A recent package in the mail from my mom included two jars of amber-colored peach preserves from a batch that she’d canned in the late summer. I’m a huge fan of jams and jellies, but I had never tasted anything as flavorful and delicious as those peach preserves. My daughter and I went through one jar in about two days, spooning it onto toast, vanilla yogurt, and even just eating it right out of the jar.
It’s not just my mom who is jumping on the food preservation bandwagon. Maybe it’s the shaky economy, or the growing interest in eating locally, but I feel like I’m seeing news and information about canning and preserving everywhere I turn.
Of course, it’s not like this is a new trend. Before there were refrigerators, mega-supermarkets and foods imported from warmer climates, previous generations would devote much of their late summer and early autumn to storing the bounty from their gardens so that they can eat it all winter long. Even though we’re not at risk of running out of food during a long, cold January, there is something comforting about having a pantry full of tomatoes, fruit jams and pickles that can remind you of the fresh flavors of summer.
Preserving food isn’t difficult, although some methods require special equipment. To cut down on the expense, especially since many of these tools you might only use once or twice a year, consider sharing the purchase and use of canning kits, food dehydrators and other gear with a friend or a neighbor.
Here are some of the ways that you can store the last of summer’s fruits and vegetables:
This is by far the easiest method, and it requires the least amount of special equipment. It’s great for berries, beans and peas, apples and stone fruit. With some items, such as berries, you can simply spread them out on a sheet pan, freeze them til they’re solid, then transfer them to a freezer-safe bag or container. But other types of food might require blanching (cooking quickly in boiling water and rinsed in icy cold water), cooking, or storing in syrup or sugar.
This method is not necessarily difficult, but can have dire effects if it’s done wrong, because food that’s not properly canned can become a breeding ground for botulism and other bacteria. There are two methods to canning: acidic foods, like most fruit, most tomatoes (particularly if you add an acid like lemon juice or citric acid) and pickles, can be canned in a water bath, which is basically a big pot of simmering water. Low-acid foods, such as vegetables, need to be canned in a pressure canner (a large pressure cooker), which seals the food at a much higher temperature. Pick up a good canning book or look online for reliable information before you get started.
Drying foods requires the investment of a food dehydrator, but you can easily find one for under $100 that can pay off over time as you dry your own fruits instead of purchasing them. Try drying apples, pears, stone fruits, figs, berries, and tomatoes. You can also dry herbs in a dehydrator or simply in a well-ventilated area of your house.
If you’re interested in taking the next step to try your hand at home food preservation, check out the Web site of the National Center for Home Food Preservation for plenty of tips, information and recipes.
Whatever method you choose, just imagine how nice it will be to savor summer… even when there’s snow on the ground.