Preserving the Harvest
So we are full steam into summer harvesting this year and we have been so busy everyday with preserving all that we have grown and raised over the past months. We have been working diligently to grow our own food to eat fresh vegetables from but we also want to make sure that we save some of our harvest for the winter months when we won't be able to get many fresh vegetables from our garden. Ever since the age of agriculture people have been trying to figure out a way to preserve the food they grew so that they could use it in the winter and not die of starvation! Based on that premise different methods of preservation were developed over the years so that today we have some old ancient methods as well as newer modern methods to stock the larder for winter. We have several options for preserving and many of them have been around for thousands of years. So let's take a little dive into the ways we are preserving our foods for later use. There are four main ways to preserve foods at home including: canning, dehydrating, freezing, and fermenting. This is not meant to be a tutorial on each method but a general overview of how they work. They all have their pros and cons and we can take a closer look at these methods and how they could work for you.
Canning - canning involves placing your food into glass mason jars and then placing them into a water bath canner or pressure canner and then boiling/cooking the jars for a certain amount of time to kill bacteria from the food. By doing this you can make the food shelf stable without the need for refrigeration. It is safe to can many foods at home and is a great way to preserve your harvest of fruits, vegetable, and meats. Most home canned goods are safe to eat for 1-2 years after processing, although I have heard of many people who use their canned goods for much longer and have experienced no problems with food spoiling. Its important to note that different types of foods require different types and times for canning and all current modern canning practices should be followed when preparing and processing foods for canning. A good resource to access this information is The National Center for Home Food Preservation, which has all the details of how to can all foods properly and safely. www.healthycanning.com One of the drawbacks to canning is that it is very time consuming process and can seem intimidating to beginners. It usually takes me at least 4 hours to completely process one batch (usually 7-15 jars) of canned food. Glass jars are also breakable and require the purchase of equipment which can be costly initially, although, over time the purchase pays for itself with reuse year after year. with that being said there are still things that I like to spend the time canning and I find that its worth the time. Some of my favorites things to can are tomatoes, beans, fruit preserves, jams, pickles, jalapeños, chicken & beef stock, and salsa. I always make sure to stick to things that I know my family and I will eat and use.
Dehydrating - dehydrating or drying involves removing the water/moisture from fruits, vegetables or meats to preserve the item for later consumption. By taking your fruit, herbs, meats, and vegetables and drying them slowly on a low temperature over many hours it will remove the moisture from the items allowing them to last for longer and become more shelf stable. This process has been around for thousands of years because its as easy as using the sun and wind to dry your items. The dehydrating process doesn't require much effort or skill and is a great option for preserving items from your harvest. Many people use an oven or a food dehydrator machine, while others utilize the sun and wind, while still others simply hang items to dry in a window or other space of their home. I generally use my dehydrator for items like tomatoes, meats, and fruits that require long drying time and certain temperatures. I like to take my herbs and hang them in bundles and allow them to air dry in my kitchen for several days-weeks and then crush them and place into jars for later use. The items you dehydrate can be eaten as snacks like raisins, apricots, apples, sun dried tomatoes, jerkies etc. or they could be placed into water or other liquids and rehydrated and added to recipes like soups or stews. All in all dehydrating an easy, inexpensive way to preserve your harvest.
Freezing -freezing involves taking your food items and placing them into a freezer until ready for use later. Freezing cold temperatures slow down the spoiling process of food items and allow for long term storage. Freezing is a safe alternative to preserve food but it does require the use of expensive equipment and of course electricity. Many food items can be easily placed in frozen storage without he need for much preparation. Some fruits and vegetables will need to be blanched first which is a quick process of boiling the vegetable/fruit for about one minute and then placing into ice cold water to stop the cooking process. This kills off any bacteria and enzymes which start to cause spoilage. After blanching, items can be placed into freezer safe containers and placed into freezer for storage. Frozen items can last up to 2 years depending on the type of food item. We utilize several (5) deep freezers on our farm for meats and vegetables. Because we rely so heavily on our freezers we have a generator on hand to provide electricity incase of a power outage. Although this type of preservation can be risky we like this method over most others because it is quick and easy. There are certain foods that do better with freezing than others. We use our freezers for chicken, beef, venison, and pork as well as green beans, carrots, corn, okra, peaches, blueberries, and strawberries. We check the freezers several times a week to ensure that they are functioning properly. Over all this is our favorite food preservation method.
Fermenting - fermenting involves placing vegetables into a saltwater brine in a glass jar or crock and then allowing it to sit for several days at room temperature so that good healthy bacteria start to form in the brine. This process, called lacto-fermentation, allows healthy bacteria to grow while keeping bad bacteria away. It is one of the first forms of pickling known to man. Once the vegetables have stayed in the brine for several days you will notice that they take on a sour taste, like in pickles. Once they reached the desired sourness then you place your container into cold storage like a refrigerator or root cellar to stop the fermentation process. Fermented items can be stored in cold storage for up to 1 year. I like to ferment things like cucumbers, green beans, carrots, cauliflower, beets, cabbage (sauerkraut), etc. It is so easy to ferment vegetable that you will wonder why you haven't tried it before! Fermented items have so many good bacteria in them that are healthy for your gut microbiome and help boost the immune system. I try to eat some type of fermented food item daily to help with digestion and gut health. The only drawback that I have found with fermentation is the need for cold storage after the initial fermentation process. Large fermenting crocks and jars take up precious space in my refrigerator but I still love the ease and benefits from utilizing this type of preservation.
Well there you have it folks, the down and dirty on all things food preservation! I know these aren't in depth accounts of how to do each of these methods but just an overview of the basics. I hope that it brings you a little insight and inspiration into how you can preserve the harvest of food you get this year from your garden! There are so many options and ways and I encourage you to try one or all of these methods this season!