Inch by Inch: The Preservation Society

Posted Wednesday, July 4, 2012 in Sustainable Maine

Inch by Inch: The Preservation Society

With the berries and other fruits coming in, and the tomatoes and other vegetables right behind them, the time has come to discuss what you're planning to do with this bounty.

If you are anything like us, you can eat many, many fresh fruits and vegetables, but the time will come when you can't possibly consume everything you grow. What to do?

There are basically four choices: can, freeze, root cellar, or dry.

Canning

Canning vegetables is a hot, if time-honored, process. How you can will depend in large measure on what you're canning. If, for instance, you want to make strawberry jam with your berries, that's a slightly different process than canning spaghetti sauce with your tomatoes, or making pickles. But all involve a few basic steps.

First, sterilize your jars. Jelly jars tend to be smaller jars than the kind you use for pickling or for putting up vegetables. You can use a hot water bath (much easier) for most things, but some vegetables require a pressure cooker. Check with a book on preserving before you begin. Ball (who makes many of the glass canning jars) has a good preserving guide, and it is readily available where you purchase your jars. 

If you canned last year, remember that you need new lids, though not the screw-on part. Those should be sterilized as well. 

Tomatoes are very acidic, which makes them an easy choice for canning. Cook your tomatoes down for several hours; add whatever seasonings you prefer. To be on the safe side, add a small amount of vinegar or lemon juice to the mix just to keep the acid level high. Pour the cooked tomato sauce into sterile jars, and boil again for about half an hour, then let cool. If the seal holds, you can be enjoying your produce early next spring.

Jams are easier in some ways. Simply crush the berries and add sweetening if desired. Add lemon juice, a little pectin (a small amount will jell your jelly!) and test the jam several times by dripping it into a small plate and putting it in the freezer for a few minutes. If it's "jelled," it's done. Then pour into the sterile jars and process for about 10 minutes. 

Pickles are a little different, because you don't cook the pickles themselves. Instead, bring vinegar and pickling mix to a near boil. You can make your own pickling mix, but it's much easier to buy the kind you like. Then, pour the mixture over the firmest cucumbers you can pick, which are washed and sliced in sterile jars, and process for about 10 minutes, but follow the instructions on the package of pickle mix, which may be a little longer or shorter. 

Pickles will take about a week to deepen, so leave them alone while you wait!

Corn, beans, and other veggies need a pressure cooker. We'll go into that next week.

Freezing

Berries are good candidates for freezing, because they can be used in recipes later without thawing them. For strawberries, hull them, but all other washed berries can simply be placed on parchment paper on a cookie tray or jelly-roll pan and frozen for 24 hours. When they are completely frozen, put them into a zipper freezer bag, label them and date them, and return them to the freezer for winter. Some vegetables, such as corn, beans, and other things, are good candidates too.

Root cellaring

Some vegetables and fruits are natural for a root cellar, if you are fortunate enough to have such a thing. Do not wash fruits and vegetables before root cellaring. You will likely root-cellar things like potatoes, carrots, apples, and a few other tree fruits. Layer bins with air holes with newspaper and hay, then place in a single layer the potatoes or apples or what have you. Layer again with the newspaper and hay. Do not overfill or you will crush your crop. Check for rot on a regular basis and remove anything that may have gone bad. Most of the crop will be useful in a cold root cellar all winter long, but apples, pears, and other tree fruits may need to be turned into sauce by the end of the winter.

Drying

Some fruits and vegetables can be dried. A good choice for herbs, peppers, extra grapes and sweet fruits that can be turned into winter snacks, drying can be done in the sun or can be done with the use of a dehydrator. Store in loose bags once the drying process is complete.

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