Preserving fruit and vegetables for winter was once a necessity. With the advancement of technology in transportation, refrigeration, and food manufacturing people were able to purchase inexpensive fresh and frozen food year round and home food preservation declined. People are now questioning how their food is grown. Vegetable gardens are increasing in size and home food preservation is on the upswing.
The method of preservation, drying, freezing, canning, pickling or fermenting is up to each individual. With any method the produce should be ripe and ready to use. Check with experts as to how the produce should be prepared. When searching on the internet choose sites with commercial affiliations or ones connected to educational institutions. When using a cookbook, make sure it is current as methods have changed, becoming safer, helping people avoid food borne illness or poisoning. All equipment, and the work area should be clean.
Each method used to preserve fruit and vegetables has its good and bad points. No one method works best for everything. The best method depends on the type of produce, materials and storage is available.
Dehydrated foods retain most of their nutrients and none of the moisture. Bacteria cannot grow without moisture making dehydration a long term solution. Dried food must be kept in a dry dark location. If it becomes damp mold and bacteria thrive.
Dried produce retains its flavour but not its texture even after it is rehydrated. Small vegetables and herbs can be rehydrate in stews, soups or casseroles. Dehydrated fruit is often used in baking or eaten as is for a snack.
Foods dehydrate quicker when they are cut in smaller pieces allowing moisture to evaporate rapidly from each surface. Waxy coatings that naturally preserve the produce need to either be removed or subjected to steam to break down outer coating. It takes between two to 18 hours to dry items depending on the size and moisture content.
Food can be dried in an oven but a food dehydrator works best as it produces even heat and has a fan that removes excess moisture.
Freezing produce is one of the best and most common methods of preserving food. Texture and taste of frozen vegetables is often superior to those that have been canned or dehydrated. When produce is properly prepared and frozen much of the nutrition is retained. Left in the freezer too long and the material becomes freezer burnt decreasing the nutrition and palatability. When produce freezes the liquid expands breaking down cell walls changing the texture and taste. The more liquid the produce contains the mushier the texture.
The type of produce being frozen dictates the prep need to be completed before freezing. Recommended methods change making it worthwhile to stay current.
Canning or pickling requires glass jars with lids that will seal, a pressure cooker or a canner. The initial outlay for the jars may seem expensive but they can be reused for many years. Lids need to be replaced yearly and rings replaced when they become rusty.
It is important that both food and jars are heated to the correct temperature and properly sealed to insure that molds, botulism and viruses are killed. A pressure canner is recommended for all canning that is low in acid such as peas, and beans. The higher temperatures of the pressure cooker are needed to kill spores of Clostridium botulinum. A hot water bath in the canner is sufficient for produce that is high in acid such as jams, jellies, tomatoes, pickles and fermented foods.
Cupboards or shelves in a cool, dark place are needed to keep canned and pickled goods.
Canned foods will still be viable for a number of years but it is recommended to eat canned goods within a year as the taste and nutrient value in compromised if stored for longer.
Pickling is a type of canning that immerses the food product in a solution that inhibits bacteria. In other words, food items are placed in the jar and a hot vinegar or salt solution is poured into the jar pickling it.
Pickled produce is usually crisp and has a much different taste than fresh produce.
Fermenting is a method associated with turning cabbage into sauerkraut. A combination of salt, vinegar and pressure to remove the CO2 gas.
Vacuum sealing can be used with fresh, dried and frozen foods. It removes all air from the package slowing down bacteria to extend the produces shelf life.
There a number of different methods of preserving each fruit and vegetable. The method used is often dependent on the desired outcome or how it is to be eaten. Scientists are always working on safer methods that produce superior products. Look into current research about the specific produce before starting.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at email@example.com