No matter what size garden you have, the fact is, eating every single thing you harvest fresh is just not possible. After all that work planning, planting, tending and harvesting, the last thing you want is for your bounty to go to waste.
After mastering the art of food preservation, you will never need to toss out spoiled food again. The key in any of these preservation methods is to process your fruit and vegetables at the peak of freshness. Food that is blemished or has already begun to spoil is much more likely to grow bacteria during storage.
1. Water-bath Canning
A hot water bath canner is used for high acidity foods such as fruit, tomatoes, jam/jelly, pie filling and pickles. It sounds intimidating, but it’s just as easy as boiling water (seriously that’s it)!
Always follow a recipe that has been tested and proven safe – I recommend the “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving“. Before consuming your home canned goods, always check the seal of the metal lid to ensure it hasn’t popped. You can do this by pressing your finger on the lid, it should be concave and won’t move up or down when you apply pressure.
Save money and cabinet space by purchasing a canner that does double duty for both water bath and pressure canning. This is the one I use and I love it!
When foods are on the borderline of being to alkaline, acid can be added in the form of lemon juice or vinegar to ensure food safety. Many high acid foods such as pickles or jam have some processing that needs to be done before they are canned. Many canning recipes will call for pickling salt and/or pickling spice.
When the food is ready and packed into canning jars with metal lids and rings, the jars are placed in the canner and completely covered with water. Then the jars are boiled for an amount of time specified in your recipe.
2. Pressure Canning
Pressure Canning is the only safe option for canning low acidity foods such as vegetables, broth and meat.
Food is packed into mason jars with metal lids and rings, then placed in the pressure canner with enough water to cover the jars about halfway. Pressure canners have a valve on the lid that allows air to escape when open and pressure to build when closed. Typically, you allow steam to escape for 10 minutes to remove all the air inside the canner. Then the valve is closed, and your recipe will tell you to process at a certain amount of pressure for a specific period of time (ie. 10lbs of pressure for 40 minutes). A pressure gauge indicates how many pounds of pressure you have achieved and you must carefully monitor and adjust your range burner to keep the pressure consistent. Always allow the pressure to drop back down to zero before opening the canner.
Tomatoes are high acidity foods that can also be pressure canned safely. This can cut down on canning time from a hot water bath method. I often do this for my diced tomatoes because processing time in a hot water bath canner can be up to 80 minutes, where pressure canning can take that down to 40 minutes or less. Not only does it save time, but the tomatoes don’t get boiled to mush!
Drying or dehydrating foods removes water, therefore inhibiting the growth of bacteria. This keeps the dried food from spoiling for 5-10 years or more if properly stored in the absence of oxygen. Drying is not just limited to fruit and vegetables, but has long been a method of choice for preserving meats. Beef jerky anyone?
There are many methods of drying foods at home, the quickest is using a dehydrator. They are fairly inexpensive for an entry level model. If you find yourself drying large batches of food at a time or using it often throughout the year, a commercial model may be a better choice as they give you more control over temperature and time.
Other methods of drying food include: air drying, sun drying, oven drying, smoking, salting and freeze drying. I generally air dry all my herbs, unless I’m in a pinch for time. I have a great article on growing and drying herbs here.
Freeze drying is popular in commercially sold products as it gives much more consistent results while preserving more nutrients in the food when compared to dehydration. Freeze dried food is a great choice for a survival stockpile as well as stocking your pantry.
I love Harmony House Foods! They have a great selection of premixed dry soup blends as well as individual ingredients to create your own recipes. Freeze dried soup blends make for a quick and inexpensive meal made with natural ingredients and no preservatives. They also make great gifts!
4. Root Cellar/Cold Storage
Many vegetables and fruits don’t need much special treatment to keep for long periods of time. Produce like apples, dry beans, root vegetables, winter squash and cabbage family veggies can keep for months if properly stored.
Factors that effect long term storage of these crops are light, ventilation, humidity and temperature. All produce stores best in dark conditions with good air circulation. However, the humidity and temperature needs vary from one crop to the next so always research the proper conditions for each type of food before storage.
Carrots and other root vegetables, for example, like it cold and moist. They can even be stored in crates filled with sand or sawdust to insulate them and help regulate humidity. Blemished fruit or veggies should not be stored long term and anything that develops signs of rot or disease should be removed immediately to keep it from spreading to neighboring produce.
Some vegetables are sensitive to ethylene gas produced by many fruits. These should not be stored in the same area as one another to prolong shelf life. The same goes for storing fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator. Check out the book “Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables” for an in depth guide to managing your own root cellar.
Some veggies require blanching before they can be stored in the freezer. This process typically involves boiling or steaming the produce for a short amount of time and immediately placing it in ice water or flash freezing to stop the cooking process.
When you freeze your produce, make sure it is prepped first. Shred, chop, peel or otherwise prepare your produce so it’s ready to be thawed and used. You can use a vacuum sealer, glass jars or freezer bags for storage.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Hash browns, potatoes O’Brian, french fries, tater tots
- Shredded zucchini (for making bread, tots, cheesy zucchini rice)
- Chopped or whole: Spinach, Broccoli, Peas, Brussels sprouts, Green beans, Asparagus, Butternut squash, Sweet potatoes, Cauliflower, Kale, Okra, etc
- Corn (either kernels or on the cob)
- Riced or spiralized veggies
- Veggie blends for soup, stir fry, etc
- Frozen berries, bananas and other fruit for smoothies
6. Baking and Recipes
Zucchini bread is one of my family’s favorite treats. In July, I bake around 40 loaves and store them in the freezer for a years worth of sweet bread! Baking banana bread is a great way to save overripe bananas from the waste bin as well!
Turn your vegetables into prepared foods to preserve them and save you time in the future. I love eggplant parmesan, which is time consuming to make. So when I grow eggplant in my garden, I harvest it and make huge batches of fully cooked eggplant parmesan. I then flash freeze it (so it doesn’t get stuck together) and vacuum seal meal sized portions. All I have to do for dinner is grab a package out of the freezer, heat it up, and serve.
This form of food preservation has been around since ancient times! We eat fermented foods everyday and many are considered very healthy for our digestive systems. Fermentation is basically just a reaction between sugar and yeast to form alcohol – it’s that simple! Some common fermented foods include: wine, beer, cider, vinegar, yogurt, olives, sauerkraut and kombucha.
I’m not a huge fan of sourkraut, but there are so many more options out there! You can not only ferment fruits and vegetables, but also dairy, grains, meat, honey and beans.
We have 4 apple trees and one family can only make so many apple pies! I do however, use tons of apple cider vinegar around the house, especially during canning season. So, I learned how to take whole apples or apple cores/peels and ferment them to make jugs of apple cider vinegar.
How to do it? – When you’re first learning, it’s important to follow a proven recipe. You will need a container for the fermentation process to take place in. Depending on the size of your batch, you can use anything from a mason jar with fermenting lid to a large fermentation crock which will hold several gallons. Many recipes also call for added sugar or yeast to catalyze the fermentation process.
8. Packed in Oil
Oil is a natural preservative, so infusing it with herbs and veggies can make them last for months. Just as with canning, be sure to follow a reliable recipe and take care to sterilize all tools and jars to prevent contracting a food-bourne illness. The amount of time oil packed foods can be safely stored for varies greatly depending on what ingredients are used. Glass jars with hinged lids work great for this purpose.
Some of my favorite foods packed in oil are: basil pesto, roasted red pepper or eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, minced garlic, and herb infused oils! Some oils that have been infused with herbs can even be applied topically for healing or beauty products.
I would love to hear your favorite foods to preserve at home! Leave me a comment and let me know your great ideas!