Healthy Sustainable Lifestyle
Today’s essay shares the thoughts and experience of Laurie Calloway and preserving the harvest by freezing, drying or dehydrating and canning. She will also share a recipe on making jams.
We may not live on a farm,
but we can grow where we live.
Preserving The Summer
September 3, 2015
Urban Farm Lifestyle Magazine
For me, it always seems the end of August is really the start of the new year. Teachers head back to the classroom, children return to school, routines are established, and sports begin a new season.
August also marks a new year of sorts for the vegetable garden…there is much to harvest, and plants such as lettuce, kale, and collard greens make their appearance.
Those of us who lovingly maintain gardens, or even those who have been given vegetables from a neighbor’s overflowing crop, are often left to wonder what to do to preserve some of the bounty, so that it can be enjoyed throughout the winter.
The three main options are home canning, freezing, and drying, or dehydrating the produce. Of these, freezing is probably the easiest, a method often used.
It is best to have a separate freezer; upright or chest in your home, especially if you have a variety of fruit or vegetables to preserve.
Fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries can be rinsed and placed in a single layer on cookie sheets, put in the freezer, then later removed and placed into plastic storage bags.
Apples, figs, peaches and plums do better cut up and cooked slightly with a bit of water and some sugar boiled together to make a light syrup, then placed into storage containers or bags.
Vegetables such as sliced summer squash, green beans and corn (removed from the cob), for example, should be prepared for freezing by a process known as blanching, where the vegetables are placed in boiling water for about 2 to 3 minutes, then cooled by placing in ice water, or pouring cold water over them.
They should sit in ice water for as long as they were in the boiling water. Corn can also be frozen on the cob; just shuck the corn, remove the silk, cut the cob in half or in thirds, and place the cobs in boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes.
Again, have ice water ready to cool the corn, and leave in for about 3 to 4 minutes.
Thoroughly drain the blanched and cooled vegetables, and place in freezer bags or storage containers, getting as much air as possible out in order to prevent freezer burn. (A wonderful tool for this is a vacuum food sealer. There are some inexpensive ones on the market which do a good job in sealing the bags so little or no air remains.)
Drying, or dehydrating vegetables and fruit is another option for preserving vegetables and fruits. This is easily done with a food dehydrator.
There are many types of these in various price ranges. I have found that an inexpensive model works quite well, and can hold as many as eight trays of produce.
Tomatoes are quite easy to dry; just slice into thin slices and place on the trays.
Other vegetables, such as eggplant, can also be cut into ¼ slices and dried, but should be blanched first in boiling water before being placed on the trays.
Most dehydrators come with recipe booklets outlining the best methods to dry various fruits and vegetables.
Oven-drying on trays is another method if you do not have an electric dehydrator. The food is washed, sliced and placed on trays in an oven on a low heat, around 140 degrees.
This method does require you to frequently check what you are drying so that the food does not get too crisp. Ideally, it should feel dry to the touch, but not be too brittle.
Store the dried vegetables in airtight or vacuum-sealed bags. You can refrigerate or freeze the bags if very long-term storage is desired. (I have not found that to be necessary.)
Finally, home canning is another popular way to preserve your garden fruits and vegetables.
Over the past several years there has been a renewed interest in canning, and supplies can be found not only in hardware stores, but in retail and grocery stores as well.
There are two methods of canning; using a hot water bath canner, or a pressure canner.
The hot water bath method is used for high-acid, or high sugar content foods, such as pickles, salsa, and jam.
Lower acid vegetables such as green beans and corn need to be processed under pressure using a pressure canner. (Foods such as tomatoes were processed by our grandmothers and mothers using the hot water bath; now the USDA guidelines recommend using a pressure canner.)
There are many excellent books and websites to explore if you wish to try home canning.
If you are new to canning, making jam is a good place to start. Older recipes call for cooking down your fruit using a fair amount of sugar.
These days, there are lower sugar options available that are just as delicious as the jams with high sugar content.
Using low or no sugar added pectin is the key to making a flavorful jam with less sugar. A good recipe to start with is low-sugar blueberry jam.
Fresh blueberries are available throughout the summer in most grocery stores, even if you missed the local blueberry season.
Check It Out!
Low-Sugar Blueberry Jam
1 cup of water or fruit juice
4 ½ tablespoons of low or no-sugar needed pectin
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons bottled lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
6 half-pint canning jars (Check jars for any nicks or cracks before using.)
6 canning lids and bands (Lids must be new, bands can be reused if not dented or rusty)
Magnetic lid lifter (not necessary, but very useful)
Hot water canner or large pot with a rack on the bottom to keep jars from direct contact with the bottom.
First, clean and sterilize six half-pint jars in the dishwasher. Place the lids and bands in hot (not boiling) water.
Crush the berries one layer at a time (a fun job for a child or grandchild, if you have a young helper) until you have 4 cups of crushed berries.
Place mixture in a large saucepan.
Add 4 ½ tablespoons of the low or no-sugar needed pectin.
Bring mixture to a full-rolling boil, one which cannot be stirred down, over high heat. You must stir constantly.
If the mixture begins to foam, you can add a pat of butter, which will help cut down the foam.
Next, add 1 ½ cups of sugar, and return the mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil for one minute, remember to stir constantly.
Remove the mixture from the heat, and if there is any foam on the top, you can skim it off with a spoon.
Quickly stir in 3 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice.
Using a ladle and a canning funnel, fill the hot jars from the dishwasher until about a ¼ to ½ inch from the top of the jar.
There should be at least an inch or more of water covering the jars. Bring the water to a steady boil, cover the canner with the lid, and process the jars for 10 minutes. (This time will vary if you live in a high altitude.)Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and let the jars stay in the hot water for 5 minutes. Lift the jars out with the jar lifter, and set on a folded dishtowel.
Cover the jars with another dishtowel. Check the lids for a seal in 24 hours. (Usually, they will seal fairly soon after being removed from the canner.)
If the jar did not seal, the lid will flex if you press on it.Place any jars that do not seal in the refrigerator for immediate use.
Once you have tasted the freshness of your homemade jam, you will be hooked.
The flavor of your jam can give you a taste of summer during the long, winter months, and is a welcome holiday present.
There are many recipes available for all types of jams, so experiment and have fun!
Use only fresh ripe fruit.
Stir jam mixture constantly while it boils.
A pat of butter will reduce foaming.
Check jars for any nicks or cracks before using.
Check the lids for a seal by pressing down on them. If they flex, the lid did not seal, and you must refrigerate the jam.
Canning guidelines have changed a great deal over the years.
At one time, processing in a hot water bath was not used for jam; the heat from the hot jam caused the lids to seal.
However, it is now recommended to process the half-pints for 10 minutes in a hot water bath canner.
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