Several Ways To Preserve Summer's Harvest – Brevard NC
Last updated 8/24/2016 at 9:49pm
Many gardeners suffer from SAD during the long winter months. That’s not “seasonal affective disorder,” but “seed acquisition disorder.” The bright photos in those seed catalogues look so enticing in February, we dream of planting one of everything and having a bountiful harvest of fresh vegetables to enjoy.
But now, at the heart of the harvest season, we’re wondering “What was I thinking – We can’t possibly eat all of this produce. The tomatoes are piling up, the zucchinis just won’t stop producing, and I’m inundated with green beans, onions, etc.”
Well, if you’re willing to do a little work, you can enjoy that bountiful harvest all winter long. This article looks at ways to preserve the harvest.
There are many food-preservation options, including canning, freezing, drying and cold storage, as well as fermentation/pickling. This article focuses on the first four of those options. There are important general rules regardless of which option you choose: always pick and process the same day if you want that “just picked” flavor next winter, and always choose the best produce to preserve.
Cold storage sounds simple, doesn’t it? Just put the produce in the refrigerator. Actually, there is a little more to it than that; and besides, there is only so much room in the refrigerator.
When I purchased my first home, it had a room in the basement, walled off from the rest, with a dirt floor. I now realize this was a classic “root cellar” and the perfect place to store many vegetables. Many kinds of produce — potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins — can be stored for several months in a root cellar. Some require a period of “curing” by leaving them in the hot sun for 10-14 days, which is easy, of course, if it isn’t consistently cloudy and rainy.
The duration of quality storage is the result of many variables. Temper-ature, humidity, light, and air flow all affect cold, and each type of produce has specific requirements for optimum storage. For example, sweet potatoes like it relatively “warm” (around 50-60 degrees) with low humidity; Irish potatoes prefer things a little cooler (about 34-41 degrees) and require complete darkness; garlic prefers good air circulation.
Regardless, check your produce frequently and make plans to use it up within a reasonable amount of time.
There are three ways to preserve food by drying: sun drying, oven drying, and using a dehydrator. Sun drying may work great in some parts of the country, but not here in the “land where the water falls.” Oven drying is an option, but it is not energy efficient, and the quality of the food declines with the higher temperatures. My recommendation is to purchase a food dehydrator. It’s a simple and relatively inexpensive device which uses air circulation and low heat to dry herbs, fruits and vegetables. The temperature setting for vegetables is 135 degrees and the duration of drying varies. Most dehydrators will come with a drying guide suggesting methods for drying different varieties of produce. Once dried, store the produce in a cool, dry, dark place and it should keep for six to nine months.
Freezing is another option. While you could just toss the vegetables in a bag and plop them in your freezer, blanching is necessary if you want the best flavor and nutrition. Blanching is a procedure of plunging the vegetables in boiling water for a specific amount of time, immediately followed by an ice water bath to stop the enzyme process and lock in flavor and nutrition.
A two-piece blancher, with lid, is readily available at many stores; it will come with specific timing instructions for each vegetable. Once the items have been blanched, dry them well, pack them into air tight containers and freeze immediately. Vacuum-sealed bags or plastic containers both work well. Leave as little open space as possible in the container since air can damage the quality of the produce, but leave a little more room in items with high liquid content for expansion. An old fashioned deep freezer is preferred for longer storage as opposed to a frost-free model because the freeze and thaw cycling that eliminates frost build up can damage the quality of your produce, resulting in “freezer burn.” Many vegetables will store for up to one year, but some vegetables, such as celery, cucumbers, lettuce, parsley and summer squash, don’t freeze well. They lose their crispness and become slightly mushy when thawed.
And there is always canning. Because instructions differ for different canners, we’ll focus on some general rules. There are two methods of canning: water bath, which can be used for some fruits and juices; and pressure canning for vegetables. Be cautious when you are canning; a sealed canner is under pressure and this pressure can be dangerous if not handled properly. Read the instruction manual that came with the canner and follow these instructions exactly; avoid shortcuts. Always check the vent prior to beginning, and don’t leave the room while the canner is under pressure — use the ladies (or gents) room prior to beginning. Always wait until the pressure is completely down and the air vent/cover lock drops before removing the regulator. Always open the lid away from you as steam can be dangerous. Check carefully that each jar is sealed; listen for the “pop,” look for the indentation, and once completely cool, feel the indent as well — but never force a lid down. Any jars that did not seal properly are meant for supper that night. Sealed jars will keep in storage for a very long time, but after a year both flavor and nutrition will gradually deteriorate.
For the most accurate information on all forms of home food preservation, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation at http://nchfp.uga.edu/index. html. The comprehensive book, “So Easy to Preserve,” is a great resource and is available for purchase from University of Georgia at http://setp.uga.edu/. The “Ball Bluebook” is also an excellent resource and can be found locally.
(If you have questions about preserving fruits and vegetables or any other gardening questions, visit the Master Gardener booth at the Transylvania Farmers Market on the first and third Saturdays from April through October. For more immediate questions or suggestions for future articles, email [email protected] or call (828) 884-3109.)