Saturday, April 18, 2009
Posted by Andrea Meyers
In my dream world, I walk out to my bountiful garden several times a day and pick whatever we need for the next meal, whether it’s tomatoes, onions, greens, cabbage, herbs, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, berries, apples, plums, oranges, lemons, limes, mango, bananas, grapefruit, or passionfruit. All of these things are available year round and crops produce perfect yields, neither too much or too little. Now that is a dream! I would love to have all of those things growing in our yard year round, but like most people in the world the climate and soil type determines what we can grow and when, and the ever-changing weather affects the harvest. Some years we struggle to get enough and some years we have a bounty and store the excess.
When faced with an excess of produce from our garden, we preserve foods by freezing or canning, and each has its own benefits.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are often nutritionally equal or even sometimes superior to fresh as they are usually frozen just after harvest, locking in the vitamins and minerals that would otherwise leech from the food if stored in the refrigerator or on the counter. Harmful organisms are not destroyed in the process, but the freezing temperature inhibits growth. Some vegetables and fruits can be frozen whole, such as tomatillos and berries, but others should be cut, such as zucchini and carrots. Spread out on a baking sheet the produce you plan to freeze and leave it in the freezer for at least one hour, then put into labeled freezer bags.
Leafy vegetables such as spinach should have stems completely removed. Many vegetables should be blanched or even cooked before freezing, but fruits are often frozen after rinsing clean. Herbs can be frozen as whole leaves or chopped and put into ice cube trays, then frozen. Store the whole frozen leaves in plastic containers and frozen cubes in plastic containers or bags.
Always label everything you freeze with the contents and the date. Storage time for frozen produce varies from 1 to 3 months, but that is based on quality of the product not safety. Properly frozen foods are safe indefinitely.
The canning process applies heat to the food to kill any harmful organisms such as bacteria, molds, and yeasts and destroy enzymes and remove oxygen that break down food. Heat does break down some beneficial vitamins (C, thiamine, folate), but most are stable when heat is applied, so canned foods still have health benefits. Canning at home requires some basic equipment:
- boiling water canner or pressure canner
- jars and lids
- large pot for sterilizing jars and lids
Low acid foods such as vegetables and meats require a pressure canner to ensure the temperatures get high enough to destroy harmful microorganisms such as Clostridium botulinum, so don’t try to just boil them in an open pot. Fruits have enough acid and can be processed in an open pot (the boiling water method). Once you have canned your foods and the lids have properly sealed, they will be shelf stable for up to one year and can be stored without refrigeration until opened.
We can pickles, jellies, jams, and fruit butters, and then freeze the rest. Last year we put up about 40 jars of canned goods and froze 5 pounds of tomatillos, several batches of pesto and frozen basil, and then slow roasted and froze about 5 pounds of leftover ripe tomatoes. We have enjoyed the bounty of our summer garden throughout the winter and are looking forward to doing it all over again this summer.
This post was written by Andrea
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