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.
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.
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.
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.
Pickling is basically preserving in apple cider vinegar. The high acid content keeps pathogens from forming and gives us… PICKLES !
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