There are several methods of preserving the harvest for later use. They are canning, freezing, pickling, dehydrating and fermenting. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. Let’s take a look at them.
Watch Joyce talk with WCAX about dehydrating veggies, fruit and more
No electricity or space in the freezer is needed to keep dehydrated food.
Dehydrating preserves more nutrients because only low (or no) heats are used.
Fun, simple way to preserve your own herbs.
Some foods such as apple leather can be made in the oven.
Dehydrated foods are great to have on hand to toss in a soup or eat as a snack.
Dehydrators are an expense and many foods need a dehydrator to adequately dry foods. It is a romantic notion to make sun dried tomatoes, but it can be a challenge to get it to work in an area with late summer humidity, a run of cloudy days. Insects or mold can be a problem.
Dehydrated foods that are not tightly wrapped can take on moisture and spoil. Properly dried foods should snap and break when bent.
To make your own dehydrated ginger (or other garden fruits and vegetables):
Pick your produce and dehydrate it before it withers and wilts.
I grew ginger for the first time in my garden. It was just delicious and so pretty and I learned quite a lot growing it. One thing I learned is that fresh ginger doesn’t keep that long in the refrigerator. Realizing this, I decided to dry the bulk of it for later use in tea, curries, baked goods, etc.
Wash your ginger, scrubbing off any clinging dirt. Set aside to dry on a towel.
Cut off tops before the green section begins.
Cut bulbs into ⅛” slices.
Consider putting a few back bulbs into a pot and letting them overwinter there if you are in a climate where the ground freezes.
Place slices on dehydrator racks in a single layer allowing a bit of room between the pieces.
Most recipes tell you to peel ginger. Clean it, scrub it to remove any loose bits of dirt or skin, yes. But I don’t feel it is necessary to peel it. Make sure you clean any crevices where dirt may be hiding.
No dehydrator?? Try this in the oven: Place the slices on an oven tray at LESS THAN 150 degrees F. This will take 10 - 15 hours.
Set the dehydrator temperature between 110 and 140. When the ginger snaps and breaks upon bending, it is done! Let it cool and then store in an airtight container. Make sure you don’t leave it sitting for a long period of time after it is done cooling, as it may take on humidity and not keep well.
You can also do this with purchased ginger which has the brown skin that develops when the root has been out of the soil for awhile. It is a great way to make sure you have some ginger handy for a curry or batch of cookies. It is greatly superior to commercial powdered ginger.
Watch Joyce demonstrate making fruit leather with WCAX
Watch Joyce talk with WCAX about dehydrating herbs
Most herbs can be air dried. Just tie the stems in small bundles and hang them up to dry. Keep the bundles small so there is adequate air circulation. Trapped moisture spells mold. If sprigs of herbs are too small to tie in bundles, lay a towel on a sheet tray and spread the sprigs there, again allowing adequate circulation. The drying time varies with the plant and the humidity level. Make sure to take them down before they begin to gather dust. Store in an airtight container.
While it may seem tempting to toss your vegetables in the freezer just as book book they are, hold up just a moment. You need to know that even after you pick them, your vegetables continue to ripen because of enzymes present in them. This will continue even in the freezer. You need to blanch them to stop the action of the enzymes and retain the greatest amount of flavor, quality and nutrition.
This is called blanching. It is basically dipping your vegetables into boiling water for 1 - 3 minutes and then chilling in an ice bath, draining and then packaging for the freezer.
Many berries and fruits can be frozen without blanching. Even though Ball has stopped producing it, I rely on the Ball Food Preservation books. If you don’t have one or can’t get one, a comprehensive guide on food preservation is available here - USDA Guide to Home Canning. You can also purchase it as a print USDA Canning Guide, Spiral Bound.
Food expands when it freezes! You must leave adequate “head space, ” usually ½” is adequate, to prevent the cover coming off or the container breaking.
As much as I dislike plastic, I use plastic for storing food. I have tried glass jars, but they seem particularly prone to breakage when full of frozen food. So I use BPA free containers and bags.
One cool device that I employ frequently is a vacuum sealer. It sucks all the air out of your food and so helps to prevent that freezer burn taste. It can also crush some food, so try it and see if you like the results.
Put bagged food in the freezer laying flat until it is frozen for easy stacking.
Freezer “boxes” stack easily. Square ones are the most space efficient.
The instructions and recommendations are different for each food. The above resource is a good guide.
Watch Joyce demonstrate making raspberry freezer jam with WCAX
Read my freezer jam article featured on the University of Vermont website
Watch Joyce talk with WCAX about canning tomatoes
It is the current consensus that canning is only safe for high acid foods. My upbringing would argue that. But let's stick with that rule for safety’s sake. The concern is that botulism can develop even in a sealed environment and a case of botulism is a very back case of illness at best, or deadly even.
By following the USDA guide, you will avoid problems, but you must follow instructions.
Keep your canning jars in a pot of simmering water until you are ready to use them. (Your canning kettle can be used for this).
Fill the jars with hot food.
Add lids. Place in the canner and process according to instructions for that food.
Take the jars out of the canner with a jar lifter and set them on a wooden board or other heat resistant surface. A hot jar placed on a marble countertop can shatter.
I cover my jars with a towel because my mother told me to. It may be an old wive’s tale, but I get to think of her every time I do it.
I use a pressure canner. They are more expensive, but I feel they are worth it. They use a fraction of the water so come up to boiling quickly. Then you just wait for the pressure to come up and time from there. You will want to read the instructions carefully for your model. If you find an older model at a yard sale, you may need to purchase new weights and a new rubber seal.
Every few years, you will likely need to replace the seal. You will know because the kettle won’t come up to pressure. It is wise to get a new one before you need it.
Read my article about canning fresh tomatoes
Pickling is basically preserving in apple cider vinegar. The high acid content keeps pathogens from forming and gives us… PICKLES !
Watch Joyce walk you through the process with WCAX TV
Fermented foods use naturally occurring bacteria to naturally increase the acidity and thus preserve food and prevent the growth of pathogens.
Coming soon: Sauerkraut with carrots and Kombucha
There is no fruit so versatile as a tomato fresh from the vine. Canning the surplus further expands its versatility to hearty winter dishes, sauces, soups, and juice.
You will need canning jars (inspect for cracks and roughness on rim), screw bands and sealing lids, a canning funnel, a jar lifter and water bath canner with rack, food mill (for puree).
Wash jars, lids and rings in soapy water. Rinse well. Bring to a simmer in a pot of water maintaining a simmer until ready to fill. Do not boil.
For all of the following instructions, add 2 TBSP lemon juice to each quart jar (1 TBSP / pint).
For whole or cut tomatoes: Submerge clean tomatoes in boiling water for 30 – 60 seconds or until the skins begin to crack. Immerse for a few seconds in cold water. Drain. Cut out stem. Slip off the skins. Cut as desired.
There are two methods for filling jars. For hot pack, cover tomatoes in a pot of water. Simmer for 5 minutes. Ladle into jars. For cold pack, place tomatoes into jars. For either method, top off jars with hot water, leaving head space as above.
For tomato puree: Core and quarter the unpeeled tomatoes. Simmer over medium heat for 22 minutes. Adjust heat as needed to prevent burning. Press tomatoes through a food mill or cone strainer to remove skins and seeds. Fill jars with hot puree, leaving head space.
The canning process:
Fill your canner (with rack) about 1/2 full of water for pints and adjust for quarts so water will be 1 above jars. Bring to and maintain a simmer. Set a kettle to boil in case you need extra water.
Run a knife up and down the edge of the jar to release trapped air bubbles. Wipe the jar rim with a clean damp cloth, add lid and turn the screw band on just until you feel resistance. Use tongs to lower jar into the simmering canner. Repeat as needed.
Add boiling water to canner if needed to cover jars by at least 1” water. Cover.
Bring to a boil and maintain a steady but gentle boil - 45 minutes for quarts or 40 minutes for pints. Remove jars to a towel, leaving at least an inch of space between them. Let cool for 12 – 24 hours. You may hear the popping sound as they seal. Check each jar by removing the band and pressing on the center of the lid. A sealed jar lid has no flex to it and you can't lift it off.
Refrigerate or freeze any unsealed jars. Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place. When the north wind blows, put a pot of soup or chili on to simmer and be enjoy the delicious pleasure of preserving your bounteous harvest.
Note: For more information on canning tomatoes, visit https://go.uvm.edu/canning-tomatoes.