Canning, Freezing, Fermenting, Dehydrating, Root-Cellaring…

After all the planning,  planting, watering, weeding, spraying, praying, and eating now is the time for preserving.  Gardens large or gardens small, they all have a tendency to produce more than we can eat at one time.  Prudence dictates that we don’t toss all that extra bounty onto the compost heap but what are we to do with it?  The answer to that, alas, is far too lengthy to address in a post.  In August I taught what was supposed to be a six hour class on home food preservation that lasted seven hours and twenty minutes and I barely scratched the surface.  Not because I wasn’t talking as fast as I could but because there are so many methods of putting food by that it simply wasn’t possible to cover them all  in depth in that time.

Summer’s bounty ready for the basement….

There are some books, yes, always with the books, that will guide you along the way…

The Ball Blue Book of Preserving….less than $10 dollars is the best place to start if you are interested in canning, either water bath or pressure. Every one who cans should own this detailed and lucid book. I have the $.69 one I bought the year after I got married and several copies after that in an effort to keep up with the latest USDA data but also to see how the books change as the preserving climate has changed.  My first copy emphasized what to plant in order to preserve it, the later copies don’t and I am guessing that the assumption is that people would not be growing the food but purchasing it. I am interested to see what will happen now that people are growing their own again.  During WWII back yard gardens produced 40% of vegetables and fruits in the US.

A note about canning…. please use only a water bath canner when canning high acid fruits and vegetables.  Two other methods are suggested but they are not adequate to the task of heating full jars all the way to the center and keeping them hot for the entire length of the canning process. One of the methods is canning in the oven using a high temperature. Air can get very hot in an oven but air does not transmit heat effectively.  The other method is using a ‘steam canner’ on a counter top.  This appliance heats water in the bottom and the rising steam heats the jars above.   This document explains the pros and cons of steam canners…to my mind they are much fussier and less safe than water bath canners and they are used for the same process.

Pressure canners must be used for low acid foods, most vegetables–everything except tomatoes (actually fruits), all meats and seafood without exception, and….mixed tomato and vegetable sauces, salsas, relishes unless you are using a tested recipe that insures high enough acid to be safe. Do not try to put pumpkin or winter squash through a canner.  These are very low acid and very dense and it is impossible at home pressure canner temperatures to get the center of the jars hot enough for long enough to completely kill the botulism bacteria.  You can freeze squash and pumpkin safely or you can just store them in the basement.   Buy the Ball Blue Book and follow the directions.

Putting Food By and Stocking Up are similar.  They cover pretty much all the methods of preserving food.  Most booksellers have them and the on-line sellers have used copies. Either one is good to have around for reference.

Wild Fermentation is Sandor Katz’s best book on fermenting food to keep it fresh. Most of us don’t think about how diligently and continuously bacteria work for us by transforming our food from something that rots to something that is stable and delicious at room (actually colder but not refrigerated )  temperatures. Fermented foods include beer, wine, cheese, natural pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt and sour cream, tempeh, bread and hundreds of other foods eaten all over the world.  It is one of the oldest forms of food  preservation, probably second only to dehydrating. And of course, we are a fermented food also since much of our nourishment comes from the bacteria in our guts breaking down what we eat.  Sandor Katz makes all clear and easy.  Just last night I put up four quarts of sauerkraut in less than an hour using cabbage from my garden. I also fermented, or started the fermentation for, a quart of tomatillos.  Nowhere could I find any mention of fermenting tomatillos but be assured, you can ferment just about anything except ripe tomatoes which turn to mush and greens, also mushy. To ferment food is to engage in a practice thousands of years old, present in every culture and…..very inexpensive.

People always ask me where they can store the food they have preserved, especially  if they live in apartments.  Since canned goods need to be stored in the dark (or dim) they can go in the backs of closets, under beds, under sinks, in high cupboards.  One woman I know makes and cans soup (in a pressure canner only!) when vegetables are plentiful and inexpensive and stores the jars under her bed.

You should all know that I always advise people to put food away for security reasons.  We do not know when snow, ice, wind or rain will shut down supply lines.  One town over people were out of power for two weeks because of snow breaking tree limbs, Canadians were out for up to six weeks in that ice storm a few years back. Remember, every person in your family needs approximately 2000 calories every day and they have to come from somewhere.  Better to have some of them stored in your house than have to count on the grocery store…especially if you cannot even get to it. So….my perennial admonition, dried beans and rice if you will have some way to cook it, canned meats, veggies and fruits, dried fruits and nuts, boxed cereal and powdered milk and so on. A camp stove and bottled water will go a long way to making a long power outage comfortable. But don’t use camp stoves inside-porches only because of the fumes.

Preserving food is fun and easy and rewarding.  You will all do it right the first time.  Imagine bringing your own peach cobbler to Thanksgiving Dinner….not only do you amaze your friends and family but it is delicious.

About Clio

I am an organic gardener with thirty years experience, a former minister, a former home-schooler, (they grew up), a current clarinet and flute player, knitter and spinner, and swimmer. I am interested in food security issues, food and policy issues, food preservation and encouraging people to become more aware and pro-active about their own food supply. I teach home food preservation, especially water bath and pressure canning, beginning organic gardening using bio-intensive methods, and give talks on food and food security for groups.
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