Preserving the Harvest: Canning, Freezing, and Drying
One blessing (or curse, depending on your mood) of eating local is experiencing bounty. But even the most ardent foodies can be overwhelmed by zucchini up the wazoo, bushels of berries, and mountains of tomatoes. Instead of letting all that beautiful, fresh produce go to waste, why not try your hand at perserving it?
There are four ways you can preserve fresh foods: Freezing, Canning, Pickling and Dehydrating. We will do our best to educate you on these processes, but here are a few books to help you along the way:
Freezing is perhaps the easiest and most practical way to preserve food. Almost anything can be frozen- even whole tomatoes! Unlike other food preservation practices like pickling and canning freezing allows you to preserve your food without any acid or additives. Watery vegetables such as cucumbers, potatoes and celery turn soft upon freezing and should be canned instead. Green beans, peas and corn, on the other hand, make good candidates for freezing, since they retain their shape and texture even after being frozen and thawed.
Freeze flat.To make the most of freezer space, freeze food flat in freezer bags, then stack the bags horizontally or vertically in the freezer. Freeze fruits and vegetables (see more on freezing vegetables below) in freezer bags on a cookie sheet, or freeze first on a cookie sheet and then place in freezer bags to keep fruit or vegetables from sticking together.
Get the air out. Squeeze as much air as possible out of the freezer bag to not only save room in the freezer but also to keep food from developing freezer burn. Remove the maximum amount of air from the freezer bag by closing the top of the bag almost all the way, inserting a drinking straw and sucking the air out of the freezer bag. Obviously, you need to take care if using this method.
Temperature and circulation. Use a freezer thermometer and keep the freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave some space around frozen food packages so air can circulate to keep the freezer running efficiently.
Mark, date and list. It is difficult to mark cold freezer bags, so remember to mark freezer bags with what the contents are and the date frozen before you place food in the bags. Then keep a list of what you have stored in your freezer and refer to it when menu planning to you do not end up with the infamous "mystery mummified freezer food" that has lived too long in the recesses of your freezer!
Freezing Greens & Vegetables:
Fresh greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc) or vegetables (sweet corn, peppers, peas, green beans work well)
"Ziploc" type freezer bags (the freezer bag version is heavier and protects better against freezer burn.
1 large pot of boiling water
2 large bowls, one filled with cold water and ice.
1 sharp knife
Step 1 - Pick or select the veggies!
This is the most important step! You need greens or veggies that are FRESH and crisp. Limp, old greens will make nasty tasting frozen greens. Select young, tender green leaves.
Step 2 - Wash the veggies !
Rinse the leaves/veggies in plain cold water. I use a large bowl of cold water and a colander to let them drain.
Step 3 -Hull the greens/trim vegetables
Cut off any woody stems. or damaged pieces. Prepare vegetables as you would like them for cooking (shuck corn, slice peppers, trim green beans)
Step 4 - Get the pots ready
Get the pot of boiling water ready (about 2/3 filled) and a LARGE bowl with ice and cold water.
Step 5 - Blanch the greens/vegetables.
All fruits and vegetables contain enzymes and bacteria that, over time, break down the destroy nutrients and change the color, flavor, and texture of food during frozen storage. greens requires a brief heat treatment, called blanching, in boiling water or steam, to destroy the enzymes before freezing. Blanching times for collards is 3 minutes and all other greens 2 minutes.Begin counting the blanching time as soon as you place the greens in the boiling water. Cover the kettle and boil at a high temperature for the required length of time. You may use the same blanching water several times (up to 5). Be sure to add more hot water from the tap from time to time to keep the water level at the required height.
Step 6 - Cool the greens/vegetables
Cool greens/vegetables immediately in ice water. Drain them thoroughly (this shouldn't take more than a minute). After vegetables are blanched, cool them quickly to prevent overcooking. Plunge the greens/vegetables into a large quantity of ice-cold water (I keep adding more ice to it). A good rule of thumb: Cool for the same amount of time as the blanch step. For instance, if you blanch greens for 3 minutes, then cool in ice water for at least 3 minutes. Drain thoroughly.
Step 7 - Bag
Fill the bag and remove the air to prevent drying and freezer burn. TIP: If you don't own a vacuum food sealer to freeze foods, place food in a Ziploc bags, zip the top shut but leave enough space to insert the tip of a soda straw. When straw is in place, remove air by sucking the air out. To remove straw, press straw closed where inserted and finish pressing the bag closed as you remove straw.
Step 8 - Done!
Pop them into the freezer, on the quick freeze shelf, if you have one!
Preparing for Freezing:
Wash and dip in boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen skins. Core and peel. Tomatoes can also be frozen whole or in pieces with skin still intact.
Best Freezing Method(s):
Freeze whole or in pieces. Pack into suitable containers, leaving l-inch headspace. Seal, label and freeze.
Cut washed and cored tomatoes into quarters or eighths. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Press through a sieve. If desired, season with 1 teaspoon salt to each quart of juice. Pour into suitable containers leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Seal, label and freeze.
Remove stem ends, peel and quarter ripe tomatoes. Cover and cook until tender (10 to 20 minutes depending on size). Place pan containing tomatoes in cold water to cool. Pack into suitable containers leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Seal, label and freeze.
Freezer containers should be moisture and vapor resistant and should not be prone to cracking or breaking at low temperatures. Containers should provide protection against absorbing flavors or odors and should be easy to label. Suitable packaging for freezing tomatoes includes freezer grade-plastic bags, rigid plastic containers and glass containers.
Maximum Storage Time:
10 to 12 months at 0ºF.
Thaw tomato products in the refrigerator, stove top or defrost them in the microwave according to your manufacturer's recommendations.
Rinse berries in cool water and pat dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.
Pick over berries to make sure no stems, unripe berries, or damaged berries are in the mix.
Rinse berries with cool water and pat dry.
Lay berries in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.
Put in freezer until frozen solid, usually overnight does the trick.
Transfer berries to resealable plastic storage bags, forcing as much air as possible out of the bag before sealing.
Store in the freezer until ready to use, up to 6 months.
Make sure the berries are in good condition, i.e. no mold or discoloration.
Wash the berries in water and pat dry with a towel.
Remove stems and leaves from the top of each berry with a paring knife.
Place berries in a single layer on a baking sheet. They should not be touching. Place baking sheets in the freezer for at least 7 hours or overnight.
Remove frozen berries from the freezer and pour into a ziploc bag, now that they are fully frozen, they should not stick together in the bag. Bags of frozen berries can now be put back into the freezer and stored up to 6 months.
Put raspberries into a colander and dunk in cold water to wash gently. Lift and drain.
Place raspberries in a single layer on a cookie sheet and tray-freeze. Once frozen (within 24 hours), pack them into suitable containers, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Seal, label and freeze. Raspberries can also be packaged and placed directly into the freezer, although berries that are tray-frozen are less likely to freeze together in clumps.
(Photo Credits: Photographer Rinne Allen)
It's not as hard as it sounds! Canning is a great way to preserve foods that have a high acid content or value-added foods like jams, pickles, and salsas. There are two main methods of canning: the Boiling Water Bath method, which allows you to can acidic foods by processing jars in boiling water and the Pressure Canner method which allows you to heat-process low acid foods by using a specifically designed metal kettle with a lockable lid. These canners have jar racks, one or more safety devices, systems for exhausting air, and a way to measure or control pressure...not for the faint of heart!
We will only be addressing the user-friendly traditional Boiling Water Bath method here.
Please read through THIS GLOSSARY OF CANNING TERMS before proceeding.
Please read these GUIDELINES FOR FOOD SAFETY before proceeding.
Adjusting for altitude (yes this really does matter!): If you are preserving at an altitude higher than 1,000 feet above sea level, adjust boiling water processing time as indicated. Find out your altitude HERE.
|ALTITUDE FEET||INCREASE PROCESSING TIME|
You will need:
Tongs: Have tongs ready for lifting hot foods out of boiling or simmering water. Any variety that you prefer will work, but a locking mechanism keeps them out of the way when not in use.
Jar lifter: This tool is a specialized set of tongs. Its rubberized ends fit securely around any size canning jar, to lift them in and out of your canner.
Canning funnel: Used for canning foods, this wide mouth tool keeps the rims of jars clean. It can also be used to fill ziplock bags neatly.
Canning jars: Canning jars are made from tempered glass to withstand the high heat and pressure of your canner. Both narrow- and wide-mouth jars are available, with wide-mouth being easiest to remove the food from once it is canned.
Water-bath canner. If you’re going to can, you must use the appropriate canner. For canning high-acid foods (fruits, jellies, relishes, and pickles), get a THIS ONE.- like
Prepare equipment and utensils.
Examine the jars for nicks or chips, the screw bands for proper fit and corrosion, and the new lids for imperfections and scratches. Wash everything in warm, soapy water, rinsing the items well and removing any soap residue.
Fill your canning kettle one-half to two-thirds full of water and begin heating the water.
Heat extra water in a saucepan as a reserve.
Submerge clean jars and lids in hot, not boiling, water.
Use your canning kettle for the jars and saucepan for the lids.
Transfer prepared food into the hot jars and release any air bubbles with a nonmetallic spatula.
Add more prepared food or liquid to the jar after releasing the air bubbles to maintain the recommended .
Wipe the jar rims with a clean, damp cloth.
You need the rims clean to properly place the lids.
Place a hot lid onto each jar rim and hand-tighten the screw band.
Make sure the sealant side is touching the jar rim.
Suspend the jar rack on the inside edge of your canning kettle, place the filled jars in the jar rack, and lower the jar rack into the hot water.
Make sure the jars are standing upright and not touching each other. If your jars aren’t covered by at least 1 inch of water, add boiling water from your reserve.
Cover the kettle and heat the water to a boil, reducing the heat and maintaining a gentle boil.
Start your processing time after the water boils. Maintain a boil for the entire processing period.
At the end of the processing time, remove your jars from the kettle with a jar lifter and allow them to cool.
Place them on a clean towel or paper towels. Completely cool the jars (12 to 24 hours).
Test the seals on the cooled jars by pushing on the center of the lid.
If the lid feels solid and doesn’t indent, you have a successful vacuum seal.
Remove the screw bands from your sealed jars, then wash the sealed jars and the screw bands in hot, soapy water.
This removes any residue from the jars and screw bands.
Label your filled jars, including the date processed, and store them (without the screw bands) in a cool, dark, dry place.