During these recently unstable economic times, there has been a resurgence in the interest of home food production and preservation. Canning, freezing, or dehydrating are all ways to preserve the garden’s bounty well into the winter months…..and beyond.
There are two canning methods suitable for preserving the harvest. Whether you choose the water bath method or the pressure method depends on the type of food you’re canning. High acid foods (most fruits and pickles and other fermented products) can be processed using the water bath method because the water temperatures (212 degrees at sea level), in combination with the acidity levels of these foods, are adequate to prevent to prevent the growth of the Clostridium botulinum spores (botulism).
For low acid foods – most vegetables, all meat, poultry, dairy products, and some low-acid varieties of tomatoes – pressure canning is necessary. Pressure canning requires the use of a pressure canner (not a pressure cooker). This process allows the food to reach the temperature of 240 degrees (at 10 pounds pressure) necessary to ensure preventing any risk of botulism.
There are some varieties of tomatoes that are classified as “low acid.” They should be canned by the pressure method, or if in doubt, can be processed by the water bath method safely by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice or citric acid to each jar. This will raise to their acidity to a level safe enough for water bath canning.
Having the proper (and safe!) equipment is vital for home food preservation. Water bath canners are pretty low tech and can be passed down from one generation to another with no real risk to safety. They are also quite inexpensive to purchase new and can be found in most department and some hardware stores during the summer months.
Pressure canners are a little more involved (and costly) and should be checked periodically to ensure they are in working order. Most communities with a county extension office will offer “clinics” where these canners can be taken to be checked for safety and efficiency. These clinics usually take place just prior to your area’s specific canning season.
Only use canning jars that are free from defect or damage. There is some debate as to whether or not you can use glass mayonnaise jars for canning. The general rule that I have followed with success is that the mayonnaise jars are suitable for water bath canning but will not hold up to the heat and pressure of pressure canning. Although you can reuse the rings, never reuse the flat part of the lid (unless specified “reusable”).
Cleanliness of all equipment and work areas when canning is very important and probably goes without saying.
Following the most current and up-to-date information on canning and canning safety is easy now for anyone with access to the internet.
Have a freezer? Freezing fruits and vegetables is another way to preserve that valuable harvest. Freezing is easy and convenient for those with small amounts to preserve or for those hesitant to jump into the canning process or for whom canning is otherwise not possible.
There are some foods which I prefer to freeze. For instance, I prefer the taste and texture of peas and corn that have been frozen over those which I’ve canned. Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error to determine which your family prefers.
If freezing, you can blanch…..or not. Some people just toss their vegetables into freezer-proof containers and call it good. I prefer those which have been blanched first. A good quality bag specified for freezer storage is worth the investment and can be washed and re-used.
Onions, peppers, and carrots are all good candidates for dehydrating. Dehydrating can be done by the sun (solar), in your oven, by air, or in an inexpensive (or homemade) food dehydrator. Herbs can even be dried between layers of paper towels in the microwave.