Making Delicious Homemade Preserves
For more than 25 years, Marion and Lloyd Knoblauch, of Listowel, Ontario, Canada, have grown enough produce in their backyard garden to feed themselves, their three children and now their children's families. Throughout the summer, the Knoblauchs freeze more than 550 bags of vegetables including peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, snow peas and green peppers. For winter use they store 100 pounds of carrots, 300 pounds of potatoes, beets, pepper squash, kohlrabi and more than 200 Spanish onions.
So far this year, they have frozen their early crops, which include 10 bags of asparagus, 15 bags of spinach and 16 quarts of strawberries. "We are now enjoying two different kinds of radish, green onions, leaf and head lettuce and kohlrabi," says Marion Knoblauch. "Our daughter-in-laws made all their baby food from our garden produce."
As summer's end looms in the distance, you may be having visions of fresh-from-the-garden carrots for your Thanksgiving dinner or homegrown asparagus for the holidays. If your garden is overflowing with the fruits of your labor, preserving it can make that homegrown taste last all year, not to mention the health benefits of eating produce grown without pesticides. For an overabundance of homegrown produce, preservation is the ticket.
In The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest (Storey Books, 2002) by Carol W. Costenbader and revised by Joanne Lamb Hayes, you'll find a variety of preservation techniques and more than 150 recipes for freezing, canning, drying and pickling fruits, vegetables and herbs. Detailed instructions and equipment lists are included for each type of preservation method.
Determining the type of preservation method to use based on the produce you grow can be tricky. "The more acid a fruit or vegetable contains, the easier it is to preserve and the more options you have," says Hayes. "The best way to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables varies with the product and your family's needs. Your family's preferences, your storage facilities, food safety considerations, the equipment on hand and your available time will help you decide which method or methods you want to use."
There are a variety of methods and products on the market for the home gardener looking to preserve their summer harvest. Here are just a few:
Tilia, Inc. is the market leader in home vacuum packing with the FoodSaver Home Vacuum Packaging System®. When foods are vacuum packaged, they last longer in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry by removing air from the package.
While some prefer to use storage or freezer bags for food preservation, vacuum packaging has four distinct advantages over these products, according to Stephanie Huff, marketing and communications manager for Tilia. "First, FoodSaver bags are designed to withstand a commercial-strength vacuum, so your food can be stored without exposure to oxygen, and it will stay fresh three to five times longer," she says. "Second, vacuum packing better preserves flavor and texture. Third, vacuum packing provides significantly better protection against freezer burn, because it stores food airtight. Fourth, FoodSaver bags are more versatile and convenient because they're microwaveable, boilable, freezable and resealable."
The technology behind the FoodSaver bags is the key: They are five-ply, extremely sturdy and feature a patented system of air channels that remove air completely from the bag. "For those who love great food and want to enjoy peak flavor and freshness, home vacuum packing is ideal," says Huff. "Use it to preserve your summer harvest or to cook ahead to stock your freezer with delicious home-cooked meals."
Tilia offers a chart on vacuum packaging garden vegetables on their Web site.
An age-old preservation method practiced by many of our grandmothers, canning is resurfacing as a respectable way of saving summer's bounty. "I was raised in an era when canning was very important," says Hayes. "I still love to can and usually can tomato products and preserves each year."
Advances in technology have made canning a safer alternative compared to the way our grandmothers did it. The main benefit of canning produce is heat sterilization – microorganisms are killed during the canning process, allowing foods to remain stable on the shelf instead of the refrigerator or freezer. Which leads to the second benefit: storage. Once fruits and vegetables go through the canning process, they can remain on shelves and still retain the quality and freshness they had the day they were canned.
Water-bath canning is ideal for many fruits and vegetables. "A few things, such as tomatoes, are much better canned, and most households are likely to have use for enough tomato products that it is worth having a canning day or two and have shelves of home-canned pasta sauce, salsa, tomato juice or seasoned stewed tomatoes on hand," says Hayes. "If your family uses a lot of preserves or you would like to give preserves as gifts, that is definitely the way to go with a portion of your fruit harvest."
Freezing produce is a quick and efficient method of preservation. "These days, I most often choose to freeze anything that will freeze well," says Hayes. "It is so easy and you can do one package at a time if that is all you have."
Blanching – the process of plunging produce into boiling water for a period of time, then placing the produce in ice water to stop the cooking process – is a critical step prior to freezing most vegetables. "Blanching inactivates the enzymes that cause spoilage," says Hayes. "It also destroys any bacteria on the surface of the fruits or vegetables and sets the color."
Freezing is an economical way to preserve produce. Top-quality freezer bags and extra storage space in your freezer is all you need. "These days, people are more likely to freeze things because the process is easy, it captures the freshness and flavor of the product, and most homes have a lot more freezer space to fill than they used to," says Hayes.
Drying is basically the process of removing moisture from produce. There are many ways to dry produce including air drying, sun drying, oven drying or by using a food dehydrator. Herbs, tomatoes and many fruits are ideal for drying.
Drying is a relatively easy process, although the drying times can be quite long, often up to two days. However, the end result is worth it. "I look forward to drying apples, peaches and tomatoes at the height of their season, because it concentrates the flavor and sweetness to the extent that you just want to snack on them rather than using them in cooking," says Hayes.
Blanching is also recommended prior to drying produce; however, steam blanching is the preferred method, as boiling water blanching adds water back into the produce, increasing the drying time.
Rehydrating produce after the drying process is simple; cover the dried produce with boiling water and let stand for several hours. In no time you'll have fresh homegrown flavor to add to your meals.