to make sure your harvest is fresh, high quality, and ripe. Some produce benefits from pretreatment techniques such as blanching or dipping. Blanching is dipping the produce in hot water or steaming for a specific time. Dipping is a pretreatment used to prevent certain fruits from oxidizing. Common antioxidants are lemon or lime juice, ascorbic acid, and commercial products that contain a blend of ascorbic and citric acid. Specific directions for each fruit and vegetable can also be found in the Ball Blue Book. I love dehydrating leeks and tomatoes.
Canning is a third process used to preserve your harvest. This technique does involve special equipment and directions must be followed carefully to insure a safe final product. However nothing is more satisfying than walking into your pantry and seeing your shelves packed with jars filled with nutritious, chemical-free, tasty food. Again the Ball Blue Bookprovides specific directions for canning your produce. I use my water bath canner to can all sorts of things from tomato sauce, salsa and jam! Nothing pleases me more than having jars of home preserves in my pantry!
Fall is not the only time to preserve your harvest, it can be done all summer. Enjoy preserving your harvest; growing and preserving your own food will give you a feeling of self-reliance and save you money at the same time. And it’s prudent, too, because you never know when a natural disaster or national emergency is going to inhibit your access to the grocery store!
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