Welcome to our series on food preservation. It’s a five-part series of articles that will take you through all food preservation options, including freezing, fruit preserves, dehydrating, canning and pickling. We’ll include recipes too! This introduction summarizes your options, shows you where to find bulk produce at the best prices, and offers other helpful preservation tips.
Five Ways To Preserve and Store Produce
Preserving and storing food is becoming a bit of a lost art. What do you do when you come across a great deal at the grocery store or the farmers market? What do you do when you’re offered a deal on a bushel of produce that you can’t pass up? What do you do when you have a bumper crop of green beans, squash or tomatoes? There’s only so much of any one food you can eat before you either get tired of it or it spoils. If you know how to preserve it, you can preserve it for future use.
Freezing your food is an easy way to start with food preservation. You can cook up your harvest in some of your favorite freezer friendly foods, clean and precook or blanch them and toss them in the freezer. This is also a great way to store fruit like berries and peaches that don’t last long once they are ripe. The only disadvantage to freezing food is that you’re limited by the amount of room you have in your freezer. Be sure to get in the habit of labeling frozen food so you know what it is before you pull it out to thaw, and how long it’s been sitting in the freezer
Canning is one of the most versatile ways to preserve food. You can make and can anything from jelly and pie filling to chili and green beans. Canning has the added advantage of not taking up any space in your fridge and freezer. You can store your canned goods in the pantry, on a shelf in the kitchen, or anywhere in the basement. Properly canned food also lasts a lot longer than any other method.
If you don’t have a lot of space, consider dehydrating food. You can start by using your oven on the lowest setting. Try dehydrating some apple slices, or any type of food to use in baking and cereal throughout the year. Then explore further and come up with fun snacks like kale chips, banana chips and even dried veggies that you can use in soup. If you enjoy it, consider investing in a good quality dehydrator for more efficient drying.
Another favorite, old-fashioned way to preserve food is to pickle it. Pickling involves submerging the produce in a brine made of salt, sugar, water, and various pickling spices. The most common pickled item is, of course, pickles and it’s a great place to start. But don’t stop there. You can pickle peppers, okra, cauliflower and a wide variety of other veggies and even fruits. Play with it and see what you like. Pickled veggies make a great addition to sandwiches and salads throughout the year.
Cold Store It
Food like root vegetables, apples, and cabbages store well in a dry, cool, and dark place. This used to the reason any house had a root cellar. Today, your pantry or basement “cold room” might be a good place to store this type of food. You can set up some shelves to keep a lot of produce for months to come.
Where to Find Great Deals on Produce to Preserve
Before you can start to put up a bunch of food throughout the year, you need the produce to work with. While you can certainly head to your local grocery store to pick up 20 pounds of green beans to can, it’s probably not the best option. Not only will it cost you quite a bit, even if green beans happen to be on sale that week, you also don’t usually get the best quality food at your grocery store.
A more feasible plan is to look for produce that’s local and in season in your area. That’s where you’ll find the best deals. Every once in a while you may even get lucky and have a friendly neighbor who shares his bumper crop with you. If you’re not quite that lucky, here are your best bets for finding great deals on seasonal, local produce.
Hit the Farmers’ Market Late in the Day
A good strategy is to head to your local farmers market close to the time everyone is ready to pack up and call it a day. Farmers know they won’t sell much more and the last thing they want to do is pack all this produce back up and take it back. You can make a deal and buy a lot of fresh food at a fraction of the price you would normally pay. Of course, you must be prepared to take it home and start working on freezing, pickling and canning right away.
Get To Know Farmers In Your Area
While you’re hanging out at the farmers market, get to know the farmers in your area. Talk to them, buy from them, or go check out their farm. As you start to grow that relationship, you’ll find that you’re able to get some great deals on fresh produce. You may be able to work out a “pick your own” type deal, where you go out to the farm and harvest what you need yourself. Or you may be able to get a deal on excess produce that the farmer isn’t able to sell quickly enough. As you get to know one or two farmers, they can also introduce you to others in the area.
Get Together With Others To Buy In Bulk
Often the best deals are to be had when you can buy large quantities of any product. When you’re buying direct from the farmer, that may mean far more of any one type of produce than you could possibly need. Yet, because of the price, this can still be well worth it. The solution is simple. Get together with a few other families interested in buying and preserving local, seasonal food. You go in and buy the larger quantities together and divide them between each other. Everyone gets a much more manageable amount of fruit and veggies to preserve at a bulk rate.
The next question is, how do you find these people? You find them at the farmers market and at the farms themselves. Talk to other shoppers you meet. Get to know them, exchange ideas and resources, and eventually talk about taking advantage of bulk ordering as a group.
How To Decide What To Can, What To Freeze And What To Dehydrate
As mentioned above, when it comes to preserving fresh produce, you have several options. You can freeze it, dehydrate it, or can it. What preservation method you choose will depend on a variety of different factors.
Start by figuring out what your options are specifically for the food you want to preserve. Green beans, for example, freeze and can well, but they don’t fair well in a dehydrator. Bananas, on the other hand, freeze and dehydrate well, but canning them won’t work out. Apples dehydrate well, but have to be processed into apple sauce or pie filling before you can or freeze them. Berries are delicious frozen, dehydrated, or turned into jam. Spend a little time doing research if you’re not familiar with the preservation methods that work best for a particular fruit or vegetable
Once you know what you can do with a particular food, think about how you like to use it later. If you love to add dried fruits to your oatmeal or granola in the morning, it makes sense to dehydrate those berries. If you prefer them in smoothies, freeze them instead. The same goes for any other vegetable. If you love pickled cauliflower as a quick veggie side or on a sandwich, it makes sense to pickle and can this yummy vegetable. If you prefer it steamed or use it to make soup or mock mashed potatoes, freezing it makes more sense… or both
Your last consideration should be space. Each of these preservation methods has different requirements. The first place you’ll probably run out of room is in the freezer. If you think this may become an issue, keep that in mind as you try to decide if you should freezer or dehydrate or can something. For example if you have a bumper green bean crop, and find it quickest and easiest to freeze them, you may want to consider canning a batch or two at the top of harvest time to make sure you have room left in the freezer for some other things. If you don’t plan ahead, you may end up with a freezer full of only green beans
With canning, your main restriction will be the amount of jars you have. Thankfully, canning jars are fairly inexpensive and you can add a pack each year as needed. Of course you also need a cool, dark place to store the finished jars full of canned goods.
Dried or dehydrated food will take up the least amount of room. It also weighs the least. This makes it a wonderful option when you’re starting to run out of room. Just remember that you need a plan for consuming all this dehydrated food down the road. You can store the dry food in airtight bags, plastic containers, or glass jars.
How And Where To Store Your Produce To Make It Last
Yes, you can preserve your produce by freezing it, canning it, cooking it, pickling it, or even dehydrating it. But sometimes, you just want to keep it around to use up for a few days, weeks, or even months. Where should you store it to make sure it stays fresh as long as possible?
People used to have a root cellar. One of the reasons it got that name is because root vegetables store well in a cool, dark space. If you have a cool pantry, or even better a dark, dry basement, you can store things like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and onions.
Mostly leafy vegetables do best in the fridge. Bring them home, wash them, dry completely. Wrap them in a paper towel and store them in a plastic bag in the fridge.
What you store next to each other also makes a big difference, especially in a closed space. Remember the old trick of sticking an apple or banana in a brown paper bag with some unripe fruit? The same thing happens if you keep all your fruit in a bowl on the counter, or in a bag. Most fruit does better out of their container, spread out on the kitchen counter.
Another important tip is to never store your onions and potatoes together. While they both benefit from dry, cool, and dark spaces with plenty of air flow, the onions give off a gas that makes potatoes sprout and rot much faster than if they are stored away from onions.
While most produce will stay fresh and tasty the longest when stored in the fridge, there are some foods that should not be refrigerated.
These fruits tend to become mealy when they are stored at too low of a temperature. Keep them on the counter instead.
By paying attention to how each type of produce stores best, you can not only extend how long it will keep without any major effort to preserve the food, but it also preserves the flavor. And that’s really the point, isn’t it? To keep food fresh, flavourful, and packed with nutrients until you’re ready to eat it.
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