Learn the best ways to preserve food based on what you have available and the type of food you are storing…
When it comes to preserving your summer harvest for year-round use, there are lots of different methods to choose from. The best ways to preserve food for your particular situation will depend on a number of factors, including what equipment you have on hand, how much and what kind of storage space you have, and of course, what types of food you are preserving.
For example, if you don’t have a pressure canner, and don’t want to or don’t have the funds to purchase one, you may need to find another method of preserving low-acid foods, as some things aren’t safe to can in a simple water bath. Some foods freeze better than others, while others are easier to dry or dehydrate. And, of course, if you live completely off the grid and don’t have electricity, freezing won’t make sense for you as a food preservation method!
As you can see, there are many variables that will impact your choice of preservation methods. This podcast from Pioneering Today discusses some of the pros and cons of the different ways to preserve food:
In general, one factor that will have the most impact on which preservation method is best for you is what type of food you are preserving. Here are a few suggestions from the podcast, but feel free to experiment, and over time, you will learn what methods you like best for each food:
Best Foods to Dehydrate
Melissa: One of our favorite things to dehydrate is my kids love kale chips. And I really like kale chips, and it’s a great snack food, and a lot of times I’ll do them in the oven but right now it’s really hot out, and so I can do so much more bulk. I can dehydrate out the whole bunch, and then just have that snack food available for them, too. When you kind of said that prior, snacking and portability wise, it’s so great with your dehydrating.
Any extra fruit, any fruit that’s just barely past prime, that we don’t wanna can or do anything else with, we just blend those right up and turn those into the fruit leathers. Those make for a great snack anytime.
I think for me the sun dried tomatoes, and of course, they’re not really sun dried because I do them in the dehydrator and not in the sun, but I like to season them with just a little bit of salt and Italian seasoning before I dehydrate them. I have found that when I’m making pizzas in the winter, a little bit of olive oil brushed on and just a layer of those spread out, and we don’t even miss the pizza sauce. So I can do away completely with the canned pizza sauce if I just have a really good supply of these dehydrated tomatoes on hand.
Carolyn: The top of my list for dehydrating is gonna be your sweet corn in the summer. Dehydrated sweet corn, it’s like taking a bite to me of sweet corn in the summertime, if you’ve dehydrated it well. So I love dehydrating the sweet corn. The tomatoes I’ve already said. Mushrooms.
Up in Idaho where we’re at, we have a lot of Morel mushrooms, if you can go hunt them at the right time of year. And so, when you find a big stash, boy we just dehydrate all we can, because those come back just beautifully, once they’re rehydrated. Whether they’re in a stew or a pasta, or whatever they’re in. They are just absolutely delicious.
Another one that is really high on my list, is peppers. Bell peppers and hot peppers. And those dehydrate so nicely, and they come back with such a wonderful flavor. That is becoming my go to method for the peppers, is just dehydrating them.
Melissa: I love to have dried dill weed on hand of course, for when I’m doing pickling things when the dill in the garden isn’t on yet so I don’t have it fresh, because you can use that dehydrated dill for your pickling recipes and your fermenting…
Best Foods to Can:
Carolyn: When we can peaches in the water bath canner, everybody just loves those. And I think, who doesn’t love peaches any time of the year, but then in the middle of winter, when you can open a canned peach and it just smells like summer, oh that is such a wonderful thing. And then you can make up quick cobblers, you can do so many great things, or just eat it plain, so we really like that one.
And I think for me, one of the things that I like the most pressure canned is meat of any sort. And again, that’s just because you’re doing all of your work up front. It’s like, in the summertime, in the fall, when you’re doing all that pressure canning, you’re actually just preparing your meals. You’re just doing it in one big batch all ahead of time.
When you can open up a jar of meat that you have pressure canned and be ready to dump that and make a stew or a sandwich filling, or anything like that, I love that. I think to me that’s really adding to the convenience of my life, as well as having all those great stored foods. When you have meat on the shelf, you really feel like you’re prepared for anything. You know, anything can happen and I’m good to go.
Melissa: When it comes to the fruit, I have to say one of our favorites is strawberry jam, for sandwiches or having it on biscuits, and then I even like to take jam, I’ll do it with fruit butter, kind of any the fruit preserves and use it as a filling between cakes. Especially chocolate, because strawberry and chocolate, cherry and chocolate, raspberry and chocolate, they just go so good together, and then it’s a really quick one.
And for me, I think with pressure canning, I do definitely love to have meat, but I also, probably home canned tomato sauce. Just because it’s so versatile, so I’ll can up the tomato sauce and then turn that into pizza sauce, pasta sauce, add it to chili, or soup, or stew, for an extra flavor or thickening. I pressure can my tomato sauce, it’s just so fast, and like I said, I can put way more in my pressure canner and I just kind of prefer to use that one than a big boiling pot of water.
Best Foods for Fermentation
Carolyn: I think fermenting is kind of this almost the new lost art that we’re rediscovering. You know you’ve heard of sauerkraut forever…but we’re experimenting more and more with the different flavors in fermenting, and what I’ve gotta say is, there’s very few things that don’t taste great when they’re fermented.
One criteria I use to decide is, “How much time do I have?” Because fermenting to me is the fastest of all the ways to preserve food.
I can take a whole basket of tomatoes and I can have those preserved by fermenting them in three minutes, two minutes? It depends on how fast I can stick them into a jar and cover them up with water and salt.
It’s so fast, that when you get overwhelmed, it is the go to method, and I really, really like that. So I think again, I look at the time that I have. How much time do I have today, to deal with the produce that I have in front of me to get through?
And again, so many things taste good when they ferment, but there are some cons to fermenting too.
The flavor does change, and if you want to use fermentation as a long term preservation method, not just fermenting to get the probiotic health benefits, but to really use it to preserve food for winter, you really need a place where you can put it, that it’s gonna stay cool.
It doesn’t have to be the refrigerator, that’s not necessary, but it does need to stay cooler than our average summer household room temperatures. It needs to be in the low 50 degrees to really stall out that fermenting, so that it doesn’t just keep getting more, and more, and more soured, to the point where you don’t want to eat it.
Melissa: I like to ferment zucchini with garlic and dill, and make a zucchini pickle out of it, because zucchini, you can safely do zucchini relish, zucchini pickles, that type of thing, acidified wise, water bath canning. But the new recommendation and new testing is that you should not pressure can summer squash.
…..I know that zucchini, well I’m only gonna do so much pickled relish that’s a zucchini, and of course I dehydrate zucchini, I expiralize it and use the zucchini as noodles, I’ll dehydrate zucchini and that does pretty well. Then I’ll shred and freeze a little bit of zucchini to use in baking and that, but I love to use the zucchini to do a fermented garlic dill pickle because it doesn’t get very mushy.
Carolyn: Yep, you know when I was asking my family this morning, they hands down said that the fermented carrot sticks are their favorite, and everyone of them said that they love fermented carrot sticks better than just raw carrot sticks…
I’ve gotta say that one of my absolute favorites is anything that has been shredded and then fermented, like a sauerkraut or a shredded garlic beet. Sometimes I do ginger and orange in shredded beets, and I absolutely love that.
You can take that ferment and dump it, even the juice that comes off of it, over some rice and you have an instant lunch. It is so delicious, it flavors everything and it’s a quick, healthy delicious lunch that everybody loves because it’s got so much flavor!
Best Foods for Freezing
If you have the freezer space, freezing can be a great way to preserve food. Keep in mind that some foods aren’t good choices for freezing as they tend to turn to mush. However, for certain foods (like tomatoes) mushy is just fine, and I find that frozen tomatoes make a much fresher tasting sauce than canned – plus, they’re easier, so if we had enough freezer space, I would probably freeze them all instead of canning! There are lots of foods that will freeze just fine, and of course, it’s the easiest way to preserve meat especially.
When it comes to vegetables, some of my favorites to freeze besides tomatoes are corn (cut off the cob), shelled peas, green beans, mushrooms, and peppers, peppers, peppers. We freeze lots and lots of peppers every year – both sweet and hot. They won’t keep their crunch for fresh salads and the like, but are perfect for any cooked dish, and they taste just like fresh! We also freeze tomatilloes, okra, ground cherries (for jam and sauces), and some squash.
Summer squash is one of those things that doesn’t hold up well after freezing, but we have found that if we shred and freeze it, it’s a good way to add extra veggies to a sauce or stew and you won’t even know it’s there! Winter squash can be cooked, pureed, and frozen for later use in soups, or pies and other baked goods.
Some vegetables (usually green ones like greens, peas, green beans, and okra) should be blanched before freezing to tenderize them and prevent freezer burn. Peppers should not be blanched, and you don’t need to blanch tomatoes either unless you want to peel them first. (Helpful Tip: Whole frozen tomatoes are very easy to peel! Just thaw them slightly, then slip the skins off before chopping to use in sauce or soup.)
Consult a food preservation book for blanching techniques and times for various vegetables.
Over time, you will learn which types of preservation methods you prefer for various foods. But the ideas above will get you started off on the right track while you are learning to preserve food!